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Sea Dreams

 How was she going to tell him? Roz looked across the table at Alex, watching fondly as he poured out his breakfast cereal and reached for the milk jug.  No children, they had said.  Or not for years.  Too busy.  Too poor.  Too stressed. Too soon.


He glanced up and grinned back at her. ‘OK?’

She nodded. ‘OK.’

How had it happened? Well, she knew that.  Gastric flu. She’d puked up the pill.  As simple as that.  And now she was feeling sick again.

Alex stood up and, dropping a kiss on her head, made for the door.  ‘You’ll be late for work, Roz.’

She nodded. ‘Just going.’

The door closed behind him and she put her head in her hands.  Perhaps it was a false alarm.  Perhaps it was still the flu after all.

That Saturday was the second time Roz went to the yoga class. Alex, seeing her tenseness, her strange, unaccustomed unhappiness had suggested she go. Slowly and gently Eileen took her twelve pupils through the series of asanas and breathing exercises then, as before, at the end they all lay down on their mats, covered themselves with  blankets and closed their eyes for a period of relaxation.

‘Picture yourself in your favourite place in the country.’ The deep, melodious voice seemed further away than the low stage of the hall.  ‘Feel your bare feet in the grass, hear the birds, the wind in the trees, smell the flowers.’

Except that Roz, trying hard to put her worries out of her head,  was suddenly, violently standing on  a beach.  The rattle of pebbles was deafening as the waves sucked back, she could smell the raw, cold tang of salt and seaweed and ice.

‘Find yourself a nice secluded spot under a tree - ‘ Eileen’s voice was barely audible now.  ‘Sit down and imagine you can feel yourself  leaning against its trunk.’

Another wave crashed  onto the stones and Roz realised  that she had jumped backwards to avoid the spray, her feet slipping on the pebbles.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  They were relaxing -  warm; safe; preparing to empty their minds for the meditation.

‘If at any time you feel at all uncomfortable,’ Eileen said suddenly, ‘just open your eyes.’

‘Open my eyes.’ Roz was sure she had said it out loud.  ‘Open my eyes.’ The next wave broke higher up the beach and suddenly she could hear footsteps slipping, laboured, crunching towards her.

‘Just open my eyes.’

But they were open.  She knew they were open.  They must be.  She could see clearly.

‘Maddy!’ The young man was beside her now, looking straight at her.  ‘Maddy, you must come.  They’ve found him.’

‘No!’ She wasn’t aware that she had spoken this time.

‘You have to come, Maddy.’ The wind was tearing at his hair, almost dragging the shirt from his shoulders.  ‘You have to come - ‘

‘ - and slowly come back to the room, and when you’re ready, open your eyes.’ Eileen’s voice was right in her ear.  With a start Roz sat up.  Her head was spinning. She stared round. The others were still lying prone, beginning to open their eyes, to stretch.

Eileen was sitting on the edge of the platform, swinging her legs.  She saw Roz and her pale angular face shadowed.  She slipped off the platform and tiptoed over on silent bare feet.  ‘Are you OK, Roz?’

Roz shrugged.  She felt as if she were going to cry. 

‘You sat up too suddenly, my dear.  Breathe slowly.’ Eileen patted her shoulder then she straightened and turned away.  ‘That’s all for today,’ she called to the class.  ‘I’ll see you next week.’

‘You all right, Roz?’ The tall, willowy young woman next to her was rolling up her blanket.  ‘Did you fall asleep?  It’s very easy to do.’

‘No.  I’m fine.  I’m OK.’ Somehow Roz managed to scramble to her feet.  She groped for her blanket and began to fold it.

‘Coming for a coffee?’ Susie was persistent. She swung her bag on her shoulder. ‘Come on.  You can only do so many things that are good for you in one day!’

It was easier not to argue.  Silently Roz followed her out.  They called their farewells to the others, threw the rugs into their cars and strolled up the village street towards the Tea Shop.

Susie ordered coffee and tea cakes for them both at the counter then she came and sat down opposite Roz.  ‘Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?’ she asked gently.

Roz shook her head.  ‘Nothing. Honestly.’

‘Then why were you crying?’

‘I wasn’t.  At least - ‘

But she had been.  It was all too much. On top of the  worry about pregnancy the scene on the beach had for some reason left her devastated.  Leaning forward she pushed aside the small vase of pinks which stood between them on the table. ‘Something weird happened.  When we  were supposed to be visualising a wood or something I found myself by the sea.’

‘You fell asleep.  You were dreaming.’

