The Rocks

ISBN 13: 9781848666375

The Rocks

 
9781848666375: The Rocks

“Irresistibly sunny...  Set in the brightly lit Mediterranean amid old olive trees and sexual intrigue, music and wine and beautiful women... Propulsive.” –The New York Times Book Review

“The perfect book for pretending it's already beach season.” –O, The Oprah Magazine

A romantic page-turner propelled by the sixty-year secret that has shaped two families, four lovers, and one seaside resort community.


Set against dramatic Mediterranean Sea views and lush olive groves, The Rocks opens with a confrontation and a secret: What was the mysterious, catastrophic event that drove two honeymooners apart so suddenly and absolutely in 1948 that they never spoke again despite living on the same island for sixty more years? And how did their history shape the Romeo and Juliet–like romance of their (unrelated) children decades later? Centered around a popular seaside resort club and its community, The Rocks is a double love story that begins with a mystery, then moves backward in time, era by era, to unravel what really happened decades earlier.

Peter Nichols writes with a pervading, soulful wisdom and self-knowing humor, and captures perfectly this world of glamorous, complicated, misbehaving types with all their sophisticated flaws and genuine longing. The result is a bittersweet, intelligent, and romantic novel about how powerful the perceived truth can be—as a bond, and as a barrier—even if it’s not really the whole story; and how one misunderstanding can echo irreparably through decades.

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About the Author:

Peter Nichols has worked in advertising and as a screenwriter, and a shepherd in Wales, and he has sailed alone across the Atlantic. He divides his time between Europe and the United States.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

 

One

Her guests had always marveled at how young she looked.

“Lulu, don’t be ridiculous, darling—you can’t be eighty?”

In her ninth decade, Lulu Davenport still had the slim, supple body of a much younger woman. Her thick, straight hair, which she still kept long, usually braided or coiled into a loose bun with fetching whorls escaping at the nape of her neck, had gone completely white in her thirties and had always seemed part of her abundant natural gifts. Lulu had never been concerned with health or beauty. These were accidents of nature and one had simply been lucky. She walked everywhere, she gardened, and she ran Villa Los Roques—“the Rocks,” as everyone called her little seaside hotel at the eastern end of the island of Mallorca—and charmed her guests as she had for more than fifty years. That had kept her vigorous and happy, until one December afternoon when she was found sprawled in the Mediterranean sun among her yellow rosebushes by Vicente the handyman.

She looked no different after her stroke. She soon recovered her marvelous strength. In almost all respects, she appeared unchanged. But with the sudden tiny dam-burst of blood a tumbler had turned in Lulu’s brain, and she began to swear. Her new vocabulary was Lawrentian: fuck, cunt, shit, piss. She talked of the same things as always, with appropriate logic and context, but with her arresting new expressions filling and punctuating her speech. At first, her friends were hugely amused to sit and chat with someone they knew so well who spoke in a new, rather cinematic language. Yet after a while it was strangely alienating—it was, after all, a neurological disorder. Was this still really Lulu?

The other change was to her schedule. Its former rigidity eased—nothing extreme, no getting up in the middle of the night to trim the roses or take a walk—but after her stroke it was erratic. She set off to the market with her straw bag over her shoulder as ever, but at random hours. In this way she encountered her first husband, Gerald Rutledge, one afternoon late in March. They had both remained in the small town of Cala Marsopa after their divorce in 1949, yet by evolving antipodal routines they had managed to avoid each other almost entirely for half a century.

Though they were the same age, Gerald had not been as blessed by nature. He’d been a smoker all his life and now had emphysema. He’d suffered from arthritis for years. His hips needed replacing but he had a horror of hospitals and had resisted such a dramatic procedure. He walked slowly with a stick.

He was stooped, puffing a Ducados, gripping a small four-pack of yogurt in a tremulous hand when they ran into each other at the local comestibles. His brown legs and arms were wrinkled and emaciated in his baggy khaki shorts and short-sleeved pale blue shirt, cheap polyester garments bought at the HiperSol in Manacor. There were scabs of sun cancer on his scalp beneath the thin, lank gray hair.

“God, Gerald, you look fucking grim,” said Lulu. “Why are you here anyway, you cunt?”

Gerald’s mouth opened to form an answer, but his mind skittered off into confusion. Its tracking mechanism, unsteady these days anyway, was thrown further off balance by the coarseness of Lulu’s greeting. His memories of her—almost all of them stemming from the few happy weeks of their marriage almost sixty years before—could not reconcile such stark filth and venom. As his jaw moved, trying to form words, his eyes sought and found the small white scar, still visible, on her chin.

Lulu’s eye was caught by a heap of splendid blue-black aubergines. She began to move away and Gerald’s hand shot out and grasped her upper arm.

