Satan’s Rock

Part 37

Bourta, Peter, and nurse Aneesha

“This ‘Peter’,”  Arthur Herritt said, tensing his back against the jolt of the carriage,  “Could he be someone you have known before?”

Francine had been moody and silent since they left Levenport for their return journey to Mountsel Park.  Watching the slow passage of the world beyond the window, she seemed ill-disposed to revisit the embarrassment of that morning; “Indeed I have no knowledge of any such person, nor do I remember invoking their name.”

Samuel, her son, had a contribution to make.  “Mama, was Peter not the name of that ostler fellow who used to trouble our guardian so?  He could be most persistent.”

“Indeed he could, my sweet, the reason being our guardian’s unwillingness to pay him for his services.  No, I cannot imagine calling out to him in my sleep!”  Francine allowed herself to smile a little.

“It was dyspepsia then!”   Samuel declared.

“Dyspepsia?”

“From something you ate, Mama.   Troubles of the digestion can make you say things in your sleep, and precious loudly too – as you must have been to wake Uncle Arthur upon that couch.  He was some distance away, you know.”

“I’m sure that was the crux of the matter!”  Arthur was enjoying his elevation to the honorary status of ‘Uncle’; “Yet I remain unconvinced of this Peter’s significance, just as I am sure you are troubled, Francine.   Will you not share with me?”

“I wish I could,”  Francine rejoined truthfully,  “I cannot because I do not know.  It seems the further the distance between myself and that stone in Mr Ballentine’s house, the more despondent I become.  It calls to me, Arthur: it is like some fatal drug.  I simply cannot dismiss it!”

“Then I hope the closer we draw to Mountsel Park, the more your mood will improve.  We have our own access to the warm stone, remember, and unlike the stone you discovered at St. Benedict’s House, that which was exposed by the roots of our noble tree does not reject you!”

“I wouldn’t deny it.  Perhaps you are right.”  Francine was silent for several minutes, watching the boats that plied the river Leven next to their road.  “Such is the perversity of my sex, is it not, that those things which reject us attract us the most?  Arthur, I shall not be able to explain this to you, but in my dream of last night it was you I sought and your name I called, not because I was lost or frightened, no.   Because I was where I was meant to be and you had not come to join me there.”

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With October, winter had come to the Northern Land.  From a brief, glorious Autumn a gale had risen, sweeping unhindered over the endless plains and growing colder as it blew.   Soon it would bring the first real snows, frigid lances fierce enough to still the heart of the land, icy enough to freeze blood in the vein.   Then, in the little villages which now and again cling like limpets to this vast expanse of country, life would be suspended until the thaw and the spring rains.  Villagers whose whole lives revolved around the changing of the seasons would burrow into their high-roofed wooden houses like moles, waiting for the year to turn, for once the snows came anything but the bare minimum of social intercourse became impossible. 

So it was when December came in amidst wind which had blown, it seemed, for weeks.    A persistent demon, it thrust wave upon blizzard wave against the little peasant settlement of Sradneik, until a crust many feet deep had reduced the profiles of its roofs to mere humps in a blanket of white.    And so it was with the house of the woman Lyudmila.   Each morning a fresh path had to be dug from its buried door to reach fuel which was stored in an equally snow-bound outhouse.     Hating the snow and the wind, Mahennis Bourta made the woman do this.

Bourta was the woman’s “house guest”.   In this tightly-knit community, no-one knew who Bourta was, or wanted to.  The more you knew, the more you were likely to be asked what you knew:  and when it was likely that the military would be doing the asking, it was better not to be asked.     The woman did not know who he was, either.  Lyudmila was only certain he must have reason to be with her, just as the only reason he kept her alive was so she would cook, satisfy his carnal needs in the night, and fetch the wood for the stove the next morning.   So she would grit her teeth when he came to her bed, even when he cut her, which was deep and often.   And, in her way, she accepted this.   In her world there were worse fates.

Bourta, had visited twice before, each time in the lea of a killing.   Unlike the invisible man, Salaiman Yahedi, his identity was known to police forces in every part of the world.  Alice Forbes-Harrison’s body carried his ‘signature’.    The moment it was found, the identity of her murderer would be known, or at least suspected strongly enough to make him a fugitive.    Bourta’s violent nature was distrusted everywhere, so, even though he worked in the name of the Amadhi, he would find no friends among his own people.   Now, even the Amadhi had forsaken him; his report of his last commission had gone unanswered.  He had displeased Shumal, the Crown Prince.   Alice had taken the secret his employer had wanted to her grave, and the fault was his.  The Amadhi’s displeasure could prove fatal.  

