ith only dark glasses and a scarf to disguise her, she quickly scurried through the side door of her hotel. Always careful enough each year to follow different streets, she darted off only after she was positively certain that no one was watching her. She was even cautious enough each year to start from a different hotel as well.
She would stride down different streets that were usually teeming with tourists. Like a busy bee bouncing from flower to flower, she would dive in and out of little shops, while at the same time cleverly changing her appearance from time to time, by adding different scarves or sunglasses, or sometimes even changing her dress. Always looking over her shoulder she insured that no one was following her. Her moves were well co-ordinated: quickly through front doors and out back ones leading to allies and side streets, as she skillfully made her serpentine route towards the docks.
This year would not be different, as she started off with a taxi down Victoria Street followed by a brisk walk through St. Thomas Circle and on to the market streets of St. Crois that were sweltering in the tropical heat. Always stopping to look behind to be sure that no one was following, she quickly disappeared in an out of shops and back door of restaurants. After many hours of this, and only when she was absolutely certain that no one was trailing her, would she even attempt to approach the docks.
Every passing, smiling shipmate, every wandering tourists, or any curious on-looker or glancing native could have been an undercover person, as she could afford to take no chances. She had to be absolutely certain that no one was trailing her. Every little detail of her trek was well planned and rehearsed, marked with numerous little secret codes and messages along the way that would have baffled even British Intelligence. Once, she was delayed for two days because of a suspicious looking character who kept following her. He turned out to be just a long tourist seeking some romance.
Only when it was dark would she make her move towards the docks. Only then did she make her way towards the Diadora, a small sailing yacht. Cautiously she approached before giving her customary tap upon the hull.
“Looking to charter a boat, madam,” whispered someone inside.
“Just a cruise around the islands,” she responded.
The small sailing boat lurched its way out of the harbour and into a dark silvery sea. She had made this crossing from London to the Virgin Islands each year, for five years in a row, but it had been almost nine years to the day that her husband, Curtis, had supposedly died in a boating accident, off the coast of Portugal. The local newspapers had reported that an eyewitness had seen her husband, putting out a fire on board his thirty-footer.
The last thing the eyewitness saw was an explosion on board, which caused the boat to burn and sink. By the time the local authorities arrived to investigate the scene of the accident, they were unable to find anything, including pieces of the wreckage or the body. Still, London newspapers reported him killed at the scene much to the disbelief of friends and family who still refused to believe it, and clung to every scrap of hope that he was alive somewhere. After nine years, however only his mother believed that he was alive, somewhere.
Indeed, his disappearance was marked by suspicions and controversy due not only to the nebulous details relating to the accident, but to Curtis’ nature itself, which was often punctuated by flamboyance and aberration. Before he had departed in his yacht, he had taken out two extra life insurance policies for a very considerable sum. This was probably the main reason why his sister believed him, at the time, to be in seclusion on some island, somewhere. Indeed, Curtis had spent the greater portion of his life living on the edge, taking chances, doing the unexpected while adapting an extravagant lifestyle, which generally suggested the notion that he had staged the entire accident. This was not an uncommon activity.
Everyone knew that Curtis was using his yacht to deal with drugs, or in the black markets, or possibly running guns between England and Morocco, or other obscure places. Many thought that he probably had reached a bad deal as something turned sour. But no one would really know for sure. After the second year without a trace, or a word, his wife, Emma also believed him to be dead.
Curtis did have a long history of rebelliousness common to most boys in Millbank, who seem to have too much bottled-up energy. In his youth, he had a propensity of performing antics upon unsuspecting burghers, and innocent things like ringing doorbells and running away, or sometimes breaking windows in derelict buildings, but nothing really serious. When his aunt took him and his cousin to the Tate Gallery, the boys had to be marched out because they were laughing at the nudes.
Every day it was something with Curtis, as he was a natural born dirty devil as his Nan used to call him. He was suspended from Millbank School when he climbed under the floorboards in the girl’s bathroom. The only thing anyone thought him good for was the army reconnaissance. But this was quickly dispelled, when it was discovered that he hated authority just as much as he hated conformity and restraint, when he quickly got into trouble.
