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Still scribbling, after all these years
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Extracts from
The Gentle River


On that same December morning, after Jon had gone to work, the whole day was hers. She sat in their bedroom, only leaving it for the food she didn’t want, and late in the afternoon went out and walked along the river in the half-light as the day began to close around her. She walked the path she’d followed many times as a child, and then with Jon, the path infused with memories of love, of hot afternoons, of unfamiliarity and getting to know each other... but now the path was empty, of people and of memories; it was familiar only by its geography, its twists and turns as it went close to the river’s edge then veered away again. She walked now with Phillip Rossetti, her mind crammed with his words and all other space filled with love for him. She was reprogrammed, lost from the world. Then after ten minutes her father’s childhood warning came to her – remember, it will take you just as long to walk back, and she turned for home in the failing light.


“I haven’t come to seduce you Alice.”
It should have shocked her perhaps, but it didn’t. They sat, hands clasped together and with all the complication of their lives piled up in their heads, gazing into each other’s eyes like the young lovers they never were. She couldn't help smiling as she said, “So why have you come?”
A broad smile from him. “Well, to see how you are, of course.”
“And what do you see?”
“Oh, Alice. I see a girl in a garden."
The broad smile softened. "But I also see you grown up, and married, and happy enough.”
Happy enough. He was either a lover or a confidant. He could not be both. She’d always imagined that to have a lover and discuss your husband would be the worst thing.
Then he said, “So I married a florist, and you married...”
“I married an engineer.”
He nodded slowly, as if it confirmed something for him. His wonderful Alice with this engineer – their conversations, their common ground; he didn’t know who would be right for her, but this was still a small shock.
“He’s kind,” she said, “and he does his best with most things.”
So she tolerates him, as I tolerate Delphine. But the bitterness of the thought pricked him and was immediately followed by, be good now, Olivier Canac, be good.
He said, “You have children?”
She tried not to sound disappointed. “No. Not yet. What about you?”
“No, and no plans.”
“No plans?”
“We have agreed to wait, but I don’t know why. So we wait.”
She kept her eyes on his, and after a moment she said, “Well... it’s okay to have something to wait for.”


From the Private Journal of Phillip Rossetti, 1801:
‘There was a Voyage to Port Royal, the old Capital of the Isle of Jamaica when at the behest of my Father I left Our Ship & wandered the town, as it was considered a safe place & empty of pirates long before that time. This would not be done at Kingston, where greed & violence held its place in that town owing to the great many slaves, & hardened men intent on their own profit.
‘My age of 13 years He considered sufficient for a safe journey of 1 hour & with the condition that I keep close to the Harbour & keep company with none but the Carpenter Henry Dawes who would accompany me. Henry Dawes would have no harm done to me & was a good man who remained faithful to my Father until too old for His trade, & gave up the sea at near the time of my Father’s death, when I would rise to Master of the Florence.
‘The horrors I witnessed with Mr Dawes on that day but a short distance from the Harbour would give me great concern & also my Father, as He had deemed the town safe for me. The sore state of humanity there & the ill treating of so many poor wretches was hard for me to look upon & my Father was concerned thereafter to keep me on board until Our Ship sailed. This was Port Royal & the life there I was told was easy compared with Kingston.’

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