‘Annabella looked at the corpse. Hands and head separate.
Blood had leaked from wrists and neck. Fluid covered part of
the distorted features. The open eyes were stained so that they
glared through their own darkness. A smell of rotting meat.
‘By itself the face was unrecognisable, yet she knew it was
her father’s. What was a father? A man begot a body but not
a mind. She prodded the head with her foot. The blood must
have congealed for her boot remained clean.
‘Had she killed him? It wasn’t clear. She rather thought she
had. She was sure she’d not cut him up. She hadn’t the
strength. She would order the bits thrown in the Arno to mix
with filth from the city. She turned away.
‘How many people do you have to murder before it
becomes habitual? Before you cannot remember which corpse
is which and who is its dispatcher?
‘She wiped old blood off her hands with her handkerchief.
Her maid would wash it clean.’
He’d come silently into the room and read from behind her. He
Ann felt the smile. ‘I will cross out the fluid and rotting meat,’ she
said without looking up.
She met Robert James in St Paul’s Churchyard. The bookseller
J. F. Hughes held a dinner once a week for his distinguished
writers and a few hacks. She was invited to leaven the party with what
a prized pornographer called ‘femality’. Mary Davies, who wrote
children’s primers for numbers and letters, was absent. Hers was a
more respectable trade than Ann’s gothic horrors but Mr Hughes
judged Ann less prissily genteel in men’s company.
An Italian was there. He said little except when talk veered
towards argument. Then he remarked there was a sundial near Venice
that claimed to count serene hours alone. How good, he added, to
take notice of time only as it gives pleasure.
‘That sundial had not the English art of self-tormenting,’ said
Richard Perry, an intense, gentle man introduced by Mr Hughes as a
reviewer and former bookseller.
‘It’s surely not so easy to efface cares by refusing to name them,’
Nobody pursued the point. Signor Luigi Orlando felt no need to
Later, much later, she wondered why Robert James had been
invited. He’d published nothing of consequence beyond that amazing
fragment of Attila. Did Mr Hughes believe in his promise as fer vently
as his friends did? As he did?
At first he’d been silent and she hadn’t much remarked him.
During the introduction she’d failed to note his name, being too
engrossed in her own. Then, as afternoon turned to evening, and
wine and conversation flowed, he’d started to dominate the talk, to
catch and keep attention. He spoke animatedly. She knew who he was