Skip to Main Content

The Sleepwalkers

A Novel

See More Retailers

About The Book

Fantastically gripping…this is fiction roaring on all cylinders.” —The Guardian
“A work of peculiar gonzo genius…Thomas takes a glamorous late-capitalist setting, with rosé and catamarans…and warps it into a story that is surprising, humane and political to its bones.” —The New York Times

Patricia Highsmith meets White Lotus in this surprising and suspenseful modern gothic story following a couple running from both secretive pasts and very present dangers while honeymooning on a Greek island.

Still reeling from the chaos of their wedding, Evelyn and Richard arrive on a tiny Greek island for their honeymoon. It’s the end of the season and a storm is imminent. Determined to make the best of it, they check into the sun-soaked doors of the Villa Rosa. Already feeling insecure after seeing the “beautiful people,” the seemingly endless number of young models and musicians lounging along the Mediterranean, Evelyn is wary of the hotel’s owner, Isabella, who seems to only have eyes for Richard.

Isabella ostensibly disapproves of every request Evelyn makes, seemingly annoyed at the fact that they are there at all. Isabella is also preoccupied with her chance to enthrall the only other guests—an American producer named Marcus and his partner Debbie—with the story of “the sleepwalkers,” a couple who had stayed at the hotel recently and drowned.

Everyone seems to want to talk about the sleepwalkers, save for Hamza, a young Turkish man Evelyn had seen with some “beautiful people,” as well as the “dapper little man”—the strange yet fashionable owner of the island’s lone antiques and gift shop she sees everywhere.

But what at first seemed eccentric, decorative, or simply ridiculous, becomes a living nightmare. Evelyn and Richard are separated the night of the storm and forced to face dark truths, but it’s their confessions around the origins of their relationship and the years leading up to their marriage that might save them.

Exhilarating, suspenseful, and also very funny, The Sleepwalkers asks urgent questions about relationships, sexuality, and the darkest elements of contemporary society—where our most terrible secrets are hidden in plain sight.


Chapter 1
September 23rd, 2022

Dear Richard,

You’ll no doubt think I owe you some sort of explanation for what I’ve done, so here it is.

Of course, I don’t know where to begin. Just before our first proper date, when your mother told me the color black washed me out and that I should borrow her white silk blouse instead? Or that moment at our wedding when we both knew—but never actually said—that our love was forever cursed? Maybe I’ll start in a more dignified way with the small plane we took to get here almost two weeks ago, all the tiny islands like a map beneath us, the plane’s slender propellers naked and somehow savage, cutting through the air like white machetes.

Or perhaps I should skip to the moment when we turned up at the Villa Rosa and first met Isabella. Isabella. I find it so hard to write her name. But you have to face the things you fear, so here it is again: Isabella. Isabella. Isabella. But of course if I start with her, it’s already over, and the dogs have won, and we are now just piles of bones.

So maybe I’ll simply start with the night before we checked into the Villa Rosa. The beachfront taverna, moonlit and warm; only us, our friends and the beautiful people left on the island by then, or so it seemed.

The beautiful people? Well, I don’t think you listened to anything I ever said about them, although perhaps you know who they are now. When I go over it all in my mind I can still see her so clearly, the prettier girl, the dark-haired one, a sleek heron in a black bikini and a thin orange sarong. She was walking down the road in the sun carrying a bag that said Istanbul is Contemporary.

She really was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen.

Amidst all the usual traffic on that narrow beach road—rusty utes carrying mineral water and bottled Coke, or Greek men on mopeds with their “amusing” cargos that Paul loved to point out: a large side-saddle wife, a massive watermelon, a white poodle—there she was. She was alone and free and, well, sometimes I look at young women and remember what it was like to be them, but I don’t remember ever being her, with those sharp, wingish bones and her extraordinary long calves.

I imagine you reading this letter too fast in the hot and windy dark, or maybe in the calm of tomorrow morning, skimming to get to the headline, the facts, having decided that this lead-in is irrelevant. You are probably wondering where I am. Because I am going to go when I finish this. It’s time, don’t you think?

I see you holding this letter, having found it on the pillow where I plan to leave it later. You probably have that look you get whenever I try to explain something, and I start at the very beginning—or at least what the beginning was for me—and you act like you are struggling through bracken and maquis and dense thicket until I mention something you recognize as part of your story and only then do you stand still for a second and listen. But neither of us really wants to go back to the start, do we?

So feel free to skip ahead if you like. That’s the beauty of a letter, after all: it’s not a forest, not a complicated undergrowth, not a loud argument. Take your machete and fuck all of this. Take your soft-mouthed dogs and beat out the birds and sight them and shoot them down and then you’ll know.

That was the only time I saw her on her own, the beautiful girl. Most of the time she had her shorter, blonder friend with her, and the two boys trailing after them. Those beautiful boys. When they weren’t trailing after the girls they were flittering down the street with their shirts off, carrying bottles of local beer, which they actually took care to put in the recycling bin once they were empty. Or they were strutting with their rooster chests high and proud, eating fruit or throwing a ball. One of the boys was skinnier than the other, with long bony fingers that fluttered through the air like the legs of a tiny creature that did not want to be picked up.

I kept wondering where these kids had come from. They looked rich to me, or, at least, expensive. I pointed them out one night over dinner in George’s Taverna, but you weren’t interested. You just thought they were normal young people, nothing unusual about them. You assumed they were from a British private school like the one you and Paul had both gone to, and didn’t think it was at all interesting when they started speaking in a language none of us knew. I decided it was Turkish. You could see Turkey from the beach. And, well, Istanbul is Contemporary.

It gave me something to talk about with Beth at least. We had nothing in common otherwise. Since I’m an actor and she’s a makeup artist, we should have had a riot. But I’m mainly in sweaty plays and she “does” politicians for the BBC News, so when I tried to ask her what she thought the best mascara on the market currently was, she just looked at me blankly while I burbled on about Chanel, and how hard I found it to tell the difference between the waterproof mascara I wear in sad times, and the normal one I prefer because it is more black, like the very bitterest depths of the night. Like now.

Paul seemed to have chosen Beth the way he picked all his girlfriends. She was to be adored yet hated; violated but also revered. She had that rubbery sex-doll look of all his women, but there was something human and raw about her too. Something in her slightly pimply skin and visible contact lenses; and the way she would let her DD boobs flop around in her strappy lemon sun dress without even a bikini underneath. I once suggested to you that Paul had made her wear the dresses that way and you said you didn’t know what I meant. Instead, you wondered about the etymology of the word seersucker, and why you’d never heard of it. You have always seemed so innocent, and mostly I’ve loved that.

Or, I did love it, once.

During those last, hot days, while you and Paul swam out as far as you could, beyond the buoys and the yachts, racing each other in that subtle way you do, Beth and I wondered whether the beautiful people had come from one of the boats. One day we saw four figures on the deck of the largest yacht, and we said that was it, that was them. But it wasn’t them. Even from that distance you could see the small, puffy rolls of fat on the women. There was no fat on those girls. Not on the boys either.

Then one day we saw their shoes. Four pairs of dirty espadrilles, all with holes and signs of over-pronation. What is it about poverty and pronation? The beautiful people were out of place in a way we couldn’t figure. Beth and I brainstormed what beautiful boys like that would become when they grew up, but we found it hard to imagine them as parents, or at a dinner party. What on earth would they talk about? What shoes would they find to wear?

While you were swimming, we speculated about what it would be like to sleep with boys like that. Our friendship had warmed up at last. What would it be like to be touched by a boy whose limbs were not made from money, but crafted from something different, like hope, or hard work? I recollect a photo on your mother’s dresser of you in a short-sleeved linen shirt somewhere tropical, and even then you had a flush in your skin that those boys didn’t have. A ripeness. Like a polished apple.

During those last days I became quite obsessed with the thin dark girl, and her friend. I suppose I wanted to sink into other lives that were not my own. I could see their rivalry, something you’d tell me I was imagining, probably, but the girl from Istanbul, the one you showed me photographs of later, was flirting with both the boys: the blond one in his faded pink shorts, the dark skinny one in faded lime green. Touching their tanned, slim arms—all muscle, of course, but not the sort you can get in a gym. The other girl noticed, but she never touched their long, lean lines herself. She frowned and, just once, looked tearful.

Perhaps the boys’ muscles were from tying knots? We thought maybe they were staying on the white catamaran, Beth and I. It was a large, impressive vessel from which speed boats shot every night like sharp pellets, perhaps taking the beautiful people to hot, glamorous parties in the hills: you couldn’t really tell in the dark. But then the catamaran went and the beautiful people were still here, on the island.

The summer itself was slowly creeping away. All the other yachts left. The swallows flitted across the water for the last few times and then they all flew off together, heading for Africa.

The other tourists were long gone.

The motorcycle man closed his shop and no longer asked me if I wanted to rent a scooter every time I went past him. The strange wreath in front of his shop remained, though, commemorating the ?p??ß?te?, or ypnovátes: the “sleepwalkers,” a married couple who’d drowned in that part of the sea the year before.

George’s Taverna stopped serving fresh fish, because the fisherman had taken his wife to Athens. Those last days of Greek salads with old dry feta and toasted bread, because by then even the bakery had closed. Those last days. Our last days together. I will always treasure them, even though they were so very tainted.

The fat, slow hornets; they were still there. And the beautiful people. And us.

That last night before Beth and Paul went too, and left us alone for the final part of our honeymoon, we agreed that the island was the most incredible place we’d ever been. What was it? The zealous bougainvilleas, perhaps, or the rest of the greenery, so much more lush than on other Greek islands we’d been to before? There were eucalyptus trees and fig trees and pomegranates. Little whitewashed houses that seemed stuffed with peace. That soft heat in which everything slowed and made life back home seem almost insignificant. The kind of heat in which secrets melt, like beef tallow.

We made plans to return, earlier in the season next time; maybe even get an apartment for me to write in, if I carried on writing, of course. The only shadow over everything was that my second one-woman play hadn’t been picked up for TV in the end, and my finances were a bit grim. I couldn’t sponge off you, even now we were married, so I was probably going to have to apply for a permanent teaching job when we got home. I’d remortgaged the small house I owned via some complicated arrangement only you and your mother understood. Before the summer was out I was supposed to have written something new, something to finally bring back the success I’d grown so fond of, and to make me feel like myself again.

But when was I supposed to finish writing another play? Certainly not before we came on our honeymoon. The gift had been well meant, you insisted. A week at the exclusive Villa Rosa, recently reviewed in both Vogue and the Daily Telegraph. But the only way we could honor your mother’s wedding gift and fit it into our lives was by changing the date of the actual wedding and then coming to the island a week before the suite was available. A slightly shit honeymoon while we waited for the perfect one to be ready. The kind of logic you’d grown up on.

The first week was so cheap we paid for Paul and Beth too. Our hotel rooms cost forty-five euros per night and had whitewashed balconies looking out to sea, with wire clothes-drying racks, orange pegs with rusty hinges, and handheld showers. When I first saw the showers I wanted to cry. But I got used to them in the same way I’d got used to your mother hijacking our engagement with her gift of a honeymoon in the first place.

“A little treat,” Annabelle had said to me, handing over the envelope just after our engagement lunch, her voice booming oddly like a master of hounds in the tiled entrance hall of your childhood home. “Somewhere to write, perhaps?”

I’m still not sure why she felt the need to do it. You must have hundreds of thousands in your various funds and ISAs. You’re not poor. I am not without good taste. Did she think you were ten years old again and had to have your holiday chosen by Mummy? And who actually works on their honeymoon? The whole thing was just terribly inconvenient, but you forbade me from ever mentioning that.

I ended up enjoying the handheld shower, anyway. I felt rustic and ordinary again, briefly, and my skin glowed with a new kind of exfoliation that made it seem as though I sparkled, and was clean, at least on the outside. There was no shortage of hot water in the cheap hotel, and I needed an awful lot of hot water after our wedding.

Maybe you felt the same after Luciana, with her dark peach dress and long shining hair, spoke the words that ruined us? But I guess we’ll come back to that, because I’m not sure you know exactly what happened, even now. I’m not completely sure I do. And yes, this is me saying it, the thing we silently decided not to acknowledge. Or at least, I’m building up to it. I mean, did you even hear? But you must have done.

You can’t have known all along, surely? The thought makes my flesh creep.

We left for our honeymoon right after the wedding reception, with Paul and Beth due to follow two days later, when she could get off work. We had a sweaty silent layover in Athens before catching the propellor plane first thing the next morning. In Athens we were so wrecked we didn’t even leave the airport hotel. None of the windows opened, and the air-con drifted around like a lost phantom—but you’d been pleased you’d got some extra air miles from booking it. You ended up drinking Scotch with some golfers from Finland while I sat on my own and drank an entire bottle of sweet rosé that tasted like rancid petals.

You said later that I’d been determined not to like the Villa Rosa right from the start. You implied it was because it was your mother’s gift, but I’d always got on surprisingly well with Annabelle, and the Villa Rosa was objectively a good choice. The antique wooden floors, the tulip paintings, the white muslin curtains that waltzed sleepily in the breeze. Everything was so timeless and relaxing. I’d recently realized that my style, the authentic one I’d been able to discover only after making a significant amount of money, was quite similar to your mother’s. Antiques, old mirrors with wooden frames, high ceilings, slightly stained maps, old-looking documents and letters tied with string.

And so I should have loved the Villa Rosa, because it was exactly that, but in a hot place—and I like hot places, I really do. The candle lamps, the lazy white ceiling fans and mosquito nets. But I felt out of place here from the very beginning. Maybe because at heart I am still the kind of girl—woman—girl—who wants to get married in a field. Maybe I am just that. The field was my choice; the Villa Rosa was the corrective.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There we were on our last night with Paul and Beth, in George’s Taverna at the beach: them due to go home the next day, us due to move from the cheap hotel to the Villa Rosa. We sat at our usual table under the palm trees with the sea lapping gently by our feet and George talking again about the fabled storm that we didn’t really believe in.

“It will come,” he said, putting down a basket of slightly stale bread. “End of September, it always comes and takes away the beach. The water will rise up, high, high, over the stones, and the road. My chairs and tables here—all gone. Until April. Then another storm will come and bring the beach back and the summer will begin again.”

George looked ready for the end of the season. His eyes were tired and his clothes and footwear had become more ragged even in the eight days we’d already been there. It seemed he spent the entire season running back and forth from the water’s edge—where the tourists ate—across the road and into his taverna where groups of elderly Greek men sat in the darkness under a ceiling fan laughing or shouting things at him. The motorcycle man was George’s brother or cousin, and he sat there every night as well, looking sadly into the bottom of his glass of tsikoudia, a Cretan spirit I also rather liked.

“How could a storm ‘take away the beach’?” you said when George ran off in his shredded trainers to get our second carafe of white wine. “That’s just ridiculous.”

“I think they make it all up,” Beth said. “Stories for the tourists.”

I caught Paul’s eye and I could tell he liked the violent romance of it as much as I did. He tossed a stale bread roll into the water and we both watched as the fish came to eat it like a milk pot gathering itself to the boil, a strange little volcano under the water’s surface. Paul glanced at me again and his look lingered for a few seconds longer than it should have. But I broke the connection first, I promise.

That night the beautiful people were sitting with some elegant older men; they were perched on the very edges of their chairs, all angles and pointy elbows like pallid birds in a modernist painting. They were the only people in the restaurant with bare feet. I sat with my back to them so that I didn’t just stare. It probably didn’t help, all my staring, although I can’t say you ever noticed. I couldn’t work out whether I was more fascinated by the thin dark-haired girl who walked with such an air, or with the boy with the long fingers, who I’d seen one day with a streak of gold glitter on his face.

I joined in as we shared stories of our school days. I’d gone to the worst comprehensive in my area, where the other girls carried knives and MDMA, and I’d hidden from them by going to drama club, where everyone was very deep and sensitive and into Chekhov and Stanislavski. You and Paul had gone to the most expensive school in the same small city where I’d gone to university. You were always so awkward talking about your youth, but Paul was hilarious, with endless stories of the disgusting habits of private schoolboys. Is it strange to have a friend come on your honeymoon? I never thought so. Your mother found it a bit odd, though, which was another reason for her gift. “So you can have some time alone together without Paul for a change.” Yep. That went well.

Anyway, that night we started talking again about another of our favorite topics: what we’d do if we lived here all year round. Like if we got a villa and just moved here, to the island.

“I’d be a day trader,” said Paul. “Laptop and deck shoes. Who needs more than that?”

“Deck shoes?” said Beth. “Please no.”

“Paul’s deck shoes are probably Gucci,” I said.

Did Paul do something to Beth under the table then? She sort of winced, just for a second, then covered it. He never liked being teased by his girlfriends. Only I could ever get away with that. I sometimes thought I was the only woman he actually respected.

“Dior,” he said to me, with a half-hidden smile.

“It would get boring,” you said, not noticing. “There’s nothing to actually do except lie in the sun.”

“You could chuck out your vitamin D tablets,” said Paul.

“You could do an honest job in the day,” I said, “and read or party at night. It would be like being retired, but young. Best of both worlds.”

“You just used the word party as a verb,” Paul said. “Why is that exciting?”

“Because it means to have sex,” Beth said. “You know, like in tabloids? When the celebrities or whoever ‘partied’ all night?”

“Like Christos,” Paul said.

“Christos doesn’t party all night,” I said. “He works all night.”

