Welcome to Quadrant Online | Login/ Register Cart (0) $0 View Cart
Menu
November 01st 2008 print

Lorraine Black

Drowning

She had been in the sea forever; not near the surface where the waves endless heaved upwards and fell, the water turbulent, filled with bubbles and noise, but deep down where all was relatively still. She liked its cool embrace and the feeling of weightlessness, the way her hair floated about her face like tendrils of seaweed. There was something soothing about it as she drifted and emptied her mind. Sounds came to her, muted and far off. When she looked up she could see the sun, too bright to look at on the surface, but from down here it glowed as a bright molten orb, moving and quivering with the ripples on the surface; all was quiet and peaceful.

A dark shape on the surface drifted across her vision. She knew it was a yacht. She had been on one once, laughing and drinking, then something had happened; a momentary loss of balance. She had hit the water hard, struggling and gasping, water rushing up her nostrils, in her mouth and lungs, but that was a long time ago.

There were people up there swimming; arms and legs splayed out like frogs. She watched them for a while. One dived down near her. She almost laughed at him, but then he grasped her hair and began to pull her upwards. She didn’t want to go but seemed powerless to stop him. It was horrible up near the surface, the water churning, voices shouting and the sun too bright for her eyes; and pain in her chest as she lay on the hard deck, coughing and retching salt water and wine. It seemed to go on forever, and someone shouting at her.

“Anna! Are you alright Anna?”

Anna? Was that her name? The man seemed to think so, but it didn’t have that familiar ring which you would have expected when someone called you.

“Are you alright Anna!” he persisted, anger mixed with annoyance.

“Yes,” she gasped, but the Anna they pulled from the water wasn’t the same as the Anna who had fallen overboard.

They took her to the hospital as soon as they got back to the shore; white rooms smelling of antiseptic, chrome trolleys with starched sheets. She lay on one as they waited, stared at the pink curtain, hearing the sounds around her; metallic clangs, the brisk steps of the nurses, subdued conversations.

“She was drinking of course.”

It was his voice, still tight with anger, talking about her to someone behind the curtain as if, because he couldn’t see her, she could not hear. Once it would have made her angry, resentful, betrayed, but now she felt nothing.

The doctor came in full of false cheerfulness. He seemed too young to be a doctor.

“Had a lucky escape did we?” he asked. She didn’t bother to reply but allowed him to prod and listen to her chest.

“We’ll keep her in for observation overnight and start her on antibiotics. There are a few noises in her chest. All being well, you can pick her up in the morning.”

He spoke to her husband, not to her.

Jason came to see her as she lay in bed between the crisp white sheets. He grinned at her.

“I pulled you out of the water,” he said.

“Oh?” she answered. She thought afterwards that he probably expected her to thank him, but she didn’t feel grateful.

She stared at the white ceiling. When the lights were turned out, she gazed into the darkness until sleep drifted into her mind. Then she felt the waves about her again, rocking her gently and drawing her down into their depths; away from the turmoil of her life.

Greg was late picking her up the next day. Still angry, he berated her all the way home on her stupidity in falling overboard.

“You could have kept off the grog for one day!” he ranted. “You knew I was trying to impress my boss! Do you realise how long I have waited for that invitation to go out on his yacht? If you don’t do something about your drinking now I’ll leave you!”

Tall buildings flashed past the car windows, hard and angular; garish advertising signs, traffic lights and the harsh blast of horns. Somewhere a siren wailed.

She remembered his boss’s wife, Lola, smiling at her; the sort of smile one reserved for entertaining the wife of one of her husband’s underlings. Be polite because these people were on the up and up. Lola had been wearing a simple white top and shorts, her skin tanned a deep brown, but now, with age, it was starting to turn leathery. She had tried to disguise it with the heavy makeup, but hadn’t quite succeeded.

“What will you have to drink?” she had asked and Anna had noticed the makeup cracking into small fine lines around her mouth and the light glittering on the diamonds on her fingers as she held the glass. Is this what she, Anna, would be like in ten, twenty, years from now?

Never at ease in social situations, Anna had drunk and not objected when her glass had been topped up again and again until her memories became blurred. Yet even now, she felt no emotion. It was as if the memories belonged to someone else.

Greg dropped her off at home and went off somewhere else.

She stood just inside the front door for a long time. Yes, this is where she and Greg had lived; a modern house with open spaces, white walls and minimalist décor; not unlike the hospital.

