“Are you sure you’re going to be alright on your own Mum?”
“Yes, of course, I’ll be fine, don’t you remember where you grew up, that little house in the middle of nowhere; why shouldn’t I be alright?”
Jess nods her head.
“Okay, then we’ll see you tomorrow night.”
I stand on the veranda, with Penny the Labrador at my ankles, and Friday the cat purring furiously on the padded sun-lounger. I turn and smile, listening to the roar of the waterfall, the sound of the birds singing, and realise just how beautiful nature is. She waves her finery in my face, the blue sky, the fluffy clouds, fir trees drooping with branches overloaded with every shade of green, while a tiny breeze, rustles the leaves on the silver birch that act as a slight buffer against traffic noise from the road below.
“Right Penny, there’s just about time for a swim.”
“We’ll see you when we get back” I say to Friday as I give her tiny head a friendly scratch.
Everyone else is leaving the pool as we pull up, and walk through the field to enjoy the delights that form beneath this mammoth cascade of clear, pure water. Penny races on and is already paddling across the water, before I dip my toe in to touch the rocky surface. Best keep the sandshoes on until I am far enough in to swim, then it’s simply a matter of swimming to the ledge at the far side and slinging them up there until it is time to go home. Penny splashes back to join me and together we strike out across the crystal clear water. The evening sunlight dances on the spray from the waterfall creating a magical rainbow. I thank God I am alive, and free to enjoy such wondrous moments. I think of him for just a second, before giving my latest efforts at the crawl my best shot. Why can’t I do this stroke, when everyone else seems to do it so easily?
“Thank goodness no one’s around to see this,” I mutter as I revert to a respectable breaststroke. Penny is every bit as stylish in her doggy paddle as I am in my effort to master the crawl.
We share this idyllic moment, splashing and stretching our limbs. Life is good, being on my own isn’t so bad. But I suppose I am not on my own, I am out here, in an alien land living with the daughter who took not a second’s hesitation to offer me solace, when I needed it most. I wonder if I will ever be able to repay her.
She says I have already repaid her, by being there, being brave enough to make the decision to leave, and being happy.
“Come on then, Penny, time for home.” I call her and she swims towards me as I grab the sandshoes from the puddle-filled ledge. This is where it gets tricky as I head for the shallow water and stumble around trying to put the shoes on my feet.
“Ouch, that hurt,” I land on my backside, against a protruding rock, spluttering and choking as my mouth fills with water. Penny starts to bark furiously but there is no one there.
“Be quiet Penny, what the heck is the matter with you?” She ignores me and keeps on barking. That’s when I see him, standing there, my heart skips a beat, fear grips me, it’s not possible, he couldn’t know where I am, especially not down at this waterfall. My limbs tighten into a spasm of panic, I start to flounder, I lose my footing and my head crashes against another rock. Blackness overcomes me, I am safe in a world where no one can touch, bully or frighten me. Peace devours me, relaxes my mind. I drift in a world full of love, birdsong, children laughing, flowers with intoxicating perfume and candles, candles lit in darkness, offering serenity, peace and calm. A firm hand touches my arm; the barking has stopped. I struggle to open my eyes, the evening sunlight blinds me as my eyelashes flicker and I see him standing over me. I quickly pull an arm over my face, ready to protect myself.
“Sssh, baby, it’s okay. I’m here. I love you.”
Love? What does he know about love? His kind of love is what drove me to run, to grab a jet plane and fly off to another world, a world that stands still in comparison to all that I have been used to. The land of the midnight sun, where it is still daylight at midnight, something that takes a lot of getting accustomed to, but which never fails to thrill me. I open my mouth to speak, but struggle to say anything, there is nothing left to say. Penny’s barking makes my head ache.
“For God’s sake Penny, will you shut up.”
I realise he must have pulled me out of the water, when I feel the huge lump on the side of my head. How could it be, that he was here, right at the moment my life was threatened? I owe him my life, but cannot bring myself to thank him.
I console myself that for years I gave him my life, forgot about everyone else, gave up on friends who tried to make me see what he was doing to me, but was too damned stubborn to see.
