'Have you been here before?'
'Yes. I've been coming here for years.'
'Do you work?' Mitchell spat an olive pip into a bowl.
'I sort of work. I'm a botanist.'
Joe stroked the small shaving cut on his chin and smiled at her. 'There are some nice peculiar words in your profession.' His voice was surprisingly gentle, as if he intuited Kitty Finch was offended by the way Laura and Mitchell were interrogating her.
'Yeah. Joe likes pe-cu-li-ar words cos he's a poet.' Mitchell said 'peculiar' as if imitating an aristocrat in a stupor.
Joe leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. 'Ignore him, Kitty.' He sounded as if he had been wounded in some inexplicable way. 'Everything is pe-cu-li-ar to Mitchell. Strangely enough, this makes him feel superior.'
Mitchell stuffed five olives into his mouth one after the other and then spat out the pips in Joe's direction as if they were little bullets from one of his minor guns.
'So in the meantime ' Joe leaned forward now 'perhaps you could tell us what you know about cotyledons?'
'Right.' Kitty's right eye winked at Nina when she said 'right'. 'Cotyledons are the first leaves on a seedling.' Her stammer seemed to have disappeared.
'Correct. And now for my favourite word . . . how would you describe a leaf?'
'Kitty,' Laura said sternly, 'there are lots of hotels, so you'd better go and find one.'
When Jurgen finally made his way through the gate, his silver dreadlocks tied back in a ponytail, he told them every hotel in the village was full until Thursday.
'Then you must stay until Thursday.' Isabel said this vaguely, as if she didn't quite believe it. 'I think there's a spare room at the back of the house.'
Kitty frowned and leaned back in her new chair. 'Well, yeah. Thanks. Is that OK with everyone else? Please say if you mind.'
It seemed to Nina that she was asking them to mind. Kitty Finch was blushing and clenching her toes at the same time. Nina felt her own heart racing. It had gone hysterical, thumping in her chest. She glanced at Laura and saw she was actually wringing her hands. Laura was about to say she did mind. She and Mitchell had shut their shop in Euston for the entire summer, knowing the windows that had been smashed by thieves and drug addicts at least three times that year would be smashed again when their holiday was over. They had come to the Alpes-Maritimes to escape from the futility of mending broken glass. She found herself struggling for words. The young woman was a window waiting to be climbed through. A window that she guessed was a little broken anyway. She couldn't be sure of this, but it seemed to her that Joe Jacobs had already wedged his foot into the crack and his wife had helped him. She cleared her throat and was about to speak her mind, but what was on her mind was so unutterable the hippy caretaker got there first.
'So, Kitty Ket, shall I carry your valises to your room?'
Everyone looked to where Jurgen was pointing with his nicotine-stained finger. Two blue canvas bags lay to the right of the French doors of the villa.
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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