Curtis was a tall, dark, and handsome fellow and had even attempted modeling. It seemed that not long after that, Curtis got his break in life, and was soon living a pretend existence with gold jewelry and watches, his Jaguars, and his yacht as well as his fashionable Canadian wife. He even fancied himself, after his hero, James Bond. When questioned about his expensive possessions he would casually remark that sometimes it is preferable for a man to take chances, if he wants to be really successful. Perhaps, it was one of these chances that he took which ended his life?
Curtis would have left everything behind, his home, his cars, his life, his lovely wife, everything, even his mother. But there was one thing he could not leave behind for all the money in the world, and that was his little son, Luke, who he had loved more than life itself. Still, he would have known that his son would have been well provided for, with all the insurance money. But surely he would have known that his disappearance would prove devastating to his mother, who had lost her only other son, to a drug overdose? He could not have been so callous as to forget her. His mother had survived the Blitz, broken marriages, years of servitude, but she could not live without her sons.
Emma mostly kept to herself and would not associate for some unknown reason with Curtis’ side of the family. She was really never close to them to begin with, especially now that they thought she was selfish and did not want to share any of the insurance money. For five years Emma was just like everyone else, while not knowing the real truth of the matter. She, too, firmly believed that he was dead. Then the unexpected had arrived in the post on that one rainy Saturday morning. It was a postcard that had almost become lost in all the adverts and miscellaneous mail, as it lay on her table for two days, before it fell on the kitchen floor, thereby attracting her attention.
As she reached down to pick it up there it was! She saw his indiscernible scribble in the corner, with an arrow pointing to a certain hotel where he wanted to meet her. She knew his silly little gesture, his unique coding which he had used when he wanted to have a tryst with her, when they were dating. It was Curtis and he was alive. She felt like Penelope, as she was stunned and she just stared out the window.
At first she felt like jumping with joy at knowing that he was alive, while at the same time wanting to strangle him for his cruel chicanery. She wanted to inform the authorities just to smite him, except that she still loved him and was happy knowing that they would be together again. Also there was the insurance money that she would start receiving in two years. Perhaps there was more to the story that she did not know? Perhaps there was some secret that only Curtis had known; something that she did not. Only she would find out as she quickly booked a flight, the next day, to the Virgin Islands.
But that was years ago. Now she is rich and independent with all her insurance monies. Her son, now a teenager, goes to the finest school in Westminster. She has a nice home in Chelsea and the two Jags that Curtis left behind. Not bad for a girl raised in the flats on Lupus Street. She can sojourn once a year in the Virgin Islands, much to the chagrin of his relatives.
As she entered the yacht, as it pulled away to sea, a man appeared from below. Right away she could discern the familiar appearance of her husband. It was Curtis. Quickly they embraced one another.
“Curtis! Good to see you.”
But something in both of them was oddly different, as both of them seemed to sense it. Emma appeared more controlled and reserved in her responses, as if she were holding something back: not wanting to kiss him rigorously as she had once done.
She said to him, with an affected manner, “Are you okay?”
“You look different, Emma. You’re wearing your hair longer.”
“It’s getting more greyer now. We both have changed but you look different, as well. I’ve never seen you with a beard, and look how tanned you are. You make me look like a ghost. The tropics have agreed with you, Curtis.”
“Are you sure no one followed you?”
“You ask me that every year. No I wasn’t followed. I’m getting pretty good at this undercover game of ours.”
“It’s no game. You still look the same Emma.”
“So do you, Curtis. I am glad to see that you are healthy.”
“How’s my son, Luke, and my family?”
“They are all fine. I brought some snaps. Here!” As she fumbled through her handbag for the pictures, Curtis saw that besides the snaps and the cigarettes, she had a handgun as well.
“What do you think you are doing with that?” he asked facetiously, knowing that she hated guns and did not know how to use them. “How did you get it?”
