Friday, 13 February 2009


The two girls were called Lutra and Glis-Glis. Meles wasn't sure whether they were southern European, north African, south-east Asian, Argentinian or what. Lutra looked as if she might once have belonged to one of the indigenous Lapp tribes of northern Scandinavia, except that she was too dark-skinned. But maybe that was just her tan. After all, she had spent most of her adult life by the shores of the lake.

Meles reclined on a long handmade wicker chair that looked a little like a picnic basket turned on its side. Out on the improbably named Tomb Lake a large fish-eating bird cackled and trod water, occasionally jabbing its beak at the treacly surface and spearing a small bottle-green fish. Meles watched Lutra watching the bird. The bird was joined by another. Lutra called to Glis-Glis in a language Meles did not understand; Glis-Glis was sleeping, slightly curled, on a towel on the sand. Lutra slipped into the lake with lithe soundlessness and swam quickly out to the two fish-eating birds. The birds squabbled and prodded each other in a half-friendly manner. Glis-Glis turned in her sleep. She had a compact, lovely form, Meles thought. Not as classically beautiful as Lutra, but lovely, really lovely.

Meles didn't see the birds depart but they were gone by the time Lutra reached the spot in the middle of the lake where they had been fishing. Lutra's back formed an arc and she tumbled forward and down under the surface of the thick-looking water. Meles looked back at Glis-Glis and she stirred and opened one eye.

'Lutra fishing again?' she said in that accent Meles could not pin down. 'Always fishing, that one. Learned it off the natives.'

Meles lit a cigarette and Lutra emerged from the water. Sure enough she had hold of a fish, a green-grey fish about six inches long. She swam towards the other side of the lake where the curved trunk of a dead tree broke the surface like the head and neck of a monster. Lutra climbed nimbly onto the tree and crossed her legs. She hit the head of the fish once on the trunk. It went still instantly.

Meles was not surprised at Lutra's behaviour. He had seen some gleeful, girlish madness in her, even back at the hotel.

Glis-Glis stretched out supine, a book - Elizabethen poetry - propped against her small bag. She read out loud in her own language. Meles realised that she was translating directly from English. He looked at Lutra, who was now floating on her back with her eyes closed, slowly drifting shorewards.

Glis-Glis was still speaking, but was no longer looking at the book. She had made her way down to the water's edge. Reluctantly she put a tiny bare foot into the water and quickly removed it. She made a sound that Meles could only describe as a disgusted sneeze and went back to her towel.

'She's mad,' she said, gesturing her head in Lutra's direction. Lutra was now only a few metres from land. 'You hear that? You're mad, Lutra. Mental.'

Lutra laughed and ran out of the shallows like Ursula Andress then shook her head like a dog as she came between Meles and Glis-Glis. Meles shivered, not without pleasure, as the water fell on him. Glis-Glis made the sneezing sound again.

Taking Glis-Glis's bag and causing the book to fall open on the sand, Lutra found a hair band and tied her hair back into a ponytail.

'Let's build a fire,' she said. Glis-Glis smiled and nodded in assent.

Lutra collected small sticks that had been stranded by evaporation just above the water line. Meles searched further inland along the line of woodland for larger pieces of wood. Glis-Glis screwed up some pages from a fashion magazine and formed a rough cone over the top with the smaller sticks. Lutra took a Zippo lighter from her friend's bag and had the fire going expertly within seconds. Glis-Glis sat close to the fire, palms outward, despite the warmth of the weather. The towel was damp and cool and Meles sat on it and flicked through the little green book of Elizabethen poetry, not reading it. The pull of the water exerted itself on Lutra again, and she slipped back in, telling Glis-Glis not to let the fire go out.

Meles said to Glis-Glis, 'Doesn't she ever stop?'

'I think it's a kind of illness,' she replied.

'What, like ADHD?'

'Something like that. She could have been an Olympic swimmer. Probably a gymnast too. She eats too many sweets.'

Glis-Glis almost seemed to be asleep. She had picked up a piece of wood and was turning it mechanically, peeling the bark with her thumbnail. Every time she removed a piece she flicked it with her thumb into the centre of the fire and watched it combust, rear up and disappear in an instant. She sang a low, wordless tune for a short time, finishing on a long, sustained note. Lutra reappeared, scolding Glis-Glis for letting the fire burn low. She shook herself like before and the black and silver shards of water from Tomb Lake glittered and kissed in the fire. She went back to the side of the lake and picked up three greenish, purplish fish by the gills. She called, 'Look what I have caught. We can cook them on the fire. We don't have to go back to the hotel. The food there is mediocre.'

Glis-Glis was about to say something in return but checked herself, crossed her legs, shook her head and smiled.

Meles said, 'Is that allowed?' and Glis-Glis smiled more.

Lutra threw the fish down on the sand and said, 'Glis-Glis, get some life into that fire, old girl. Meles, come with me. Come on. Chop chop. God, I feel like Mary Poppins with you two.'

Glis-Glis obeyed and Meles got up.

'Where are we going then, Miss Poppins?'

'To the woods. We need some vegetables.'

He followed, barely able to keep up.