About the Author
Lucy Clarke is the author of Swimming at Night. She and her husband, a professional windsurfer, spend their winters traveling and their summers at their home on the south coast of England. Visit Lucy-Clarke.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Swimming at Night 1
Katie had been dreaming of the sea. Dark, restless water and sinuous currents drained away as she pushed herself upright on the heels of her hands. Somewhere in the apartment her phone was ringing. She blinked, then rubbed her eyes. The bedside clock read 2:14 a.m.
Mia, she thought immediately, stiffening. Her sister would get the time difference wrong.
She pushed back the covers and slipped out of bed, her nightdress twisted around her waist. The air was frigid and the floorboards were like ice against the soles of her feet. She shivered as she moved through the room, her fingers spread in front of her like sensors. Reaching the door, she groped for the handle. The hinges whined as she pulled it open.
The ringing grew louder as she picked her way along the darkened hall. There was something troubling about the sound in the quiet, sleep-coated hours of the night. What time would it be in Australia? Midday, perhaps?
Her stomach stirred uneasily remembering yesterday’s terrible fight. Words had been sharpened to injure and their mother’s name had been flung down the phone line like a grenade. Afterwards, Katie was so knotted with guilt that she left work an hour early, unable to concentrate. At least now they’d have a chance to talk again and she could tell Mia how sorry she was.
She was only two steps from the phone when she realized it was no longer ringing. She hovered for a moment, a hand pressed to her forehead. Had Mia hung up? Had she dreamed it?
Then the noise came again. Not the phone after all, but the insistent buzz of the apartment intercom.
She sighed, knowing it would be late-night visitors for the traders who lived upstairs. She leaned towards the intercom, holding a finger to the Talk button. “Hello?”
“This is the police.”
She froze, sleep burning off like sea mist on a sunny day.
“We’d like to speak to Miss Katie Greene.”
Her pulse ticked in her throat. “That’s me.”
“May we come up?”
She released the front door, thinking, What? What’s happened? She switched on the light, blinking as the hall was suddenly illuminated. Looking away from the glare, she saw her bare feet, toenails polished pink, and the creased trim of her silk nightdress against her pale thighs. She wanted to fetch a robe, but already the heavy tread of feet sounded up the stairway.
She opened the door and two uniformed police officers stepped into her hall.
“Miss Katie Greene?” asked a female officer. She had graying blonde hair and high color in her cheeks. She stood beside a male officer young enough to be her son, who kept his gaze on the ground.
“Are you alone?”
“Are you the sister of Mia Greene?”
Her hands flew to her mouth. “Yes . . . ”
“We are very sorry to tell you that the police in Bali have informed us—”
Oh God, she began to say to herself. Oh God . . .
“—that Mia Greene has been found dead. She was discovered at the bottom of a cliff in Umanuk. The police believe she fell—”
“No! NO!” She spun away from them, bile stinging the back of her throat. This couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be.
She wouldn’t turn. Her gaze found the bulletin board in the hallway where invites, a calendar, and the business card of a caterer were neatly pinned. At the top was a map of the world. The week before Mia left to go traveling, Katie had asked her to plot her route on it. Mia’s mouth had curled into a smile at that, yet she indulged Katie’s need for schedules and itineraries by marking a loose route that began on the west coast of America and took in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Vietnam, and Cambodia—an endless summer of trailing coastlines. Katie had been tracking the route from Mia’s infrequent bursts of communication, and now the silver drawing pin was stuck in Western Australia.
Staring at the map, she knew something wasn’t right. She turned back to the police. “Where was she found?”
“In Umanuk,” the female officer repeated. “It’s in the southern tip of Bali.”
Bali. Bali wasn’t on Mia’s route. This was a mistake! She wanted to laugh—let the relief explode from her chest. “Mia isn’t in Bali. She’s in Australia!”
She caught the exchange of glances between the officers. The woman stepped forward; she had light-blue eyes and wore no makeup. “I’m afraid Mia’s passport was stamped in Bali four weeks ago.” Her voice was gentle, but contained a certainty that chilled Katie. “Miss Greene, would you like to sit down?”
Mia couldn’t be dead. She was twenty-four. Her little sister. It was inconceivable. Her thoughts swam. She could hear the water tank downstairs humming. A television was playing somewhere. Outside, a late-night reveler was singing. Singing!