“Do you think it is safe, for a single girl, traipsing all over this bloody uncivilized land?”
“You haven’t changed a bit, Emma. Can I see the pictures?”
“Here they are. Your boy looks more and more like you every year,” she said staring at the picture of his son, as she moved closer to the light. Curtis had changed a little since she had last seen him. He had grown a little balder and had gained some weight. Curtis gazed intently at the pictures of the son he had not seen in almost ten years.
As Emma lit a cigarette, Curtis could sense something peculiarly different in Emma, something beneath her appearance, though she still looked the same; with her brown hair that seemed visibly lighter with grey, though her eyes, greener than any ocean, still retained their youthfulness. Perhaps her love could not be sustained by each yearly rendezvous, he thought.
“He misses you, though he was too young to remember you. I still tell him all about you and how wonderful we – ” She stopped suddenly as her voice lowered. After inhaling some smoke from her cigarette she said, “Curtis, I can’t keep it up. I can’t keep playing this charade of ours. It is too hard on me. Every time I look at your son, it makes me want to cry because I can’t tell him the truth. It is not fair. It is not fair at all, especially with your mother, who literally hates me by now. I can’t bear to even look at her.”
“He’s a good-looking boy,” he said unaffectedly while not taking his eyes from the picture. “I miss him so very much as well. You don’t know how hard it is for me not being able to see him again. I miss my mother and sister as well. At least you can go back to them, but I can’t. I’m bloody well stuck here. I would give anything just to talk to him, just once. I never – ”
“This was you idea, remember?” Emma said interrupting him.
“It was for you and him that I had to do – ”
“Don’t tell me that again, because I don’t believe it,” she said visibly ruffled as she inhaled her cigarette.
“It’s true. You were in danger. I was afraid that if I didn’t come up with the money – why they would do something horrible to you and – ”
“Yes, yes, I know.” Silence.
After putting out her cigarette she turned and continued, “And your mother is getting worse. We don’t speak much any more, mainly because I cannot pretend to her. Besides, she accused me of being just a rich bitch that has nothing better to do with your money than take these cruises, as she calls them, each year. Damn, would I like to tell her just one time.”
“How is she?”
“She still burns a candle for you Curtis, and refuses to believe that you are dead.”
“But I’m not dead!”
“But you are dead, don’t you see?” she said. There was silence as they stared intently at one another.
“Your mother is the only one left who still thinks you are alive. She even frequents a physic. Can you believe it? He even told her, ‘I can see him holding hands with an island girl.’ I had to keep from laughing but still your mother holds on to you Curtis.”
“You didn’t did you Emma?”
“You should have told me the truth.”
“There wasn’t time,” he said, almost clamouring at her.
“Time? Time is all we have now. I tried to convince your mother that you were dead, but she only became irate, especially now since she drinks a lot. We don’t talk much any more because, frankly, I cannot bear it. Why, I think she even blames me for your death! She even told me once that you were fed up with me because I was too domineering, and that was the real reason you left. Did you tell her you were tired of me, Curtis?”
“No Emma. I swear it. I told you that I was in a jam and that I cared more for you and Luke. I had to do something.”
“I know. I know.”
Curtis tried to hug Emma and to reach out for her affection, but she pulled away almost disgustedly.
“Perhaps some things do change after all?” he said rather ruefully.
“What did you expect? It’s hard doing this year after year, only seeing you for a couple of days in these clandestine meetings, like we are a couple of teenagers sneaking behind our parents’ back. Isn’t that ironic? I used to do the same years ago, when we first met, because I was afraid to tell father about you because I knew he would not – but that was a long time ago. We can never live normal lives. We can never be able to share our love with others. It’s hard, Curtis. Sometimes I wish – ”
“Wish what? That I would have really died? That would have been easier for you, wouldn’t it?” he asked, while staring at her, as she turned to gaze towards the cabin floor and remained silent. “I know it must be hard on you Emma, harder than I ever deemed it would.”
