This Day was launched at the Open Book Festival, and you can see the author read from it on the Books LIVE YouTube channel, along with readings by Kader Abdolah, Rabih Alameddine, Philip Hensher and Fiona Leonard.
At that event, Beautement said of her protagonist: “I gave her everything I wanted. Perfect health, financial independence, lots of energy, and made her life stink!”
Read the excerpt:
The water devours the words.
A solid half hour of writing in the starlight, the sharp stick gouging the glassy sand, until it resembled a pewter tablet bearing prophecy. Moses would have been impressed. Now my work has nearly vanished, the water sucking the letters until they pop out and drift away.
The tide has changed, precisely when the tide table said it would. My mind cannot comprehend how they predict the ocean’s behaviour so far in advance. I’ve had it explained to me, this gravitational pull between the sea, the moon and the sun. But life has so many variables – solar flares, falling stars, an unexpected gust of wind – how do the tides keep ticking by on schedule, as if these anomalies have not occurred?
Low tide: 4:59am.
This is what the pamphlet said.
That is what happened.
Dawn whispers in as the ocean surges forward. My stomach rolls and my flesh prickles as the surf collects around my ankles, combing through my toes. I remain planted, waiting for the sun.
‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ An often-spoken sentiment at funerals. I should know; I’ve been to enough. But in truth, we are mostly water: around sixty-to seventy-percent, if the experts are to be believed. They say an adult should drink two litres of water a day in order to maintain the approximately forty litres that compose the individual. I, Ella, am water. My words are somewhere in these waves, coating my feet. I should not be afraid. This sea contains droplets that were once in me, in my son, that sustained us both.
The sky grows brighter. There are no surfers out on dawn patrol. Not the right kind of waves. They are small and crumbly. Perhaps later today this will change. I used to be more aware of the surf report. Bart, my husband, had scheduled his days around it. Now my daily excursions to the beach are made alone, in silent homage to our beloved boy. Perhaps words reach us, even in death.
A barefoot fisherman in tatty trousers and a rusty red t-shirt approaches. A weathered plastic carrier bag dangles from calloused fingertips. His hooked knife glints in the dim light. He pays me no notice. We’ve seen each other often enough. I don’t know his name, nor he mine. But like the rocks along the shore, we have become part of one another’s scenery.
With slow deliberate steps, he works his way to the rocks where the mussels cling. The water continues to swirl about my ankles, at times brushing up against my calves. The sun’s rays grow stronger. They reach out and lick my face. Soon the fisherman has wandered out of my line of vision. I do not turn my head. I wait and watch until the sun has finished emerging from the sea.
The interior of the Prius is cool, promising, as cars often feel in the early hours. By noon the cabin air will be stale, tired with disappointment.
Every day we begin again.
This day is no more significant than the one before, or the one before that. Little progress, if any, seems to be made. Yet, I keep trying, pushing, as if working towards something, even if that something cannot be named. What is it that I hope to gain? It would be easier to succumb to the endless cycle. I could crawl into bed and lie next to Bart. With a sigh, whisper his full name, ‘Bartholomew,’ as I welcomed the rot. Gradually, we would waste away. It is, after all, not without precedent. Then death would claim us, as it did his mother. Yet, even now, I can’t help but think of it as the cowardly way out.
Making my way up Church Road, heading home, the sun rises steadily behind me. We do not live far from the sea. The walk would do me good. But Bart insists that I drive. I have yet to inquire what shadows he envisions stalking me on the Mossel Bay streets. He believes me safe in our home, surrounded by palisade fencing. He believes me safe on the beaches, no matter the hour. How, after all of this, can he continue to have such trust around a large body of water?
‘You never go deeper than your ankles,’ he says.
In the past I would have argued his odd logic, pointing out the holes. Or I might have ignored his protests entirely and simply walked. But the fact that he can muster the energy to insist on anything is … something.
We all need something.
Returning, I make my way down the hall, studiously ignoring the door to the main bathroom. We have yet to arrange for repairs. As far as I am aware, the antique bathtub remains in ruins – cast iron marred by the sledgehammer, shattered porcelain pooling at the base of clawed feet.
Stepping into the master bedroom I locate Bart, wrapped in a quilt, exactly as I left him. A line of drool channels along a heavily shadowed cheek. His ashy blond curls are overgrown and greasy. His once bronzed skin resembles spoilt yoghurt, the white separating into transparent layers that are tinged with blue. But it is the rhythmic rise and fall of his thin chest that holds my attention. Alive. This is never guaranteed. Each time I venture out of the house provides an opportunity to bring himself to conclusion. Despite everything, I do not wish for his death. I fear it. Anticipate it. Because I no longer understand what motivates him to exist. Gradually he has released us all from his care. Even his art.
His art was the last to go. In the past sixteen months, only two pieces have been created. The first was a glass box in blues, greens, and purples so dark they almost looked black. The colours drift together, echoing the sea’s calm before the storm. The silver lines where the sections were soldered together give the box a distinctly religious overtone. We are not religious. But there is comfort in the aura of solemnity, given its contents.
The other piece is a glass blown sculpture, unlike any of the vases, bowls, platters, Christmas ornaments and cut glass jewellery that he, or his three partners, typically craft. The popularity of Bart’s creations has gradually grown. People from as far as Norway, Sweden, Japan and New York are in possession of a Bartholomew Original.
This sculpture was a disaster. His trembling caused the rod to rotate poorly. The glass folded in on itself, stopping short of total collapse. Yet, it was auctioned for a mind-boggling amount, as if the time lapse between pieces added to its worth. One art critique wrote: ‘Bartholomew’s latest work is the embodiment of grief.’
I am no longer certain if grief plays any part in Bart’s moods, which sway between vicious anger and total apathy. It appears to be more of a habit. A habit he has no reason to break. We own the house outright. We inherited money from both sets of parents. His languid depression is a luxury most humans cannot afford. I’ve
often wondered if I would better serve him by draining the bank accounts, giving the whole lot to charity. Perhaps then he would see reason to emerge.
The therapist tells me I misunderstand his disease. That it is a disease. A part of him is broken and should be respected as much as if he’d shattered his tibia, ruptured a spinal disc. Care should be administered, as surely as if he were bound to a hospital bed. Thus, each morning I am to approach my husband’s side with profound gentleness. I am not to say, ‘Just get up. There are things to do and people to see.’ No, I am to say, ‘You appear to be having a spot of trouble rising this morning. Is there anything I can do to assist?’
This requires a plenitude of patience. And kindness. And fortitude. All of which I lack. Because what I would dearly love to do is to toss a bucket of cold water across this slumbering heap. Such an action, I suppose, would soak the mattress and could lead to mould. A great pity, indeed.
I suppress a sigh and leave. Stepping over a trail of ants, which are doubtlessly doing untold damage to our hardwood floors, I enter the en suite. The original home had no such frills. It is a renovation orchestrated by my mother-in-law after the death of her husband. Upon its completion, she phoned Bart, ‘That Ms Spinner of yours will not be able to object to moving in now, the house boasts the latest amenities.’
She never did forgive me for keeping my own name.
‘I am the last one,’ I once said to her, ‘and you must admit, there are still a plethora of Simonds about.’
She’d been aghast. ‘Simonds, perhaps, but not the Simonds of the third cousin of the original Huguenots that …’
I have never been able to precisely trace her version of the Simond family tree, of which Bart is apparently the last. Nonetheless, I bore her a small olive branch in the form of Kai Simond, only to have her tear it loose.
- This Day by Tiah Marie Beautement
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