One morning Bourta was awakened by silence.   After weeks of shrieking gale, absolute soundlessness becomes a sound in itself, and Bourta heard it.    The woman grunted and shifted beside him in the small bed, wafting him with fish-foul breath.  Cursing her, thrusting her away from him, he slid from the filthy covers.     It was cold: colder than he could ever remember.  This cold was a tangible thing:  it had substance, it flowed, it trickled, it was a creeping plague.  During the night the stove had slowly relinquished its grip, and now the insidious icy advance had reached its iron buttresses.   It gripped Mahennis’ feet as he lowered them to the stone floor; attempted to hold him fast as he stoked at the glowing ashes, feeding a last meal of wood and peat into the stove’s gaping mouth.

“Wood!”    He shouted at the woman.   They communicated as little as was necessary:  a mixture of signs and shared words.  “You get wood.  Now!”

Lyudmila grumbled from bed, swaddling herself in layers of coat and shawl.   She took the poker from the stove to lever open the frozen door:  it gave with a rifle-crack.   For once, there was little snow piled against its protective porch;  she had only to pick up the cloth sling she used for carrying the wood, and a little axe to prise the wood pile apart, and venture out.

“No.  Wait!”

The woman Lyudmila looked back at him, protesting with a stream of complaint in her own language which Bourta could not understand.

“Be still, woman!”

Now the door was open, there was a sound.  A rapid, rhythmic disturbance of air.   It was faint, very distant, but growing in volume.

“Inside.  Quickly!”   He did not wait for the woman to comply, but grabbed her and threw her inside, slamming the door shut behind her.   Lyudmila, too, had heard the sound.   As Bourta retrieved his automatic rifle from beneath the bed she unplugged a spy-hole which he had cut through her wall, clearing it with the poker.   He cleared a second aperture, lower down, large enough to shoot through.

The helicopter’s approach was purposeful.  Its navigator clearly knew exactly which house he wanted.   Bourta had hardly time to prepare his defences before it was hovering, ready to land and less than fifty meters away.   This was a moment when, maybe, a well-aimed volley of shots might end the threat:  but Bourta knew a village with a crashed helicopter in the middle of it would only be a signpost for more; and in this cold there was nowhere he could run.   No, if he were to survive this at all, he would need the aircraft intact.   So he waited.

For a few moments the frozen crust of snow resisted the turbulence handed down to it by whirling rotors from above:  then it gave way, smothering everything in a crystal fog of whiteness through which it was impossible to see further than a few centimetres.   All Bourta could do was stare into this cloak, knowing the helicopter was landing, had landed, and looking for a first sign of movement, anything at which he might shoot.   Behind him in the hut, the woman Lyudmila keened and whined in terror.

“Mahennis, my friend.”  Shouted a voice from right beside him.  “I come in peace, brother.”

Bourta knew the voice, just as he knew he would not get a shot at its owner, even if he wanted to.  Of course!  Only one man could know where he had hidden.  The intruder was braced against the wall outside, just to the left of his spy-hole and beyond reach of his gun.

“Salaiman Yahedi.   What brings you to this place?”

Bourta’s suspicion had to be satisfied.    Yahedi had been scathing in reporting his, Bourta’s, conduct at the Forbes-Harrison elimination, and Bourta had supposed their association was at an end. Yahedi had made it clear that he did not want their friendship to continue.   So what had changed?   Yahedi was three times the shot Mahennis was;   had he come to complete a contract?

“You are needed.”   Salaiman’s voice was placatory.   “We both are.”

“By whom?”

“By the Prince – by the Amadhi.   Mahennis, it is all right, my friend.  I have not come to kill you.   Look, here is my trust:   I will come to the door.  Have your woman open it.   I will come inside and you can keep your weapon trained upon me.  Be merciful!”

Outside, the mist of disturbed snow had settled.   Bourta saw that the helicopter’s pilot was still in his cockpit:  it was a small craft, incapable of carrying more than four.

After a moment’s thought, Bourta nodded the woman to do as Yahedi suggested. Then he retreated to sit upon the bed, rifle trained at the door as Lyudmila opened it.  Very slowly, his arms outspread, Salaiman Yahedi crossed the threshold.

“Remove your coats.”    Bourta instructed.

“Ah, but not for long, brother.  It is extremely cold!”

“By the fire, then.”