Christos was American and—don’t quote me on this—possibly related to George in some way. He’d come to Europe on a year-abroad program and never returned. On the night when you and Paul climbed up to the ruined castle and left Beth and me to have pre-dinner drinks alone in the harbor, we talked to him. He told us all about his favorite authors and how he spent every night reading until three a.m. before getting up at nine a.m. to open the taverna. He worked at the taverna until three p.m., and then read for an hour before crossing the island to work his evening shifts in the expensive fish restaurant in the harbor. I’d suggested he go home and do his master’s in American literature but he said he was happy here, being a waiter. He was living his dream, he said. He’d found his treasure already.

There’d been an awkward moment after that when Christos had frowned as if he were not that happy; as if the dream had gone sour. He’d looked as if he was about to say something important, then didn’t.

“You should come and see my books,” he’d said. “I have a whole library up in my apartment. And the view is to die for.”

He’d pointed out across the harbor to a ramshackle group of old villas and tavernas with several floors.

Now you snorted. Does that sound wrong? Maybe just “laughed” is better. But it wasn’t immediately clear what was funny.

“Christos is wasting his life here,” you said.

“Is he?” said Beth. “Or is he actually living the simple life we all dream of?”

“You can’t live that life when you’re young,” said Paul. “It’s cheating.”

“He’ll have ten kids by the time he’s forty,” you said. “And an enormous gut.”

“A hernia and a porn addiction,” added Paul.

“Why is he called ‘Christos’, anyway?” said Beth. “He’s American, right?”

“He’s gone native,” said Paul. “Which would be another danger.”

“I think he’s got a massive secret,” I blurted out, before I’d really thought about it. It was one of those moments when you don’t realize you believe something until you actually say it.

“You think everyone has a massive secret,” you said. I suppose you meant it to sound fond, but it actually sounded like you already thought I was crazy.

“Maybe everyone does,” said Paul lightly.

Then there was a strange moment when you sighed, shook your head and glowered at him, and he picked up a small packet of sugar and crushed it in his fist while pretending not to notice. Then we talked about other things while George ran back and forth with more carafes of wine and small bowls of Greek yogurt and preserved lemon.

But perhaps there was a slightly strained atmosphere between you and Paul for the rest of the evening? Things hadn’t quite been the same between you after the row you’d had the day Paul and Beth had arrived on the island, a row I had not understood at all. It seemed to have been just another thing that had gushed out of the black cloud we’d both been under since the wedding. The row—or, I guess, fight—had started in the curio shop, and I wasn’t at all sure what had triggered it. But I’m going off track again, and I know how much that annoys you.

We had sex on that last night in our cheap bed in our cheap beach hotel. The mattress was so thin I thought we might go through it, or bounce it off its plywood frame. While you pounded me I imagined I was a glamorous but sad nightclub dancer, and I’d picked you up that evening and didn’t know your name. In that scenario, you looked a bit like Paul.

We’d left the balcony doors open and the curtains flickered occasionally, although there wasn’t much of a breeze. I don’t think either of us noticed how humid it was becoming, how sultry, how close.

The Villa Rosa was so near that we didn’t know how to get there. We couldn’t call a cab to take us 400 yards around the corner. In the end we decided to walk there with our suitcases.

You insisted on dressing up, because we were now going to what you called a “proper hotel.” You wore your white shirt and your navy chinos. I dressed as usual in my beach stuff. I was the one who read instructions and itineraries, so I knew we probably couldn’t check in yet and would have to leave our bags. I was ready to walk back to the beach after that and just have a normal day. I didn’t want anything to change. I wanted to lie on the same lounger on the same patch of beach and feel the sun knead the back of my thighs like hot dough while I tried to plot my new play.

“I wish we didn’t have to go,” I said to Marlena, the manager of the cheap beach hotel, as we checked out.

“You will be back,” she said, smiling. “Next year.”

“Next year,” I agreed, and she squeezed my hand. “Have fun in Italy,” I added.

She was leaving that day to visit her sister. She’d been telling us all about it. Her sister had been here helping with the refugees on the north of the island, but had got burned out and had to leave. The hotel was shuttered and locked up, except for our room. Paul and Beth had already taken the early boat. Marlena now gave us two pieces of homemade coconut cake wrapped in foil—the same sort she’d made for the refugees, she said—and made us promise to come back later and get our beach towels for the day as usual. The way it worked here was that the sun loungers half belonged to the hotel they were in front of, and half belonged to the public. To claim one, you had to put a towel on it. If you were staying in a hotel, they gave you the towel.

“I’ll leave them with Raoul,” she said. Raoul was the barman. Tomorrow he was departing for Athens too.

“I’m sure they’ll have towels at the Villa Rosa,” you said.

“But probably not until after we check in,” I reminded him.

We couldn’t officially check in until two o’clock, but we were going to try our luck now anyway. We’d promised Marlena that we’d check out early so she could get to the airport in good time. She was worried about the plane to Athens, especially in the wind that was due to pick up later that day. We didn’t want her to have to hurry as well.

I’d forgotten how heavy my leather handbag was. It cut into my shoulder as I wheeled my two suitcases out of Marlena’s hotel and down the tarmac road. We took the first turning on the right. It was a narrow back street, dusty and still, with overhanging trees and pale green cactuses with dying flowers. Our suitcase wheels kept getting stuck on hard seed pods, or churned up with small stones. I had to yank mine along and the movement was so awkward that at one point I ripped a fingernail.

It seemed to get hotter as we walked. The houses were not like the whitewashed squares along the seafront. Here were darker, grander villas, with tall gates and long fences. Dogs barked, and every gate had a sign saying Beware of the Dog in Greek. Outside one of the bigger houses, a collarless, ragged-looking Alsatian ran hard along the fence as we passed, then growled at our backs as we walked on.

Eventually, our suitcase wheels red with crushed berries, we turned into the driveway of the Villa Rosa and walked past more tired-looking cactuses, exhausted lemon trees and big, sleepy hornets. A massive pomegranate tree slopped its bruised fruits onto the path. There were still dogs barking in the distance, always the sound of the dogs barking, but there were no dogs at the Villa Rosa.

There she was, in the shade of the stone veranda, in a prim white dress. Isabella. I can barely even write her name. From now on, everything I say I will imagine you disagreeing with, saying, “It wasn’t like that” or “You’re not being fair” and all I can do is bow my head slightly and say, “OK.” And then just not react. Because I don’t know what else to do. There’s no point arguing anymore. And yes, perhaps it wasn’t the way I say, and perhaps I’m not being fair, and perhaps leaving at the first sign of the storm easing, as I am about to do, to walk to the airport (a mere seven miles), to take the first plane out of here in secret, and to never see you again—perhaps that proves I am the one who is mad. But it no longer troubles me that you think that. I am at peace with what has happened, and the knowledge that this is goodbye. I hoped we could get past everything, but you’ve proven that this will always be impossible.

When we arrived, you in your travel outfit, and me in my bikini and flamingo-print silk playsuit, there they were: the beautiful people. They had been staying here in the expensive place approved of by your mother; of course they had. The roosters were not yachtsmen. The boys were kicking a tennis ball in the dust while a pair of cool, comfortable-looking men—the same ones as the previous night—sat at a table smoking and looking down at their tablets, both of which had covers the color of bluebottles. A couple of guitars were propped up near them. The prettier girl, the one I never was, lolled in a hammock with a notebook and pen. The other girl had a ping-pong bat and a ball which she was hitting up in the air, tap, tap, tap. They completely ignored us. Well, almost. The darker boy caught my eye and stared at me for a couple of seconds too long. I could see more glitter, this time around his cheekbones, as if it had not quite been scrubbed off.

Isabella came out from the shaded stone veranda, worry in her large eyes. We must have looked dusty and out of place. And who arrives on foot to a hotel like this? We should have got a taxi.

Behind her, the Villa Rosa loomed, grander than any other structure we’d seen on the island. The large veranda was flanked by a series of terracotta brick columns. Above the veranda was a balcony, with plants in terracotta pots. All the windows had aubergine wooden shutters, and the main house was built from large pale bricks. It was grand, but also somehow rustic. Its effect was to make one feel small, but also overcomplex, too attached to the modern world and its kerfuffle. It was the sort of place you’d hand over your mobile phone and go around in a dressing gown all day.

Except this was no spa. I’d looked it up online and been baffled about why it cost so much and was always fully booked. There was no swimming pool, no sauna or hot tub. Our room didn’t even have a balcony or a sea view. Of course, none of the rooms had a sea view, because the hotel was not by the sea.

Kalimera,” I said, sing-songing the word for “good morning” the way the maids did in Marlena’s hotel. Marlena always seemed to like it when I tried to speak Greek.

“Yes?” Isabella said in lightly accented English. “Can I help you?”

I gave her my name but she still looked worried. She had the air of a serious child who has been left in charge while her neglectful parents nip out to the pub or go on holiday somewhere, but she must have been my age or a bit older.

She stood there like a picture from a children’s book, hands behind her back.

“The other guests,” she said, frowning, “they have not left. They are still here.”

“I know,” I said. “I can see. But can we leave our luggage?”

“Well, yes,” she said uncertainly. “I suppose.”

“The big bags can go on the veranda,” you said. “I’m sure it won’t rain.”

She beamed at you. “Yes,” she said. “Good.” The smile had disappeared by the time she turned back to me. “You can check in at two o’clock,” she said. Isabella then turned to go into the villa, so we followed her.

“And my handbag?” I said. “Can I…?”

The lobby was all cool tiles and wood and smelled of polish and fine incense, like the stately homes and medieval churches my mother used to like to visit. The interior was dark and impressive, with high ceilings and stained-glass window panels. There was an antique chiffonier with a thick guest book. Beside it, a bundle of old-looking documents tied with string.

To my right was an impressive pair of wooden double doors with shining brass hinges. They were closed. Ahead of me was another wooden door, which was open. Isabella glided across the tiled floor and closed it.

“Anywhere you like,” Isabella said, gesturing at a chair upholstered in salmon velvet.

“It’s got my passport in it,” I said. “And all my money.”

“You would like me to put it in the cupboard? Or under my desk?”

She gestured toward the door she’d just closed.

“Oh yes. Thank you.” I smiled.

“But why?” she said, not smiling back. “Everything is safe here. The whole house is completely open. Nothing is locked. We have no reason to worry here.”

“OK then,” I said. “Fine. I’ll leave it on the chair.”

“If you really want I can find somewhere else.”

“It’s fine. Really. The chair is great.”

You gave me a look, then, that I didn’t understand. I was being perfectly polite.

We walked back through the dust and the bleeding berries and the dead fruit smell while the dogs barked and snarled at us, and I was sure I could still hear the tap, tap, tap of the girl with the bat and ball. A man had watched us leave: a gardener, holding a sharp-looking machete. His eyes had followed us past the cactuses and the lemon trees as if he were a guard.

“She seemed nice,” you said. We didn’t yet know Isabella’s name.

As I write your dialogue here, I realize I want it to be more nuanced, but it wasn’t. It was as if some spell had taken hold of you the very moment you saw her. Maybe it was our wedding curse. I want to write instead that, at that point, so early in the whole thing, you took my hand and asked if I was all right. But you didn’t. You completely ignored the fact that I’d just been instructed to leave my valuables in a shared hallway. You must know that I’m not exactly a locked-room person myself. You made me feel like I was an uptight, weak little victim; but of course you can’t possibly have done that with only one sentence. So perhaps it was just me.

I glared at you and didn’t reply, and then the silence closed over us like a scab.

The day was getting hotter and stiller, and by the time we got back to the beach I almost felt as if I were breathing underwater. We were the only tourists left. We sat on our usual sunbeds as the tepid wind began to swirl around us and choppy waves appeared on the surface of the water. You read a novel as if everything was normal, and I brooded and waited for you to go first. You did not.

I walked to the edge of the water but your eyes did not follow me. When I swam, the fish underneath me seemed to move more urgently, shivering back and forth as though preparing for something. Then it began to drizzle. The rain was warmer than I expected it would be.

Two taxis passed us as we walked back in the rain. Through the window I could see sharp shoulder blades, shiny dark hair, bluebottle tablet covers and lean, tanned arms. So that was it. The beautiful people were gone too. On the afternoon boat I guess, because the plane had gone at eleven. I’d heard it take off, the sound of its engines snarling through the air like an angered beast.

When we went to collect our room key, Isabella looked distracted, and almost—this will sound odd—frightened. A man was leaving the house—I realize as I write this that it was the dapper little man from the curio shop, but I don’t think either of us noticed or cared about that at the time. We just wanted to check in.

Isabella was holding a basket of bruised red fruits that looked like pomegranates, which she put on the chiffonier before showing us to our room. To get there, we had to go outside again and up the staircase behind the veranda to the patio above. The stone tiles gleamed with the recent rain, and the flowers in the terracotta pots appeared to tremble. It had stopped raining, but the wind still flapped around like an invisible lost bird, fluffing things up, fluttering.

At the end of the patio was a large window which was slightly open, with a thin white curtain drawn across it. The curtain jerked in the breeze like a pinned butterfly. The aubergine shutter that went with the window was weather-stained and looked as if it had been kept open for a long time. The brass hook holding it against the wall was green and tarnished. At a right angle to the window was a fire door that wasn’t in keeping with the rest of the hotel. It seemed municipal somehow. It was propped open with a rock. We walked through it to a tiled corridor.

The corridor was dark and had the same woodsmoke and incense smell as the lobby downstairs. It had four doors leading off it, and a narrow, darkly carpeted staircase. Next to the staircase was an ancient sign that I could just about see had once said “Attic Suites 1 and 2” in a cursive script, but this had been struck out and it now said “Staff Only.”

Three doors were wide open; each led to identical neat guest rooms with four-poster beds and freestanding white enamel baths. I’ve never understood that, by the way, when hotel rooms have baths in the main room, so you can’t even bathe and prepare yourself for your lover in private.

Next to each of the four-poster beds was an antique transistor radio and a small stack of old hardback books. Each room had a dresser with a floral ceramic washbasin, and a little bundle of letters and documents tied with string, just like the one I’d seen downstairs on the chiffonier.

We reached the closed door at the end of the corridor and Isabella unlocked it.

“You have the best rooms,” she said, sounding as if she’d rather have given them to someone else. Or perhaps I imagined that. How many ways there are to say a simple sentence, and how hard it is to agree on what the speaker really means.

She said “rooms” because our accommodation was actually a suite, made up of two bedrooms and one bathroom. Although there was much more space in our suite than in the other rooms, it was clearly less desirable than them. The beds didn’t have headboards, let alone posts. There was no bath. As we walked around we realized that the bigger, lighter bedroom was the one with the large window overlooking the patio at the top of the stone staircase; thus the drawn white curtain. But the other bedroom was extremely dark and poky, so we wheeled our cases into the big one.

“Will we have to keep this curtain closed?” I said.

“This is up to you,” said Isabella.

But clearly we wouldn’t be able to open it. Even when it was closed, the curtain moved about in the breeze and anyone coming up the stone steps would be able to get glimpses of the bed, and whoever was in it.

“The other rooms,” I began. You glared at me. I’d promised not to do this here. Of course, that was before we knew we were cursed, when promises still meant something.

“Yes?” said Isabella.

“Well, I just noticed that they seem a little more private, and—”

“You want more private?”

“It’s fine,” you said. “This is wonderful.”

“Your mother choose this room,” Isabella said to you, warmly. “She has good taste.” She looked at me, and her tone became colder once again. “One of the new rooms was free three weeks ago, but your mother-in-law look at the website and see this room is better. It is the Honeymoon Suite.”

I must have gone pale at that. So we could have had one of the nicer rooms at the time we actually wanted? But no one ever questioned Annabelle. I blinked back my pathetic tears, thinking again of how the gods seemed to want us undone, cursed as we were. There was nothing auspicious about our union; nothing.

But, of course, I was overreacting as usual.

Isabella explained how to operate the fans, and where the insect-killing plugs were kept. Her white dress was stiff as she walked. It really did look like a child’s outfit, and she still had that faint air of abandonment about her. Her legs were slim, tanned and surprisingly muscular. Her sandals were the same whitewash color as so many things on the island: the buildings, walls, even the trunks of trees. She looked awkward and fragile despite her suntan and her muscles.

“Thank you,” I made myself say. “Efharisto. It’s all so lovely. Your house is beautiful.”

The wind picked up outside. Something fell over with a clatter. The curtain fluttered, and its edge lifted like a buffeted wing until the entire patio was visible. Our bedroom was on display for anyone walking past.

“The storm is arriving,” said Isabella, her mood seeming to darken, like the sky. “You are here at the wrong time.”

Indeed. As she’d handed me the envelope, your mother had specifically told me that the Villa Rosa was fully booked for the rest of the summer. She’d talked about how long it had taken her to make all the arrangements, how well reviewed this place was, how gilded.

“Yes, well, I wanted to come earlier,” I began to say.

“We don’t mind a bit of weather,” you said.

Isabella looked at you and giggled, as if you’d made a joke. Then her face fell once more. “Excuse me if I am emotional. I have just said goodbye to the most wonderful guests.” Isabella closed her eyes for a moment. She breathed in slowly and then out again, making a sad little noise as she did so. “We have actually all just been crying,” she said, forcing a brave half-smile. “Crying and playing the guitar and singing. These were such beautiful guests. I am so sorry to see them leave. We all cried,” she said again, and closed her eyes.

When she left, you started to unpack. The suitcases were only slightly damp from being on the uncovered part of the veranda during the rain shower.

“Oh my God,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“What?” you said, unfolding a pair of cream chinos and shaking them before putting them the way you like them on the hanger.

“Come on. Really?” I laughed. “?‘We all cried’? Nice way to greet your new guests. How are we going to live up to that?”

“It isn’t a competition,” you said. And you smiled, or half-smiled, to reassure me. Or maybe I just made that bit up and there was no smile. But smile or not, I never said it was a competition. I just thought, at first, that it was weird and funny, like the time the overweight motorcycle man broke into an earnest jog when he saw me running, and I caught George’s eye and we both laughed. But from the day you and I got married, it’s been harder for us to catch each other’s eyes in that easy way and share a moment.