‘No.’ Roz shook her head vehemently.  ‘No. I wasn’t dreaming.

The ice cold wind. The pounding waves. The fear.

They were real.

‘What happened?’ Scrutinising her friend’s face Susie’s voice had dropped to a whisper.

‘That’s it, I can’t remember.  There was someone there.’

‘Two tea cakes.  Two coffees.’ The brisk arrival of their order distracted her.  By the time the waitress had tucked the bill under the vase of pinks and walked away, swinging her empty tray, Roz had lost the thread again.

Susie waited expectantly.  ‘Was the someone a he?’

Roz smiled and shrugged. ‘I honestly can’t remember.  It’s gone.  It must have been a dream after all.’

That evening Alex bought them a take away.  And  he was full of plans.  ‘A holiday, Roz. We haven’t had one since our honeymoon.  We deserve it, sweetheart.’

She smiled.  ‘Where did you have in mind?’

‘I don’t know.  How are you enjoying your yoga? What about Tibet?’ He was joking, of course.

At three  in the morning she sat up suddenly in bed, shaking  like a leaf.

‘Roz, what is it? What’s wrong?’ Alex reached for the light switch, fumbling in the darkness.  He put his arms round her.  ‘Sweetheart, calm down.  It was only a dream.’

Only a dream! The thundering waves, the long shingle beach with the wind screaming in her ears, tearing at her long skirt, her shawl, her hair  flying round her head.

‘Oh, Alex.’ She pressed her face against his chest. ‘It was awful!’ She put her hand to her head.  Her hair was neat, short, chestnut.  In her dream it had been long, dark and wild.

‘Bad dreams.’ Alex hugged her hard.  ‘Cup of tea help?’

She clung to him for a moment then almost reluctantly she nodded. She didn’t want him to leave her. She wanted to tell him everything, but at the same time, she realised suddenly she needed to be alone, to make some sense of the inexplicable  fear which had woken her.

She took a deep breath and uncomfortably she pressed her hands against her ears.

‘Maddy!’

The voice was in the room with her.  Pulling the bed covers up to her chin she stared round, terrified.

‘Maddy!’

‘Alex!’ she called out desperately

But he couldn’t hear her. He was downstairs listening to the increasing rush of water boiling in the kettle, sleepily staring out into the moonlit garden.  The kettle switched off automatically and in the sudden silence he heard an owl hoot. A shiver ran down his spine. For a moment he stood quite still, listening, then with a small irritated shake of his head he turned and reached for the tea pot and caddy.

‘Here’s the tea, Roz. Now we’re awake, let’s plan the holiday.’ He pushed open the bedroom door with his elbow and  carried the tray in.  ‘Roz?’

The bed was empty.

 

‘You have to come, Maddy.’ He was holding out his hand.  Icy rain was soaking through his shirt, stinging his eyes.

‘I can’t!’ She took a step back, aware of the huge waves crashing onto the beach behind her.  ‘Please, don’t make me look at him.’

‘But he’s alive, Maddy!’ His face broke into a smile.  ‘They pulled him out alive!’

She could feel the hot rush of joy, then hope, then disbelief and then the sicker terror flow over her like a tide.  He was alive.  He would tell her secret.  His life meant her death.

Ralph had reached towards her and caught her wrist.  His hand was ice cold,  slippery with salt spray and rain.

‘Over here.’ He was pulling her with him.

She could see them now.  Four men bending over the body of a fifth.  They were covering him with cloaks, chafing his hands.

‘Francis!’ She stood staring down at him.  He was sitting up now, his face white, his teeth chattering, his expression mirroring hers: relief and love, then wariness and last of all, fear.  ‘Maddy! I thought you’d gone. The boat sank.  I was trying to follow you .’

There was a long silence, then, suddenly she had to tell them the truth.  ‘We were going to run away together.  To France.  To a new life where no one would know - ‘ Without knowing it she had rested her hand on her stomach.  Ralph, following the gesture with his eyes saw the slight swelling as the wind and rain flattened her gown against her belly.  His eyes widened incredulously. ‘You are with child? The fury in his voice was vicious.  ‘You, my wife, are carrying my brother’s child?’

‘Ralph - ‘ Francis had scrambled to his feet, throwing off the cloaks which had been wrapped round him. ‘Listen, brother,  you must not blame her!’

‘Must I not?’  The wind was whipping away their words as they confronted one another, shouting.  ‘Then who do I blame? My own impotence, perhaps, or you, who in your generosity, came to her aid?’

The men with them had drawn back, muttering uneasily, glancing from one man to the other, then surreptitiously at Maddy.