Jess calls it brainwashing, just like the kids that are taken in by these religious cults. But this is me, a strong, independent person, how can it be that I was brainwashed. Or is love really that blind? It doesn’t matter now anyway, because I feel nothing for him, not a thing. But he’s saved me, pulled me from this water. Now what?
I lie there, amongst the long wispy grass, Penny comes over and sniffs my face, then lies down beside me. She’s stopped barking, I suppose I should be thankful for that. My head hurts like hell. I can hardly bear the thought of getting up. I know how much it is going to hurt. I don’t want to go home, because I don’t want him to know where I live, what a predicament. I close my eyes with my arm round Penny’s neck.
I’m back amongst the flowers with their heavy scent, perhaps I’ll stay here forever, it seems a better alternative than that really facing me.
“Meg, are you okay? What did you do? I have been watching from my window, you fall, yes?” I recognise the broken English of my neighbour Knut, a nosey old devil, who sits by his window most evenings on the other side of the river. I heave a sigh of relief, I am not alone with Robert anymore. Knut knows the story, once he realises who he is, he will protect me, I know he will.
“ You get up now?” His massive hand reaches out, and pulls me to my feet.
“You come home with me, the dog can come too. Einfried will look at your head, she is good at things like that.”
“I manage to laugh, Einfried is good at everything Knut, you are a lucky man.”
I realise we are alone, and look around.
“Knut, did you see where the man went?”
“What man, there is no man.”
“The man, who was here before you arrived, you must have seen him.”
“No, no man was here, I saw you pull yourself from the water and knew you must be hurt. You move slowly, not like normal, you move fast.”
I lean on Knut, and slowly we make our way back to the car.
“You can drive Knut, I don’t think I could manage it right now.”
Einfried is standing at the door as we arrive at their house. She is typically Norwegian, gentle, quiet. She speaks no English, but speaks to me anyway. Penny laps the bowl of water that is ever present for visiting dogs.
“You stay here tonight, and go home in the morning.” Knut barks some orders and Einfried scurries off to the spare bedroom, fluffing pillows ready to receive me.
I admit defeat and sink into a warm comfortable bed.
“Penny will be okay, I go now and see the cat for you.”
I drift lightly in and out of sleep, my responsible side nagging me that sleep is not sensible after being knocked unconscious, but I prefer sleep, to the knowledge that Robert has somehow found me. I cannot face it, not now that I have found such solace.
A gentle shuffle of feet across the wooden floor wakens me as sunlight streams in the window. I smell toast and realise a tray has been placed on the bedside table.
I lie back on my pillows, nibble on the toast and sip the deliciously hot tea, as Penny watches, waiting patiently for me to make the effort to get out of bed. I hear the distant roar of the waterfall, and the phone ringing in the lounge. I decide to stay in bed and let them have the privacy of their phone call in peace.
“I am somewhat puzzled when Knut strides into my room, closely followed by Einfried. He wears a furrowed brow and I start to panic.
“What’s wrong Knut?”
Panic grips me, something is wrong, God please don’t let it be Jess.
“Jess, she phone me just now, she tried the house, you were not there. I tell her you okay. She is going to phone you at home in half an hour, I am coming with you and so is Einfried.”
The mystery deepens, I make no effort to remonstrate and arrive back at the house to be greeted warmly by a purring cat.
The phone rings. “Mum is that you, is Knut with you? I have some bad news. I got a call last night. Mum there is no easy way to tell you this, Robert is dead, he died last night. Killed in a road accident.”
I hand the phone to Knut and walk away. “How can he be dead, when he was here, last night? He must have pulled me from the water, because I hit my head, and remember swallowing loads of the stuff before blacking out.
I recall his words, “I love you.”
Did he find me in death, when he couldn’t find me in life? So many questions.
I know he was there, I saw him, the dog saw him, she was going crazy. Am I alive because of him?
I hold my head in my hands but can find no tears.
“Thank you Robert” I whisper. I know he hears me.