Years later, when she was an old lady, and many miles away, Polly would find it hard to explain that that was how they had lived back then. That some days they could cross to the mainland in a car, but some days they had to take the boat. Sometimes they were cut off for a long time and nobody would quite know when or how; the tidal charts could only track the tides, not the weather.
‘But wasn’t it awful?’ Judith would ask. ‘Knowing you were cut off?’
And Polly would think back to the way the sun had glinted off the water, when it wasn’t receding, and the light would change and the water would glow pink, rose, violet in the setting sun over to the west, and you knew another day was going past and you weren’t going anywhere.
‘Actually, it wasn’t,’ she’d say. ‘It was lovely. You just had to snuggle down, settle in. It was only you and everyone else on the Mount. Make sure everything was high up, and if the power was still on, that was nice, but if it wasn’t, well, you’d manage that too. You could see the candles glowing in all the little windows. It was cosy.’
‘It sounds about a hundred years ago.’
Polly smiled. ‘I know. But it wasn’t that long ago, not really… It feels like nothing to me. If there’s a corner where you plant your heart, it’s always with you.
‘But of course that all came much later. To begin with, it was awful.’
Polly leafed through the paperwork they had given her in the shiny folder with the picture of a lighthouse on the front. It was, she noticed, a pretty picture. She was trying incredibly hard to look on the bright side.
And the two men in the room were nice. Nicer than they had to be; so nice, in fact, that they made Polly feel oddly worse instead of better. She felt sorry, rather than angry or defiant.
They were sitting in the back room of the little two-room office in the converted railway station that she and Chris had been so proud of. It was dinky and charming, with an old non-working fireplace in what had once upon a time been the waiting room.
Now both rooms were a mess: files pulled out, computers lugged around, papers strewn everywhere. The very nice men from the bank were patiently going through all of them. Chris was sitting there sullenly, looking like a five-year-old deprived of a favourite toy. Polly was dashing around trying to be helpful, and every so often he would shoot her a sarcastic look, which she knew meant ‘Why are you being so helpful to these people who are trying to destroy us?’, and even though she supposed he had a point, she couldn’t help herself.
It also occurred to Polly later that the bank employed these people to be nice for exactly that reason: to encourage helpful behaviour, avoid confrontation, stop fights. This made her sad, both for herself and Chris, and for these nice men, whose job day to day was witnessing other people’s misery. It wasn’t their fault. Chris thought it was, of course.
‘So,’ said the older of the two men, who wore a turban and had small neat glasses perched on the end of his nose. ‘The normal form is that bankruptcy procedures come before the circuit court. You don’t both have to go; just one of the directors needs to actually be there.’
Polly winced at the word ‘bankruptcy’. It sounded so final, so serious. Something that happened to silly pop stars and celebrities. Not to hard-working people like them.
Chris snorted sarcastically. ‘You can do that,’ he said to Polly. ‘You love all that busy bee stuff.’
The younger man looked sympathetically at Chris. ‘We realise this is very difficult.’
‘How?’ said Chris. ‘Have you ever gone bankrupt?’
Polly glanced back down at the pretty lighthouse, but it wasn’t really working any more. She tried to think of something else. She found herself admiring the lovely drawings from Chris’s portfolio they’d hung on the wall when they’d first moved there, seven years earlier, both of them in their mid-twenties, full of optimism for launching a graphic design firm. They had started out well, with some of Chris’s clients from his old job, and Polly had worked ceaselessly on the business management side, drumming up new contacts, networking relentlessly, selling to businesses all over Plymouth, where they lived, and as far away as Exeter and Truro.
They had invested in a flat on a new-build development near the waterfront in Plymouth, very minimalist and modern, and had gone to all the right restaurants and bars, to be seen and to do business. It had worked well – for a time. They had felt themselves quite the up-and-comers, loved saying they ran their own business. But then came the 2008 banking crisis, and new technology in computers was making it easier than ever to manipulate images, do your own artwork. With firms cutting back on outside commissions, advertising and freelances, loading more and more on to their own staff, graphic design, as Chris pointed out, went horribly downhill. It got done. Just less and less by them.
Polly had worked her fingers to the bone. She had never stopped pitching, closing, discounting; doing anything to get the sales for her talented other half. Chris, on the other hand, had withdrawn completely, blaming the world for not wanting his wonderful artwork and hand-crafted lettering. He had become sullen and uncommunicative, which Polly had tried to counter by maintaining a positive attitude. It had been pretty tough to keep that up.
Although Polly would never, ever admit it, barely to herself, the fact that the day had finally come – long after she had implored him to wind up the business and find a job elsewhere, and he had accused her of disloyalty and plotting against him – was something of a relief. It was unpleasant, awful; so shaming, even if lots of people they used to barhop with in the trendy centre of Plymouth were going through – or knew people who had been through – the same thing. Polly’s mother didn’t understand at all; she saw it as something akin to prison. They were going to have to put the house on the market, start over. But having Mr Gardner and Mr Bassi here from the bank at least seemed to mean that something was getting sorted out, something was happening. The last two years had been so miserable and defeating, professionally and personally. Their relationship had been put on hold really; they were more like two people who grudgingly shared a flat. Polly felt wrung out.
She looked at Chris. New lines were etched on his face that she’d not really noticed before. It had been a while, she realised, since she’d really looked at him properly. Towards the end, it had felt that even glancing up when he came back from the office – she always left first, while he would stay, going over their few commissions again and again and again, as if sheer perfectionism might change the inevitable – carried a note of accusation, of blame, so she had kept her head down.