Tears poured down her cheeks. ‘Ralph! Francis - ‘

They ignored her.  This was men’s business.  

Slowly she turned towards the sea.

Behind her, Ralph stepped forward. He laid hold of his brother’s shirt and pulled him close, glaring.

The cold of the waves snatched her breath away.  She took one step, then another, staggering under the power of the water. There could be no looking back.  When at last the waves swept her off her feet she held out her arms to embrace the water as though it were the lover she had found such a short time before and now irretrievably lost.

  ‘Maddy!’ The voice behind her was lost in the rush of wind and tide.  ‘Maddy, come back!’

The instinct to swim was too strong.  She flailed out wildly with her arms and legs, feeling the entangling skirts pulling her down.

‘Francis!’ The water was in her mouth, her eyes, her nose.  ‘Francis - ‘                                                  

 

Alex  looked for her in the bathroom, then all over the house.  Then he sat down on the bottom step of the staircase and put his head in his hands.  His initial emotions - puzzlement, curiosity, even bewildered anger, had been replaced by just one.  Fear.

He glanced at his watch. At last it was growing light. 

It took only three minutes to put on his shoes and find his car keys.  At least, touring the streets, he would be doing something.  Supposing she was sleepwalking?  The front door was locked , their  keys still there on the sideboard, but supposing she had somehow found a spare front door key, opened the door, relocked it. Supposing she had walked out into the moonlight bare foot - her slippers were still where she had kicked them the night before, under the bed. Supposing she had  walked, still fast asleep, down the road, silent and empty in the pre-dawn dark, through the village and out into the network of lanes between the moors and the sea.

He turned out of their road and into the next, putting the lights on full beam, scanning the hedgerows with their strange irregular shadows.

‘She’s gone, Francis!’ The voice was in the car with him.

Alex slammed on the brakes. The engine stalled and in the sudden silence Alex found himself holding his breath as he stared ahead at the deserted road.  He groped for the ignition.

‘Look!  There.  In the sea!’

Icy perspiration drenched his shoulders as Alex’s hand fell away from the key. 

‘Quickly man, if you love her!’

The sea?  How could Roz have reached the sea? It was three, four, miles away. Almost in a daze he groped in the glove pocket and reached for the mobile. Roz’s friend Susie lived by the sea.  On the Esplanade, in a small pink cottage, idyllic in summer, in winter soused in spray and reverberating to icy winds.

‘Yes, I know what time it is!’ The line crackled; the battery was very low.  ‘Please, Susie, go and look. I beg you.  I’m on my way.’ He was sobbing as the connection went dead.

 

The wave  caught Maddy and lifted her, sucking her back towards the beach, closing over her head as she felt the sudden rasp of sharp stones beneath her feet. She scrabbled frantically for a hold and lost it again and then her head was above the water and she saw them near her, both of them, her husband and his brother, struggling through the waves towards her.

‘Maddy!  Hold on! Hold on, my love.’ It was Ralph.  He was close to her now.  She could see his head on the smooth green pillow of water.  She could see his hand stretched out towards her, so close she could almost touch him.  Beyond him, further out in the tide race she could see Francis.  He was swimming desperately.

‘Francis! ‘ Her scream was cut short by the wave.  She felt it close over her and pull her down.  In the green depths it was quiet, strangely peaceful.  She could see Francis now, near her.  He was smiling, holding out his arms -

 

‘Roz!   For Christ’s sake, Roz, breathe!’

Someone was thumping her back.  She felt herself slither on the pebbles and suddenly she was bitterly cold.  Retching frantically she managed a breath, then another as she pulled herself onto her elbows.

‘Thank God!’ There was a blanket round her now, and arms, hugging, shaking.  ‘Roz, what on earth were you doing?’

It was Susie, a raincoat over her night dress, her bare feet pushed into heavy shoes, her long hair loose and wet, strung over her shoulders.  ‘I couldn’t believe it when I saw you. I couldn’t.’ She was pulling at her.  ‘Come on,  up.  You’ve got to stand.  You’ve got to come inside.’ The beach was deserted, lit by  a cold light reflecting on the clouds from the sun still below the horizon. ‘Come on!’

Roz staggered to her feet and somehow Susie managed to lead her up the beach across the narrow road and into the cottage. Out of the wind it was eerily quiet.

‘Save the explanations. Strip off those clothes and put on my dressing gown. ’ Susie pushed her onto the sofa and heaped rugs and cushions round her.