There was still friendship:  still that slender thread of camaraderie that a war-zone brings.  Both men felt the onset of mutual trust as unavoidably as they felt the frigid cold in their bones.

“Allah forfend, Mahennis!   Come with me from this awful place.”

When he was content that Yahedi was unarmed, Bourta said:  “Shumal asks it?”

“He has work:  work for us both.  You are away from the world too long, my old friend!”

“I am reprieved, then?”

Yahedi’s face clouded.   “Ah.  The woman Forbes-Harrison.  Well, it is true I wanted from her more than you left her to give.  I must believe you had needs of your own, Mahennis.   Yes.   I must believe that.   And I must always bow to the greater need.  Shumal was greatly disappointed, too.  However, he has supplied his needs by other means.  Shumal needs us, now.   We have a window in this weather which may not last for long….so, if you are disposed to come, now is the time, brother.”

Staring through the door onto the white wastes beyond, Bourta thought wistfully of the heat of Khubar:  this was not a difficult choice.  He nodded.

“Allah be praised!    Now get your things together and let us please just leave?”

As they departed, some minutes later, Bourta with his rucksack hastily packed, Yahedi looked enquiringly towards the woman Lyudmila.  “Is she to remain?”

Mahennis Bourta considered this for a moment.  “She knows nothing,”   He said after a pause.  “Let her remain.”

“I am impressed by your charity, brother, but is this really wise?”

Bourta nodded.  “Yes.   She is ignorant of our cause.  Let her live.”

Back inside her home, Lyudmila counted the money left to her by the man-monster whose bed she had shared, seemingly impervious to the threat his parting held for her.   It would not be the first time her life might have hung by so slender a thread, maybe not the last.  She picked up the log sling, and, as the white cloud left by the departing helicopter cleared, went out into the yard to fetch fuel for the stove. As the chopping beat of rotors receded; the first strands of the next gale ruffled her shawl.  It would be a long, solitary winter.

The helicopter was fast: a military model bought from the army and converted to private use.  As mile upon mile of featureless, snow-laden plains passed beneath, Bourta could not quell his unease.

“So what has changed?”  he asked.

“Ah, you mean in our quest for this seer Shumal  spoke of?   Well, we have found him – or her, as it appears.  There may be others.”

“So Shumal has what he wants?”

“Shumal?”   Yahedi smiled – an expression not often seen to cross his face.  “Shumal wants so much, my friend.   The young woman we found, this seer, she is very sick, she may not live.   We do not understand why.   But Shumal has other interests now.”

“And they are?”

“You will see.”

Bourta shrugged, settling himself into the corner of his seat.   At least, for the first time in weeks, he was warm. In Al Khubar it was afternoon, and the time of the Asr prayer.     The King Abur Hospital was quiet.    Senior nurse Aneesha Vaal was sitting beside the critical care bed in the Royal suite, which was at the very highest point of the very top floor of the building.   Outside, a desert wind was blowing.   Within the sound-proofed room there was silence, save for the steady bleep of monitors which kept watch over Aneesha’s patient, who lay very still.

Aneesha had been alone with her charge for two minutes now.  This was unusual, for this patient was subject to special rules, issued by no lesser personage than the Crown Prince himself:   and one of those rules stipulated that two critical care nurses must be present to look after this bed at all times.  Under no circumstances was it to be left unattended.

It was Aneesha’s colleague who had opened this breech.  Naima had been feeling progressively worse throughout the afternoon.  When she had started her shift at ten-thirty that morning she had seemed fine – no evidence of the stomach cramps which assailed her with increasing frequency as Dhuhr, the time of midday prayer, passed .   The onset of her illness seemed to coincide with a drink Aneesha offered from her own flask; although of course the two things could not be in any way related.  And Aneesha could not have been more solicitous, observing her friend’s deterioration and obvious discomfort.

“You should go early.”   Aneesha urged.  “We have only twenty minutes left, after all.”

Naima’s face was grey with pain.  “No, no, I must not.  I can stay a little longer.”

“Foolish person!  You will make yourself seriously ill!  I can cover for you for twenty minutes, for heaven’s sake!  Let’s be honest, she is not going to go anywhere, is she?”

They had both looked at the patient in the bed – a coma victim who had remained in a vegetative state for some months now.

“It would be my luck.”  Naima murmured; but then a fresh spasm of pain attacked her:   “Oh!  Aneesha!”

“Go!”  Aneesha insisted.  “Go home you silly child!”