“You just don’t know, Curtis. Things have not worked out as you have planned. I can’t keep this up all my life. We can never have a normal life together.”
“Perhaps you can come more often?”
“You know that would raise suspicions. I have a hard enough time explaining why I come on holiday here, year after year. Everyone thinks I am squandering your insurance money now.”
“About the insurance money – ” he asked in a condescending manner.
“What about it?”
“I am having a difficult time earning money out here. Can you spare me about three hundred pounds?”
“Would you like for me to write you a cheque?”
“Same Emma. But I need some of that insurance money at least a fourth of it to – ”
“Not a pound. That money belongs to your son, now. He is the future and we live on a budget just like everyone else.”
“Come on, at least a fifth of it?”
“Nothing – that’s final!”
“You are a witch,” he said as he turned a poured a drink of brandy.
“Come Curtis, I didn’t come all this way just for you to call me names.”
“You’ve changed, Emma.”
“Can we be honest with each other, Curt?” she said while turning around to gaze through one of the portholes, out upon the darkened moonlit sea where a few remote stars seemed to dangle upon the edge of nothingness.
“Of course, Emma, anything.”
“I can’t go on like this year after years, it’s – ”
“You’ve met someone else, haven’t you?
I can see it in your eyes,” he said catching her quite off-guard.
Not knowing how to answer she muttered, “Well there is this Canadian chap who has been – but it is not only that. Your son needs a full-time father, at least someone who can care about him on a daily basis. Someone who can take him to the football matches, someone who will be there for him, when he needs – I can’t be a dad to him as well.”
“I understand,” Curtis acquiesced.
“It’s not like that, Curtis.”
“You never were one to endure hardships were you?”
“Hardship? You call this hardship? Sometimes this is worse than being a real widow but I’m sorry Curtis, really I am,” she said sympathetically.
“There’s nothing to be sorry about really. I should have expected it sooner or later, I guess. I really understand. I don’t blame you. There were some things I never considered, or even thought about at the time, things like how people can change. This can be even worse than death. You don’t know how I suffer each night, being away from all of you, not to mention away from England, my home, especially during the holidays.”
“I’m sorry, Curtis.”
“Does he love you like I loved you?”
“It’s not the same. It’s not like that. He is a Canadian and works in my office. He was just someone who was always there when I needed him,” she said apprehensively, while lighting another cigarette.
“Like helping you into bed I bet?”
She said nothing while protractedly staring at him as she inhaled her cigarette. “I guess all along I knew that these meetings could not satisfy your desires, Emma.”
“Satisfy my desires? Do you think that that is all it is? It is not like that, Curtis.”
“Really, I’m sorry for you.”
“Why did you even come at all?”
“Don’t be cruel, Curt. You forget what I’m risking as well, by coming here. What if I were to get caught?”
“I knew that it would be hard for you to maintain a marriage like this.”
“Like this? How could anyone? I mean any woman needs someone with them, for support. You understand? Remember this was your idea not mine and you kept it a secret for five years: not even telling me! You probably wouldn’t have except – I don’t know anymore. Nothing makes sense anymore.”
“I must have thought that the short time we have each year would stretch – I don’t know. I didn’t think much about it. I thought things would be different that all.”
“You were always a hopeless dreamer and you still are. What we had in England, our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our love, everything is just a memory now. For all practical purposes you are dead.”
“I thought that one day you and Luke would come join me here.”
“Not a chance! Get real. I couldn’t do that nor would it be fair to Luke. How could you even suggest that idea, Curt?”
“I always thought things would be the same, but I see people as well as places change beyond recognition, and the most horrible of horrors is knowing that we are absolutely helpless to do anything about it, as we, too, get washed upon a shore. When we are young we are foolish and proud, but when we grow older we realize that there is nothing worth grabbing onto, in the decomposing world.”
“I don’t know about that. You are just getting older, that’s all.”
“And a fool as well.”
