It had come floating downstream, willowy, like a tangle of weeds. She was beautiful in a pale way – not her face, although that wasn’t bad, but the way her body seemed to have given itself to the water, its whole gesture abandoned, the long white legs apart and trailing, sucked downwards slightly at the feet.
As I leaned over the edge of the barge with a boathook I didn’t think of her as a dead woman, not even when I looked at the face. She was like some beautiful white water-fungus, a strange shining thing come up from the depths, and her limbs and flesh had the ripeness and maturity of a large mushroom. But it was the hair more than anything; it stranded away from the head like long grasses. Only it was alive, and because the body was slow, heavy, torpid, it had become a forest of antennae, caressing, feeding on the water, intricately.
It was not until Leslie swore at me for being so handless with the boathook that I drew her alongside. We reached down with our hands. When I felt the chilled flesh under my fingertips I moved more quickly. It was sagging away from us and it slopped quietly and obscenely against the bilges. It was touching it that made me realize how bloated it was.
Leslie said: “For Christ’s sake get a bloody grip on it!” I leaned down until my face was nearly touching the water and with my right hand got hold of one of the ankles. She turned over smoothly then, like the fat underbelly of a fish. Together we pulled her to the surface and, dripping a curtain of river-water, over the gunwale. Her weight settled with a flat, splashing sound on the wooden boards of the deck. Puddles of water formed quickly at the knees and where the chin lay.
We looked at her and then at each other but neither of us said anything. It was obscene, the way death usually is, frightening and obscene at the same time.
“A hundred and thirty at elevenpence a pound”: an irrelevant thought…I didn’t know how it came to me, and for more than one reason, partly because I knew Leslie would be shocked, I didn’t utter it. Later you will see what I mean.
From Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi p8-9, published by Oneworld Classics, and reprinted by kind permission.