The beach at Fecamp - by C. Monet
I heard about the man when I moved to the little fishing village some years ago. It seemed that I had moved into the house he had lived in. Many of his old things were still there and I had packed them up and put them into the cellar, which at least was dry.
It seemed that I looked a little like him, tall and scrawny with dark hair and eyes. But he had been a painter and I was a writer. My last novel had done very well so that I had been able to buy the small cottage by the sea. There was a small train station from where I could get to the city and to the nearby town for shopping. The cat who lived with me had sniffed around the small cottage and settled in. I sat every morning to write looking out over the promenade to the beach and the sea. The beach was shingle, not sand but I liked it. The sharp tang of the sea and the saltiness of the brisk cold air had a wildness to it.
My predecessor had come to the village to forget a woman who had it seemed left him. Unlike me, he had been quiet and solemn-faced. Spoke only when spoken to, walked with his face to the ground as if pavement and road could only fascinate him. His paintings were of the sea and the landscape around the village. It seemed that after a little time his paintings were of animals and finally of people. They were not conscious portraits but from sketches or drawings. I took some of them to the city and had them framed. I even wrote some short stories based on his paintings.
When I had first moved in I was more concerned about finding room for my books and clothes. I had spent money refurbishing the kitchen and bathroom to my taste and setting up the rest of the house with my own things. As a result it took me two months before I finally went down to the cellar and went through the former resident's things. It seemed that he had been alone in the world like me. There was no next of kin and nobody to pass on his things to. I felt a need to respect them, conscious of my own lone-ness in the world. I had friends, certainly, but they had their own lives in which I was a small part. I kept in touch by email and the occasional letter. Once I met a friend for coffee in the city when she came down on business, but until then I had no friends come to my new home.
So I sat in the cellar with the harsh fluorescent light and went through the former resident's remaining property. His painting materials I kept aside to sell, but much of the time was spent going through his books and his paintings. He had some novels that I had and some art books that I had too. I went through them with pleasure, putting some of them aside for myself and some for sale. Then I went through his paintings. They were all signed and dated which made it easier to see how he had progressed from the dark mood he had been in to the brighter mood as his heart mended over time. But the mood changed when he had come across somebody new. I did not know if they had actually met and nobody would tell me. But he had been clearly struck by her dark hair and blue eyes. There was something almost feral about her expression, like that of a wild thing even when she smiled. He caught that at first but her face seemed to change in his portrayal of her. Her clothes and her expression. She was often painted or drawn on the shingle beach staring out to sea. As if she would rather be there than on the land. As if, the thought came suddenly to me, she belonged there and wanted to go back. Yet, the sea was always rough, green, purple and dark in those paintings. I did not know if that was how he saw her or he was painting only what he saw.
If there was something between them it ended badly. It seems that she disappeared after a while. Nobody has been able to tell me where she came from, but when she went, the painter walked down to the sea one day when the sea was rough and a storm was threatening. Only a man walking his dog saw the painter. He said the painter was weeping or that his eyes were watering from the winds coming off the sea. He said that he saw the painter walk down the shingle to the sea's edge and keep walking into the sea. The painter did not respond to the cries for him to turn back, but kept on going.
It is said that his body was never found, perhaps he had weighed himself down with stones in his pockets. In any case he too was never seen again any more than the dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty. Only seals were seen afterwards, a pair with ink-black eyes and friendly faces and they did not stay long.