'Your dress is over there.' Joe Jacobs pointed to the pile of crumpled blue cotton lying under the recliner. They had all been staring at her for an embarrassingly long time. The woman grabbed it and deftly slipped the flimsy dress over her head.
'Thanks. I'm Kitty Finch by the way.'
What she actually said was I'm Kah Kah Kah and stammered on for ever until she got to Kitty Finch. Everyone couldn't wait for her to finish saying who she was.
Nina realised her mother was still in the pool. When she climbed up the stone steps, her wet swimming costume was covered in silver pine needles.
'I'm Isabel. My husband thought you were a bear.' Joe Jacobs twisted his lips in an effort not to laugh.
'Of course I didn't think she was a bear.'
Kitty Finch's eyes were grey like the tinted windows of Mitchell's hire car, a Mercedes, parked on the gravel at the front of the villa.
'I hope you don't mind me using the pool. I've just arrived and it's sooo hot. There's been a mistake with the rental dates.'
'What sort of mistake?' Laura glared at the young Woman as if she had just been handed a parking ticket.
'Well, I thought I was staying here from this Saturday for a fortnight. But the caretaker . . .'
'If you can call a lazy stoned bastard like Jurgen a caretaker.' Just mentioning Jurgen's name brought Mitchell out in a disgusted sweat.
'Yeah. Jurgen says I've got the dates all wrong and now I'm going to lose my deposit.'
Jurgen was a German hippy who was never exact about anything. He described himself as 'a nature man' and always had his nose buried in Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Mitchell wagged his finger at her. 'There are worse things than losing your deposit. We were about to have you sedated and driven up to the mountains.'
Kitty Finch lifted up the sole of her left foot and slowly pulled out a thorn. Her grey eyes searched for Nina, who was still hiding behind her father. And then she smiled.
'I like your bikini.' Her front teeth were crooked, snarled into each other, and her hair was drying into coppercoloured curls. 'What's your name?'
'Do you think I look like a bear, Nina?' She clenched her right hand as if it was a paw and jabbed it at the cloudless blue sky. Her fingernails were painted dark green.
Nina shook her head and then swallowed her spit the wrong way and started to cough. Everyone sat down. Mitchell on the ugly blue chair because he was the fattest and it was the biggest, Laura on the pink wicker chair, Isabel and Joe on the two white plastic recliners. Nina perched on the edge of her father's chair and fiddled with the five silver toe-rings Jurgen had given her that morning. They all had a place in the shade except Kitty Finch, who was crouching awkwardly on the burning paving stones.
'You haven't anywhere to sit. I'll find you a chair.' Isabel wrung the ends of her wet black hair. Drops of water glistened on her shoulders and then ran down her arm like a snake.
Kitty shook her head and blushed. 'Oh, don't bother. Pah pah please. I'm just waiting for Jurgen to come back with the name of a hotel for me and I'll be off.'
'Of course you must sit down.'
Laura, puzzled and uneasy, watched Isabel lug a heavy wooden chair covered in dust and cobwebs towards the pool. There were things in the way. A red bucket. A broken plant pot. Two canvas umbrellas wedged into lumps of concrete.
No one helped her because they weren't quite sure what she was doing. Isabel, who had somehow managed to pin up her wet hair with a clip in the shape of a lily, was actually placing the wooden chair between her recliner and her husband's. Kitty Finch glanced nervously at Isabel and then at Joe, as if she couldn't work out if she was being offered the chair or being forced to sit in it. She wiped away the cobwebs with the skirt of her dress for much too long and then finally sat down. Laura folded her hands in her lap as if preparing to interview an applicant for a job.
Excerpted from Swimming Home by Deborah Levy. Copyright © 2012 by Deborah Levy. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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