We had a restless first night at the Villa Rosa. We’d gone out for dinner as usual but the only place open on the beach had those caged birds I don’t like. They are for sale everywhere here: goldfinches locked up and singing for a mate, or for their freedom. The songs were loud and beautiful, but also unsettling. Our food had too much garlic, and the tzatziki was warm. When we got back to the Villa Rosa—the dogs all barking hungrily in the dark, me using my phone as a torch—the wind died and the stillness returned. It felt hotter than ever.

Even though the air was still, the curtain over the window separating us from the patio fluttered back and forth. But maybe I imagined that. I closed the window anyway. But of course that made the room even hotter.

“Is there no air-conditioning?” I said as we got ready for bed.

“The fans’ll be OK,” you said.

“Right,” I said. “But they’re noisy.”

“Air-conditioning is noisy.”


“I think I prefer it without air-conditioning.”


“It’s better for the environment.”

You wanted to have sex and I didn’t. I felt too hot and, even though I can’t explain this, too unlike the beautiful people. I felt that my bones were hidden too deeply inside me. The patio light shone through the thin curtain and gave the room a pale, osseous color. Shadows of insects danced on the ceiling.

Before I put on my sleep mask I contemplated the tulip painting above the chest of drawers. The oil paint had been thickly layered, as if the artist fancied themselves as a Dutch master, and the red flowers looked like large wineglasses full of blood, or—and I have no idea why I thought this—stuffed with meat. When I eventually got to sleep I dreamed that the beautiful people were sleek gundogs running through a field a lot like the one we got married in, except full of badly painted tulips.

At some point toward dawn there was a strange banging, and the sound of a door slamming. And, in the distance, dogs barking and roosters crowing and a fluttering sound that was unfamiliar. The patio light had remained on.

The next morning, as I got dressed in my bikini and play-suit, something began to trouble me. I realized it was the mirror in the door of the antique wardrobe. It made me look absurdly short and fat. In the mirror at the beach hotel I’d seemed taller, leaner, younger than normal. The light from the sea picked up my tan and made me look healthy. Here I looked old, English, mangy. My eyes and skin looked dull and unhealthy. All skin and fat and no bone, like a pile of cheap supermarket poultry pieces.

When we left our suite the corridor was quiet. The doors to the other rooms remained open. As far as I knew, there were no other guests. The door to the patio was propped open with the rock again, and there was a note taped to it that I was sure hadn’t been there yesterday. PLEASE do not lock this door overnight, it is necessary to be open for ALL the guests. You need not worry about intruders as we have had no problems in last 20 years.

“Odd,” I said.

“It’s good,” you said. “Too many people are paranoid about locking doors.”

“But you may as well lock doors,” I said. “An unlocked door has no actual benefit to those inside.”

You frowned, but didn’t reply. It was the kind of thing you’d be more likely to say than me. Comments on efficiency and practicalities were your area, not mine.

We walked down the stone staircase and into the courtyard. The garden was dry after the rain. It wasn’t yet eight o’clock but it was already so hot.

“Where’s breakfast?” you said.

“I think we sit at one of the tables in the garden and wait,” I said.

“No,” you said confidently. “It’ll be through there.” You pointed into the dark lobby with its pink velvet chairs and the pair of polished wooden doors. They were still closed.

I was pretty sure that those doors led to Isabella’s part of the house, but I couldn’t stop you as you blundered into her private space. She didn’t seem to mind, though. I heard giggling and reassuring noises coming from within.

Once you’d been put right and we’d sat in the garden at a wrought-iron table, Isabella appeared. Her outfit today was more masculine. She wore navy jodhpurs and a crisp white shirt. How strange. You had been wearing almost the same thing the day before. Well, OK, you didn’t wear jodhpurs, but something about her outfit was peculiar. She’d color-matched you exactly. But of course it can’t have been deliberate. Her thick golden hair tumbled down her back like a waterfall and her shy brown eyes flicked this way and that before finally settling on yours.

“What would you like for breakfast?” she asked. “We have pastries, breads, jams, yogurt, eggs—whatever you want.”

“Bacon and eggs?” you said cheerfully.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Isabella. “We are a vegetarian hotel. Perhaps you did not know.”

“You did know that,” I hissed at you. “I’m so sorry,” I said to Isabella. “We did know. We just forgot.” What an incredible faux pas, I thought. But the two of you acted as if nothing had gone wrong. You ordered scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast, and she beamed at you.

“I’ll just have fruit,” I said when the shy eyes finally moved to mine.

“No bread?”

“No, thanks.”

“Maybe gluten-free?”

“No. Just fruit. If that’s OK. Thanks very much.”

“OK.” She raised an eyebrow. Caught your eye. Looked back at me. “Just fruit,” she repeated, as if she were practicing a foreign phrase. She went to walk away, but then paused and turned back. “Any fruit in particular?”

“Just whatever you’ve got.” I said. “Maybe some melon, if you have it.”

“No, I’m sorry, we do not have melon,” Isabella said.

“OK,” I said. “Just whatever, then.”

While we waited for breakfast you talked enthusiastically about the garden, about the house, about the run you were planning for later that day. I found myself wishing I were wearing white linen rather than thin safari-print silk, and that I had a bag that said Istanbul is Contemporary, and that I was younger and shinier and had brighter eyes.

When breakfast arrived, you were presented with a large plate of thick-cut wholemeal toast topped with a pile of yellow steaming eggs, all fluffy and beautiful. You were also given a bonus bowl of Greek yogurt with preserved lemon and pomegranate seeds, and a big pot of fresh coffee.

I was given a child-size bowl containing—and I promise you I counted—two strawberries chopped into quarters, three blueberries, one raspberry and one unripe apricot chopped into eighths. I’d asked for tea, which here, as so often in Europe, meant a pot of warm water and a teabag still in its paper wrapper.

Efharisto,” I said. “Thank you.”

Isabella nodded, then smiled at you, did a strange action that was like a little curtsey, and left.

“Wow,” I said, thinking the contrast pretty obvious.

“Great, isn’t it?” you said.

“I, um, don’t have much,” I said.

“Well, you did only ask for fruit,” you said.

“I know, but…” I shrugged. “This… And where are my pomegranate seeds?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you have pomegranate seeds and I don’t,” I said.

“Everything here’s fresh and in season,” you said. “Maybe they just don’t have much fruit at the moment. Maybe there aren’t many pomegranate seeds. It’s not like at home where you can just go to the supermarket.”

“I’ve been to the shop,” I said. “There are different fruits in the shop. There are watermelons and cantaloupes and grapes, and there are actually pomegranates growing on trees right here and—”

“I’m sure she did her best,” you said. “Do you want some of my eggs?”

“No, thanks,” I said.

After a while, Isabella came back out to collect the plates. I wonder how different everything might have been if you had answered her next question instead of me.

“Can I get you anything else?” she said.

“Oh, yes,” I said, before I’d even thought how to phrase my request. “Er, beach towels. We need beach towels. How do we…? I mean, do you give them out, or should we…?”

“Towels?” said Isabella uncertainly, as if this was something she might have to ask her parents. “For the beach?”

“Yes,” I said. “If that’s OK.”

“Well,” she said. “I don’t know. I could give you two of the white ones, I suppose.”

“Great,” I said.

A few minutes later she returned with two perfect fluffy white towels. They were folded into plump cubes. She held them out to me, but not quite all the way.

“I’m not sure these will be so good on the beach,” she said. “It is very dirty.”

It was true. The beach was mainly pebbles on top of a reddish sand that was slightly sticky and must have had clay in it. My beach strategy was to stay on a lounger in the sun as long as possible, but keep a patch of shade nearby for when it got too much. My shade sessions were on a towel on the pebbles. Marlena had never minded this.

“OK,” I said, a little confused. “Well, we’d better not take them, then.”

“Also, water is big problem here on the island and we try not to wash too many towels.”

“Well in that case we definitely won’t take them,” I said.

But now she thrust the towels toward me. “Please,” she said.

“No, thank you,” I said. “Really. It’s fine.”

“Please,” she held them out to me. “You can take them.”

“No,” I said. “We’ll do without them. Thank you anyway.”

“Please,” she said again.

“I couldn’t possibly,” I said.

She looked as if she might cry.

When she went back inside with the towels I looked at you but you wouldn’t catch my eye. I’d expected something. A raised eyebrow would have been fine. A mumbled “Well, that was weird” would have been perfect. I mean, that was weird. It actually was. Had the beautiful people had beach towels? I couldn’t remember.

Back in the room, you were quiet. I returned to contemplating myself in the mirror. I just looked so wrong here. And my skin! It looked like old wolfskin, blistered and cracked like a leathery hunter’s bottle. But to be truthful it was just the speckling on the antique mirror. I’ve always found that strange, by the way, when the surface of a mirror degrades: it’s like reality itself bubbling and bursting. Which always makes me wonder.

“Please tell me I don’t really look like this,” I said.

It’s a thing I used to do with my mum. If ever we were both in a lift or a changing room with a strange mirror I’d look at her reflection, her striking face not yet so puffed up, and say, “You don’t look like that in reality, you know,” and she’d be relieved and say the same about me and then we’d make faces in the bad mirror and it would be one of the few bonding experiences I ever remember having with her, especially in those hard teenage years when everything I did was wrong and I got caught shoplifting and smoking and having sex with the wrong boys and everyone was so happy when I finally got a place at university and left with my bags full of outlandish outfits and makeup I’d never paid for.

“What?” you said, without looking at me. “Sorry?”

“Do I actually look like this? Please tell me I don’t.”

“Like what?”

“Like in this mirror. It’s extremely unflattering.”

“Don’t you have more important things to think about than that?”


“Aren’t you supposed to be writing?”

“It’s 8:30 in the morning. I don’t understand why you—”

“I don’t understand why it always has to be about appearance with you anyway.”

“What? What the hell does that mean? You didn’t seem to mind when I was on a diet to look good for your fucking family wedding photos.”

You sighed then, and it was a long, drawn-out, pre-argument sigh.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, although really it should have been the other way around. I was the one who’d had a horrible breakfast, and the upsetting conversation about the towels. On the wall behind you there was a lonely and strange picture of a mauve tulip. It looked as if it had been done in such a hurry that the background had been forgotten. It hung in the white space like a sagging balloon, its stem a thin green string. The scene seemed to freeze for a second, and it was just me and you and the single tulip in the entire universe, and nothing had a background anymore.

“Why can’t you be nicer to Isabella?” you said.

It was the first time I’d heard her name. You must have learned it when I was otherwise engaged.

I blinked. “Excuse me?”

“You were downright rude before. It was embarrassing.”

“Seriously?” I said. “You really think that was me being rude? What’s wrong with you?”

“Don’t start on me now,” you said, emphasizing the me, as if I was a ragged Alsatian about to attack anyone I could get my teeth into; as if I was dangerous, rabid.

I shook my head, confused. “So you don’t think that was the most passive-aggressive thing you’ve ever seen?”


“The business with the towels.”

“She was just trying to save water. I don’t know why we have to have new towels every day anyway. It’s not good for the environment.”

“So you don’t think it was weird that she offered us those towels but basically said we shouldn’t take them?”

“They’re probably the only ones she has.”

“She runs a hotel near a beach! Surely she has beach towels.”

“Yes, well, not everyone wants to lie on a beach all day.” You didn’t catch my eye then. You breathed in, a bit haughtily, I thought; as if just by breathing you could rise above me, a mighty zeppelin floating high above a flightless dog gnashing its teeth and pawing the ground.

“What is that supposed to mean?” I said.

“There is more to life than spending every day lying on a beach and looking at yourself in the mirror.”

“Oh really? Thanks, Oprah. I never would have known what life was actually about if you hadn’t enlightened me. What the fuck? Why are you doing this?”

“And we’re not in America. Why do you have to talk like that? Why is everything sarcastic all the time? And ‘weird’? And don’t say ‘What the fuck?’ like that to me. You know I hate it. And I don’t know who Oprah is.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Your fucking school even protected you from Oprah?” I said. “Good job.”

Paul had recently told a “funny” story over dinner about the headmaster at St. Mark’s giving a talk every year on why it was important to avoid the girls from the nearby grammar school. The headmaster apparently never mentioned the comprehensives and certainly never thought to warn you off the girls who ended up at the local university, the bad one that only asked for a couple of grade Cs to do theatre studies.

St. Mark’s did such a good job of hiding knowledge of girls that perhaps it was inevitable that so many of its alumni would end up with ones like me who don’t know how to use cutlery properly and deep down think all beds need a valance.

Now, of course, we are, or were, married, until death or—just as bad—divorce did us part. I could feel tears coming.

“All I wanted was for you to support me. To agree with me.”

“You just want me to be your yes-man? A sycophant? Is that what you’re saying?”

“No. Come on, please. Why are you doing this?”

“I’m not doing anything,” you said. “I am simply trying to have a nice time in this beautiful place that you have decided to hate, presumably because you are jealous of Isabella.”

“Oh, fuck you,” I said, and went into the bathroom and locked the door.

When I came out, you’d gone. For a run, according to the neutral note you left.

I spent the morning trying to write. But I kept replaying our argument, or scripting the next one. Of course, neither of us was addressing the moment at the wedding when Luciana cursed us forever. Had you heard? Perhaps not.

What was I going to say when you got back? The sensible thing would be to drop it, of course; I knew that. And you often would come back after an argument and act like it hadn’t happened, which you thought to be measured and mature, but I sometimes felt was just repression and acting like your father. Go for a run and wait for the hysterical woman to pipe down. Wait for the growling dog to go back in its kennel. Take a tablet, get a rabies shot. Close your eyes and ears. Go to bed.

I typed the beginning of a bad scene on my laptop until my torn fingernail annoyed me so much that I ripped at it and then it started to bleed on the keyboard. I was determined not to give in and go to the beach. Not until I’d written something good.

I tried putting something a bit like our argument into the new play, which was about a dinner party that leads to the tragic downfall of a young woman who says the wrong thing. As you know, I’d had my last grant application rejected because my work was too unbelievable and “gruesome.” But a commercial director was interested in me and my “voice,” and we’d had a meeting booked for, well, tomorrow actually, which naturally I’d had to cancel because we are, or were, still on our honeymoon.

What your mother had really done was screw up my one chance of resurrecting my ailing career. I’d asked her if we could change the dates, but she’d said the booking was non-refundable. Of course it was.

You know, I still can’t believe how quickly I fell. I’m not sure we ever really discussed what happened with my career, and I’m not sure if it made things easier between us, or harder. I went from housekeeper with an MA in Theatre Studies and a script for a one-woman show to fringe-sensation with my own TV series to washed-up failure in a period of just over six years. I have a magnificent wardrobe and a lot of gold and diamond jewelry and not much else. Oh, and a husband.

What did you make of those years? You never exactly said. You found my show exciting, but also distasteful, I think, more so once it was honed for TV. Not that you ever quite admitted it as we sat in the Groucho with you looking worried and out of place while I drank Skinny Bitches (you called these “tequila, lime and sodas”) and did lines of coke in the loos. I suppose you must have known about my brief issue with the various powders I needed to get through all the endless days of rehearsals and auditions and diets and table reads and shoots. It’s all over now. The only powder I’m interested in now is the crushed black elderberry I take to ward off infections. And the Dior loose face powder that smells of roses, which Beth said she hadn’t ever tried.

My show was about a girl who sleeps with her boss and believes she groomed him, not the other way around. It was fine until it was on TV, at which point people started to find fault with it, and an opinion piece in a national newspaper said it was basically an apologia for the patriarchy and should never have been created. This inspired others to attack the show for being unoriginal, plagiarized and even culturally appropriated.

I tried to respond with a small column for the newspaper but it was given an unfortunate click-bait headline which caused a small but significant Twitter pile-on. After that my remaining invitations and auditions dried up and I sat at home and cried while my career was extinguished like a campfire in a sudden downpour.

But perhaps I deserved it? No one ever spotted the real problem with the show, except perhaps your mother and father, but they never actually said anything. Like you, they love silence. When things get really tough? Zip it.

So I pulled myself together and wrote a new play, entirely different, about a heightened, Gothic safari where almost everyone ends up eaten, either by animals or other humans. It was supposed to be funny. A dark comedy about cannibalism. No one liked it, and I was left with a large tax bill and only a very slim hope for the future. Still, I will survive. I always have.

But it is hard, once you’ve been up in the air, to come back down again.

Do you remember the morning of our engagement party? Perhaps not. I’m not sure what you were doing before the lunch. It was at your parents’ house near Canterbury, where I’d lived in as their housekeeper for four years when I was at university. Once we were engaged, everyone decided to forget I’d ever been a housekeeper at all, which was a relief in many ways.

That morning last spring I was in the dim, cool dining room searching for napkin rings. It was a bright day, and your mother had decided we should have the lunch outside. I was looking out of the French windows when I saw something sharp-beaked and magnificent. A sparrowhawk! Your mother’s garden was always the most lush, most jungle-like in your street. And now it had its very own top predator.

Your father was a keen birdwatcher, and we had once spent a long country walk stalking a grey heron while you and your mother discussed what to do about your eccentric aunt Sylvia who was plowing rather too much of the family money into the publishing house she’d set up, seemingly to print the work of her friends and students. I know you remember that day, because you were troubled by the idea that anyone could have so much to say to your father. But we’d always been close, even before I really knew you. Your mother was frequently away for work, and when you were at Durham it was often just Peter and me in the house.

