The Handless Maiden (conclusion)


We leave the beach and set off up a path through a narrow gorge, Goril walking ahead with the French, Kurt following her like a puppy. It is night now, but the moon has risen and we have no trouble finding our way. In a sheltered spot, a greyish puddle of wet, viscous mud lies below a small waterfall, space enough for two or three to bathe. Goril and Ana take off their clothes and do not need to exercise much persuasion to get Kurt to do the same, Germans will strip off at any opportunity; even so, the girls give him a hand pulling off his pants and the three of them plunge into the soggy bath, falling about and smacking each other with dollops of gloopy clay. I cannot help but notice that Kurt has an erection, which he tries ineffectually to protect with a hand at first, but is soon so covered in wet clay that it barely matters, and the three of them lollop like imbeciles in the pool, shrieking, hooting and plastering each other with sticky mud.

With a jolt, I feel the effects of the potion rise through my body, bubbling through my veins, and I am lifted bodily to a place where everything has the semblance of itself but is undeniably other; the rocks, the cliffs, the faces of my friends, the strange mutt belonging to the French couple (which seems to be sporting an oversize Gallic moustache); everything has been replaced by a simulacrum of itself, and I too, am a new and alien version of me, and all my sense receptors, sight and touch and hearing and smell, are lodged not in me but in this impostor who has occupied the zone I once thought of as my body. So long as I keep calm, I tell myself, everything will be all right. I glance over at Callum, who, like me, has kept his clothes on. He smiles vacantly in my direction but I can tell, or think I can tell, that he is going through his own epic moment, and I decide (or whatever it is that has commandeered my brain decides) that, for now, language is something I might try and avoid. But Callum is edging over to me and is speaking, or rather, he is making sounds I cannot hope to understand. The three mud-creatures in the pool are clambering over each other, slithering like hideous aquatic lizards through the slime. I notice how long and red Ana’s tongue seems, and how it ululates as she makes strange noises in the round ‘o’ of her mouth, and how that orifice is enveloped by a grey carapace of mud on her face and in her hair and how this might reasonably be expected to diminish my attraction to her but in fact produces the opposite effect; the three of them have grey slimy bodies but red tongues and blue eyes, and the whites of those eyes are flashing horribly in the moonlight. Goril and Ana are kneeling, facing each other, and they begin to kiss, slowly and lasciviously, and Kurt is lying on his belly, flat out in the muck, staring at them, his pupils massively dilated, and then he turns on his side and begins to masturbate, mechanically, never taking his eyes off the girls. Goril looks up and sees what he is doing, cannot help but notice him thrashing away, and she shrieks, reaches for a handful of mud and throws it at Kurt, and Ana joins in, hurling fistfuls of sludge at Kurt, who rolls over and moans, in sorrow or delight, I can’t tell, he wears an expression of demented, anguished joy while the two women, who are no longer laughing, stand over him, pelting him with slushy missiles as he cowers and grovels at their feet, and I observe this macabre scene without much concern, and I hear, in the distance, the sound of a conch, blasting a hole in the petrified night air.

On cue, the assault ends, and someone, it might be me, suggests a swim and we all run back down to the beach, and the three naked mud-people race to get to the sea first, the rest of us jogging behind. The French have gone home, no doubt wishing to protect their child and dog from further scenes of depravity. Then I am very slowly stepping out of my jeans and laughing uncontrollably, which makes it hard to keep my balance, and Ana and Goril and Kurt are standing by the water’s edge, caked in the dried mud, and as I wade into the sea, the water closes around me with a lovely cool feeling, like acquiring a shiny new skin, and I am impossibly high, floating on my back beneath the moon and the stars, being swallowed up by the unimaginable vastness of the sky, and afterwards I find my blanket and curl up by the fire and weep, although with no sense of sadness, and Ana joins me and both of us sit wrapped in the blanket weeping and looking at the flames, and then Kurt is running up, also in tears, but his are unmistakeably tears of despair, he is yowling, yelping, running up to us and then running off down the beach, out of his head with grief, as well as simply out of his head, returning and asking us where is Goril and us saying, Kurt we have no idea where she is but Kurt keeps asking us where is Goril, then running off, sobbing, then coming back and begging, pleading with us to help him find Goril, he cannot live a moment longer without knowing where is his darling Goril, and when he has gone Ana turns to me and we kiss, and then a minute, or a hundred years later, I look up, and Goril is standing there, her arm around Callum’s waist, head on his shoulder, and Kurt is by the fire, silent at last, but in seething suppressed rage, and we are all tired of this performance and Ana tells Kurt to get a grip, to please, for God’s sake, just get a grip and fuck off and go to sleep.

In the morning I make a pot of coffee and decide to look around. Antonio and Pedro are asleep by the remains of the fire. I find Goril and Callum under a blanket in one of the abandoned houses, and there is no trace of Kurt. We spend all morning combing the beach and searching the gorge but do not find him. What more can we do? Ana says she refuses to feel guilty on Kurt’s behalf, and Goril agrees: that’s life, she says, that’s the way it goes, I mean, no one invited him. Callum and I are silent and uncomfortable. The Andalucians mooch, and we all smoke weed.

Later that afternoon we hear that the body of a young man has been washed up on the beach in the nearby town where we went for beers and tapas. Somehow, no one is surprised.

That same evening, I am emerging from the sea after a swim, with Ana, and we see a column of Guardia Civil moving quickly down the distant cliff path, on foot, a snake-trail of green uniforms, six of them. They must have found Kurt’s car. We rush back up the beach to warn the others.

We arrive at the house that Goril and Callum have occupied, just before the guardia. Goril is naked, and as a young officer, a lieutenant, comes into the room with two of his men, she takes her time, carelessly pulls on a shirt, one of Callum’s, from a pile on the floor, but doesn’t bother buttoning it, sits with the shirt half-open, honey-coloured legs stretched towards the lieutenant, crossed at the ankle, and she talks to him. Without prior agreement, she has become our spokesperson, answering all the questions on our behalf in near-perfect Castilian. The lieutenant is handsome and dark-eyed, interrogates her in a civil, professional manner, scribbling in a notebook as he stands, and smiles at her once, a little too freely, and he tells Goril we were seen by the bar owner talking to Kurt, were seen leaving in his car, and she says yes Capitán, we met him, but this is all we know: he was distraught, broken-hearted after a love affair, we tried to help him, we tried talking to him, to comfort him, but he must have wandered off during the night, he must have walked into the sea. She shakes her head sadly. The young guardia allows his gaze to linger, casts his eyes over her without expression, snaps his notebook shut.




One Comment on “The Handless Maiden (conclusion)

  1. It was worth waiting. The undertow of many of your stories leaves my heart aching. I have to breathe deeply to stop the pain in my chest. Yes, that’s it.


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