Annie told me the story of Saint Claire, the hermit, and how he moved up the coast and tried to become a better man. All I did was change a few names and imagine how some of the conversations might have went.
But Annie told me most of it, and repeated some of the stories attached to him; how he’d been a motorbike courier at sixteen, and then a dealer-pimp; the story of the nutty guy with titanium knees called Tinmouth who’d leaped out of the window at the back of the club where he worked; about his friend and mentor Benson and how he’d died, and how he, Saint Claire, had beaten a man to death in a back lane below a railway bridge.
And how the the shadow of the city he’d left behind followed him, all the way up the coast.
I met her after she’d sold the place down on the quayside, the place where she’d lived when she first came to the city, where she painted and dreamed and grew into adulthood. The place Saint Claire gave her.
She’d bought an apartment next door to me and we quickly became friends; spending afternoon’s drinking wine and advising each other on how to chat up members of the opposite sex; she’d tell me about her life and her plans, I’d show her my attempts at writing. And one day, because she knew I liked stories, she told me about Saint Claire.
Annie had a matter-of-fact earthiness; a dirty laugh, an ability to drink copious amounts of cheap wine, mixed with a nervy, slightly fearful wariness that would come over her at times. She always carried a sketchbook, and watching her focus down on a sketch, as she did when something interesting caught her eye, you could almost swear she was glowing from the inside.
She had huge hair, a mass of unruly chocolate brown curls, and wide cheekbones that made you think she was bigger than she was, but the one time I saw her naked she was only small, and vulnerable, and painfully thin.