On our engagement-party morning, I’d just seen him approaching when I noticed the sparrowhawk, and so I’d called to him in that kind of low hiss reserved for those situations when you want to alert somebody to the fact that there is something interesting to see, without alerting the thing you want them to look at.

“Peter?” I breathed, the P of his name pushing out of my mouth like the puffed-up chest of the bird on the lawn. “Peter?”

The sparrowhawk, sharp-beaked and haughty, was in one of those dips in the lawn your mother was proud of for a reason that I can’t remember. Its feathers flared on its legs. It was pecking away at something, quite violently. It seemed to have made quite a mess of the lawn. Was that black stuff earth? It seemed almost too dense and peaty. Was the sparrowhawk digging something up? As your father came to stand beside me, I realized that it was a blackbird. The sparrowhawk was killing a blackbird by sort of rubbing it into the lawn. It was burying its face in it.

“Everything all right, Evelyn?” said Peter, too loudly.

I put my finger to my lips, but it was too late. The sparrow-hawk took off, the blackbird now skewered on its talons. It came down on the other side of the garden, near the stone birdbath with the ivy wound around its stem.

“Sparrowhawk,” I whispered, pointing.

Peter saw it. “I’ll get the binoculars,” he said, touching my arm, just once.

Later, after lunch, when your mother had just opened the second bottle of champagne, we tried to describe what we’d seen.

Your father’s eyes shone, not quite as gold as the hawk’s had been, but with a similar intensity. I, too, felt different. Charged. Aloft with adrenaline and blood.

There had been something so disgusting, but also unexpectedly beautiful, about seeing one bird killing and then plucking another. Nature, red in tooth and claw—as Peter said several times—but also absurdly, slasher-film violent, almost sublimely so. The blackbird’s head had flopped from side to side as the sparrowhawk tore out its feathers, trying to get at its flesh. I thought I’d seen the blackbird open its beak then, and the idea that it might still be alive had made me gag and run for the loo, but instead of throwing up as I’d thought I was going to, I found myself laughing uncontrollably. It’s hard to explain now without sounding like I was unhinged then in the way I know you suspect I am now. But your father felt it too.

“When Evelyn got back, the sparrowhawk had just eaten the blackbird’s eyeball,” said Peter, after sipping his champagne. “Missed the best part. Looked as if it were rather chewy.”

“Now I understand why you didn’t eat your caviar,” said Aunt Sylvia. She was right. That was exactly why I hadn’t eaten my caviar. But I couldn’t get my brain and the rest of my body to catch up with my queasy stomach.

My arms were still tingling with the viscerality of it all. All the tiny hairs on my body were charged with electricity, puffed up like a cat’s tail. When I swallowed the chilled champagne, it was like hot blood in my throat, and I felt more alive than I ever had before.

When we made love that night, I pretended you were your father. A harmless and natural fantasy I’m sure most girls have. But perhaps you knew, or suspected? You’d been quiet earlier that evening as I’d tried to play the role of the enthusiastic new member of the family, even though this wasn’t exactly what I was: laughing too hard at your father’s jokes, and touching his arm every time he said something interesting. I’d met your father when I was at university, and then I’d become his—well, your family’s—housekeeper. Now I was to be his daughter-in-law, and I was doing my best to get into the role. Now, if I act like that, you tell me to quieten down, but back then you were still shy.

Anyway, on our first morning at the Villa Rosa, you came back from your run all sweaty and hot just before lunchtime.

“It’s true,” you said excitedly.

“What is?”

“The beach,” you said. “It’s gone.”

“What do you mean, ‘gone’?”

“Well not exactly all gone. But the man in the motorcycle shop says it’ll go completely when the big storm comes tonight or tomorrow.”


“Oh well, at least you’ll be able to concentrate on your writing,” you said, and gave me a damp kiss on the cheek. “I’m sorry about before, by the way. Can we just forget it?”

“Sure,” I said. But of course, it was easy for you to forget because I hadn’t said anything bad about you. But me? Too fat, too gauche, too American, too lazy, too narcissistic. But OK, for the sake of peace I decided to let it all go. Almost.

“She is a bit strange, though, don’t you think?” I said.

“What, Isabella?”


You sighed then. “The towel thing was a bit odd, yes.”

“Thank you.” I kissed you on your sweaty lips.

“But I think she’s nervous around us. We should try to be nice to her.”


“Can you do that?”

Why you have to push things the whole time, I don’t know.

“Sure,” I said. “Fine.”

“You might ask her for a restaurant recommendation for tonight?” you said. “While I’m in the shower.”

“I’m in the middle of a scene,” I said. “We can do it later.”

I went back to my laptop, and my finger bled some more, and it was the color of the awful tulips. I got into my scene but I knew it was bad. I was trying to write about the beautiful people. I don’t know why I thought I could put them in a play about a dinner party. They kept turning into queer, undead, cannibalistic creatures. I couldn’t stop them. I decided that in the story no one sees them until the sun has gone down. Had they roosted somewhere in the large Gothic house all day? Haha! They were not roosters, but roosters. Bats. Dark, with folded wings.

But describing people as vampires does not make a good scene, and, in any case, I was not supposed to be writing about vampires. How could I do a one-woman show about vampires anyway? And I was definitely supposed to be done with cannibals.

Nevertheless, telling myself I needed to loosen up, I started writing a scene that was very tasteless, just for the hell of it. You would have hated it. You liked writing to be clean, minimal, stylish. This was a kitschy, garish scene in which the vampires, dressed as hunters, lured two innocent couples to a candlelit picnic where the other guests were animals and taxidermists and crazed balloonists, and in the hot, waxy forest light they raped and murdered the couples and left them immortal, beautiful and perfect, their wounds healed with fresh green leaves.

They didn’t eat them, I promise.

I wanted to find some way of showing the thick swirl of blood and ripping flesh and the hot excitement of the kill, but all I could think of were the tulip paintings. The one above my makeshift desk began to bother me. It was bad, of course; all the paintings were. Its petals were the color of meat, but dried and curled, like dead tongues. The dead tongues were wrapped smugly around their erect green stems.

You came out of the shower.

“How’s your scene going?”

“Fine,” I said, shutting the laptop. “I’m distracted by these terrible paintings.”

“What terrible paintings?”

“All the tulips.”

“Evie,” you said, sighing.


“Well you must know that she does them? I saw her easel set up downstairs.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, that doesn’t stop them being awful.” I stretched and put my glasses away in their case. “It must be time for lunch soon?”

“Isabella’s put some sandwiches out for us,” you said.

“Oh. Right. But I thought we might go to the beach, or what’s left of it.”

“Nothing’s open. George’s Taverna’s shut. Raoul’s gone. The sun loungers aren’t there anymore. It’s all closed down.”

“The shop must still be open, though? I thought we could get some bread and cheese and sit and look at the sea.”

“Well, we can’t just leave the sandwiches. She’s gone to a lot of trouble.”

It was then that I had the feeling I was never going to see the beach or the sea again.

The sandwiches were on bread I don’t like (poppy seed), with smelly, bloating fillings I don’t like (hummus and red pepper; egg and tomato), but I ate them anyway and did not complain. After lunch Isabella disappeared completely and there was no way of getting a cup of tea or coffee so we just drank water we’d bought from the shop the day before. Still, you’d managed to get a restaurant recommendation from Isabella: she’d even rung and booked for us. It was a place on the other side of the island. We’d need a cab to get there. She’d booked that too.

I spent the afternoon writing and deleting things while you read a thin novel your mother had recommended. You always read more than I did, even though I was supposed to be the artistic one. I read infrequently, partly because every book changed me, right down to the level of my DNA. I didn’t want to be changed so often. But you were able to hoover up contemporary culture without so much as a little belch afterwards. You just carried on being you.

At six, I put on my black dress, the one I know you like. You wore your white linen shirt with your dark blue chinos and your Ralph Lauren boat shoes. I hadn’t worn much makeup this whole holiday, but that night I did it all: foundation, which felt like thick butter on my face, full heavy eyes with mink eyelashes, and red lips.

I told myself I was doing it for you, but really I was doing it for the mirror. In any case, it didn’t work and I still looked like a pile of guts and marrow but this time with red lipstick. You’re not supposed to have heavy eyes and red lips together, by the way, because all the women’s magazines say it’s sluttish, like offering yourself up as a piece of meat, a craven dog. But men don’t know that, and you always liked me in a lot of makeup. You actually once described this look as “natural,” but men don’t know what is natural and what is fake most of the time.

“You look beautiful,” you said.

Even though everything has gone so horribly wrong, I’ll always remember that. Thank you.

While we waited for the cab, the gardener sat on a low wall with his machete next to him, smoking and watching us. Isabella was beyond him in the still sunlit garden, picking pomegranates and putting them into a wicker basket. She must have picked a lot of pomegranates in her life, but she was picking these ones as if the process was new to her, yanking them off their branches with unnecessary violence. It wasn’t efficient. Her basket was full of stalks and leaves. As she ripped the fruits off their stems, her small breasts bounced in her white shirt. She quite clearly was not wearing a bra.

“Oh,” she said, turning and seeing us. “You are here.”

“Just waiting for our cab,” you said.

“This is Kostas,” she said, indicating the gardener. “He helps me in the garden.”

Which is exactly how your mother always described workers as well: “helpers.”

I helped your mother quite a bit. And your father, too.

Kostas nodded at us. You walked over and shook him manfully by the hand. While he shook your hand, his eyes crept over my body. You didn’t notice.

The cab driver was unfriendly and spoke no English, although he did at least respond to my Kalispera with a gruff mumble. His crackly car radio was playing Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee for the Road.” It was oddly proleptic, hearing that song then, because in fact it’s all I can hear in my head as I write this letter.

We sat together in the back of the cab and you held my hand. The driver didn’t turn toward the beach but instead went up into the hills behind the Villa Rosa. The sun was going down and pink clouds were thickening overhead, like sauce that might easily curdle. After about fifteen minutes we reached a small bay with a wooden pier and some fishing boats. We hadn’t been to that side of the island yet. In high season perhaps there were a lot of people there, but that night it was just us. The wind was too strong for us to sit outside by the water, so we went into the taverna. The television blared with a Greek game show.

“This is so authentic,” you said.

“Right,” I said. The tables were laminated with sticky plastic. The chef was smoking. The waitress, who was also clearly his wife, had her left arm in a sling.

“It’s great to be able to come somewhere real for once.”

“What do you mean?” I said. “George’s Taverna was real.”

“It was for tourists,” you said.

“OK,” I said. “But we are tourists.”

The waitress brought us the menus. I felt sorry for you then. It was the worst we’d seen on the island. All your least favorite things: deep-fried cheese balls; deep-fried halloumi; deep-fried baby shrimp. There were no salads. When you asked about fish of the day you were told that the fisherman had not been out today. In fact, the waitress said, there was no fish at all except for something that was supposed to be a bit like “cod-fish,” which was prepared in a way similar to fish and chips. We both ordered that, and a carafe of white wine.

The waitress then brought us a bowl of taramasalata, and small white rolls that had obviously been defrosted and then heated in the microwave. An amuse-bouche.

“Mmm,” you said. “Fresh bread.”

I couldn’t tell you it wasn’t really fresh, just as I couldn’t tell you that the taramasalata was mainly breadcrumbs and ketchup. You wanted to like everything so much, and I loved you for that. But you wanted to like this place more than usual.

“I bet you can’t find this in the Lonely Planet,” you said happily.

“No,” I agreed.

Had you ever even read a Lonely Planet guide? I can’t imagine you doing so, except maybe on your gap year. You traveled mostly for work, rather than pleasure, and the whole thing was always a complex game for you, an augmented reality of platinum cards and hotel memberships and collecting as many loyalty points as you could, for things you could afford to pay full price for anyway. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you were never the world’s most authentic, earthy traveler. But I never thought you wanted to be.

“We are close tomorrow,” the waitress said. “Go to Athens before storm.”

Just like everyone else.

“Why are they all so sure a storm is coming?” you asked in the cab home. We were drunk. We’d ordered three more carafes of wine to make up for the terrible food, which you kept saying was great, right until the very end when they brought an ice-cream sandwich of the sort my mother used to give my father and me for dessert—which, yes, we did used to call it. I don’t think you’d ever seen one before, but even you couldn’t pretend this was an authentic Greek experience. But you still didn’t say anything: you just ate it and smiled. Your class is always so positive, don’t you find? Doesn’t it ever annoy you?

When we got back, Kostas was smoking at one of the breakfast tables. He didn’t say anything to us. His smoke curled above his head in thick petals. The moon was high and full, with clouds rushing in front of it like dark chariots on their way to a big event.

There was a new mirror in our room. A full-length antique mirror on a stand. It was an oval shape, with brass hinges that looked like wings. Odd. But I didn’t think about that then as you pulled me onto the bed.

“Shhh,” I said. “Kostas is still out there.”

Our window was open, even though I was sure I’d left it closed. The thin curtain lifted in the breeze.

“He can’t hear anything.”

Another thing about you: you have never believed anyone can hear anything through open windows. But as we made love I imagined Kostas listening. I thought about him appraising my body the way he had before. I imagined him coming up the stone steps and pausing there on the hard tiles, watching us through the window. I imagined him unzipping his work trousers.

When I orgasmed, you believed you’d done it.

Before I fell asleep I wondered where the mirror had come from.

The next morning, I had a hangover. We’d drunk more than I’d realized, and the wine must have been cheap and full of sulphites. I looked bad enough in the old mirrors, but in the new one I was jowly and pale, like a bleached-out St. Bernard that had drunk its little barrel of whisky a long time before, and whose only hope in life was to find another one.

“Where do you think this mirror came from?” I asked you, before we went down to breakfast.

“What mirror?”

“This one.”

You peered at it, and then at yourself in it. I don’t know what you saw.

You looked away, as if disgusted with yourself.

“You don’t look like that, by the way,” I said, before I’d even thought about it. But you didn’t. And it made me feel better because I realized the mirror had distorted me too. In fact, as I looked at it properly I realized how horrible it was. The glass was cheap and smeared in places. The varnish on the wooden frame was thick and ugly.

You sighed. “Wasn’t it here before?”

“No,” I said. “Do you think…?”


“Isabella,” I whispered. “Did she listen to us yesterday?”

“Don’t be silly,” you said, and kissed me on the top of my head. “Let’s go and have breakfast.”

As we left the room, Isabella was on the patio, sweeping up leaves and dead insects and presumably not listening to us. She was wearing army-green shorts and a white T-shirt. Again, with no bra. I could clearly see the bloom of her dark nipples through the thin cotton, and I was sure you could too.

“Please,” she said. “You must leave this door unlocked overnight.”

“We did,” you said. “I’m sure we did.”

Actually, I locked it when you weren’t looking. Because, well, just because. We were drunk, and about to make love, and Kostas with his strange eyes was down below and… I don’t know. I’m provincial. Petit bourgeois. Uptight. Afraid. Like most women, I don’t want my dark sexual fantasies to actually manifest in real life.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m just used to locking doors at home. I must have done it without thinking.”

“It is safe here,” Isabella said urgently, with that fear back in her eyes.

“OK,” I said. “But we’re the only guests. Does it matter?”

“We are safe here,” she said again. “No need to lock.”

We sat at the same table again for breakfast. The pomegranate trees looked dull in the odd morning light. It was cloudy and the air was dense, even more so than yesterday. The day had the feeling of a large balloon that was too heavy to take off, because its skin was too thick and its basket too full of people.

The dapper little man from the curio shop was there again, in the tiled hallway, putting documents into a soft and battered brown leather briefcase.

Paul and I had begun calling him the “dapper little man” after we’d first seen him in his curio shop. I’m not sure you’d ever really noticed the dapper little man, but Paul and I had developed all kinds of theories about him. There was something waxy and doll-like about his skin, and he was slight and short. We imagined him dressed in all kinds of miniature outfits, like an aged, Gothic Ken, or a decommissioned Action Man. We’d invented racks of little felt paisley waistcoats and bow ties, a moustache-grooming set and a cupboard full of monocles.

Paul and I had so many little in-jokes and references, and you shared none of them. Sometimes we could communicate with only our eyes. A little flick here or there, or just a tiny flash, and we always knew what we meant, what we were finding ridiculous, or suspect. Why was it never like that with me and you? The one time I tried to communicate with you using only my eyes you asked if I might need to go to the optician.

We’d discovered the curio shop the day Paul and Beth had arrived on the island, two days after us. It had taken us only an afternoon to exhaust the main village by the harbor, and it seemed that the few tourist shops all sold the same things anyway: brightly painted ceramics, cheap jewelry, lavender sachets, lemon balm tea in decorative tins, and dried seahorses and starfish.

The curio shop was just beyond the village. It also had the seahorses and the starfish, but they were different, somehow. Maybe they just seemed fresher, and less dead? Almost everything in the curio shop had been part of a living creature once—antlers, leather packing cases, feather boas, riding crops—and I fancied I could sense a faint pulse in every one of the objects, as if the creatures were simply asleep, or under some kind of spell. Beth put her hand mindlessly into a drawer full of dried seahorses and sort of swirled them around, but I was too squeamish. I couldn’t touch anything in case it woke up.

The dapper little man had been sitting on a high stool in a dark corner at the back of the shop, twisting a piece of wire with a pair of sharp-looking pliers. On the counter in front of him was a half-completed birdcage of the sort we’d seen in other shops and restaurants—the ones the goldfinches were kept in. Behind him were shelves holding bundles of documents tied with string, seeming to be little antique archives, or collections of old love letters—just like the ones Isabella had at the Villa Rosa, on the chiffonier and in the four-poster rooms.

Now, I noticed the dapper little man flinch only slightly as Isabella brushed past him, a bit closely, I thought. He snapped the bronze clasp on his antique briefcase and hurried away across the courtyard to his scooter. Isabella paused for a moment by the chiffonier, but I couldn’t see what she was doing. The scooter sped away.

