Dr. Pomme, without opening his jacket, slid his hand under it and into the inner pocket. He pulled out a hand-sized picture, unbent a corner, contemplated it for a while. For for too long, in Walters’ opinion, as if trying to spot some hidden information, elucidate some mystery in that image that he had overlooked until then. In an overly dramatic fashion, Dr. Pomme shook the picture in the air, and then he gave it to Walters.
“That’s Camila, my daughter,” Dr. Pomme said. Walters could see the blonde hair, the white dress with a tall and lacy neck, the golden necklace and the blue-cross pendant over the chest, the grey and blurred background without any discernible details, the humorless expression, no doubt a spoiled character, all full of herself. Nothing of interest to him. He could have scrunched that picture and thrown it away, and waited to receive a more interesting one. But he kept looking at it, pretending to care.
“Camila,” Walters told himself aloud. He wouldn’t remember the features or any of the details from that picture in an hour, but he might remember the name. Camila. Camila, he repeated, silently. No way, though, the name slipped out from his mind every time he tried to squeeze it in there, he would irremediably forget that name. He knew that he should be getting his notebook out and writing down the name, scribbling a couple of notes, but sometimes it was better, more liberating, to completely forget about some particular things.
“Yes, Camila,” Dr. Pomme said and he started to walk towards the canal. Jameson first, and then Walters, followed Dr. Pomme.
The courtyard ended by the canal without any barrier or interruption, the slabs paving the courtyard simply transitioned into a smooth border, one foot over the water. As he got closer to the border, Walters saw that the packed reeds covered the farther half of the canal surface. Tall, seeded and exuberant against the pink wall, decreasingly shorter and more feeble towards the center of the canal, where large masses of brown algae seemed to grow from below, as if stretching out with predatory tentacles to kill and consume the debilitated stalks, secreting slimy bubbles that surfaced and accumulated in large patches and gave the whole canal an impression of rotting from the inside out. The hectic movement of the tadpoles and similarly sized fish, if you looked at them long enough, would however make you realize that life was plethoric under the water, and that those creatures slithered through the algal habitat very willingly, feeding on the surrounding structures while procuring themselves with protection from the large fish roaming the canals, the catfish, the bass, the pike, those ones with the yellow stripes Walters couldn’t remember the name of.
“Do you see over there?” Dr. Pomme asked, pointing to the center of the canal.
“What, that piece of cloth?” Walters said. It was a bundle of white lace, most of it lying on a bed of reddish algae, one end immersed in the water. Despite being completely soaked, the fabric retained a pure and pearly white. It was easy sometimes to forget how clean the water was in some canals, when reeds, algae, the occasional piece of trash, and some amount of shade combined to create an impression of utter filth, of floating and sticky mud. Just an impression, an unfounded apprehensiveness. Mainly a preconception originated from the fear, especially from the local inhabitants, about all the unknown creatures that could loom from the bottom, with all their defecations, oozing and diseasing.
“Yes,” Dr. Pomme said, “it’s one of Camila’s shawls.”
“OK,” Walters said in a quiet voice. There must be something of relevance about that wet bundle, he thought. Something beyond a shawl that belonged to a woman depicted in a picture. He just had to wait, in a second Dr. Pomme would explain the importance of the shawl, of him being there. Maybe Dr. Pomme would even illuminate him, as if he knew Walters in all sorts of detail, being able to explain the intricate reasons why he felt displaced from a position of purpose, of security; Walters could only hope. He entertained the idea, for a moment, of being summoned across the city to jump into that canal just to retrieve that shawl. Not really against it. In fact, he wouldn’t have minded that at all, especially if paid for it, to hear the words “Just go and fetch me that shawl, will you?” He would diligently do so, handle the shawl to Dr. Pomme, be shown the door, disappear into the city with some greens in his pocket, a ghost that once again everyone would ignore. Nothing wrong with that.
“It was there this morning. There was also a little of blood right there,” Dr. Pomme said, indicating with his hand the area on the canal border closest to the shawl. The blood was already gone. “How much was ‘a little,’ anyway?” Walters thought. Blood. Blood. He repeated the word several times in his mind and it sounded like cotton. Blood. Funny how lately he kept envisioning this image in which blood flowed generously, as if reaching out to complete a frame and transmute the background into velvety red. It was inside a cabin but he somehow knew that, outside, immersed in a weakening storm, the hull, which had recently been painted with a dull black, advanced slowly fighting with the sea, and that in the bridge, behind the wheel, the four golden ducados nailed into the wood shined like tropical butterflies. In the cabin. His own blood on his hands, trickling down his wrists, blood that emanated from an arm or his torso, flowing like mountain brooks running into each other. He would place his hands over his forehead again and he felt the warmth, the pounding. He tried not to look at the body on the floor. There was nothing to do, he just had to wait until the waters would settle down again, if ever. He could go upstairs and jump over the gunwale and let the ocean clean him, cure him, allow him to forget. But he accepted that he deserved the blow, and the last thing he could offer to his assailant right then was to bleed, sit down in the cabin and suffer the certainty that most things would never be the same again.
“I would want you to look into the canal,” Dr. Pomme said, immediately frowning. Even Walters could see that Dr. Pomme was harshly disappointed with the delivery of that request. He must have rehearsed that line several times in his head before summoning it, but regardless of whether he had worded it as intended or he had improvised on the last second, he was clearly unpleased with the result. He had intended to say and express something else altogether. His words lacked any sense of urgency, there wasn’t any spark of love in his voice, and he must have felt that the moral distance that separated him from this idiot in ridiculous clothes had shrunk very unpleasantly.