She turned toward him again. “Piss off, you wretched shit.” Lulu pulled her arm free. She walked away, toward the aubergines, pleased at the opportunity to cut Gerald, and at how decrepit he looked. She’d been mortified by her stroke; it wasn’t like her. And while adjusting to the unsettling intimations of mortality, it had occurred to her that Gerald might outlast her. She wanted him to die first, with urgency now.

She picked up an aubergine, rubbing her thumb across its firm squeaky skin. She finished her shopping with brisk efficiency and was soon outside.

Gerald stared after her. Some moments later, he became aware of a sensation in his hand. He looked down and saw that he had squeezed the yogurt containers too hard. Creamy curds of frutas del bosque were dripping from his trembling fingers.

·   ·   ·

After a day of cloudbursts, the clouds departed, as if they’d been waiting for an improvement in the weather themselves, moving away eastward across the sea like pink and purple galleons. Lulu walked home along the sandy, unpaved, still-puddled road between the white villas and their gardens of fruit trees and bougainvillea and the limestone shore stretching beyond the harbor. The road carried mostly foot traffic and mopeds, a popular, out-of-the-way walk in the summer but deserted the rest of the year. In places, the rough spongiform beige rocks between the road and the sea offered flat spots near their edges where for years Lulu and the Rocks’ guests who didn’t want to walk as far as the beach had spread their towels to lie in the sun, launched themselves into the cool water, and climbed back up again.

Lulu walked happily and slowly, enjoying the warmth of the sun—it had been an unusually cool and rainy winter in Mallorca. She was comforted by the familiar nubs and contours of the rocks and the gentle sound of the sea that rose and sucked at them.

She didn’t notice Gerald following her. He was walking at a speed that had become unusually fast for him, though no more than a normal walking pace. His legs weren’t working properly. Everything in them was worn, and the regular mechanisms had grown so sloppy that they were threatening to fold the wrong way and collapse. His hips were killing him. Sweat beaded his forehead, his neck and upper lip. His face had grown pale as the depleted oxygen in his blood chugged toward his heart and lungs, leaving him panting, wheezing heavily. He was dying to stop and light a cigarette but then he would lose her. He pushed furiously on, like a man walking underwater.

He caught up with Lulu just outside the Rocks. He grabbed her arm again with strength fueled by rage, and spun her round.

“You never—” he started, with a smoker’s bubbling growl, but his chest was empty of air, heaving spasmodically.

Again, Lulu shook off his grip. But she was surprised and immensely pleased to see the effort Gerald had made, how overwrought, breathless, and unwell he was. It occurred to her that with just a nudge he might easily die of a heart attack right in front of her. “You’re pathetic, Gerald. An empty, hobbling husk of a man.” A flame of old anger rose in her. “You’re a bolter! A miserable, wretched shit of a fucking—”

“You never developed the film! Did you!” The furious, strangled words erupted wetly out of Gerald’s chest, his body pitching forward. “I lured them away! Do you understand? I got them away! I—” His blue-and-gray glistening face thrust into hers, but he had no more breath.

Lulu involuntarily snapped backward from the waist, repelled. But she recovered—or was recovering, as her shoulder bag, laden with aubergines, lemons, cheese, and wine, still swinging backward, tugged at her, and she began to lose her balance.

Gerald grabbed her arm again, this time—his instinct sure—to steady her, and Lulu clutched at his shirt, but they both leaned well past recovery and began to fall. As they fell, the sight of Gerald’s face so close to hers, spittle gathered in the corners of his thin rubbery lips, was so repugnant to Lulu that she whipped her head sharply aside with disgust. When they landed, her right temple hit a jagged spur of rock.

Gerald’s knees smashed into sharp, serrated limestone. He screamed—a brief empty wheeze—and writhed, pushing with his torso, his excruciating hips.

They rolled together, not toward one of the flat spots where guests spread towels. They tumbled off a ledge into the sea.

Two

According to the report of the coroner, the deaths are from drowning,” said the police inspector, flicking through pages on his desk. He was a slim young man, with the confident demeanor and close-cropped spiky-gelled black hair of a detective in a telenovela. “There was water in the lungs of both persons. But there are the external injuries, primarily in the head of Señora Davenport and the knees of Señor Rutledge . . . and there are other abrasions. . . .” He looked up at the middle-aged man and woman across his desk. “However, nothing is missing. We found Señora Davenport’s purse in her bag, and money in Señor Rutledge’s pocket. Nothing was taken from them, so we don’t believe it was an attack—a robbery. More probably, these lacerations occurred during the fall into the water.”