Isabella came out.

“Good morning,” she said, with a smile directed at you. It was as if we hadn’t just spoken to her upstairs, as if we hadn’t yet seen her today.

“Morning,” you said back.

Kalimera,” I said. But she ignored my attempt at Greek, just as she had the day before.

“So,” she said, biting her lip. “You went to a different restaurant in the end. It was good?”

“What do you mean?” you said.

“The restaurant call and say you did not come.”

A few beats then while we all realized what must have happened.

Then you laughed. “Oh dear. Did we go to the wrong one?”

“It seems so,” said Isabella.

“We went to the one the cab driver took us to,” I said. “He pointed at the door.”

You and Isabella locked eyes and laughed, as if this were the funniest thing ever. So we’d eaten terrible frozen food for no reason? I did not find this funny. If only you’d been more honest about how bad it was we might have realized our mistake. Authentic, indeed. You laughed and laughed. In fact, Isabella laughed so much she had to grab your arm, perhaps to stop her from falling to the ground with the sheer hilarity of it all.

“I bring you eggs on toast again?” Isabella said to you once you’d both stopped laughing and she had finally let go of your arm.

“Thank you,” you said back, touching her arm now. All this arm-touching all of a sudden, but I was not part of it, not at all.

“And ‘just fruit,’?” Isabella said to me, I thought a little mockingly.

“Thanks,” I said.

Breakfast arrived. Yours was the same as yesterday. Mine was a bowl of melon. Just melon with—and I pointed this out to you, and you know it is true—one pomegranate seed on the top. One. I tasted a bit of the melon. It was hard and unripe.

“Wow,” I said.

“What’s wrong this time?” you said.

“It’s a bowl of melon,” I said. “Just melon. Loads and loads of melon.”

“Well, you did ask for it.”

“OK, but I usually eat all different fruits for breakfast. Why just melon? Don’t you think it’s weird?”

“You’ve got a pomegranate seed as well,” you said, with a half-smile.

“You must agree that that’s odd,” I said. “Who puts one pomegranate seed on a bowl of melon?”

“It does look quite pretty,” you said.

“It looks like a tit,” I said. “A cubist tit.”

“A cubist tit could still be pretty?” Your face was still flushed with the aftermath of all the laughter. You raised an eyebrow. You were being playful. Light.

“I’m not eating it,” I said.

“Evelyn,” you said, groaning. “Don’t.”

“If she wants a passive-aggressive war then she can have one,” I said. “I lived with my mother for twenty years and yours for almost five. I can win against this pathetic attempt if I have to.”

“Look, she made you a bowl of melon because you asked for it yesterday. Why don’t you just eat it?”

“One pomegranate seed,” I said, shaking my head. “Please.” And then for a moment it did seem almost funny, and I smiled, and you smiled back, and I remembered you stroking my hair last night and telling me you loved me, and the storm didn’t come, and the clouds moved away.

I popped the single pomegranate seed in my mouth.

After breakfast you got ready for a long run. Once you’d left, I found it hard to get into my writing. I tried to compose something about the wedding, but it was too hard, and then I started tinkering with the plans I’d already made for my new one-woman show about a girl who is raped in Freshers’ Week at university. I tried different forms for this—even using an epistolary structure at one point. But nothing was working.

Instead, I tried to look up the beautiful people on Tripadvisor. Would one of them have left a review by now? I wanted to know if they were Turkish, how old they were, whether any of them had an Instagram. I couldn’t imagine not being able to follow them digitally now that I couldn’t follow them in real life.

I told myself that’s all I was doing on Tripadvisor, but then I found myself reading all the reviews of the Villa Rosa. I know this is awful, but I wanted them to be bad. They weren’t. I wanted them to say how peculiar Isabella was, but they didn’t. One said, The charming owner is such a free spirit and so inspirational. In an area surrounded by high fences and guard dogs, she chooses to have an open house. Another said, The breakfast is magnificent. All that wonderful fresh fruit picked from Isabella’s delightful garden. Another said, Isabella was so kind to us after the loss of our parents in such tragic circumstances. We arrived on the island in… The entry was long and I skipped over it. Unlike me, I know.

The beautiful people were not on there. But why would they be? They were not the kind of people who left reviews. They were, I thought then, more the kind of people who received reviews. Were they some sort of band? That would explain their beauty, the glitter and the presence of the older men, who could have been managers or agents. The guitars and the singing, too. I googled Turkish band four members two boys two girls, but before the results could come up the lights flickered and the Wi-Fi went off. The universe telling me to go back to my play, I thought. Not that the universe had given me any other indications that it wanted me to carry on writing, or performing. There was a low rumble of thunder outside, and I expected it to start raining, but it didn’t.

I wanted to walk to the beach but in truth I was a bit afraid of the dogs, and I knew you’d be annoyed if you got back and found me gone. You’d made it clear, after all, that the days of lying on the beach were over. I was supposed to be writing. But I knew you wouldn’t object to a wholesome walk, for inspiration, as long as it was not to the beach. I wrote you a note, and then started the long process of applying sun cream and insect repellent. I changed from my playsuit into my long khaki shorts and a white shirt. Then I closed the bedroom door, went down to the garden and started walking up the steep hill behind the Villa Rosa. I didn’t lock the door, because, well, I’m such a free spirit. And you didn’t have a key.

The air was hot and moist, and the hill was scrubby, with ancient-looking roots poking out of the earth, and bits of old birdcage strewn around. I knew it was a birdcage because the little yellow perch was still attached to a rusting piece of wire. It was the only colorful thing up here.

On and on I went, higher and higher, sweating. I realized I hadn’t brought any water with me, and made myself slow down.

When I reached the top of the hill I sat and tried to think about my writing. I could see the coastline below me, and the next town just across the bay. Beyond that was the Turkish coast, with its rugged cliffs, and the wind farm that resembled a marching army of long-legged white birds. It looked as if it was nighttime there. Why was it so dark? Then there was a flash in the sky and I realized that there was a big storm going on. From up here it looked like war, or the end of the world. Every few moments the dark sky was illuminated yellow and white like the cracking of a giant bird’s egg. One would expect a lot of noise with a spectacle like that, but in fact it was completely silent. Was this the storm that was due to come here? It was enormous.

My mouth was dry. I wondered if I could still speak, and so I said the word parakalo a few times, up there on the hill on my own. I’d become a little obsessed with the word. I loved hearing Greek people say it, and it always seemed like a sort of reward for trying to speak their language.

Efharisto was the most difficult basic foreign word I’d ever had to learn. All that effort just to say thank you. Four syllables, and all that rasping on that middle H, which completely broke the rhythm of the word. It was not at all onomatopoeic, unless the effort required to say the word did have some actual tangible meaning; like, I am making such an effort to thank you by spitting out this uncomfortable word.

If you did manage to say it, the other person would say back parakalo, and that word had such a contrasting fluency, and such a pretty, birdsong feel, even more so than the happy lilts of both kalimera and kalispera. Parakalo was another four-syllable word—they all seemed to be—but it was one that Greek speakers seemed to like to draw out. Pa-ra-ka-LO, they would often say, leaving the stress until the last syllable, just when you thought there might not be any stress at all. But the second syllable could be stressed too. It meant you’re welcome, and also, please.

I realized then that I’d never said it out loud before. Why would a Greek person say thank you to me? I simply had no need of you’re welcome. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever said please, either. In English, please has an aggressive edge—“Would you bring me a bowl of melon, please?”—and we are far more likely to use thank you or sorry instead. “Sorry, would you mind bringing me a bowl of melon?” “Could I have a bowl of melon? Thank you.” Efharisto. I realized I said thank you all the time here in place of sorry, too, which I did not know how to say in Greek. That was why I heard parakalo so much. It followed me around, trailing in the wake of my efharistos.

I practiced saying parakalo again as I sat there watching the Turkish storm. I wanted to be able to say it to someone. Parakalo. My tongue felt massive in my mouth, and twisted, like one of the tulip stems. What on earth could I do to make Isabella or Kostas or a taxi driver or a waitress thank me, so I could chirp back parakalo? I was determined to find something. Now, every time the lightning flashed I replied. Parakalo, I said to the sky, and then the sea. Parakalo. You’re welcome. Please. I imagined Kostas walking up the hill then, sweaty from gardening, and me drawing him closer as he touched my arm the way Isabella had touched yours. Parakalo. Parakalo. Parakalo.

Then I thought I heard a scuffling noise behind me, followed by a bang, and then another one. I stood up and looked around. Over the brow of the hill was an old shepherd’s hut. The wooden door was banging in the wind, as though someone had just left without closing it properly. I used to feel afraid in situations like this, but lately I’ve noticed I simply feel numb instead, as if I’m encased in a skin that is not my own, and that can’t be pierced or penetrated. But anyway, there was no need to feel any fear, because there was no one there, at least not anymore. Nevertheless, I set off back down the hill, perhaps a little quicker than I’d usually walk.

Just before I reached the place where the path split—left for the road; right for the Villa Rosa—I heard another noise; it was the pat, pat, pat of a runner. I thought at first it was you, but the steps were lighter than yours. I turned and saw it was the dark-haired boy, the one with the glitter, although there was no glitter on him now. He was wearing acid-wash skinny denim shorts and no vest. He looked so bony, like someone had already eaten all his flesh, as well as any garnish he may have had. He caught my eye, only for a second, and I thought I saw fear again, as well as a sort of uncanny desperation, as he ran past. He was holding something that I first thought was a dead white bird, or wool from a sheep, but was actually a plastic packet of paper doilies.

When I got back to our rooms you were in your running clothes, looking worried.

“Where were you?” you said.

“I went for a walk,” I said back. “Are you OK?”

“A walk where? The beach?”

“No. Up the hill. I left you a note.”

“A note?”

“It’s there,” I said, pointing at your bedside table. “On your glasses case.”

I knew you’d put on your glasses when you got in. Your case was always a safe place to leave a note. You never noticed much about changes in your surroundings, so I had to be canny if I wanted to get your attention. And I knew how you hated it if I didn’t leave you a note. You preferred these to be real notes rather than texts, for reasons I had never fathomed.

“There wasn’t a note there,” you said.

Typical. You’d opened your glasses case without even seeing it, and the note had fluttered like a broken little wing onto the floor or under the bed. I began searching, but there was no note.

“I wish you’d remember,” you said.


“I wish you’d just remember to leave me a note. You must have forgotten.”

“I didn’t forget,” I said. But perhaps I had, because there was no note anywhere. I searched the whole room. While I was searching, I noticed that something else had changed. The light in the room was different, and it wasn’t because of the clouds, or the pre-storm weather. What was it? What was it?

“The tulip paintings,” I said, getting up from my knees. I’d been having one last glance under the bed. “Look. They’ve gone. Isabella’s been in here and taken the paintings and taken your note too. I don’t know why she’d do that. I—”

“Will you stop blaming Isabella for everything,” you said. “It’s becoming really tiring.”

“Well, where are the tulip paintings, then?” I said.

There were light square patches on the walls where they’d been. These absences somehow looked even worse than the paintings had.

You sighed loudly. “Well, I don’t know. Did you take them down?”


“Yes. You kept going on about how much you hated them.”

“Right. I actually think I said one thing about them being awful paintings, which they are. I’m not going to take them off the walls, though. Are you insane?”

“No,” you said. “I’m not insane.”

Did you slightly stress the I’m in that sentence? So much is in the delivery, after all. It’s fascinating how different that sentence is if you stress the not, or the insane. One way makes me mad; one way makes you mad; one way makes neither of us mad. At this moment I honestly don’t know which way it was. But I think you did stress the I’m, just a little: just enough.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” I said.

“Nothing. I’m not insane.”

“And you’re saying I am?”

“How does me not being insane make you insane?”

I sighed. “This is ridiculous.”

“I agree. So where are the paintings?”

“Maybe you should ask Isabella.”

You shook your head then. “I’m going to have my shower,” you said. “And maybe you can do something about your jealousy while I’m in there.”

“I fail to see why I should be jealous of a glorified maid who can’t even make an acceptable breakfast,” I said.

You slammed the bathroom door.

Parakalo,” I said quietly. It didn’t come out quite right, though.

The Wi-Fi still wasn’t working. I went downstairs to see if I could find Isabella to ask her about it. I also thought I might inquire about where the paintings had gone, not because I cared, but so I could prove you wrong.

There was no sign of her, but someone had put up the trestle table where the sandwiches had been yesterday. Today there was a single block of feta cheese laid out with some sliced bread and more melon. The unripe melon must have been on special offer somewhere. Maybe it was a job lot. Nothing was covered, and there were flies buzzing around. I didn’t feel hungry. I wanted to phone someone, a friend.

Who were my friends? Did I even have any? The last few years had been like an intact birdcage. All my most important emails coming from producers and the media and a few fans. And you, me and Paul becoming so close that we didn’t need anyone else. The comedy value of Paul’s stream of ridiculous girlfriends was the only variety we seemed to require. But even if I did have someone to phone, there was no phone reception as well as no Wi-Fi.

I was going to take a piece of unripe melon but I suddenly had the feeling that it would contaminate me, that the sugars would swirl in my mouth and create bacteria and putrefy in my stomach. I imagined myself as an autopsy afterwards—after what, I don’t know—and I didn’t want there to be anything for them to find. I didn’t want them to say, “Her last meal was…” I wanted them to be as baffled about my last meal as I was about the tulip paintings. I could see Kostas standing by a lemon tree with his machete and I also wanted to be pure when I spoke to him. I approached him slowly, as if he was a game bird and I was a gun dog with a soft mouth, always a soft mouth.

Kalimera,” I said when he noticed me.

Kalimera,” he said back, nodding.

“Isabella?” I said. “Where is she?”

“Where she is?”

I nodded.

He shrugged. “She paint.” He mimed it and then smiled in an odd, cruel way.


“Inside.” He pointed.

“OK. Thanks. Efharisto.”


He looked at my breasts again. I let him.

“The storm,” he said. “It come today. Big rain. Stay in room.”

“All right,” I said. “OK.” I said it in a light, girlish tone and then smiled.

“OK,” he repeated, using a similar light, girlish tone. I didn’t know if he was mimicking me to make me sound stupid or because he wanted to get the accent right, or for some other reason.

He picked up his machete then, quite suddenly, and pointed it at me. I could see the hazy sun reflect off the sharp tip. The machete moved toward me and the sunlight scattered all over the place like bits of bright shot.

“What are you…?” I began, but before I knew what had happened he had used the machete to flick a hornet from my chest. It fell to the ground, swollen and fat, its back half bright as a bullet, drunk on the end of summer and the glut of fruit. After a couple of seconds it heaved itself up like an over-laden zeppelin and flew away toward the pomegranate trees.

When I got back to the room you were out of the shower. Your hair was still wet and you were rubbing it with one of the fluffy white towels.

“What were you talking to Kostas about?” you said. So you’d been watching from the window.

“The storm,” I said. “It’s coming today.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in the storm,” you said.

“No, I know,” I said. “But earlier I could see it over Turkey. It’s huge.”

You scowled. “You saw what over where?”

“The storm. It was really intense. I could see it over Turkey, from the top of the hill. Dark clouds with lightning going through them. Big flashes.”

You didn’t reply. Perhaps you didn’t believe me.

“Kostas says we should stay in,” I said. “For the rest of the day.”

“What are we going to eat?” you said.

“There’s lots of food downstairs,” I said. “I’m going to get on with my writing.”

“Right,” you said. You wouldn’t catch my eye.

“What’s the matter?” I said.

You sighed. “Just… Nothing. It doesn’t matter.”


“Actually, though… All right. It does matter.”


“What you said about Isabella before.”

“What did I say about Isabella before?”

“About her being a glorified maid.”

“She is a glorified maid. Why does that matter? Oh, wait. I see. You think my treatment of servants is vulgar because I say what you really think, what people like you and your mother really think.”

“What’s my mother got to do with this?”

“Good question.”

“I really just meant that with your background…”

“What?” I laughed then, even though it wasn’t at all funny. “Oh, I see. You’re saying I’m a glorified maid.”

You looked at me the way Kostas had looked at the hornet as it wriggled on the ground trying to right itself.

“Are you OK?” you said, with a heavy sigh.


“Are you feeling all right? Has the sun got to you or something?”


I could feel myself making a face then. Isn’t it odd how during an argument people try to make themselves as ugly as possible? It’s not even conscious. Well, not usually. But right then I could feel my face twisting and crumpling like a piece of burning silk.

“You don’t seem quite yourself,” you said.

My heart jolted. Was this your lead-in to talking about the wedding?

“I’m absolutely fine,” I said.

“Well, can you please just try to be a bit nicer about Isabella? It’s upsetting me.”

“And it’s not upsetting you that she isn’t being very nice to me?”

You looked at me then with a horrible kind of pity, as if it were a shame that I was so mad I could not see the truth.

“She’s being perfectly normal to you,” you said.

“But I don’t—”

“Evelyn,” you interrupted. “You are seeing things that are not there.”

“Don’t,” I said. “Don’t do this. It’s not fair. You know it’s not—”

“You have become very paranoid,” you said slowly.

I bit my lip. “That’s what you really think?” I said. “Even after—”

“Sorry. I just think it’s time for us to…”

Were you going to say something else then? Were you going to drift into the swirling waters of the unsayable? I didn’t let you.

“Great,” I said. “You think I’m mad. As well as…” But I couldn’t say it either.

You wouldn’t catch my eye. “You are working quite hard.”

“Right.” I sighed. I looked around at all the bright white spaces where the tulip paintings used to be. They blurred in my eyes.