“What about Finn?” she asked suddenly.
“Finn Tyler. They were traveling together.”
The female officer opened up her notebook and spent a moment glancing through it. She shook her head. “I’m afraid I don’t have any information about him currently. I’m sure the Balinese police will have been in contact with him, though.”
“I don’t understand any of this,” Katie whispered. “Can you . . . I . . . I need to know everything. Tell me everything.”
The police officer described the exact time and location at which Mia had been found. She told her that medical assistance had arrived swiftly on the scene, but that Mia was pronounced dead on their arrival. She explained that her body was being held at the Sanglah morgue in Bali. She confirmed that there would be further investigations, but that so far the Balinese police believed it was a tragic accident.
All the while Katie stood completely still.
“Is there someone you would like us to contact on your behalf?”
She thought instantly of their mother. She allowed herself a moment to imagine the comfort of being held in her arms, the soft cashmere of her mother’s sweater against her cheek. “No,” she told the officer eventually. “I’d like you to leave now. Please.”
“Of course. Someone from the Foreign Office will be in touch tomorrow with an update from the Balinese police. I’d also like to visit you again. I’ve been assigned as your Family Liaison Officer and will be here to answer any questions you have.” The woman took a card from her pocket and placed it beside the phone.
Both officers told Katie how sorry they were, and then left.
As the door clicked shut, the strength in Katie’s legs dissipated and she sank onto the cold wooden floor. She didn’t cry. She hugged her knees to her chest to contain the trembling that had seized her. Why had Mia been in Bali? Katie didn’t know anything about the place. There was a bombing outside a nightclub some years ago, but what else? Clearly there were cliffs, but the only ones she could picture were the grass-covered cliffs of Cornwall that Mia had bounded along as a child, dark hair flying behind her.
She tried to imagine how Mia could have fallen. Was she standing on an overhang and the earth crumbled? Did a sudden gust of wind unbalance her? Was she sitting on the edge and became distracted? It seemed absurdly careless to fall from a cliff. The facts Katie had been given were so few that she couldn’t arrange them into any sort of sense. She knew she should call someone. Ed. She would speak to Ed.
It was her third attempt before she managed to dial correctly. She heard the rustle of a duvet, a mumbled, “Hello?” and then silence as he listened. When he spoke again, his voice was level, telling her only, “I’m on my way.”
It must have taken no less than ten minutes for him to drive from his apartment in Fulham to hers in Putney, but looking back she wouldn’t remember any of that time. She was still sitting on the hallway floor, her skin like gooseflesh, when the intercom buzzed. She stood groggily. The floorboards had marked the backs of her thighs with red slash-like indentations. She pressed the button to let him in.
Katie heard the thundering of his feet as he took the steps two at a time, and then Ed was at her door. She opened it and he stepped forwards, folding her into his arms. “My darling!” he said. “My poor darling!”
She pressed her face into the stiff wool of his jacket, which scratched against her cold cheek. She smelled deodorant. Had he sprayed himself with deodorant before coming over?
“You’re freezing. We can’t stand here.” He led her into the living room and she perched on the edge of the cream leather sofa. It’s like sitting on vanilla ice cream, Mia had said the morning it was delivered.
Ed removed his jacket and draped it over her shoulders, rubbing her back with smooth circular strokes. Then he went into the kitchen and she heard him open the boiler cupboard and flick on the central heating, which rumbled and strained into life. There was the gush of a tap as he filled the kettle, followed by the opening and closing of drawers, cupboards, and the fridge.
He returned with a cup of tea, but her hands didn’t move to take it. “Katie,” he said, crouching down so they were eye level. “You are in shock. Try and drink a little. It will help.”
He lifted the tea to her lips and she sipped it obediently. She could taste the sweet milky flavor on her tongue and the urge to retch was immediate. She lurched past him to the bathroom with a hand clamped to her mouth. The jacket slipped from her shoulders and fell to the floor with a soft thump.
Bending over the sink, she gagged. Saliva hit the white ceramic basin.
Ed was behind her. “Sorry . . . ”
Katie rinsed her hands and splashed water over her face.
“Darling,” he said, passing her a blue hand towel. “What happened?”
She buried her face in it and shook her head. He gently peeled the towel away, then unhooked her robe from the back of the bathroom door and guided her arms into the soft cotton. He took her hands in his and rubbed them. “Talk to me.”
