Cosetta was obsessed with the idea of Pangaea. This was how the world began: as one colossal landmass, surrounded by the sea of Panthalassa. Pangaea existed hundreds of millions of years before the continents drifted off into five separate entities. Cosetta thought long and hard about its wholeness. No rifts, no tectonic plates there. Everything was one, perhaps: one climate, one wind, one nature.
Surely in such a place, it would have been possible to find one’s simulacrum? To find a creature who might not look like you, but was your soulmate in every other particular - who felt, thought, desired as you did? Cosetta spent a lot of time in mental Pangaea, trudging through its dry deserts for the right chap, but was constantly disappointed. Then one day she came upon Guardian Soulmates, a dating website whose very name seemed to offer everything.
She was diligent in her search. Some of the Soulmates seemed too assertive, some too reticent: some wanted friendship with benefits, some a shattering cataclysm. Others just wanted someone who could iron their shirts and applaud their footnotes, and whose frocks they could borrow on wet afternoons. One looked more promising, though. He was a counter-tenor called Albert. The very idea that a man might cultivate such a feminine voice was attractive. He might not be straightforward.
They met, at his suggestion, by the Albert Memorial one February day. Its gold sheen half-dazzled her. The bright building, and Albert’s reflected lustre, made her feel a little dull by comparison. Albert talked a lot about his voice; the fact that it was a “head” sound rather than a “chest” sound made him seem quite spiritual. He sang her a Dowland song, taking care to position her two steps above where he stood. This was flattering, except that she could see rather too much of his bald patch.
They met many times throughout that Spring. Albert had a louche side which he was usually careful to conceal. Occasionally his love-making had a buccaneering style - not in itself alarming, but she was glad to be reminded, by his singing voice, that he could be gentle too. Then one day he told her that he had a tumbledown house in rural France: “why don’t you come for a couple of weeks? You can help me a bit, and we can really get to know each other and drink lots of wine.”
This was an irresistible offer. Cosetta arranged a flight to Limoges. Albert picked her up from the airport. It was a two-hour drive to the house, and after an hour she sensed that he was getting uncomfortable, finally blurting out: “look, I’ve arranged a little surprise for you back at the house. I hope you’ll like it.”
What could it be? A litter of puppies? A sirloin of beef? A bed of roses without thorns? Albert rattled down the long path to the house and ushered her into a draughty hall festooned with spiderwebs. Out from the gloom issued another woman, not unlike herself, but darker and thinner. They both said simultaneously “who are you?”
It transpired that Albert had plotted against them both: “I thought it would be nice to see some girl-on-girl action: and you could take me in turns.” The scale of the betrayal took Cosetta’s breath away. She had begun to love him, but he had simply plotted a private spectacle. The other woman too was spitting feathers.
She was called Celeste and was voluble: ”I thought this was going to be a week of love, not being a builder’s mate by day and a troilist by night! Nothing doing! And anyway, being fucked by you felt like being a Mini in a carwash!” Cosetta could not be angry with her, and as the evening progressed, by shared looks and small gestures, the women knew that they were going to take revenge sooner or later.
It was easy. He took them down into the cellar to display his wine collection. Celeste hit him with a bottle, not hard enough to kill, but just enough to make him pliable. They tied him up with baler twine, not too tight. Upstairs, Cosetta had arranged for an endless loop to play counter-tenor songs. The girls had hidden their bags by the door, and made their escape. As they left, they could hear the music. “Ah” said Cosetta, “he’ll be able to wriggle free in a bit. But he’ll never be able to sing as well as Albert Deller.”
They hitched a lift, and took the next train to Paris. As they stepped out of the station, the muffled roar of the city was sweet. Its perfumes were sharp, and the air (for once) was clear. They turned to each other on the station steps, laughed, and said in union: “welcome to Pangaea!”