“Come on. Don’t cry.”

“Why not? This is our honeymoon! And you’ve decided not to believe what I say. I’m your wife. And Isabella is a hotel owner whom we’ve known for all of two days. I just don’t understand why you’re taking her side.”

“It’s not about sides.”

“It is! I mean, I wish it wasn’t, but it is. You need to take my side.”

“What if I think you’re wrong?”

“This is our honeymoon,” I said again. “For God’s sake. Give me the benefit of the doubt.”

“Quite a long honeymoon,” you said quietly.

“What does that mean?”

“Well, it was bound to get strained at some point, don’t you think?”

I sighed and closed my eyes. Why weren’t we saying it?

“Especially once Paul had gone,” you added pointedly.

“What’s Paul got to do with anything?”

“I’m going to go and see about the Wi-Fi,” you said. “And get some lunch.”

While you were gone I tried to write, but my hands were shaking. It didn’t help that I’d had no lunch, and I wasn’t sure where we were going to get dinner. Isabella seemed always to disappear in the afternoons, and there was no way of calling a taxi or booking a restaurant without her.

I walked around the room with my phone trying to get mobile reception. There had always been 4G down at the beach. But I could hear rumbles of thunder coming from that direction. Stay in room, Kostas had said. I started trying to write about the storm—not the one in real life, but one I might put into a play—but it kept coming out wrong, like a distorted reflection in a mirror. It had jagged machete lightning and clouds the color of ashes.

When you came back you looked more relaxed, almost happy. You were holding something in your hands that looked like a deck of cards but a slightly different shape.

“Any sign of the Wi-Fi?” I said.

“Isabella’s trying to fix it,” you said. “She’s getting Kostas to look at it. They say it’s because of the storm coming.”

You came over and kissed my head. “You OK?”


“You sure?”


“Isabella gave me these to show you.”

“What are they?” I said.

You passed me a stack of maybe fifteen black-and-white photographs. They were old-fashioned Polaroids with white edges and high-contrast tones. They were all of the girl. The one I wasn’t. The one I’d first seen walking down the dusty street like a haughty heron. The most beautiful of the beautiful people. She was posing against a wall, her tiny shoulders thrown forward like a young bird about to fledge. Her teeth were dazzling. I realized I’d never seen her smile, but here she was, relaxed and charming and happy. The photographs were beautiful in every possible way. They were the most perfect pictures I’d ever seen. There was only one that was a little troubling. In it, the girl wasn’t smiling. The thin strap of her top had fallen down over her bony shoulder and half her breast was revealed. No nipple, but the shot was still somehow wrong.

“Isabella thought you’d like them.”

“Really? Why?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well for a start I don’t even know who this girl is.”

“Yes, you do. She’s one of the people who were here before. Isabella took the pictures. She was showing them to me just now and I thought they were great. Then she said she wanted you to see them too.”

“But why?”

“I suppose she thought you’d be interested.”

“Oh, I’m sure she knew I’d be fascinated.”

“They’re a band, by the way; those people who were here before us. They’re some sort of new Turkish pop group. I can’t remember what she said they were called. But they’re good pictures, aren’t they?”

“I guess.” I gave them back to you. “If you like that kind of thing.”

You sighed. “What’s wrong now?”

“Well, I’m not really sure they are a band,” I said. “I saw one of them running down the hill before. The boy. The really skinny one.”

“Right,” you said in the way that means you don’t give a fuck.

You glanced at the photograph on the top of the pile. It was the one with the half-revealed breast. Then you started rearranging the pictures, putting the suspect one back where it had originally been, toward the end of the sequence.

“And, OK,” I said, “I mean, they’re basically pictures of an extremely attractive woman who is thinner than me, prettier than me, younger than me. Why do you think Isabella wanted me to see them?”

You looked at me as if you couldn’t believe how boring I was.

“Oh God, not this again. Why is everything always about how you look? Has it even occurred to you that Isabella might want you to see them because she took them? She might want you to actually like something she’s created for a change? I think she wants you to approve of her.”

“My God. Do you really? Then you’re far, far madder than I am.”

“Don’t start twisting this situation even more.”

“This ‘situation’ is not something I’m creating,” I said.

“Really?” you said. “Are you sure about that?”

“I am one hundred percent sure,” I said. “Look, you don’t know how some women operate. I wish you could see that I really am not the one doing this.”

“Well, I’m just not sure that’s true,” you said.

I exhaled slowly and sadly. “For God’s sake.”

I started making the bed. Whoever had come in to remove the tulip pictures had neglected to make up the room while they were here. A glass half full of water was still on my bedside table, with a lipstick mark from last night. The mark was in the shape of a dead bird.

“Anyway,” you said. “I almost forgot. She wanted to borrow a screwdriver. Do you have it?”

“What?” I’m sure you can remember how I said that. I mean, really. What was wrong with you?

“Do you have it? I said we traveled with a screwdriver.”

I travel with a screwdriver, yes. I travel with all sorts of useful things. The tool you had in mind is a large, comforting, multi-bit ratchet screwdriver that used to belong to my father. It has fifteen different bits that go with it—Phillips, flat-head, Torx—although I don’t travel with all of them. They came in a box that makes them look like ammo, like something you’d take on safari.

I’m pretty sure you don’t even know how to use a screwdriver. If ever something breaks, I fix it, not you. I travel with it because my suitcases are old, and the handle sometimes comes off one of them. But for can-do-no-wrong Isabella, you wanted to borrow my screwdriver now for the first time ever.

“Doesn’t she have a screwdriver in the hotel?”

“Look, be difficult if you want, but I just said I’d help, all right?”

“Help what?”

“Fix a bed in one of the rooms. There are new guests coming today.”

“In the storm?”

“I suppose so. Not everyone’s afraid of a bit of wind and rain, you know.”

I laughed then. This was becoming absurd. “So Isabella wants you to borrow my screwdriver to help her fix a bed? Can’t Kostas do it?”

“There’s a handyman, but he can’t come during the storm. Since we’re stuck here I offered to help. I’ll be out of your way so you can get on with your writing.”

“So she wants you to go and help her with a bed? With my screwdriver? Why doesn’t she just lose the bullshit and take all her clothes off right now and give you what you really want? She’s already dispensed with her bra, presumably in your honor.”

“Evelyn,” you said. “Please just stop this. Everything’s completely normal and friendly. Why are you making it so difficult?”

I sighed.


“This is not normal,” I said.

“It is.”

“OK, what about the tulip paintings?” I said.


“The fucking tulip paintings,” I said patiently. “That fucking disappeared.”

“She probably overheard what you were saying about them and took them away. I think you are genuinely upsetting her.”

“Right. The fucking tulip paintings that she fucking took away—along with my note, by the way, because she’s fucking crazy—because she fucking overheard me talking privately, in our fucking private room when—” To be honest, at this point I was planning to go on and on and on. Hot tears were spilling down my cheeks like a cauldron boiling over and I couldn’t stop the words bubbling out of my mouth. The whole thing was so unfair, so fucking—

Which I guess was why you slapped me.

Yep. And OK, I know it’s never happened before. But you hit me. You said I was mad and then you hit me.

Again, I wanted to ring someone—Paul, my mother, your father, a taxi—but there was still no phone signal. I wanted to leave, to pack and go, but the room darkened and it was at that moment that the first flash of lightning came like a jagged machete. The pathetic fallacy. Excellent. I expect you don’t know what that is, but it’s bad writing. It’s the kind of writing I do all the time. Maybe I’m doing it now.

You were still standing there, the lightning illuminating you like some kind of forsaken stag. The clouds outside darkened like ashes. Dogs howled in the distance. Amidst all this came the sound of a car engine, and then some doors slamming. The hurried footsteps of people trying to escape heavy rain. The new guests? But of course I didn’t care about them, and barely heard anything outside our room.

It was as if we were inside a bubble of silence for a second or two.

I opened my case and took out the screwdriver.

Then the hail started. It beat against the windows like little bullets. I could see it piling up on the patio, too fast, like something unnatural.

“Well?” you said to me.

“What?” I said, holding the screwdriver. I wondered if it looked like a weapon.

“Oh, I see. You expect me to say sorry.”

“You hit me.”

“I did not hit you.”

“Er, what the fuck do you call it, then?”

“I slapped you. Lightly. You were becoming hysterical.”

“This is over,” I said. “I’m leaving.”

“Good luck,” you said, looking out of the window.

“I’ll leave when the storm ends.”

“No, you won’t,” you said. “You’ll apologize and everything will be fine.”

“Me? Apologize? Fucking hell.”

“Grow up, Evie,” you said, and then you took my screwdriver, grabbed your waterproof running top and turned to leave the room.

I wonder what you’ll think when you read this. Have I not told it properly? Were there tears in your eyes when you hit me? Did I fight back? Did I start punching you in the chest, harder and worse than your single slap? And did you hold my wrists to stop me? And did I then start kicking you? And then to stop that did you push me down onto the bed? Imagine. It would have been like old times. We could have made up then, while the storm raged around us. But none of that happened. You put on your top, pulled up the hood, left the room and I was alone.

At least you didn’t have all the screwdriver bits. That’s what I thought at that exact moment. You only have the Phillips. It’s odd what we choose to think, isn’t it? In these defining moments I can never think thoughts that are big or important enough, and perhaps that’s why I never made it.

When we got married, at the precise moment you put the ring on my finger, I was thinking about which one of the airport drivers would take us to Heathrow. I’m really sorry. Maybe I never was quite good enough for you.

I went to splash my face with water. Then I drank the two miniature bottles of vodka I still had in my bag from the minibar in the Athens airport hotel where we had our layover. Why do I carry vodka around with me? For the same reason I have a screwdriver. So I am prepared for situations like this.

The vodka made the storm seem quaintly dramatic and almost fun. Bang! Crash! Haha! The large hailstones built up on the patio and bounced joylessly off the walls. At one point it sounded like the hail might break all the windows. It grew darker and darker and then the rain began. It was like no rain I’ve ever experienced. It didn’t seem to come in drops, but rather as one large waterfall, pouring out of the sky. I wondered briefly if it might wash away the hotel, and me, and you, and everything that had ever happened to us.

The vodka made me laugh at the treacherous rain, and that you’d decided to go and help Isabella with the bed. Did you not give a shit about me, stuck in this terrible storm? Were you naked at that moment? Was she? Or was it just a quickie, with neither of you properly undressing? But you’d never liked quickies, or any kind of “dirty” sex.

So, we’d got married and then we’d come on our honeymoon and now it was all over, just like that, like speed dating. You were fucking the glorified maid. Hilarious, really. And it wasn’t even the first time, because I was a glorified maid too, as you’d pointed out. Maybe it was simply that we—the glorified maids—were your type? Or perhaps you preferred us less glorified and more maid. I’ll never know.

The room had darkened so much by then that I went to put the light on, but as soon as I flicked the switch the whole place seemed to fuse. Things that had been humming stopped. The fans stilled. Everything in the house was dark and quiet. Even the rain became softer for a while. The dogs in the nearby yards suddenly seemed so much louder.

My hand hurts from all this writing.

Right now I can hear the ragged Alsatian, and the songs of all the caged birds, and the hiss of a long-ago hot-air balloon. A few moments ago I thought I heard a woman singing—or screaming. A high pitch, and then silence. The lightning just flashed again. It flashed inside me and outside me and I went over and unlocked all the doors and stood on the patio in the desperate weather, hail melting and soaking into my trainers.

This is it, I guess. The storm.

And as soon as it is over I am going to leave.

Now it’s late in the night. You are sleeping awfully peacefully, lying in our hotel bed with that vaguely narcoleptic air you have whenever things have gone truly wrong. It’s something I’ve always admired about you: the ability to go to sleep while all hell rages nearby. Arguments have always kept me up until the early hours, but you have always been like a candle, so easily snuffed out.

I’m sitting at this creaky little desk again, writing to you on the extra hotel notepaper I found, finishing this, because I feel compelled to. I am using the torch from your phone, because mine is gone, and also because I want to do little things to spite you. As soon as the sun comes up I’m going to leave, and hopefully never see you again.

You’d been gone a couple of hours when the rain stopped and the sun came out. You returned with my screwdriver and an apology and a dinner reservation for the place we should have gone to the night before.

“Can we start again?” you said, your cheeks flushed. “Please?”

I breathed in and then out, unsure.

“I just want us to be happy,” you said, taking my limp hands in yours.

“I know,” I replied.

“I’ve got a good story for you,” you offered with a little playful smile.

You couldn’t stop talking in the cab to the harbor. The driver was the same man as the night before. The same crackly Greek radio station was now playing Dinah Washington’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” which he hummed along to, in a melancholy sort of way. I was intrigued to see that we were going to a completely different part of the island than the night before. How could the driver have got the restaurant so wrong?

You were talking about the new guests.

“It’s a film producer and his wife,” you said, clearly quite thrilled.

You gushed a little over the fact that they’d arrived on a private plane from Athens. Not their own jet, you’d established somehow, but one they’d hired that would still take off in the strong winds. A desperate bandana-ed pilot, maybe. A new type of front wheel. The wife had thrown up in the turbulence and the producer had drunk Scotch and soda and made a video call to LA in which he’d joked about “the bumps.” They’d sheltered in the airport during the worst part of the hailstorm, having just landed before it began.

“They want to option Isabella’s story,” you said excitedly. “They’re having a big dinner tonight.”

“Isabella’s story?” I said, trying to keep my tone light but interested.

I’d decided never to let you see me bothered by Isabella again. This was the role I was now playing, my new one-woman show: slightly stupid young wife who nevertheless understands the ancient wisdom that says you free something by letting it go. That you turn the other way when your husband’s eye roams like a hungry stray, because he will always come back to you, because the law says he has to, and because ultimately he is a house pet who desires comfortable pillows and what is right.

“Well, the story of the sleepwalkers,” you said, flushing a little. “The people who drowned in the storm last summer. You remember.”

Of course. We’d been having dinner at the expensive fish restaurant in the harbor, the night before Paul and Beth arrived. That was when our Greek waiter told us about the husband and wife who’d walked into the sea together in the middle of the big storm and drowned, just the year before. He’d really got into the story, embellishing and waving his arms around like something from a guidebook, until Christos had come and told him off. We’d never seen him again after that. Marlena had talked about the sleepwalkers a lot too. Everyone—well, apart from Christos—seemed to like saying the word ypnovátes. It was like parakalo, but perhaps even better.

The story was that the wife had loved her husband so much that she’d gone out into the storm to rescue him after he’d sleepwalked all the way to the sea. It was why there were no sun loungers in front of the motorcycle man’s shop, just the withered floral wreath from when the couple’s daughters had visited the island not long after it had happened. We’d both been quite taken with the story. Your interest in it had surprised me, but I’d gone along with it.

“They stayed at the Villa Rosa too,” I said now, with a careful, neutral tone.

“How do you know?” Your voice turned suspicious for a second. “Are you sure?”

“Well, yes,” I said. “I mean, that must be how it’s ‘Isabella’s story,’ right?”

You frowned at the finger quotes, then let it go.

“Their daughters wrote in the guest book,” I said. “It’s quite a moving entry.”

In fact, I’d been looking at it just before we left for dinner. The guest book was in the hallway—where I’d been told to leave my bag when we first arrived. I was waiting for you to go and change your contact lenses, which had been bugging you ever since the dramatic drop in air pressure during the first part of the storm.

I’d been wearing sunglasses to mask my puffy eyes and I felt light and strange from the vodka, and from not eating all day, a balloon with an empty basket. The fan was revolving slowly overhead, making no impression on the close, sticky heat that had returned with the now clouded-over sun. I could hear the buzz of a trapped bluebottle, but I couldn’t see where it was or I would have tried to set it free.

On the chiffonier were several of the little paper archives—bundles of notebooks and old letters tied with string—that I’d noticed before. One had a title that said Les histoires d’amour finis mal. Another appeared to be in Greek. One of them had no string tied around it, and another had patches of brown that looked like scorch marks.

Alongside them was the large leather-bound guest book, which I lazily flicked through while I waited for you. I was looking for the same thing I’d sought on Tripadvisor, of course. Bad reviews. I wanted to float away in them like a large dirigible. But there were none.

The entries were all written in that twee guest-book style I find so emotionally crushing. Remember the time we stayed in the New Forest and I tried to write in the guest book about what we’d done on our holiday and it went horribly wrong? Other people wrote in careful biro about eating fish and chips in the local pub, and I wrote in real ink about the exact red of the beetroot-pickled quail’s eggs we’d eaten in the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the area.

The beautiful people had not written anything in Isabella’s guest book, and nor had their managers. Only one entry in the guest book was at all interesting. It was dated almost exactly a year before, and began, “We stayed here in the worst possible circumstances, after losing our parents in the great storm just last week. Isabella could not have been kinder nor gone out of her way more.” Such an awkward sentence, so full of negatives, and a lesson on why one should never write freestyle in guest books—you can end up lost in your own sentences, like pythons wrapping around you.

When did she start watching me? Was it before that? Or did she only appear when I started pulling open the string on one of the paper archives? The letters on it: ?p??ß?te?. And then in English on a slip of flyweight paper that I saw properly only once I’d opened the bundle: The Sleepwalkers.

“Do not touch,” Isabella hissed from behind me.

I jumped. I dropped the bundle back on the chiffonier and some of the papers came loose. A paper doily fluttered to the floor.

“Sorry,” I said.

“You touch too much,” she said, no need to feign sweetness when you weren’t there.