‘What happened?’ Roz took the proffered hot water bottle and hugged it to her.  Her teeth were chattering.

‘Don’t ask me.  You were the one in the sea!’ Susie threw driftwood from a basket onto fire lighters and watched it blaze up.  ‘Where’s Alex? He rang me then we were cut off.’

‘Alex’s in bed.  We were both in bed - ‘ Roz was crying suddenly.  ‘Susie -‘

‘I think I’d better phone for an ambulance - ‘

‘No!  No, don’t do that.  I’m fine.  I want Alex.’ Tears were streaming down Roz’s face. ‘I don’t understand.  It was a dream.’

‘A dream?’ Susie echoed.  ‘That’s what you said before.  ‘A man on a beach.’

‘Francis.’ Roz nodded slowly in confusion.  ‘He was called Francis. And the sea took him.’ Her voice broke.  ‘His brother Ralph was there.  He tried to follow him.  He tried to catch hold of him but he had gone.’ She sat up, pushing her  wet hair out of her eyes.  ‘He was very kind. He let them think the child was his,’ she went on  urgently, suddenly clutching at Susie’s hand.  ‘He raised her.  He loved her as his own.  No one ever knew.   But he never forgave Maddy.  Never.’

Behind them the door opened and Alex peered in.  They hadn’t heard his car draw up outside for the roar of the fire in the chimney.  In two strides he was  on his knees by the sofa.  ‘What happened?  You’re all wet! For God’s sake! What happened, Susie?’

‘You tell me.’ Susie shrugged.  ‘You rang, Alex.  You told me what to do.’

Roz stared at him.  She freed her hand from the cocoon of blankets and reached out to touch his face.  ‘How did you know where I was, Alex?’

‘There was a voice - in the car.’  Alex shook his head uncomfortably, clearly embarrassed.  ‘It said you were in the sea.’

Quickly man, if you love her!

Roz was frowning ‘I remember you getting up.  You went downstairs to get tea, then suddenly I was in the water - ’   She pulled one of the cushions to her and hugged it desperately. ‘I must be going mad.’

‘If you are, Roz, so are the rest of us.’ Susie put in gently. There was a long silence. She was frowning.  ‘I think Roz has had a glimpse into the past .’   She looked  at them both  and shrugged. ‘ It breaks all the rules of time and space that you and I were taught at school, but it doesn’t mean we’re mad.  I think we are privileged.’

 Scrambling to her feet she turned back to the fire.  ‘It occurs to me,’ she said  looking down into the flames, ‘from what you said, Roz, that this is really all about a baby.’ She paused and turned round.  ‘You’re not pregnant, are you?’

The question had come out of the blue.  Alex gasped.  He turned to his wife, scanning her face.

She bit her lip.  ‘I haven’t had a test, but I’ve been wondering  - ‘

‘Roz!’ Alex leaned forward and hugged her.  ‘Oh my darling, that’s wonderful!’

‘But we hadn’t planned -‘

‘It doesn’t matter.  Nothing matters but that you’re safe.’

‘You mean it, Alex?’ Roz clutched his hand.  ‘You really don’t mind?’

‘Of course I don’t mind.   Sweetheart, we’ll manage. We always have.’ He leaned forward and kissed her then he turned to Susie.  ‘How did you know?’

Susie smiled and shrugged. ‘I guessed.’ There was a short silence, then she broke suddenly into giggles.  ‘Sorry,  but if we look for a rational explanation for  any of this we won’t find it. You know my philosophy of life.  I’ve always thought that we question too much. You can’t spend the rest of your lives worrying  about something you will never ever be able to explain. ’ She bent to throw some driftwood onto the fire.  ‘Time for a hot drink.  Then later  I suggest Roz goes to see the doctor so that  at least you know that  for sure.’

‘If I am pregnant and its a girl I want to call her Maddie.’  Roz lay back frowning. She was staring into the distance. ‘You know what I think? I think this is my opportunity to put the past right.  I  - we’ve been given a second chance.  But why?’ She turned to look at Susie by the fire.  ‘Why me?  Why Alex?’

Susie shook her head.  ‘Why not?.  All that matters is that the three of us know that in our very ordinary lives in our very ordinary  world a small miracle has happened and that you are  happy about it.’

Roz squeezed Alex’s hand. ‘OK?’ she whispered.

He nodded.  ‘OK.  When I think how I nearly lost you - ‘ He shuddered.

‘But you didn’t.’ Roz smiled. 

‘I think you’ve found each other,’ Susie put in quietly.  ‘I think you’ve found each other after what is possibly a very long time!’

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