When they were young marrieds,
Maggie would often slide forward off the couch and end up on the floor with
Simon's fingers gently winding through her short curly hair while they talked,
watched TV, or he slid to the floor beside her and they made love. As time
rolled by she sometimes had a baby in her arms and the lovemaking had to wait
until they got to bed and the baby slept through the night. Or at least part of
it. As more time rolled by, the babies grew into people. Tim the eldest married
the girl next door but one and Gwennie the baby was in her first year at Manchester University. Maggie's short curly hair was touched with grey and the last time
Simon joined her on the floor, he clutched at his back and had to get up again.
With Maggie's help.
Now the chickens had flown the coop, Simon had retired, he and
Maggie were too much together and they got on each other's nerves. For the
first time in a long time, Maggie was sitting on the floor again. Holding her nineteen-year-old
daughter's Raggedy Anne, the doll Gwennie couldn't go to sleep without until
she was eight. The doll she had now given up for a boy friend. Maggie held
Raggedy close and told her she was much nicer than a boy friend could ever be.
Simon, who never seemed to have a temper to lose when they were
young marrieds had stormed out in a rage. 'Gone fishing,' he snapped in answer
to her question. Which meant taking the boat out on to the lake. Her second
question about topping up the fuel in the outboard motor's tank went unanswered
or unheard. Not that it mattered that much. If it spluttered to a halt, he'd
say a few choice words and row back.
'Serve him right,' she told the tattered doll tucked into the
crook of her arm. 'A spot of exercise won't hurt either.'
Still angry, Simon shrugged on the waterproof he kept in the
boathouse and pulled the boat along the grass verge of Lakeshore Drive and down
the slipway into the water. It was cold, far colder than he expected, and an
edge to the wind made the water choppy. Deciding to stay out half an hour to
prove his point even if he couldn't remember what the point was or for that
matter what the argument had been about, he climbed inboard and started the
motor. Fifteen minutes later, the motor spluttered to a stop, Simon reached for
the oars that weren't there and as the breeze stiffened, the boat tilted and
continued to drift away from the barely visible landing stage. He huddled
lower, aimed at keeping the bow to the wind, and began to bail out with the old
biscuit tin he was beginning to wish still held a few biscuits.
An hour or more passed before Maggie began to feel concerned. Not
worried exactly, Simon was at home on the water but it was cold and as the
night drew in he wouldn't stay after dark, however angry he got. No, she
reasoned he was probably punishing her by having a pint and a pie in the Kettle
of Fish and not telephoning home.
'That'll teach her,' he'll be saying to one of his cronies.
'That'll teach me,' she said aloud while she walked into the
kitchen and put the kettle on. 'The trouble with me is, I worry too much.'
Another hour passed before she phoned the Kettle of Fish. Being told by the
landlord that he hadn't seen hide nor hair of Simon, she half ran down to the
boathouse before calling the police.
'No,' she admitted to the policeman who picked up the phone, the
boat didn't carry lights because Simon didn't take it out after dark. After
which, she told the officer her husband couldn't have topped up the petrol
tank, must have forgotten the oars, and was probably adrift somewhere.
'Pretty forgetful, isn't he, your old man?'
'Not usually,' Maggie defended. 'He was angry.'
'Angry? Hey, you don't think he's…'
'For God's sake no,' Maggie interrupted. 'He wouldn't do a thing
like that. He's adrift somewhere. Will you please look for him?'
'Right,' said the officer, 'I'll get back to you.'
At that moment the boat bumped against the Lake's north shore and
tipped over to one side. Icily cold, Simon stiffly got to his feet and made a
grab for a spur. Missing it, he fell forward, hit his head on the stone flood
barrier and accidentally pushed the boat back into the lake. Drifting away, it
was found empty a hundred yards off shore with nothing to indicate where the
occupant had got to. A sweep of the shore by the patrol boat's searchlight
revealing nothing, the boat was taken in tow and the search for Simon called
off until first light. By which time Maggie, having identified the boat, was
beside herself with worry and promising God she'd go to church every Sunday
forever and ever if only He'd send her stupid husband back to her in one piece.
The WPC who walked down to the boat with her, tried to comfort the
distraught woman. Pointing out the green scuffs on the side and bow, she said
they looked fresh. Maybe he bumped a seawall and wandered off not knowing where
he was. Meanwhile there was a call out and the entire lakeside would be
checked. 'We'll find your husband, I promise you.' The words dead or alive were
left hanging in the air.
Meanwhile Simon, suffering from hypothermia and almost invisible
against the rocks was found by an early rod and line man and his son. Carried
into their rented cottage, he was fed hot soup, spewed most of it back with the
water he'd swallowed in the lake, and wrapped in blankets before being taken to
the casualty department of the local hospital. His attempts at speaking through
his chattering teeth waved aside, he was gently stripped and bathed, and his
head wound treated before he was fed. After which his eyes closed
After his description was circulated, he was fortunate in
being fast asleep when Maggie, who had spent the night alternately with her
head in her hands and being physically prevented from rushing out to search the
entire eighty-mile perimeter of the lake with a flashlight, arrived with his
clothes. The WPC, who spent the night with her, promised Simon that after all
the trouble the emergency services had been to, she wouldn't allow Maggie to
kill him. Not yet anyway.
A week or so later, they were sitting side by side on the couch
when Simon rubbed a finger over the new scar on his forehead and said, 'Hey,
what were we arguing about when I walked off?'
Maggie smiled. 'I was saying we never get a night out, you old
barnpot, but I think you cured me of that one.'
'Did you say old?' Simon asked, putting his arm round her. 'I'll
show you who's old.'
'Promises, promises,' murmured Maggie, feeling his fingertips
caressing the back of her neck before gently moving down her spine. 'Promises,
©2007 Mark Rickman
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