Photograph by Phil Sharp, Story by Nick Warburton
The man in the pool is the owner of the pool. His name is Crispin.
He owns the pool, the water in it and all the paths that lead to the surrounding property. Everything you can see belongs to him. It’s his, to do with what he will.
He has a family, a wife and two boys, and they are his. There are people employed by him at the Big House. At any moment they are either doing his bidding or waiting for him to summon them. Crispin will tell you that he built this world out of hard graft, out of risk and inspiration. And that’s why he’s entitled to it all.
He thinks that by my coming here I’m also his. My name is Megan.
At the moment I’m standing on the edge of his pool, wondering what to do next. He told me to stand here and wait, so I’m wondering whether to do exactly that, or to do what I want to do and walk away.
Or to do what really ought to be done.
At the moment I’m considering those things.
This afternoon I was in the kitchen in my cottage, the cottage next to the church, and I saw one of Crispin’s sleek cars pull up outside. A man in a peaked cap came to the door. He told me I was to go up to the Big House in the evening.
“You will sit by the pool,” he said, “and have a conversation with Mr Crispin. Mr Crispin says you should try the water. It’s very warm. And soothing. So come prepared to try the water.”
As he was getting back into the car, he said, “Needless to say, you’ll bring the box. The usual box.”
So I did. I prepared a box in the usual way. I put my swimming things on and then a dress. I walked up to the gate-house and gave my name. A golf cart came to collect me. It took me to the pool where Crispin was waiting, and left me there.
The two of us, alone.
He was sitting at a small round table and was tidily dressed. He didn’t look at me, he continued looking at the water, but as I sat down opposite, he glanced up to see if I’d brought the box with me.
“This is where the party will end,” he said, “at the pool. It will start in the house, then move out into the gardens and it will end up here. The punters will be sitting round the pool or they’ll be in the water, whatever they choose. At every stage they will be provided with something special. When they get to the pool I will give them Evening Cake. Which they will take sitting by the water’s edge or from floating trays in the water.”
This is why I’m here, to supply the Evening Cake. It’s what I’ve brought in the box – six small cakes as samples, each the size of a cricket ball.
Evening Cake is one of my confections; it is my speciality. People who eat my cake feel benign, they experience serenity. After one small cake they become at peace, both with the world and with themselves.
Crispin wants me to supply him with Evening Cake for his party. He wants his guests to feel serene. In fact, he wants something more than that, though he hasn’t said so yet.
“Let me try some.”
I hand him one of the cakes and he eats it. He eats rather too quickly in my opinion but he begins to smile nonetheless.
“Give me another.” He holds out his hand. “And tell me about it. Where do you make it?”
I tell him I make it in the back room of the cottage. I keep the recipe in a locked box in another room.
“The key goes with me everywhere,” I say and I put it on the table for him to see.
A small brass key to the secret of Evening Cake.
“Very good,” he says. “No side effects, I suppose?”
“None,” I say. “As far as I know.”
And that’s true. As far as I know when I say this, there are no side effects.
After three and a half cakes he mentions what he calls the deal.
“I want some for the party,” he says. “But I also want the recipe.”
So I tell him, no, the recipe is mine. It stays with me.
“I don’t think you understand. I want to market this.”
The key is still on the edge of the small round table. He sees me look at it.
“The cottage where you live is mine. You are my tenant. What you have in there, what you do in there, these are also mine. And you should know, what is mine I will not give up.”
I reach for the key before he can. He stands up.
“Ridiculous,” he says. “I can take that from you. With ease.”
I throw the key in the pool. He shouts – a sound like a bark – but then he laughs. He slips his shoes off.
“That won’t stop me,” he says and he dives into the pool.
He bobs out of the water.
“Wait there,” he says, “and watch.”
He dips back under the water. And, almost immediately, he’s up again. He repeats the barking sound, staring straight at me, then plunges beneath the surface again. His wavery arm reaches for the key. But falls short.
He bobs up.
It seems that Evening Cake has side effects, after all.
It makes you buoyant.
Crispin shakes the water from his head and down he goes again.
And up he bobs again.
He repeats the move, more tiredly now.
I stand on the edge of the pool, wondering what to do. Stand there and wait, he said. I’m wondering whether to do that or to walk away.
Or to do what clearly ought to be done.
I’m contemplating it.