Anna moved through the house slowly. She remembered living here, knew the rooms and the bar with the locked doors. Greg had had them fitted to curb her drinking but it hadn’t worked. She knew there was a bottle hidden under the sink; another in the bedroom at the back of her drawer and even outside in the shrubbery near the swimming pool.

She stood looking at the swimming pool. She had always been afraid of water; something her mother had instilled in her from her childhood; keep away from the water; don’t go near the sea.

“Why?” Anna had asked when she was old enough to question her mother’s advice.

“Your father drowned in the ocean,” had been the reply, her mother turning her head away as she spoke, not looking at Anna. “Just walked into the water,” she had added, still no understanding what impulse had made him do it. His body had never been found.

Then she met Greg and forgot her father. Greg had always been ambitious so they lived well. He liked the good life. Anna had given up working after she had the two children. Jodie had gone on to university and into law. She was busy and they didn’t see much of her now but Greg boasted about her success. They didn’t talk about Todd. It was her fault, he said. She had mollycoddled him too much as a child.

Anna knew all this as fragments of her old life came back to her.

She had been very involved with the children and their activities when they were young so she had hardly noticed the distance widening between her and Greg. He was always busy and late home. He missed the school play but, as he said, it was hardly as if the kids would notice he wasn’t there. Anna had been hurt to think he could brush it aside so easily.

It wasn’t until the firm’s Christmas breakup party that it finally hit home. As they had walked into the room, a woman, the newest member of the firm, glanced up from the cluster of men about her and looked at them; or rather, she looked at Greg. There was something in that glance, both tender and possessive, that Anna recognised and her world was shattered.

She never said anything to Greg, either then or later. What could he say? If he denied having an affair she knew he would be lying. If he admitted it, what then? Would they divorce? Would he move out and the kids be shuffled from one to the other? Anna didn’t want to think about it; instead she drank to forget; to pretend she didn’t know. She continued to drink long after she had ceased to care what Greg did.

She walked around the house touching the occasional photo frame, resting her hand on the back of the white leather sofa. She’d had it made to her own design and been pleased with it at the time. Now it was just a piece of furniture. She looked about the house and knew she didn’t belong here any more. She took nothing with her when she left. She wouldn’t need anything where she was going.

When Greg came home he found the house silent. He wandered through the empty rooms calling her name but she wasn’t there. It was a relief really. He had dreaded spending another pointless evening with her. She was holding him back but a divorce would cost him half the house and the investments he had so carefully accumulated. Lacey was getting pushy too; tired of being the other woman, but he couldn’t afford a scandal just now when he was in line for a promotion.

A sudden fear clutched at him. She wouldn’t remember, would she? She had been drinking as usual and with the movement of the yacht she had staggered. He had reached out a hand and he could have grabbed her, but instead he had given her a bit of a push; such a small movement and she had toppled overboard. He had raised the alarm almost immediately. In all, the outcome had been positive; poor man with an alcoholic wife.

“Anna,” he called as he went outside and stood by the swimming pool. She never swam but sometimes he could come home to find her staring into the water.

She had probably gone to buy a flagon of sherry, Greg decided, and spent the evening watching the television.

He reported her missing the next day. It wouldn’t look good if the police picked her up drunk somewhere and he hadn’t reported her absence. At first they had not been unduly concerned, but as the days passed and she had not returned they investigated further. It seemed odd to them that she had taken nothing with her and no money had been withdrawn from her bank account. It seemed even odder that no one except Greg had seen her since he picked her up from the hospital. The neighbours hadn’t seen him drop her off although they heard him come home much later. The police took Greg down to the station and questioned him for several hours. They didn’t charge him but warned him not to leave town.

He was passed over for the promotion. They couldn’t have someone with a cloud of suspicion hanging over him on the board of management. They promoted Lacey instead. She, of course, couldn’t afford to be connected with someone of doubtful character and broke off their relationship. He had lost his edge, the firm said, and decided to let him go.

The house and car had to be sold along with his investments and he moved into a flat. He would make it back again, he told himself. He took to drinking at the weekends and wandering about aimlessly. One day he found himself down by the sea and stood on a grassy knoll looking out over the green, grey breakers as they rolled in from the ocean. By chance, this was the same spot where Anna had stood when she left Greg twelve months before. But Greg, standing there, heard only the dull ominous thud of the waves on the sand, whereas Anna, with exquisite joy, had heard somebody call her name.