And so it was that Aneesha and the patient came to be by themselves.  This was convenient for the senior nurse, who did not wish anyone to see what happened next.   From beneath her uniform she produced a tiny phial, a fragile thing she had taken care all day not to break.  She held it to the light, as though to ensure the contents were genuine and that nothing had been lost, but in fact to check that a tiny barb on the corked end was intact:  satisfied, she reached for the full adrenaline bag which waited on the stand to take over the patient’s drip when the present one had drained.

It was a simple matter:  the barb had only to be inserted into the plastic, then its other end pushed through the corked top of the phial.  The flow of pinkish liquid through the little thorn’s hollow interior was barely detectable, no more than a slight clouding which dispersed as it joined with the mass of fluid within the bag.   There was plenty of time – the tainted fluid would not be used for some hours yet, not until the existing bag was exhausted – not until Aneesha had boarded her flight.

But then….

As Aneesha stood to replace the tampered bag upon its hook, she looked down.  Maybe she planned a final word, a few sympathetic wishes for a speedy journey to the after-life, for the patient in the bed.   No words came.

Two eyes – two wide awake and staring eyes – two eyes with a fire of damnation in them and a curse no mortal could break – met her own.   A scream froze in Aneesha’s throat.  She felt the poisoned bag split in her hands.   Her knees gave way beneath her, her fingers lost their grip and the polythene wallet of poisoned fluid fell, spreading its contents across the floor.

© Frederick Anderson 2021.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Image Credits:
Featured Image: Yang shuo on Unsplash
Cabin: Elsa Marie De leeuw on Unsplash
Helicopter: Rainer Bleek on UnNsplash
Nurses Needle: Anon, Pixabay

The Mind in Flight

It is three o’clock in the morning.  I sit at my desk, the white screen of my monitor glaring at me defiantly, lost in the silence.

There are so few moments like these, when the world around me is sleeping and I am not;  when the eastern horizon is still black and the landborne stars of streetlights are my only witnesses.   At such times I am free – truly free – without the need of speech, without the relentless city burr, without the determination of the media to fill every pocket of the universe with lighted sound.   My mind can do the travelling, and it does.

Tonight, long after a septuagenarian such as I should be tucked up in bed with a memory of Horlicks, I can take flight.  A single thought occurs, maybe inspires?  It is this:

Somewhere at this precise moment, at this very second, a new life is coming into the world, taking a first breath.  At this same moment another is leaving,taking their last.  Somewhere in an impact far beyond my fluffy hearing an injury is changing a life irreparably, while in some other place someone who was told they would never walk again is taking a first step.

Out there is a young man nervous for his future, feeling the gentle touch of a hand on his which says he need not be afraid; while out there, too, a solitary tear is falling from the cheek of one who sees their life’s love broken.  A million games of win and lose are being played, a billion dice cast at this very second.   Now.   Again now.  And now.

To someone whose eyes behold the rope, the chair; who sought to drink into numbness the pain beyond forgetting, or to those on that lonely walk home from rejection, those smarting from their first rebuff, or out on the streets gripping the knife of revenge, I can say nothing.  I cannot ever know if you changed your mind.  I can neither comfort nor discourage you.

But you exist for me.   I have imagined you, or somehow reached out for you, in this moment; and that is the miracle of life we all should cherish.   This huge complexity of chance, and consequence, disaster and triumph, that in some sense we all may touch.   Now.  Again now; and now, until the end of time.

Meeting on the Motorway

He was driving home, not for the first but the third time this week, and he was tired.

Paul’s weariness  was an insidious thing, .  It had begun not weeks but months since, an insistent fatigue beyond sleep’s cure with roots that grew a little deeper each day, spread a little wider each week; so now it invaded his very bones.  He felt older, much older than his forty-two years.  Today he had worked late and far from home, swaddling that tiredness in a further layer of exhaustion. 

Almost as indistinct, the traffic of the motorway processed about him in sound and rhythm, fast and vast, marauding or crawling, assertive or furtive.  A tune – a slow ballad – a lullaby to woo him into sleep.   His eyelids were heavy, his reason was blurring.

The mile-post for a service area found him just in time:  even then he almost missed it, sinking eyelids hiding the warnings, an articulated trailer unit veiling the essential final sign until he was forced into an ugly lane-change.  The car park beckoned him and he fell into it, slumping back in his seat.  With the tensions of the road dispersed nothing could arrest the orderly march of slumber. Recognising the futility of defence, he surrendered unconditionally.

“If you don’t mind me saying so, you look absolutely wrecked.”

