Thursday, 26 January 2012


It was midsummer but cold, down by the river at 1am. I had a woollen jumper and jeans over my nightgown, but I still shivered.

The moon was high and almost full. I wanted to stand still and gaze at its reflection in the water. All of a sudden I wanted to be on my own, for Claudine and Albert to be far away. But Claudine called me over her shoulder. 'Hurry up, Marie. Albert will think we're not coming.'

Albert was already there when we arrived - sitting on the bank of the Willow Pool, splashing his feet in the water. His skin looked almost blue. His top half was naked, though I assumed he was wearing his swimming trunks.

Claudine whipped off her jumper. Underneath were her bra and pants. Then she dived, entering the water with a mighty splash. Albert followed her and soon they were laughing and splashing, with Claudine giving the occasional shriek.

I couldn't swim. I still can't.I remember wondering why the hell I'd ever agreed to this stupid plan. Why wasn't I tucked up in my warm bed at La Maison Rouge, dreaming of flying nuns and angels with golden wings?

 Did I really care that much about keeping Albert from Claudine's clutches?

The answer, though, was yes, of course I did.

'Jump in, Marie,' yelled Claudine. 'Come on, it stops being cold when you get used to it.'

'I can't swim,' I reminded her.

'It's not deep. I can stand up - just about.'

Albert spoke for the first time. 'We'll help you,' he cried. 'I'll teach you to swim. It's easy - just sit on the edge and slide in. I'll be there to catch you.'

His tones was cajoling and somehow it was impossible to resist. I did as he told me, slipping into the water close to my favourite willow, the one I called the twisting tree.

My head went under. My feet searched for the bottom, but all I could feel were weed fronds and, beneath them, slimy mud. Nothing to support me...

I tried to scream, but inhaled water instead. My heart pounded. Claudine and Albert had gone; they were leaving me to drown.