The woman wraps her trembling, fat, purple, vieny hands around her husband’s pencil thin wrinkled neck. They rock to and fro at the crossroads. To the left is the forest; to the right is the sea.
The woman releases her husband. She waves her hands wildly in the air as she wails at him: ‘What if I get murdered Fred? A woman alone in the forest?’
‘Meg, please, don’t say such things, you know that won’t happen’ Fred replies in his thin rasping voice pulling at thin wisps of gray hair.
‘These things happen Fred. To women like me. Women who are abandoned by their husbands.’
‘Meg, come on, it’s getting dark. By the time we are in the forest we won’t be able to see anything. Come and look at the sea. It’s so beautiful at night.’
‘No. I want to walk ?n the forest. Come on.’
‘Let’s go to the sea. Please.’
‘The forest Fred!’
‘No! The sea!’
He jumps back a little as if he were searching for the person who had spoken those words. This is the furthest he has stood his ground since the first and last time he argued with her at the beginning of
their marriage when she punched a biscuit from his mouth. ‘Í told you Fred, no more biscuits!’ she screamed before she took a blow to his head and knocked him out. Since then he has always caved in without a fight, the memory of that time ringing in his head like a referee’s bell intervening, saving him from a deadly blow.
She turns and marches toward the trees. A few steps into her stride, unable to hear his footsteps behind her, she turns around to find him still standing where she had left him.
Her pale green eyes, now bright and burning with anger, meet his dark blue ones, sparkling with tears. Her eyes harden, drive into him, daring him to defy her. Go on, they say, try and get your way and see what happens!
He shifts from side to side and bites his lip.
Her hands on her hips, her eyes widening in tandem with her smile, she hisses through clenched teeth, ‘Come on Fred.’
His head drops, his eyes close. It is always her way. At home, she decided what time he bathed (at night and not in the morning because she needed the bathroom in the morning and he took so long ‘doing whatever it is that you get up to in there’). She dictated what he ate for breakfast: muesli and yoghurt and not the bacon and eggs he wanted because ‘they would make you fat Fred and you already have enough health problems with your panic attacks and joints,’ she would say; though when he came home the kitchen would be drenched in the stench of bacon fat and her thick chin covered in grease. It was her way with his friends, banning him from seeing his old school friend Bill who liked going to the pub and dragging him round to Linda and Ted’s for tea and buns instead.
‘I want to see the sea,’ he says, his voice loud and firm.
‘What?’ she shouts, though she heard him clearly.
But it was not his words that she was questioning, more his defiance. He was not meant to defy her, not if he wanted her to take care of his house, his children, his human needs; tiring tasks that she did not take to naturally. Burnt dinners, misbehaving children and messy bedrooms bore testament to that. He was lucky to have her taking care of him, fortunate to have someone like her sacrifice her freedom for him. Not that being single in a man’s world would have given her much freedom either. There would not be much freedom found being stuck in a low-paid pink-collar job, residing in a dingy studio flat and being the topic of neighbourhood gossip: Why isn’t she married? ?s there something wrong? Is she one of those bloody feminists? Is she a bleeding lesbian? No, that wasn’t freedom; that was self-imposed solitary confinement. So she had chosen marriage instead and picked a husband she could dominate so that her life was not completely taken out of her hands; on the surface it might look as if she were a slave but beneath it she was the master of the house.
And Fred had been a good choice as a submissive husband. She knew he would be a pushover the first time she saw him at a Christmas party. She had seen him standing there alone. His high forehead, hook nose and small chin were not drawing women over to talk to him and his lack of social skills meant that other men avoided him or spoke a little and then ran away, afraid of being bored to death. Having been single for so long, approaching her mid-thirties and determined to find a husband, she had gone over and made small talk. She found out the things that mattered to her: his profession, where he lived and what car he drove. After a brief and dull conversation, she asked him to drive her home even though she knew he lived on the other side of town. He agreed in an instant as Meg, though overweight with bad skin and big ears, had long eyelashes and big lips and was the first woman to pay him any attention since his cousin at a family wedding six years ago.
That night Fred had driven Meg home in silence, neither of them knowing what to say; one of them sweating profusely due to the awkwardness of the silence, the other one repressing a grin, enjoying the other’s discomfort and pleased to have found what she was looking for. When the journey ended, Meg did not even thank Fred yet he still offered to pick her up in the morning and drive her to work, ‘to save you getting on that busy bus .’ And she had said yes then and then yes again, six months later at the altar.
But now he was saying no to her.
‘The forest Fred! Didn’t you hear me? The forest!’
‘I want to see the sea!’ he yells, looking up and meeting her bulging eyes head on.
But it was not the present Fred speaking, nor was it the past one. The words were coming from deep within, a part of him she had torn from him before he had had time to discover its existence. She had thrown it into the sea, sending it sinking to the bottom. But now it had been washed ashore and was writhing around, struggling for breath, but managing to get up and stand on its two feet, like a foal after being born.
‘Go on then! Go and see it! Go and drown in it for all I care!’ she screamed as loud as she could, hoping this might be the final blow.
‘No, you go. Go to the forest! Go and get murdered!’
He hoped these brutal words might be the rescue helicopter that would save him from the tsunami that was his wife’s temper. Perhaps they would stun her into silence. Or maybe she would take heed, honor and obey him, and do as he said. If only she would go and get murdered in the forest and he would go and drown in the sea; they would both be free.
To the sea! A voice in his head spurs h?m on. He sprints away to the sea. Yes. Yes. Yes. To drown ?n the sea! An escape! Because what would happen if he survived, if he managed to make it to dry land rather than be swept away? The tsunami would only come again, even stronger. Of course he could leave the sea and move inland but then he would be sure to be the victim of a drought, an earthquake or a tornado. To be a victim: that was his early misfortune and his self-imposed destiny. He had been one as a child at home, as a schoolboy, as a young adult and as an old man. No, there was only one way to survive this victimhood and that was to drown. The voice in his head cried even louder, sensing imminent freedom : To the sea! To the sea! To the sea!
To the sea he goes. He stumbles on his way, he gets a stitch, his heart feels like it might burst but he keeps going to the sea.
And into the sea he wades. His body, fired up by his new found fight, is cooled by the water. The lulling lapping of the waves soothes the rebellious voice in his head. ‘No, no,’ it rages, ‘I won’t do what you want, I won’t,’ until it is silent and all that can be heard is lull, lap, lull, lap, lull lap; the delicate crashing of the waves. He loses himself in this moment. The lullaby of the waves almost lures him to sleep, until the peace is violently interrupted by a bombardment of bombs: Fred! Fred! Fred!
She is standing on the shore. Her red tear-stained face is crumpled, her arms are held out to him.
‘Come to the woods Fred!’ She will not be deserted, left alone. She never has been and never will. Someone, first her father and then Fred, one overbearingly, the other submissively, has always been tied to her side; one through force, the other choice.
Fred dives into the sea. As soon as he is submerged, his mind merges into the abyss that is the endless blue before him. The ringing echo of the silence of the sea thrills his ears. He hopes it will be eternal.
‘Fred! Fred! Fred!’ The peace caves in beneath Meg’s muffled screams. Even underwater, her anger filters through. He looks behind him and sees that hard stare, the one she has tried so hard over the years to carve in his mind. She is coming to him, her shadow swallows him. Closer and closer she gets. Closer. He looks away and clumsily fights his way further into the abyss.
He feels her body upon him, enveloping itself around him, the first time since when he does not know. She grasps his hands in hers and he grasps back. Both close their eyes, both hold tight.
Neither can swim.
© Copyright 2017 Sandbream Devermann. All rights reserved.
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