At some point he must have wakened then taken a decision  to leave his cocoon in search of food.  His steps must have led him to this café, his payment app to the stack of meat, cheese and mayo which leered back at him from this plate. 

“You aren’t actually going to eat that, are you?”

He couldn’t remember ordering the food, although it seemed sustaining enough to answer a need.  Clearly, he had slept for some hours, a simple truth his digestive tract insisted he acknowledge.

“I rather think I might,” he said, and “Who are you?”

He must have dozed again, that was the explanation.  While he was in a torpid state this young woman must have slipped into the seat across from his, but why?  The café was less than crowded.  There were whole tables to spare.

“Hi,” She said brightly, “I’m Seph.  Nice to meet you!”  She removed the heavy-looking spectacles through which she had been conducting her examination of his choice of comestible and extended a hand so absolutely inviting that, caught unawares, he almost kissed it.  Convention stepped into the line of fire just in time with an admonishing finger.  He shook the hand.  “Paul,”  he said.  “I’m sorry, how did …?”

“You needed me.”

The forthrightness of the statement alerted prickling, suspicious hairs on the back of Paul’s neck.

 Awake now and thinking, it didn’t take much working out, really, did it?  Easy to watch for such travellers as he:  Mercedes in the car park, expensive business suit, new, high-end ‘phone…  She was certainly convincing, he told himself, allowing his eyes free rein; a ‘class act’, her hair darkly frizzed to emphasize the portrait of a perfectly-featured face, the widest of soft mouths, the bluest of blue eyes.  A pale blue cloud-blue shift dress draped over shoulders otherwise bare, free of straps and encumbrances.  But still…

“I needed you.  Really.”  He placed some cynicism behind the words.

“Yes,”  She said.  And when she said it, when her eyes insisted his should meet with them, he felt himself melting.  “You’re not happy, are you?”

Now what on earth would make her say that?  “I’m on my way home,” he replied defensively.  “When I get home, I’ll be happy enough.”

It was a lie.  He dreaded going home.  “You’re very direct,”  he accused her.

Home?   A very expensive roof protecting a string of complex and irresolvable debts; remortgaged many times in the cause of his his business activities.  The domain of Adrienne, his wife; very much her domain, her furniture, her colours, her choices – bought without sanction because he was never there, always working.

“Is it my home?”  did he say that aloud?  Seph’s smile of understanding seemed to suggest she had heard everything, even the thoughts he was sure he had not spoken aloud.

“There’s someone waiting for you there?”  She coaxed, settling her hand on the table so her fingers played gently with the tips of his own.

“My wife.  Are you conducting some kind of confessional?”

“Do you love her, your wife?” 

He wanted to frown, to show he was affronted, but somehow he was drawn into an answer:  “This is getting a little too personal, isn’t it? What was your name?  Seph?   I mean, considering we’ve never met before, Seph.”

Seph leaned her elbows on the table, letting her chin rest prettily upon her interlocked fingers,  “I’m genuinely afraid for you, Paul.   It’s three o’clock in the morning, it’s a summer dawn; if love and happiness are waiting at the end of your journey, what are you doing here?”

“I had to pull over to rest.”  Just by reminding himself, he stirred a cloying mist of sleep.  Why was he so, so tired?  Adrienne slipped back into his thoughts, bringing contemplation and silence…

  Oh, there was a presumption of love.  There was a history, a time when there had been something between them they could excuse as love, when Paul was the beautiful young man and Adrienne his feminine equal, courted by an eager succession of suitors.  Perhaps Paul was the man Adrienne had been looking for, then.  Perhaps his relentless energy, his quiet, distant manner satisfied her, for she was never a passionate woman and she had few sexual needs.  Salivating young grads with nervous, uncertain eyes who danced on her strings amused her, but never tempted.  Paul saw her as she was, focussed; and she was drawn to his perspicacity.

That was then, and maybe it was a flawed foundation for a marriage, a mutual admiration rather than a friendship, a partnership rather than a passion: now it was a floor show, played out on their public stage.  In private, it was ice.

 “That will be cold,”  Seph interrupted his thoughts, rescuing him from despondency.  She directed his leaden eyes to the plated enormity stacked before him.  “If there’s anything worse than grease, it’s cold grease.”

Paul had to agree.   He was hungry.   But the challenge which confronted him was, in construction, a burger, and he hesitated to engage in the two-handed assault that threatened to release missiles of gherkin and cascades of mayonnaise while under the scrutiny of this attractive companion.  He was drawn to her, wasn’t he?  He was intrigued.