Did I hear her accent slip then, just a little? I went to university with a girl who had grown up in both Glasgow and Texas after her parents got divorced. She would trip and stumble effortlessly into any accent she was near—she couldn’t help it. But there was always that neutral space where no accent was, a peculiar hollow in her tones rather like the dips in your mother’s lawn, and that was where Isabella strayed then, just for a moment. Was it that, or was it that I’d caught a faint trace of Texan? Something in the “too” was too long. A brief drawl. It suggested, for a tiny second, that maybe she wasn’t the innocent European woman you were clearly so taken with.

I bent down to pick up the doily, and realized it had writing on it that had been crossed out.

You sweep me off of my feet, baby.

And then some large Cyrillic letters I didn’t understand.

Isabella grabbed the doily and stuffed it back in the bundle, which she then tied up and pushed into the chiffonier before turning the little brass key.

“Please,” she hissed. “Respect other people’s privacy.”

I bit back the obvious response about everything being open and free, because you then appeared from outside, a little smile on your lips as you saw Isabella and me in what you probably decided was light conversation.

I still had not taken off the sunglasses.

“Ready?” you said to me.

“Sure,” I said.

“Have a wonderful evening,” Isabella said, I thought slightly bitterly.

As we got in our cab, I saw the film producer and his wife going up the stone staircase toward the upper bedrooms. He was a large man in a yellow two-piece linen suit and a Panama hat. She wore a floppy sun hat, which she was pressing against the top of her head lest the breeze take it. Its wide brim was slapping at the edges of her too-thin face. But as we traveled in the cab and you talked about their plane ride to the island, I didn’t tell you I’d seen them. You didn’t like it when I usurped one of your “discoveries.”

The cab slowed as it reached the harbor where Paul and Beth had got their boat back to the mainland, just a few days before. How I wished they were still with us. Well, mainly Paul. He somehow functioned as a stop-loss on our relationship. Is that the right trading term? He was your friend, not mine, which I always thought made our closeness OK.

You would accept being teased by Paul in a way you never would from me. Sometimes you’d get in a huff about something ridiculous—being overcharged for socks, not having the right amount of air miles credited to your account or missing a train by one minute—and we’d both laugh at you and you’d take that too. But from me alone? Never. Occasionally we’d hit a nerve and you’d smile along but then let me have it when Paul had gone home. Always the same argument, with you asking why I needed to make you feel small in front of your friend, then escalating to bitter observations about me “throwing myself” at Paul in a desperate, hopeless, embarrassing frenzy. We both knew I was not Paul’s sex-doll type, and you often found little ways to remind me that I was too fat for him, too old, too used.

Do you remember the time you and Paul got nits from a work colleague’s niece and I washed your hair with medicated shampoo and then combed out the dead insects afterwards? You took it in turns: you first and Paul second. We must have been in Paul’s ludicrous “bachelor flat” in Notting Hill, because I remember first you, then him, bent over his retro avocado bathroom sink, and me pouring water over your hair from a priceless antique vase, because there wasn’t anything else. I collected the nits on a white linen napkin, because Paul didn’t own anything like kitchen roll.

While you were watching cricket in the front room, Paul suggested he do my hair, just to be sure. All that humid chemistry between us, and then, finally, the electricity of his actual touch, as he massaged the awful medicated shampoo into my scalp. For some reason, possibly the size of my boobs, I couldn’t bend over the sink as easily as you both had, and Paul had suggested I get on my knees in front of the bath instead.

He’d kneeled behind me so he could pour the water over my hair and rinse away the chemicals and the nits we knew I did not have. I don’t think either of us could breathe properly. Paul had often talked about how he liked to choke his sex-doll girlfriends while fucking them. When he touched my neck, it was the barest little stroke as he flipped my hair over to rinse it. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t walked in at that moment.

“What are you doing?” you’d said coldly. The tone of your voice meant you were speaking to me alone. You’d never have spoken to Paul that way.

“Yeah, we probably gave her nits so I thought I’d do her too,” Paul said, without getting up. “Nearly finished.”

Paul couldn’t stand up because of his erection, which was pressing into the back of my right thigh. It was the most real thing I’ve ever felt.

Why am I telling you this? I’m not sure. To even things up, after what happened before? Perhaps I’ll never actually give you this letter. But Paul did want me, even if it was just for that ten minutes when he was washing my hair. And—perhaps most importantly—we never acted on our desire. Out of love for you, we never, ever consummated our flirtation. It would have been disappointing anyway, after all that build-up. Those things always are.

Like the first time I slept with your father.

It was before you and me, of course. Long before. I am surprisingly faithful, even if your father is not. Perhaps you get it from him, your faithlessness, and how easily you are distracted by glorified maids.

There’d been so much build-up with me and Peter, it was simply

I knew he liked my innocence,

and so I wore my

“Slut!” he said, pulling my hair and

The taxi dropped us off by the pizza place with all the mopeds parked outside. A sign for a nearby taverna advertised “financial menus.”

“Sounds like some part of your job description,” I quipped.

“What does it mean?” you said, frowning.

“I guess someone just stuck a phrase in Google Translate,” I said. “Maybe ‘budget menus’ or something.”

You didn’t look convinced, even though that was obviously the answer.

The restaurant was just beyond the taverna, in an old stone building with aged red gloss paint flaking off its doors. Inside, it had the same ruin-bar vibe as those places in Budapest, but with unmistakably Greek touches, including several gold-finches in cages. I shuddered at them, poor things.

The dapper little man was sitting there at a small Formica table, eating bright pink taramasalata from a white bowl, and drinking a frosted glass tumbler of liquid that was probably the lemon liqueur that we’d long ago begged George to stop giving us for free. There was something bird-like about the dapper little man, something hawkish and pensive.

As he spooned taramasalata from the white bowl he stared at one of the goldfinches as if he were about to swoop on it and rip its head off and then dip it in the bowl like some bloodied breadstick.

“Where do we know him from?” you asked, a touch loudly, smiling and ready for some pre-dinner banter. You’d relaxed a bit since we’d made up and agreed to “start again.”

“Shhh,” I said instinctively.

You have always hated me telling you to shush. You sighed and looked away.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s not argue. Not again. Please.”

“I’m not arguing,” you said calmly.

I smiled and touched your arm. Dropped my voice.

“The curio shop, remember?”


I didn’t want to remind you by saying it was the place you and Paul had begun your spectacular row, the one that had almost ended in a fight out in the street. I still have no idea what that was about. Ostensibly it was something to do with the way you’d betrayed the owner of the small start-up private equity firm you’d been working at. It had been Paul’s idea to cut a better deal elsewhere, and he’d arranged for you to go with him. It was one of the reasons you were both available for our too-long honeymoon. A week for him and two for you. A break, before your new roles began.

But out on that dusty street with the whitewashed villas, you’d got him up against a stone wall, and you were hissing into his face.

“You fucking pervert,” you were saying. “You fucking perverted cunt.”

All that swearing was most unlike you.

“How long have you known?” you demanded. “Does she know everything, too?”

The argument seemed like something two friends would have trouble recovering from, but somehow you did recover; well, almost. Anyway, I certainly didn’t want to remind you of the whole episode. So I tried to bring the curio shop to life in another way.

“You remember, with all the leather packing cases and riding crops and white nightdresses? And those little paper archives tied with string? They looked like they’d maybe been dipped in tea or set on fire?”

Your mother had a friend who used the tea method with curtains, I think, to make them look sepia-ish and old.

“Isabella has them too,” I prompted. “Everywhere apart from our room.”

You frowned. Was I complaining again? I tried to cover it, without success, by talking about the odd performativity of text that you’re not supposed to read, displayed in bundles you’re not meant to untie. I didn’t tell you that I had untied one of the bundles earlier, nor what I’d found.

Am I boring you? Probably. You never let me talk at this length in real life. I really need to finish this letter and go. I’m not sure how many fountain pen cartridges I have left; I’ve gone through three already. I thought I saw a glimmer of red light outside, although I am still quite drunk, and the wind is howling like a starving wolf.

I’m trying to get my heartbeat and my breathing to settle down as well, because in the last couple of hours the storm has become so intense I almost cannot bear it, and I am a wretch who will never be saved. I wish I had some painkillers, a lot of painkillers, but I can’t find any in my bag, or yours.

Do you remember the night we went to that exhibition in London that was entirely about Solpadeine? It started badly, but ended up being one of our happier recent times. It wasn’t long before the wedding. You and your hedgie mates were buying art that week because that’s what your boss wanted. Anything that would appreciate, and the more ridiculous the better. It was like a scene from that TV show Paul used to like, with the actor who previously played a king.

But you were never any good at that stuff. You didn’t much like irony, or the spontaneous wacky madness that came with your industry. You were in it for the maths and the stability. The spreadsheets and the Amex points. On evenings like that your colleagues would do some coke and have a ball but you were always so careful and measured about everything. Maybe that’s why you took me with you. I am the sort of person who has never needed a recipe to cook, and who can tell quite a convincing lie with no prior thought, whereas you would rehearse before a game of charades.

Is it embarrassing to recall that we were actually quite moved by the final piece in the exhibition? We’d traipsed around looking at sub-Warhol depictions of white pills. Pills on a wooden table. Pill fizzing in glass. Pill packaging. Two pills fizzing in a crystal tumbler. White pills stacked like poker chips. Pills like tiny moons in a twilit sky.

You’d eventually put a red dot on a packet of pills signed by the artist. It was unclear whether he’d made the pack, or just bought it from a pharmacy around the corner.

We queued for the final exhibit. Around us, the crackle and hiss of people who did not know what was behind the black velvet curtain but suspected something shocking, a skinned rabbit perhaps; a deranged artist in situ. Something daring. Difficult to be with.

People were let in one by one, alone. You could see them as they emerged, pale and overcome. A woman passed me, mascara running down her face.

“It’s so beautiful,” she said to me.

“Is it claustrophobic?” you asked her, even though she hadn’t engaged with you at all. Bless your little cotton socks. Still scared of enclosed spaces after the bad trip you had on the ghost train in Deal back in nineteen-ninety-something.

“God no,” she said. “It’ll change you.”

You balked, not wanting to be changed. So I went in first. I needed something unfathomable, if I’m honest. Some kind of skin-shedding ceremony. A mild flaying. A hard reset. Ayahuasca for bad girls who don’t learn and don’t try.

Please don’t judge me for this, but I was still regularly texting your father at that point, in the lead-up to the wedding. What was I hoping for? That he’d leave your mother and we’d call it all off? But then what? I did love you at that point, Richard. It wasn’t a lie. I just loved him more. I’m so sorry. Of course, the wedding cured me of loving your father once and for all—just not in the way I’d imagined. But perhaps you haven’t put all that together yet.

I pulled the curtain aside tentatively, then felt the waft of air on my bare legs as it flopped shut behind me.

There was a dark passageway, like being reborn or converted. Black walls. Black floor. Eventually I got to a kind of central shrine and it was so quiet in there, the hum of the opening party a long way behind me. There was a black dais, and on it—

A white candle. A single candle, burning alone.

And I did cry a little. Does that shock you now, after everything? I hid it from you at the time but there’s no point in hiding anything any longer. Even then I didn’t want you to think I was at all unhinged—I’m not even sure why. You came out looking pale and moved yourself, though, which surprised me, and when we got home that evening we played Beethoven loud and you peeled up my bandage dress in the kitchen and lifted me onto the sink and penetrated me in a way you never have before.

The dapper little man left the restaurant after finishing his lemon liqueur. He looked at his watch, glanced at you and shuffled off. You were looking at the menu, so you didn’t see him greet a young man outside. It was the glitter-boy, the one with the doilies on the hill, who had not gone back to Turkey to be in the new pop group you’d told me about. He was still wearing skinny shorts, now with a cropped and faded T-shirt with what seemed to be the face of a man on it. Around his neck was a thin turquoise scarf like something from the Saint Laurent spring 2015 women’s collection. They seemed to be having some kind of argument at first, but then the boy gave the dapper little man a thin carrier bag with something small and heavy in it and this seemed to calm everything down.

I wondered whether to tell you what I’d seen. My new rule at that point was not to mention anything that could make me look remotely paranoid. In your world it seems there are no bushes or thickets or secrets or fat envelopes and no one ever lies or does anything underhanded at all. This was to be my new code. It’s incredible how simple suspicion of others can make a person seem utterly mad.

So I decided to suspect no longer.

I gently reminded you of the curio shop and then went back to looking at the menu. You ordered fish of the day. I ordered a small prawn cocktail with no bread. The least calorific thing on the menu, as always. Not that it ever made any difference to my ballooning stomach and thighs and buttocks. Losing weight for the wedding had left me like a starved animal, and almost anything I ate now was converted directly into fat; I could feel it.

When we got back to the Villa Rosa, the rain had started again. The lights in the hotel had come back on—they twinkled uncertainly as the cab crunched up the driveway as if it were a pestle grinding something in a mortar. When we got out, I could hear the unmistakable sound of an electricity generator whirring from the back of the house.

The dapper little man was inside, in Isabella’s private drawing room. I could see him through the stained-glass window beyond the pillars of the downstairs veranda. How had I not noticed this window before? I realized it was because the light had not been on inside when we’d returned from dinner on previous nights.

But this was clearly a special occasion. The dapper little man was sitting at a large oval dining table with Isabella, the film producer, the film producer’s wife and a man I thought I’d never seen before, until I realized it was Christos, dressed up in a waiter’s outfit with a black bow tie. The glitter-boy was there as well, standing in the corner with a white linen cloth over his arm like a small creature that had recently fainted. He was wearing a dinner jacket a couple of sizes too large over his shorts and crop top. Did he look upset, or was I imagining things again? This was the “big dinner” you’d said Isabella was throwing in honor of her film option, or, more likely, to try to get it to solidify, like the vast jelly beneath an ambitious trifle.

I don’t think you have ever really understood how bull-shitty and bogus the entertainment industry is. People pretending to be your best friend because you need intimacy to get any kind of show going, so everyone is fluffing each other all the time, like walruses at the circus. You pretend to be so close and tell each other secrets and then some of these secrets get turned into mirages and trompe l’œils with costumes and glitter and sometimes even gaudy fireworks and flamethrowers and clowns.

Everyone so hot for each other’s dark mysteries. So horny.

I remember you being unconvinced when I told you how phony the production companies were when there was the big scramble for my first one-woman show.

But that was before you, and so it must have been your father, who was always just as unconvinced by me as you are.

Which perhaps means maybe it’s me. Maybe I am simply unconvincing.

At the time, I was losing my own father. Every day I drove to the big hospice just outside the town where I grew up and parked in the same place by the bush with pink roses and gathered myself before going in. Years before, I used to drive past the hospice on the way to one of my holiday jobs. I couldn’t ever properly take it in then, such a place of sadness and death and forced liminality. I couldn’t believe anyone had to go there, what it would be like. And then, all of a sudden, it was my turn.

Mum couldn’t get to visit Dad very easily because of her mobility issues, so I went every day of Dad’s last fortnight with whatever he asked for. A caravan magazine, a bottle of Sussex Best Bitter, a vintage cheddar wrapped in wax. The hospice was a jolly place with few rules, it being too late for rules. People were wheeled into the garden in their beds with their whole families to look at their last sunsets. People laughed in their relatives’ rooms and then came out and did jigsaws in silence. The whole atmosphere was a plane full of people waiting to jump.

Afterwards, people celebrated their dead relatives with large cigars or bottles of brandy. When it was my turn I toasted my dad with one of his undrunk bottles of real ale, and then I was told to take his things and leave as soon as possible, because of the waiting list. It was three in the morning, so I arranged to return the next day.

Overnight, the hospice had been rendered unimaginable again, but in a different way. I had a panic attack in the car and then crossed the threshold of this place that had become like a second home. The place in which one of the biggest moments of my life had come to pass.

The atmosphere that morning was suddenly that of a theatre after the show has moved on. Before, I’d barely noticed the receptionist gently asking the name of the patient I was visiting, and hardly felt the scratch of the pen as I signed in. But this time, when she’d said, “Who are you visiting, dear?” I’d stumbled. I couldn’t say it, exactly. I couldn’t say that Dad wasn’t there anymore.

“Um, he’s, er, he actually…”

“Sit down, dear. I’ll fetch a nurse.”

“It’s fine, I’ll just…” I went to walk down the hallway, and she held up a hand.

“Please wait there for the nurse to come.”

I wasn’t allowed in, because I had no one to visit.

The doors had closed on me, and on my dad. Five minutes later a hospice nurse brought me his things in two carrier bags.

But I’ve got ahead of myself again. I hope you’re following this, with all my jumps in time? Perhaps not. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I’m not even sure who I’m writing this for, or why. It soothes me to write things in some sort of order, even if it is one you’ll probably deem wrong, when there is now such chaos outside. And our lives, in tatters.

I’d got into a routine that fortnight at the hospice. Each day I arrived just after ten, and stayed until four, when I’d go home and cook dinner for Mum. On the way back I took whatever class the cheap leisure center had that day. Yoga; Body Combat; Legs, Bums and Tums. I didn’t care. The stupider the title the better. I was trying to lose weight for the auditions I still had back then.

I also had a lot of strange adrenaline I needed to process somehow, after the unnatural calm of those days. Is it odd to say that the hours in the hospice were some of the clearest and happiest I’d ever spent? Of course, it was partly because I was connecting with my dad properly for the first time. We talked about his school days up north and his coal-miner father who beat him and his brothers because that’s what people did in those days.

My father was such a solid man. He’d go out in a blizzard if my mother wanted anything. With such a devoted wolf in her pack you’d think she’d ask for foie gras and truffles, but instead it was Black Forest gateaux from Iceland that she’d eat in one sitting while watching romantic comedies on DVD. Sometimes she didn’t even defrost the cakes first, and I’d hear her crunching through them as if they were full of bones.

Dad looked after Mum, and she looked after me. That was the unspoken deal.

