The Manchester Review
Craig Raine
A Passion for Gardening
print view

       At the docks, there was a large white ocean-going yacht like a bride. A member of the crew, in white ducks, was leaning out, awkwardly swabbing the white sides with a chamois leather at the end of a long cleft stick – a ginkgo leaf of gold leaf.

       How dark her cabin after the aching sunlight, as if she were about to faint. She turned her waistband, undid the zip, stepped out of her skirt and lay on the bunk in her slip. She was trying to think what the sway and the slight bounce of the gangway reminded her of. It came to her. It was like the ship – when it was calm.

       At Valparaiso, there was no Frank. There was a messenger who spoke her name as she looked about her, shielding her eyes, her other hand on the green, brass-bound trunk. ‘Misshess Carmen Frasseur?’


       He was wearing a double-breasted dark blue suit with sandals. His toenails were dirty. There was an oil stain on his left lapel. His features, though, were handsome. First he showed her a small snapshot of herself – lifting a glass of stout towards the person (Frank) taking the photograph. She was smiling, tensely. Then the messenger held up his left hand, paused, patted his jacket and produced from the inside pocket a letter curved by his ribcage. Then he turned and disappeared between the stacks of dockside crates. No name. The envelope was blank – except for a pastel smudge, franked by the messenger’s thumb, which she smelled. Coffee grounds.

       Frank’s letter was written on lined paper, the top edge a ruffle where it had been torn from a spiral notebook. What it said – that he was sorry, that he had fallen in love with someone else in Chile, another English woman actually, and he had married her – was of no importance. There was no address. But she had his address in her passport and also in her purse. There was a telephone number. She decided not to ring it. Instead, she beckoned a Negro boy with a porter’s brass lozenge and paid him to carry her trunk back on to the boat.

       The ship was a week in port before it began the return journey of eleven weeks. For some reason, the return journey took a week longer. She had money for the return fare with a goodish sum left over. She had been saving for a long time. In Valparaiso she never left the boat again. She had been on the dockside for ten minutes, including the time it took to read Frank’s letter.