What Was Left

1 October 2015
A towel and bathing cap remained, and a tattered copy of a novel: The Red Room. They belonged to 13-year-old Lena, his Swiss pen pal, who stayed for five weeks during a ferocious summer. Nearly every day his parents took them all to the beach—his sisters, friends, the next-door-neighbour’s kids—where they ate canned beans on balmy evenings. An uncle took them to a riverfront resort. They played table tennis and quoits, swam in a long blue pool. Twelve years old, he felt shy, while his sisters kept company with their dolls. Lena made friends with older boys. Twice his uncle brought her back to the resort—but negligently, as if enjoying her truancy. On the last night someone saw her in a dinghy near the falls. Rescued, half-undressed, she left the next day. His mother would not speak to his uncle. The novel lay for months in the spare bedroom like a remonstration.


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