Remote. That’s what Eleanor wanted. Out of the reach of telecommunications. Alright, Joe had said. I’ll find a place.
In the dawn the streets had been deserted. They had driven along motorways, then precarious roads, passing between mountains. The last few miles had been along tiny roads with high grass covered banks on either side. Rounding a corner, Joe caught a glimpse of the sea, wild, white, foaming. Eleanor was reading. She didn’t seem to notice.
And there was the house, clinging to the edge of the land.
A tractor was ploughing a field, turning spiral turves of rich black earth. A cloud of gulls whirled and dived into the ground, specks against the dark blue of the evening sky. Their cries cut the air.
The key was under the mat. The back door opened into a kitchen with a farmhouse table, a range, a welsh dresser with blue and white crockery on display. Frying pans with wooden handles hung on hooks on the wall. Would she like it? Joe was hardly breathing. Then Eleanor was dancing around the kitchen, twirling her skirt, her arms high above her head. She is luminous, Joe thought. Light shines out of her.
Joe ran behind Eleanor as she explored the house. It was a collection of staircases, dark passageways, odd shaped rooms, connected in unexpected ways. It was too big for the two of them. Each room she found drew a new squeal of excitement from Eleanor, a new little dance
Eleanor stood outside the back door. Behind the house was a hill, sullen, threatening. Maybe that is the place, she murmured. The place for what, asked Joe? She glanced at him sharply. Joe looked down and went back into the house.
The dining room was panelled in dark oak, and there was an open fireplace. Joe lit a fire, and made some drinks.
They lay on a rug in front of the fire. Joe had his iPad with him, but decided not to produce it here, now. He was writing in his notebook, Eleanor was sketching on large sheets of textured paper. She had drawn a leafless tree, branches silhouetted against a wild evening sky. Clouds blowing away to a vanishing point at the horizon. Drawn in portrait, the effect was one of space, a cathedral of the sky, but also one of threat.
The fire had settled to a deep red glow, and occasionally crackled and sparked. The smell of wood smoke filled the room.
Joe went into the kitchen and unpacked some of the supplies he had brought. There were duck breasts, which he cooked in a heavy skillet, slowly, until they were a rich brown. He made a mass of green beans, fried with garlic. He opened a bottle of Rioja, and carried the meal into the dining room.
Eleanor had drawn a naked woman standing on the brow of a hill, hair streaming in the wind and rain. The woman was playing a flute. Joe admired Eleanor’s skill and the beauty of her work. He was aroused by the line of the woman’s body, her erect nipples, the gentle bulge of her belly.
They ate in silence.
Joe imagined Eleanor leaning over and kissing him. You are a so clever in the kitchen, she would say.
Eleanor chose the bedroom with the four-poster bed. The room was chilly. Joe still had the image of the woman on the hill in his mind. Eleanor turned away from him.
Joe dreamed that he saw Eleanor standing naked on the sullen hill. He tried, but he couldn’t get close to her. When he woke, it was dawn. Eleanor was not in the bed. He found her in the kitchen. She looked directly at Joe, but didn’t speak. Joe went back upstairs to the bed. He could have asked her. But he already knew the answer.