Have you participated in Writers Island yet? Why not give it a go, you’ll be surprised how inspiring the prompts are.
This week the prompt is – TRIUMPH.
Here’s my little tale……
Love is like a day at sea, sometimes turbulent, sometimes becalmed. Sometimes the catch is good, oftentimes it is paltry. Always there is the taste of salt on your lips and the grit of it in your hair for days afterwards and that feeling that fills your soul of vastness and majesty.
I am in my father’s boat now. The one that has sat in the shed for over five years. It doesn’t glide through the water, it bumps like a learner driver changing gears. It is more than likely it will leak. I hope that it leaks.
I have a paper bag full of pills – valium and the morphine my father didn’t take when he was dying. I don’t know why I kept them. I suppose they are a security blanket of sorts. For the times when things get as bad as this.
Adrian told me the truth today. I don’t know why I am so nonplussed. I prevailed upon him to be honest, yet I remain uneasy with the facts as they are. Adrian has a lover, a younger woman whom he wants to spend the rest of his life with. We have been married for 25 years and suddenly that means nothing – all that time, all that energy, all that thinking you know someone – gone, less visible than the steam which rises from a mug of tea.
I am 45 and my husband is in love with a woman who is twenty years younger than me. What can she know of the world? What can she know of him? Does she care that now I am afraid for the first time in my life? Does she know that this evening I looked in the mirror and saw the face of a woman too old to start again? Too worn out? Does she feel a sense of triumph? Of vindication?
I have a bottle of milk and a container of olive oil. Annie, who works in Emergency at St. Vincent’s Hospital tells me that’s how they do it – the suicides. Puts a lining on your stomach so you don’t vomit the pills back up. That’s why a lot of suicide attempts fail – the body rejects the drugs.
It’s not as lonely as I thought. Betrayal. The disbelief helps, the anger. The how could hes and the what did I do wrongs block out the stricken draw of loneliness. Besides, I haven’t given myself time to brood. I don’t want to dwell on this pain. I just want it to end.
I know when the pain ends everything will end and there will be no going back, but I am hardened to it. I shall miss this little estuary though. The way the water laps on shore like fingers kneading dough and how the fish bob, bright as coloured flags. And then the heron circle, following the fish below, priming themselves for descent.
I bump through the water that reveals nothing. I am floating on an unmoving void. Its depths are so indiscernible I cannot even begin to guess what lies beneath – maybe a tangle of reeds and mud and rocks. Maybe nothing at all.
My heart flutters as it always does when I catch sight of the church on the point. Sandstone and coloured glass, seeming to float above the water like a gift to the world. It has been abandoned for over 20 years as a result of church attendance in the area dramatically dropping. I remain surprised every day that no developer has taken advantage of its enviable location.
I am sure my grief has turned to delusion when I see a light on in one of the church windows. I look around for a boat which might have cast the light, or perhaps the moon, but there is no other vessel on the water.
And then I hear it. The song my mother used to sing to me as a child, the song I sang to her as she drew her last breath.
“Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
onward the sailors cry
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.”
My mind is playing tricks. I have heard sorrow can do that. I am hearing and seeing things that aren’t there. I am flinging my thoughts out across the dark water for something to cling to. Something which will prevent me from falling into the abyss.
There it is again. Clear as if the singer stands right next to me. I lean forward to try and catch a glimpse through the stained glass windows and stand on my bag of pills. I hear some of them pop like bubbles of algae in a pond.
‘Stop singing,’ I cry out. ‘I’m busy. I don’t appreciate being distracted.’
The song continues, louder than before. I am infuriated and steer my boat to shore, rushing up the embankment to the church. The singing stops. It is suddenly black, so black I feel my head has been covered with a veil. I stumble over tree roots and overgrown hedgerows, scratching my hands and face. I am reminded of the story of Sleeping Beauty where the prince struggles through the briars to reach his sleeping love, and scoff. Look how that one kiss from my true love turned out.
The door to the church stands open. It is empty inside except for a candle on the altar. Anything of value has long ago been plundered. Grass grows through the floor. Most of the pews have split or collapsed from neglect. Pigeons fidget in the eaves, rats scurry behind me.
The altar has remained intact – solid stone that would require a crane to remove it. A branch from a birch tree lies there like an offering – glittering gold autumn leaves and metallic wood like a golden wand. My mother’s favourite tree. A tree she imported from her beloved England when she came to Australia because it is not native to this land.
I am immediately suspicious. ‘Where are you Adrian?’ I shout. ‘You selfish bastard. Haven’t you done enough?’ But then I realise Adrian does not know how much I love this church, he has no idea of my secret inner joys, nor does he know that I am out in my father’s boat with the intention of taking a bagful of pills. He is probably screwing her, right now. There, I said it – my husband is screwing another woman. It sounds so tacky, so common, to say screwing, but I have been driven to it.
I sit on the front pew – which is still reasonably intact – and stare at the altar. I thought I was the one. I thought I was his one. How can I go on knowing I am not? How can I even do something as mundane as walk to the mailbox to check my mail with his betrayal smiling in the sky? I just want to hide, to cower, to cover myself in ashes, not to find that things will never be the same again.
Something shifts in the air like a wind has picked up. Something has moved in the shadows. Something is here. A woman emerges from the gloom the way people do in dreams – sliding into view. Her face is the face of those I know and have lost and the face of those I have never seen but somehow know. It is ever-changing and glorious. She holds out her hands like I am a child running to meet her mother after school and I am terrified and filled with peace at the same time. Is she going to save me or is she the instrument of my destruction?
She gestures to a blanket on the floor, an old cushion, moth-eaten but clean. I am seized by a desire to sleep here on the cold floor of a deserted church with a possible killer or worse standing over me. I don’t hesitate. I lie down, covering myself, looking into that face full of all the loss in the world, and all the beauty, and all the grace.
As I fall into slumber I feel her moving away from me. I want to scream, flail my arms about, scared that losing her will be worse than losing Adrian, but I cannot. Desperate, I force my eyes open, slitted like a cat, and see her move into the dark, hair like stars, the air disturbed by a hint, a murmur of wings.
In the morning I wake to a row of pigeons regarding me on the altar. I am an oddity to them. The candle has burned to a stump, the waxy mess sticks and spreads like honey. I take the branch of birch and walk into the morning. My boat has gone. My pills have gone. So has my desire to take them. I am not ready to leave this world yet. Not yet. I will feel despair, I will feel sorrow. I might even feel joy. But I will walk this path I must take with a sense of triumph that I have survived the night. And one day the path will lead me unexpectedly, to a better place.