She repeated the details learned from the police. Her voice sounded jagged and she imagined that if she were to glance up at the bathroom mirror, her skin would be leached of color, her eyes glassy.
As they moved back to the living room, Ed asked the same question to which she wanted the answer: “Why was your sister in Bali?”
“I have no idea.”
“Have you spoken to Finn?”
“Not yet. I should call him.”
Her hands shook as she dialed Finn’s cell. She pressed the phone to her ear and listened as it rang and rang. “He’s not answering.”
“What about his family? Do you know their number?”
Katie searched in her address book and found it, the Cornish dialing code stirring a faint memory that she wasn’t ready to grasp.
Finn was the youngest of four brothers. His mother, Sue, a curt woman who was often harassed, answered, sounding half asleep. “Who is this?”
“Katie Greene.” She cleared her throat. “Mia’s sister.”
“Mia?” Sue repeated. Then immediately: “Finn?”
“There’s been an accident—”
“No. It’s Mia.” Katie paused and looked at Ed. He nodded for her to go on. “The police have been here. They told me that Mia was in Bali . . . on a cliff somewhere. She fell. They’re saying she’s dead.”
“No . . . ”
In the background she could hear Finn’s father, a placid man in his sixties who worked for the Forestry Commission. There was a brief volley of exclamations muffled by a hand over the receiver, and then Sue returned to the line. “Does Finn know?”
“I’d imagine so. But he’s not answering his cell.”
“He lost it a few weeks ago. Hasn’t replaced it yet. We’ve been using e-mail. I’ve got his address if you want—”
“Why were they in Bali?” Katie interrupted.
“Bali? Finn wasn’t.”
“But that’s where they said Mia was found. Her passport was stamped—”
“Mia went to Bali. Not Finn.”
“What?” Katie said, her grip tightening.
“There was an argument. Sorry, I thought you knew.”
“When was this?”
“Good month ago, now. Finn spoke to Jack about it. From what I heard they had a falling-out—God knows what about—and Mia changed her ticket.”
Katie’s thoughts whirled. Mia and Finn’s friendship was unshakable. She pictured them as children, Finn with a wig of glistening seaweed draped over his head, Mia bent double with laughter. Theirs was a friendship that was so rare, so solid, that she couldn’t imagine what would be terrible enough to cause them to separate.
* * *
Ten days later, winter sun flooded Katie’s bedroom. She lay perfectly still, her arms at her sides, eyes shut, bracing herself against a distant threat she couldn’t quite recall. She blinked and, before she had a chance to recall why her eyelids felt stiff and salted, grief bowled into her.
She curled into herself, tucking her knees to her chest and pressing tight fists to her mouth. She screwed her eyes shut, but disturbing images bled into her thoughts: Mia dropping silently through the air like a stone, the rush of wind lifting her dark hair away from her face, a rasped scream, the crack of her skull against granite.
She reached for Ed, but her fingers met only with the empty curve of where he’d slept. She listened for him and, after a moment, was relieved to tune into the light tapping of a keyboard coming from the living room: he was e-mailing his office. She envied him that—the ability for his world to continue, when hers had stopped.
She knew she must get to the shower. It would be too easy to remain cocooned in the duvet as she had done yesterday, not rising until after lunch, by which time she was drowsy and disorientated. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself from beneath the covers.
Drifting toward the bathroom, she passed Mia’s room and found herself pausing vaguely outside the door. They had bought this apartment using the small inheritance they received after their mother’s death. Everyone was surprised that they were moving in together, not the least Katie, who had vowed she’d never live with Mia again after their acrimonious teenage years, yet she’d worried that if Mia didn’t put her share of the inheritance into something solid, it would slip through her fingers as easily as water. Katie had been the one to organize viewings, deal with estate agents and solicitors, and run through the rain with a broken umbrella to sign the mortgage papers on time.
Wrapping her fingers lightly around the brass door handle, she turned it. A faint trace of jasmine lingered in the cold, stale air. Mia had positioned her bed beneath the tall sash window so she could wake and see sky. A sheepskin coat, which once belonged to their mother, was draped over the foot of the bed. It was an original from the seventies with a wide, unstructured collar, and she remembered Mia wrapping herself in it all winter like a lost flower child.
Beside the bed a pine desk was heaving with junk: an old stereo, unplugged and dusty; three cardboard boxes bulg...
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