Inventory of a Beach Bag
Apart from the oddness of the circumstances, what struck Olivier most was the extraordinary precision with which it had been packed. The contents nestled snug and neat against each other:
he was reminded – though he was no surgeon – of the graceful, fluid organisation of the human body. Anatomical, he thought.
Such care had been taken to arrange the contents that Olivier felt a spasm of anxiety about disturbing them, rather like a pathologist faced with the gruesome task of displacing the apparently perfect organs of an apparently perfect cadaver. Such care, and time, and attention – one could almost say the packing of this beach bag had been an act of love. And this was all the more disturbing given the circumstances.
Olivier loved the beach at first and last light, when it belonged only to him. Daily, starting up his tractor, he drew the same comforting parallel: as his forebears had worked the land, now he farmed this long, long field of sand: just as they had wrought from the clay their harvest of grape, olive and almond, so too his plough work brought forth the cash crop.
The constitutional morning-dippers always arrived just as Olivier’s early shift finished. The beach bag did not belong to one of these habitués: they came with towel under arm, they bathed and left, predictable as the tide itself. Olivier had assumed, then, that the beach bag had been left by someone who intended to return, no doubt someone who would take root with all the other shoots around mid-morning. By noon, Olivier knew, his lovely loamy furrows would be invisible beneath a forest of parasols; armadas of beach towels and sun beds would ride the rills of dun, sights set firmly on North Africa. Olivier’s field blazed hour after sweltering hour with colour, noise and movement. But at the end of the day, it belonged once more only to him.
Today, however, the beach bag had been there before him, just the bag, neither tucked up under the sand dunes nor dropped at the waterline, just there, provocatively, slap in the line of his drills.
There it was at six o’clock in the morning, and there it was still, at nine o’clock in the evening.
There was no protocol for such an eventuality. He should take it to the police. He would. But it was too late now, the police station was closed and it would do no harm just to have a look.
Fastidious by nature, Olivier began by taking photographs. On the outside, the beach bag was unremarkable: a boat shape, cream canvas printed with citrus fruits in citrus shades. Orange rope handles looped on either side of the orange zip fastening.
But inside! When he saw the assorted plastic containers, his first thought was that he was looking at an elaborate picnic, a variety of dishes, separated by colour and texture. Olivier licked his lips, not with greed or appetite, but with the nervous understanding that he was about to do something irresistible, something irregular and ill-advised.
He removed the containers gently, respectfully, one by one. He counted seven in total, six identical oblongs measuring about ten by fifteen centimetres, the lid of each bearing a stuck-on, handwritten label in black ink and a foreign language Olivier did not recognise; and, lastly, a box twice the size of the others, square and unlabelled.
Olivier laid them out on his work bench and stared at them, baffled. Who would leave foodstuffs on a Mediterranean beach all day long? Was the beach bag intended for someone who could not or would not collect it? Had a romantic tryst gone wrong?
The contents of the smaller containers looked distinctly deliquescent under the strip light. Olivier balked at the thought of the stench and decided not to remove the lids. But the large box was a different matter. Its contents were quite visible. Olivier took the precaution of slipping on disposable gloves, resolved to compile a meticulous photographic record, and pushing away his conscience, unclipped the lid.
1 small yellow cotton drawstring purse containing
1 Tour Eiffel plastic key ring, 2 security keys
1 Navigo card, expired
Polaroid photographs – 20 ?
Twenty? Yes, give or take. But Olivier had already seen too much. His eyes flicked to the six oblong containers lined up on his work bench. A wave of nausea broke over him. An act of love, he thought. Anatomical.