He spoke in Spanish. Luc Franklin, the son of the Davenport woman, and Aegina Rutledge, the daughter of the Rutledge man—both of them ingleses, as were the deceased—had addressed him in fluent Spanish during their introduction. The Rutledge woman appeared completely Spanish to the inspector. Dark hair, dark eyes, olive complexion, old enough to be his mother, but still, as a woman, very attractive—perhaps a certain polish from the English side. The man, Franklin—he spoke Spanish well, though his accent was not as good as the woman’s—looked like simply another graying middle-aged inglés. They showed no emotion as he talked of the death of their parents and detailed the contusiones found on the bodies. But that did not fool the inspector. He noticed they had barely glanced at each other. They avoided expressions of warmth and comfort that would have led to tears, at least embraces or hand-holding between old friends, and proper expressions of grief, for which the inspector had well-tested soothing words to offer.

These two didn’t like each other.

The inspector continued. “There is only the question of why they fell.”

“My mother had a stroke in December,” said Luc Franklin. “Maybe she had another one and Gerald—Señor Rutledge—was trying to help her.”

“They were very old friends,” said the Rutledge woman, supporting this scenario. “If she’d been in trouble, I’m sure my father would have tried to help her, even though he wasn’t well himself.”

“Claro,” said the inspector. “This seems most likely what happened. Señora Davenport had a head injury, here”—he touched his temple—“probably because of a fall on the rocks, perhaps as you say, because of another stroke, or”—he looked at the Franklin man, suggesting gently—“perhaps she just fell—she was quite old. She was carrying a heavy bag. It happens.”

“Possibly,” said the Franklin man. He appeared strangely uninterested. The inspector had seen this before: grief expressed as detachment. The dead were now dead, how they got that way no longer mattered.

The inspector pressed on, limning a scene that spoke for itself. “Yes. And Señor Rutledge was there”—he looked over at the daughter, his face showing the unselfish kindness he presumed of her father—“he attempted to help her. They fell, perhaps together, first onto the rocks beside the road, and then—it is not wide, the rocks there, I went to see—into the water. The injuries are consistent with such an accident. Unless you have reason to suspect somebody attacked them—”

“No, no, not at all,” said the Franklin man, now impatient.

“I’m sure it was an accident,” said the Rutledge woman.

The inspector nodded gravely. “A tragic accident for such old friends.” He rose. “My deepest condolences.”

·   ·   ·

Together they rode the elevator down to the underground police parking garage. They were silent until Aegina said, “Luc, I’m sorry about your mother.”

“And your father,” said Luc, glancing at her reflection in the brushed aluminum door just as it opened and erased her.

They walked toward the parked cars.

“Luc.” Aegina stopped. “You don’t think—honestly—they actually had a fight?”

“Aegina . . .” He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“But what were they doing together? They haven’t seen each other for . . . since Algeciras?”

At the mention of Algeciras, Luc looked away to some bleak corner of the garage. “I wouldn’t know.”

“I can’t imagine why he was there, outside the Rocks,” said Aegina. But she remembered episodes as she spoke. She looked at Luc. “How are you feeling?”

“Numb,” he said. “The way I always felt about her.”

“I’m sure that’s not true.”

“Well, never mind.” He glanced at her again. “I’m sorry about your father. I liked him.” He turned and walked toward a white Land Rover, Lulu’s car. It beeped and blinked its lights as he pressed the remote locking device.

“Are you going to be here long?” she called.

“I don’t know,” Luc said, opening the door. He climbed in and shut the door and started the engine. She stood aside as the Land Rover backed out. She watched it speed off toward the exit.

Aegina looked around the unpainted concrete cavern, trying to remember what car she had rented that morning. She had driven straight from Palma airport to Pompas Fúnebres González to see the body, and then to the police station.

·   ·   ·

Driving up the long, still-unpaved track to C’an Cabrer, her father’s farmhouse, Aegina couldn’t believe he wouldn’t be there. The drive from Palma, through the villages, or now more often than not on the new roads built around them, past the endless new developments of blocky little villas, finally the shimmering sea opening up ahead, and up the hill through the olive trees to the house—the whole headlong journey from London or anywhere else had always been filled with the anticipation and certainty of seeing him at the end of it. He had come up to London only twice in her life. Otherwise, whenever she had seen him, it had been here, in this one place. There had never been a time when she had been in the house and her father had not been there, or out and shortly expected back, as constant and fixed as the stones of its structure and the land around it.

High on the hill, the drive turned sharply and ran level through a stand of lemon trees toward the old pigsty—her father’s workshop—at the side of the house. Aegina stopped the car and got out. It was hot now; the air buzzed with cicadas.

She climbed the steps at the side of the house and entered the large kitchen. Aegina stood still. A teapot, its strainer and top, a chipped mug, a china plate, a large bone-handled dinner knife, lay clean and dry in the wooden dish drainer above the large, square, ceramic sink. He had cleaned these things and then gone out and died. Now she knew she would not find him, either here making tea, or in his study, or reading in the living room, or wandering through the gardens or the olive and lemon groves—what was left of them—on the hill surrounding the house.

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