But I was so wayward that even Mum washed her hands of me for a while.

I suppose you have no idea of what a childhood like mine would have involved or how I became the person I am. You never really asked. You, with your big house and your plush, streamlined life. How could you possibly know? My mother liked to buy things from catalogues when she was sad, and my dad would work evenings and weekends to pay the overdue bills while the garage filled with dollhouse furniture, porcelain animals and supplies for crafting projects that Mum never started. Dad was a plumber—just imagine that—and so there was always work if he wanted it, unblocking other people’s toilets and restarting their boilers.

When I was a teenager I’d skive off school and Mum and I would loll in the pink-and-purple nest of our small sitting room, where everything was soft, and we’d watch all her soaps, one by one: Doctors, Home and Away, Neighbours, Emmerdale, Eastenders, Corrie. Mum would give me whatever thick paperback she’d just finished, usually featuring a cleaner who doesn’t know she’s a princess, or an exploited actress who ends up marrying the CEO of the movie studio and then firing all the people who were ever mean to her. The meanness in these books was sometimes workplace bullying, but since the workplace was usually a movie set or Hollywood mansion, it would often turn into lurid sex: forced threesomes or violent blow jobs, and it sort of made me think that’s how the world was.

Mum would go to bed early with her magazines, and if Dad was working late I’d take the bus into town and drink cheap cider in the Railway Tavern and play cribbage with the regulars. One of the younger ones, Gav, turned out to be a trainee of Dad’s, and one day when they were unblocking someone’s toilet Gav mentioned this eager little slut he knew who’d give you a blow job for a snakebite and a packet of salt-and-vinegar crisps. Whenever I script this nightmare scene I can’t decide on the moment when Gav identifies me. Does he say my name, not noticing the surname is the same as Dad’s? Or does he give a description of a vaguely emo girl in polka-dot tights, a Joy Division T-shirt and a too-short black velvet skirt? Anyway, Dad beat him to a bloody pulp and then came home and sat in silence drinking whiskey for hours. I don’t think anything could have been more heartbreaking for Dad, really. Drugs would have been a lot better.

In the hospice, all those years later, it was all fixed. Everything.

It was the Tuesday of the first week when I learned I was to become a big success. Emails were followed by phone calls, all about my Edinburgh show, and how it might translate to a TV series. There were meetings booked in my agent’s office for three weeks hence. I scheduled a haircut, and shopped online for silk tank tops and flattering jeans, late into those nights after cooking big fry-ups for Mum and watching old episodes of Real Housewives with her. My dad was so proud of me.

One of the producers, Tilda, had my phone number from a previous encounter (her company had got me into their office the previous year to pitch ideas). She rang me on my mobile on the Thursday morning, just before ten.

“I’m actually in a hospice car park,” I said.

“Oh gosh, how fascinating,” Tilda replied.

“It’s my dad,” I said.

Most people get unnerved when you say “hospice.” It’s almost a safe word in our society. It means “be gentle with me” and also “leave me alone.” But for Tilda I realized that it was just another topic of conversation. She started telling me all about the time she’d been a volunteer hospice visitor when she was at school. I knew I should have hung up and gone in to see Dad, but I was craven and desperate and so I joined in with her happy banter, telling her about the awkward schoolboy who popped in every day at around three thirty to offer to read to Dad, even though he was quite capable of reading to himself.

“There’s also someone with a zither,” I said. “A music therapist.”

“Oh my God. Wow.”

“Yeah, my dad said he’d literally rather die than be visited by a zither-playing music therapist.”

Which was true. It had been funny in context, but I resented Tilda when she guffawed. It didn’t stop me, though.

“They bring a drinks trolley around twice a day,” I told her. “Noon and after supper. It’s the leftover booze from all the dead people, you can tell.” It was true. Dusty bottles of Cointreau and Chartreuse, and the ancient Armagnac my dad always went for. “The woman who pushes it is hilarious,” I said. “Blue rinse, slippers, the works.”

Because of the phone call I was late in to visit Dad, and he seemed forlorn and expectant when I arrived. He’d been looking for me at ten, when I usually got there. I hadn’t even realized he’d noticed my timing, but of course he had.

“I thought maybe you weren’t coming, love,” he said, with loneliness in his eyes.

I hated myself then.

Later, Tilda phoned again. She wanted to know how I might see a second season.

“I’m actually walking down the corridor of the hospice right now,” I said, trying to sound cheery.

“I don’t need much detail,” she said. “Just something for the head of drama.”

I burbled about using the same cast to create a different version of what the character thought had happened, and I could tell Tilda wasn’t impressed. But she still wanted the rights to my original show because everyone else wanted them too. She was an obedient spaniel, and I was a dead pheasant she’d been instructed to bring back to the hunt.

Actually, I was right the first time. It was you I told about all this, but of course we talked about it later, once you and I were together. You knew Tilda’s husband, it turned out, and we had drinks with them in London, remember?

We were in a bright new bar in King’s Cross. Tilda twittered about this and that. Everything was “fascinating” to her. She was one of those types who makes other people talk much more than they want to about subjects that feel private.

“That’s right!” she said to me, after her husband had said something about their Iranian cleaner, who apparently didn’t iron his shirts very well. “Weren’t you once Richard’s maid?”

She literally said that.

Or maybe she didn’t. Later, when we were arguing about it, you claimed it had been more innocently meant, more delicately phrased.

“You were like a housekeeper, for his family?”

I agreed, she’d said that too. She kept pressing the point, how interesting it was that I’d used this as inspiration for my show, until I’d stopped giving what I thought were obvious social cues to change the subject and simply said, “Can you drop it, please? It’s not something we really like to talk about.”

And so you and I argued, as usual, when we got home. I’d been “rude” to her, when she’d simply meant well. She just wanted to know about me, you said. She was interested. You wondered why I couldn’t be as interested in other people as they were in me. Was I perhaps a little self-obsessed? Was I a narcissist?

I tried to tell you about the hospice, and how fake and desperate Tilda had been then, and how she’d only cared about trying to get the option her boss must have sent her for, and not at all about my dad, but you thought I was “reading too much into it.” Just like you always do.

We paid the taxi driver, and the cab turned and ground its way down the driveway, back toward the sea.

We hurried inside the Villa Rosa, to avoid the worst of the rain. We just meant to shelter in the reception hall before making our way up the stone staircase. It had been an OK evening, and I think you were in the mood for some makeup sex. We certainly had no intention of disturbing Isabella’s big dinner party.

At the back of the house the whirring stopped, gasped and then started again. Lights flickered. I thought I could hear the sound of something like swearing in Greek, and a thump that I imagined was Kostas kicking the generator.

“You are here.” It was Isabella, in a long, wine-colored gown, flushed and slightly vampiric.

We were standing by the chiffonier. The bundles of paper were now all gone, but the guest book was still there, its leather cover lit by flickering candlelight.

I realized there were candles everywhere.

“The rain,” you said, with a sweet smile and a little shrug.

“Sorry,” I added.

“Come,” she said, a grin slicing her face. “Have brandy with us.”

“I mean, we should really—” I began.

“Thank you,” you said. “That sounds nice.”

She took you by both hands and sort of danced you through the doors and into her private dining room. I followed, leaving wet footprints behind me.

A lavish, fetid smell hit me as soon as I entered the room. It wasn’t wholly unpleasant, but it was very strong.

The dapper little man was sitting at the table doing something with a ball of string. He looked up sharply, as if we were a couple of small insects he might like to lash with his tongue and then swallow whole.

Kalispera,” he said, I thought slightly sarcastically, in an accent that sounded more French than Greek.

“Oh my God, Marcus, it’s them!”

It was the film producer’s wife, the one you’d said had been sick on the plane. Her accent was American, New York-ish. She sounded like someone who might be described as a “broad,” who would probably cackle when she laughed. Well, that’s what someone would think if they spoke to her on the phone. In appearance, she was more like a rare bird waiting to be put in the oven. Her body had clearly been well cared for, perhaps a little too much, and she sat with an aristocratic, haughty air. As she craned forward in her seat to stare at us I saw there was something carcass-like about her, as if she’d been starved and electrocuted and plucked. Over the carcass, she wore a delicate golden gown with a pearl choker and large diamond earrings.

“The sleepwalkers!” she said, clutching her throat, staring at us.

“Oh Debbie, don’t be such a drunk,” said her husband.

Isabella bit her lip and slightly rolled her eyes, as if she might laugh, or, possibly, cry.

“We’ve been having such a fun evening,” Isabella said, a little too fast, more to you than me. “Please, I would like you to meet Mr. Marcus Drake and his wife, Debbie.”

“Oh honey, we’re not married!” declared Debbie. “No pre-nup in the world is ever gonna make that happen.”

“Yeah,” said Marcus, grasping her bony shoulder. “We’re just fuck buddies.”

“For the last twenty years,” added Debbie.

Marcus was standing by the table, still in his yellow linen suit. I wondered what you were seeing, how much you were taking in. The impression the room was making on me was equally singular and kaleidoscopic, with its various pieces all swirling around.

There was Marcus’s large cigar, sticking out of his face like Pinocchio’s nose, creating some of the fetid smell. The cigar looked like a dick, as all cigars do, but there was no need for an objective correlative for Marcus’s penis, because it was completely visible through the thin fabric of his trousers. Did he know? The penis was semi-erect, like a small snake asleep in a thicket. Had I developed X-ray vision somehow? I could see it all. The stitched outline of his white y-fronts around his sleeping viper, a few fronds of pubic hair escaping here and there, even a tiny splatter of something that could have been mineral water or rain, but could equally have been semen.

I looked away.

The room was a mess. Remnants of a large meal lay everywhere. A gravy boat sat in the center of the oval dining table, still almost full, with a congealed layer of fat on the top. Underneath it was a white paper doily. There were grapes, cherries and blueberries strewn around the pale tablecloth as if they’d been part of some sort of game. Almost all of them were squashed and bleeding their juices into the fabric. There was a half-eaten bowl of pâté next to a large and lavish cheeseboard, which was the main source of the fetid smell. A Camembert had a cigar stub in it and only a blue cheese remained untouched.

Half-eaten rare steaks sat wetly on plates decorated with yellow flowers. On the table just in front of where Marcus was standing was an empty plate with small smears of blood on it.

In the center of the table was a large plastic cool-box, of the sort you’d take on a picnic. Marcus now gestured at it.

“Wanna steak, kiddoes? Brought ’em all the way from Milan.”

“There’s no fridge here due to the storm,” said Debbie. “Right, Isabella? We gotta eat them all before they go bad.”

Isabella shrugged charmingly. So much for her “vegetarian” hotel.

“Please,” she said, pushing a plate in front of you. On it was an untouched rare steak. “I will fetch a salad.”

“We’ve already eaten,” I said.

You glared at me.

“We ate quite lightly,” you said, picking up a knife and fork. “This looks amazing. Thank you.”

Isabella hissed at Christos to run and get a salad. Then she brought over a bottle of cognac and poured some in a crystal glass for you. She seemed to look around for someone who was not there—perhaps the glitter-boy, whom I had not seen since we’d entered the villa.

I picked up the only intact blueberry and rolled it in my fingers like a nipple. Isabella continued to fuss over you, producing a clean napkin in a silver ring and a small side-salad. No one offered me anything.

Isabella then went to the dapper little man and refreshed his glass.

“Monsieur,” she said, with an odd curtsey. He nodded coldly at her.

“Would you like another steak, Mr. Marcus?” Isabella offered next.

Another steak?” you said, with a little laugh, sounding impressed.

“We’re carnivores,” Marcus explained.

“No, baby, it’s called the Carnivore Diet. Saying we’re carnivores makes us sound like a pair of wild beasts.”

“It’s changed our lives,” said Marcus, this time to the whole table. “In so many ways. Better blood work, blood pressure, yadda yadda. All the blood things. Blood for blood. And our love has grown too. Right, honey?”

“Sure,” said Debbie, sipping what looked like port.

“I feel so masculine,” Marcus added. “More virile.”

He squeezed her shoulder tighter, and I looked away as his viper began to stir.

Isabella could hardly take her eyes off you, the brazen hussy, as you ate your steak in little bites. Were you really enjoying it, or simply doing it out of politeness? It was impossible to tell. Isabella stood behind you, still watching.

“You do seem very happy,” you appeared to be saying, to Marcus and Debbie.

“Our love can’t match the love of the sleepwalkers,” boomed Marcus. “It’s such an incredible tale, Issy. And amazing that the wife happened to tell her entire life story to you on the day before she drowned.”

Isabella looked pleased.

“Do you two know all about it?” Marcus asked.

“The people who drowned?” you said. “I’m not sure.”

“We actually first heard about it in Milan,” said Debbie. “We were in our hotel bar, weren’t we, honey, literally surrounded by these gorgeous young Italians all dressed from head to toe in fur, or feathers, or wearing leather socks with shoes made out of wax, and it was all a little overwhelming and so we got talking with the only other American in the bar and he’d just come from here and he told us the whole story.”

“Baby, he barely told us anything, you know that!”

“I guess that’s true, honey. I think you just heard ‘Lovers drowned while sleepwalking’ and booked the plane immediately.”

They were laughing and I could tell you’d lost interest.

Your hair was slightly ruffled, and you looked beautiful and insouciant in the dim candlelight. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I always felt more attracted to your father than I ever did to you. He is properly handsome, with his defined jaw and high cheekbones. Once I even thought he was the love of my life. You inherited a softness from your mother and so your good looks have always been less rugged than his. But right then you looked glorious. Was it something about eating rare steak? But I’ve seen you do that before. As I write this, you are sleeping like a mythical animal, fronds of your thick hair splayed on the pillow. But at the dinner table you were awake, so awake.

Suddenly, I wanted to be alone with you. I wanted to wipe everything awful from our lives and start again, you with your flushed cheeks and me having somehow washed it all away. I’d be wearing pearls like Debbie’s and something white—but not my wedding dress.

“Which room did they stay in?” Marcus asked Isabella.

“Well, in fact, they stayed in Richard’s room,” she said.

Would it have killed her to say “Richard and Evelyn’s room”?

“Can we see it, Richard?” Marcus boomed.

“Oh my God, we can block it out,” said Debbie. “What fun! You can pretend you’re them, and we can see how it must have happened.”

Isabella giggled then, and I could see how drunk she was.

“Oh no,” she said. “But we couldn’t possibly—”

Avanti!” cried Marcus. “Eat up, Richard, and we’ll begin.”

Everyone was looking the other way when lightning flashed, bright and fierce, and lit up the stained-glass window. There was the biggest crash of thunder I’ve ever heard, and the ground seemed to shake with it. Another flash of lightning came. And there, in the window, was a face.

It was

About The Author

Scarlett Thomas was born in London. She is the author of highly acclaimed contemporary cult novels including The End of Mr. Y, which was longlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction; OligarchyThe Seed CollectorsPopCo; The Sleepwalkers; and the Worldquake series of middle grade books. Her novels have sold over half a million copies worldwide and been translated into twenty-six languages. Scarlett is professor of creative writing and contemporary fiction at the University of Kent. Find out more at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 9, 2024)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668032985

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

“So is this a ghost story, or a time loop, or a memory play? For Thomas, nothing seems to be off the table. She shifts between erotic thrills, gothic drama, postmodern deconstruction and kitchen-sink realism. Through her bold storytelling, The Sleepwalkers becomes a work of peculiar, gonzo genius.”

"Fantastically gripping. . . The Sleepwalkers is the tattered, singed and bloodstained scrapbook of a disaster . . . Clever, emotionally resonant, packed with startling twists and dark turns and very funny indeed, this is fiction roaring on all cylinders."

"The Sleepwalkers should come with a surgeon general's warning. Not because there's smoking in Scarlett Thomas' latest (there is), but because it's such dark, twisted, pervy fun that it might dent the psyche."

"I’ve no idea why Scarlett Thomas isn’t more widely read on this side of the pond—her writing is consistently funny and weird and crystalline."

"Their letters to each other contain shocking revelations, which Thomas unspools masterfully, expertly building tension and jolting the reader in equal measure. Fans of literary fiction and thrillers will find much to appreciate here, with the slow burn of the story's beginning paying off exponentially once all the cards are turned over. A straight-up winner."
BOOKLIST (starred review)

“A novel about secrets, family curses, and the past erupting into the present… from a seemingly fearless writer.”
KIRKUS REVIEWS (starred review)

“The Sleepwalkers is never-endingly surprising and full of keen observations on relationships, politics, and art. Thomas makes real life so fraught with meaning, it feels hauntingly supernatural. A twisty Gothic tale of vertiginous depths and haunting power.”
—SANDRA NEWMAN, author of Julia and The Heavens

“A fabulously sly and slippery tale of a honeymoon that goes from bad to worse to even worse yet. Vivid, scalpel-sharp, and impossible to put down."
—KELLY LINK, Pulitzer Prize finalist and bestselling author of Get In Trouble

“Vibey, dark, and weird, The Sleepwalkers is like a poetic, sinister The White Lotus with even more plot twists. I loved it.”
—ALLIE ROWBOTTOM, author of Aesthetica

"Brilliant and utterly surprising, The Sleepwalkers kept me up late, ensnared by these pitch-perfect voices and desperate to know what was going to happen next, but also, what exactly happened in the past. A gut-wrenching mystery about how far we will go to keep our secrets, and how secrets can reverberate outward in shocking and devastating ways. Lush and deeply human, stylish and sexy and important, The Sleepwalkers will take your breath away."
—CHELSEA BIEKER, author of Godshot and Heartbroke

“A British writer who excels at delivering novels about difficult subjects, [with a] brilliant, incisive gaze."

"Thomas has a perfectly pitched ear for human cruelty and self-delusion."

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images