Kevin reappears the next day. I’d begun to think he might have been a figment of my imagination but this time he brings fish, which seem real enough – big, glistening blue fish with long streamers on the pectoral fins.
‘Thought we could have a barbeque later’ he says. ‘How’ve you been?’
‘Good’ I say. ‘We went to look at the sea yesterday. I didn’t realise it was so close...’
‘Beautiful isn’t it?’ he says grinning.
‘Cold’ I say. He shrugs, suggesting that’s not the point, and he’s right, it’s not. ‘It is really beautiful’ I add. ‘Reminds me of the Pacific.’
‘Where were you?’ he says. ‘I mean where did you see the Pacific? You were from England weren’t you?’
Part of me wants to ask how he knew that but I think I’ll ask later.
‘New South Wales – Coff’s Harbour. My sister lived there. And the whole coast of Mexico... California... Oh my God...’
I stand there shocked while he grins at me.
‘All coming back isn’t it’ he says gleefully. I don’t know what to say. I’m stunned and have to take a seat. I remember it all.
He heads over to the pantry and comes out with a bottle. ‘Got a bottle opener?’ he says, miming cork-screwing.
‘In the drawer’ I say, indicating vaguely.
He props himself on the bench and starts on the cork. It’s local wine. Sonia told me Leo makes it. Kevin watches me narrowly.
‘Your name’s Gabriel by the way’ he says, popping the cork and casting about for clean glasses. I go over and begin to wash some up. I don’t seem to have very many of them left.
‘I found your notes’ he says after a while. ‘I kept copies... just for old time’s sake, you know...’
I still say nothing. I dry the glasses in a daze and set them up on the counter. Kevin fills them both. I feel so excited.
‘Shall we?’ he says, indicating the door.
‘Hang on’ I say and go through to find us a couple of canvas chairs. We take our seats out on the path and look at the river. A young couple pass, evidently on their way to the beach. They smile and say good morning.
‘Duncan and Jeanie’ I say suddenly.
‘They live not far from here’ he says. I just smile and wonder.
‘So Duncan survived ok?’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘Oh, he seemed... I don’t know...’
‘A bit lost. I know. It took a while. We always wondered what became of you.’
‘You gave me that amazing tent. I remember. I had another one like it this time...’
I think back to where I left it, in the battle zone. The passage was too narrow. I couldn’t get it through. I missed that tent later on.
‘You were a desperate sort of a person as I recall. You can’t have been more than a teenager. I felt terrible about letting you go but I didn’t know what else to do. Plus you left me with those shit-heads...’
I vaguely remember but not much. ‘What else do your notes say?’
‘Not much. The guides on the boat would have had more...’
‘The boat... Oh God I remember...’ and I sit back and all these images come flooding back. It’s like a dream. I can’t remember anything specific – no names or anything, but I remember feeling very well looked after, warm and safe. I have this memory of a storm outside and being among friends... and a woman I was very fond of with very long hair... Sophie perhaps, or Emily? I can’t remember. It’s really beginning to piss me off.
‘It’ll come. I see you’ve been doing some work out here’ he says, obviously changing the subject. That’s ok. I want to change the subject, for now. I’ve planted some things in the big pot by the door – some Zinnias and a Begonia that Ross gave me. I tell him I’ve done a lot more out the back and take him through to see my newly planted broccoli and beans, coriander and chilli.
Later on Sonia and Miguel arrive and Miguel unexpectedly makes a big fuss of me being back to normal as he puts it and congratulates me on having done as much as I have in the garden.
‘You took my advice’ he says, slapping my arm and grinning.
Kevin has to gallop off to get another fish.
After lunch I raise the subject of work and paying my way. Sonia says not to worry about it yet but I insist. I feel like I want to do something, give something back.
‘You don’t have to.’
‘I want to.’
‘Paint Sonia for me’ says Miguel and they both grin hopefully at me and grasp each other’s hands. Evidently they’ve been discussing me. I say I’ll try but I may be a bit rusty. I tell them I want to do some manual work too – maybe in the orchard and they all nod and look like it’s plausible. ‘Talk to Leo maybe.’
‘Or Belen’ says Sonia. ‘She manages part of the plantation at the back here. Less distance to travel.’ Miguel looks at me encouragingly.
‘But not yet’ says Sonia. ‘Not for a week or two. You should have a holiday.’ And we go on to discuss them taking me on a tour in a pony cart, to have a proper look at the countryside. Apparently there’s the little community near the beach where Kevin lives, and another in a clearing further up river where Ross and Duncan and Jeanie have built houses (‘Beautiful, solid cedar’ says Kevin). Sonia and Miguel live in town. I sit back and watch them competing for who can come up with the best place to visit – the falls in the forest (nobody bothers with a costume), the villages in the mountains (lovely cool air) or the beaches and headlands further up the coast (excellent diving). No agreement is reached. I’m overwhelmed. It all sounds too good to be true.
Finally Kevin proposes a toast ‘To Gabriel’ and they all look mystified until he explains.
‘But you can still call me Spatch if you like’ I add, and they laugh and toast me again ‘To Spatch.’
I look around at them here and for the first time it seems like it might really be alright. This might really be a place I can stay – maybe forever.
Just as Sonia and Miguel are getting ready to leave I see Kevin looking at my notes. When he sees me looking he hastily puts them down and apologises.
‘It’s ok. They’re not private or anything.’
‘No’ he says, ‘I was just wondering if you wanted to publish this. You should phone Simon about it...’
This takes me completely by surprise. I stand with my mouth open.
‘I’m sorry’ says Sonia ‘I didn’t think. There’s a phone in the cupboard by the fireplace.’
‘Sorry I didn’t realise...’ I’d assumed they didn’t do that sort of thing here. It seems rude to say so now.
Later on, Kevin and I are lounging about out front again, hoping to catch sight of more girls going by in their sarongs. I make a joke about having assumed we were living in some pre-technological utopia. He leans back in his chair and shuts his eyes. ‘Oh, we have the technology’ he says ‘when we choose to use it. It’s a bit clunky at times but you can fix it when it goes wrong. You’re right about the utopia though.’ And with that he tips his hat over his eyes and I let him take his afternoon nap.
Why does that word make me feel uncomfortable – utopia?
Because that’s the thing with utopias – there has to be a catch. There’s always a catch.
Indoors I take a look in the cupboard and find a radio and what appears to be someone’s music collection – a whole stack of vinyl and an old deck. How could I have been so incurious before? I suppose up until then I was acting like I was using someone else’s home and I didn’t want to pry. Now I find everyone else is treating this place as if it’s my place. I must ask what happened to whoever had it before me. It suddenly occurs to me that that guy Peter who came to visit knows something. I’ve not seen him since. I need to track him down.