“But I did not come all this way to argue with you Curtis. I want to tell you that this is the last time I’m coming here. I’m sorry Curt but I hope you’ll understand. I’m getting older as well and I can’t keep this up.”
“There is nothing to be sorry about, really. I should have expected it sooner or later. I understand.”
“Do you? Do you know how hard it is, living a lie, wondering how you are and not being able to tell anyone? Do you know what it is like, living for five years not knowing whether you were alive or not? Then these meetings with you here, once a year. It’s unbearable. This is not a life. Even for you, you need someone to take care of you, someone – ”
“There is someone, some native girl, no one really, sort of just came into my life a few years ago. She got pregnant and – ”
“You bastard! While I was at home worrying about you, you were here mucking about with some native girl. The psychic was right after all!”
“It was not like that. I love you Emma and always have.”
“Who is this girl? Well – it doesn’t matter I suppose. You might as well tell the whole truth. This will be the last time we talk.”
“There’s something else I have to tell you Emma. I’ve been thinking about it, night and day, for the last two years. I have reached the end of my rope. I, too, can’t go on like this. It is worse than hell. I feel really dead inside. Everything was wrong, one bid mistake. The truth is I don’t care anymore, about anything: even about this charade. I want to go home. I don’t care!”
“You’re talking foolish. Curt, you can’t. You know that.”
“I don’t care. I can’t live any more without seeing my boy and my family. I don’t care what they will do to me.”
“You’ll go to prison!” she threatened.
“I don’t care what they’ll do to me, even if they lock me up and chuck away the key, it would be better than this. I tell you I can’t take it!”
“You can’t? Get a grip on yourself,” she said in disbelief, as she put out her cigarette in an ashtray, and poured a drink from one of the battles in the cabin. After a shot of brandy she continued.
“Think about Luke and his life. He has a bright future, now that we have the money, from your insurance, for him to go to school in Westminster. He’s a proper gentleman now. He’ll lose everything if you come back.”
“But he’ll gain a father and having a father is more important than all the finest schools in Britain.”
“We’ll lose everything and you’ll be disgraced. No one will want you or have anything to do with you again.”
“I miss my boy more than all the gold these seas hold. Be realistic Emma. You know that if you were to tell Luke the truth, you know what he would prefer. A boy needs his dad. He’s all I have now. Nothing else matters.” Emma turned her back to Curtis.
“I feel like Christian Fletcher out here,” he continued.
“But even he knew enough never to return to England. Besides it is not all that bad out – ”
“But I have a plan, which I know will work with your help.”
“Plan? What plan?” she asked pensively.
“With your help I’ll tell them that I had amnesia due to the explosion. After all these years I finally remember – ”
“It won’t work. It’s silly and besides you never were a good liar. No one would believe it. You can’t go on hurting people, Curtis. You can’t.”
“What do you mean? I haven’t deliberately hurt anyone,” he said, turning his back to her as he poured some more brandy in a glass. Emma reached inside her bag and pulled out the handgun and pointed it at him.
“There is more that you do not know. I’m sorry. I can’t let you come home,” she said while Curtis with his back to her drank his brandy. He was about to say something when she fired. She fired about three times as his body slumped to the cabin floor.
“Some things never change, Curtis.”
She then dragged his body to the edge of the boat and threw him overboard along with the handgun and the brandy glasses. “Sweet dreams, sweet prince!”
His yacht was only a few hundred yards off the coast. She lowered a small dinghy into the water and quickly paddled ashore. She could see lights in the distance. She had no trouble making her way back to the hotel room. Two days later on her turned flight to England one of the flight attendants asked him, “Did you enjoy your stay in the Virgin Islands, madam?”
“Not really. I don’t think I’ll ever come back again. This June, my husband and I are going to Florida.”
“Oh, Florida, nice place. I’ve been there a few times. There is much to see. Shall I get you anything?”
“Nothing. I’m fine now.”
THE YEARLY TRYST by Clinton Van Inman
Clinton Van Inman can be contacted at:CLINTON92026@yahoo.com
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