“Knife,”  She said, producing one from somewhere and sliding it across the table.

Paul accepted it.  “Do you work here or something?”

“No.  You hate her, don’t you?”

“I’m sorry,”  his mouth was half-full.  “Hate who?”

“Adrienne.”

Paul stopped chewing, staring into Seph’s eyes as he sought some answer to a question so obvious he almost baulked at asking it;  “How do you know my wife’s name?  Do I talk in my sleep, or something?  Have we met before?”

“Have we met before?   Let me see…”  Seph’s hands slipped below the table and came up with a small notebook.  With her spectacles replaced halfway down her nose she flipped pages.   “Well, no.  No, we haven’t actually met.   Do you think I look too stern in these?  He says they make me look stuffy.  What do you think?”

Had Paul been in a mood for honesty, he would have replied that in his opinion she looked beautiful, but he saw a small advantage.  It seemed unlikely someone so lovely, and so overtly happy, would not be in a relationship.   “’He’?   Is ‘he’ your boyfriend?”

She pouted, an admission perhaps that she had been caught out?  But then there was a trace of a smirk,  “I wouldn’t call him that, exactly.  Anyway, we were talking about you.  I know all about you, Paul; you and Adrienne.  I’ve been studying you both for a few months now.”  She slid the spectacles right down to the end of her nose, treating him to a penetrating look over the top of them.  “Stern, yes?”

Genuinely, Paul was beginning to feel a little out of his depth.  Although this woman’s research begged explanation, he still favoured his initial theory.  This was a pick-up; a very professional one, but nonetheless…“Is this a regular haunt of yours?” He asked brutally;  “Cruising the motorway stops for tired professionals with fat wallets?”

“I see, sir,”   Seph took off her glasses;  “So I assume this is a practice of yours, trawling for chicks at night in tawdry dens of lust like Knutsford Services?  Fat professionals with tired wallets?”  But her eyes were liquid.  She looked solemn and genuinely sad.   “I’m sorry to disappoint you, Paul, but I’m not for sale.   Not even for rent.”

“Then what are you, what is it that you do?  Where DO you work?”

“Wherever I am needed.  At the moment, that’s here.”

“I don’t need you,” he tried to say it kindly.  “Look, Seph, I’ve no idea where you’re coming from, so let’s agree to a moment of honesty, shall we?  You seem, for reasons only you can explain, to be interested in the state of my marriage.   Well, if I admit it isn’t the best marriage in the world, and from your perspective it must seem pretty depressing, can we close the subject and get down to whatever this conversation is really about?  Can we dispense with the subtleties?”

“No!”  Seph gripped his hand fiercely, then released it as quickly and sat back in her chair,  “This is a one-time offer, Paul.   One stop only, no repeats.  Do you know what I see?  Someone who’s ruled by life, Paul.  A caged soul.   It isn’t your fault, perhaps; you have the fast car but someone else is driving.  Nor is the fault Adrienne’s, because a woman like her was raised with expectations and her choices have failed her.   But you are not free and I must free you, yes?   That’s why I sat down at this table.  That’s why you have to take my hand, now, and let me guide you.  Please?”

Paul felt he had to shake his head because the sleep was coming in storm clouds.  Suddenly, it seemed imperative to think clearly, but clarity wouldn’t come.  He strove for an answer.  “See, Seph, that’s just how it is.  It’s the life I’ve got.    There are moments in it you could call happy.  If I’m prepared to settle for that version, and I am, although you are the most wonderful-looking reminder of the youth I once had, you must accept I don’t want rescuing – even by you.” 

“So,” Seph sighed,.  “You don’t need my help, then.  You’re going home and you’re ‘happy’, Paul.”  She shrugged.  “An opportunity missed.  I’m very glad for you.”

“Thank you for the thought,” he replied generously, “It was nice to meet you, Seph.”

A slow smile of kindness, tinged with regret, played across her face.  She rose gracefully from her seat, turning to follow the aisle to the doors, her blue dress floating about her – reeds in a stream, the rush of breeze in the willow.  He watched her go.

“Seph?”  

What made him do it?   Adrienne made him do it, the future in that hard voice, those acerbic jibes, waiting at the end of his road.  The darkness made him do it.

Then out of the darkness came Seph, taking his hands, drawing him to her.  “I was rather hoping you were going my way,”  she said sweetly.  “This is the very best thing!  Thank you, Paul!”

“My car’s in the car park,”  he said.

“We don’t need a car,” Seph replied.

© Frederick Anderson 2021.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.