You seek out Le Viking, finding it easily by sweeping methodically through the small number of streets in the centre of the town. Virginie is not yet there, but it is still light. You sip two slow demis, waiting and still surprisingly carefree. The bar is an Anglo-French hybrid; other than the beer, nothing else is Scandinavian about Le Viking, unless its dark brown insides were carved from the shipwrecked boatwood of Norse invaders washed Armada-style round from the North Sea till they found themselves cupped by the two headlands of Etretat. Relatives of the hosts are eating their evening meal. A girl talks on the phone for the entire time it takes to down your two beers. One of the dining relatives is German. His French wife, a tourist at home, is expounding on the lot of the holiday maker – all one does is se promener, manger, dormir; se promener, manger, dormir; go out, eat, sleep. She makes a meal and a mantra out of it.
You reach down into first one, then the other of the pockets in your jacket hanging on the back of your chair, feeling for the tangible remnant of an intangible experience – a piece of the Falaise picked from beneath the Manneporte, a complex of compressed sandstone that will not now erode and become particles of the beach. Not an especially majestic lump, not a fragment of the Berlin Wall, but all the same, a paperweight representation of the point of these six months. In the second pocket, smaller than the lump of cliff, small enough to be enclosed by your palm, a stone, which has in it a hollow, within which there is a still smaller stone. Louise told you once that a stone with a hole in it was lucky. What about a stone within a stone?
The present isn’t showing, the future isn’t coming. Unless you’ve arrived two beers too early. Go and come back. To ensure you stay away from the bar for long enough, you set yourself the task of walking up on top of the cliff. The face of each headland is lit by powerful spots. The path takes you away from the edge and into a moonless darkness, so that it is a strain to tell the path from diversionary sandy channels through the coarse grass. When you reach a dip in the upward slope, the glare from the spot is searchlight-bright and equally disorienting. Towards the top your eyes adjust, and you can pick out a flag. And close-cropped grass – a golf course. They get everywhere. The sea is dark and gives nothing away. At the highest point stands a concrete shack. On the windward side, a couple are kissing; you circle quickly past and disappear.
Le Viking is a little busier. Virginie is still not there, and your wait becomes more anxious and alcoholic. The girl on the phone has hung up, so that it can ring again; to the great hilarity of his family and the customers at the bar, the smashed German relative of the hosts refuses to talk to his mother, who is ringing from Mönchengladbach. He smacks his fist down on the table. I don’t care! She’s to blame!
You can’t keep nodding to the woman behind the bar to fetch your glass and refill it all night. There have been no new arrivals for some time. At home you could have drunk twice as much by now, without the embarrassment of waiting to be waited upon, and still feel like staying to the death. Heavy with salty exertion and beer, you rise to go. They bid you good night, that’s something.
At the bottom of the street, you realise you’ve gone the wrong way, so you turn about, and set off back towards the torchlit entrance of the bar. And there you see Virginie, just arriving at the light-encircled step. Holding her arm, a blonde and muscular Norseman.