I glanced up from the screen, resting my eyes and easing stiffened shoulder muscles. This job, editing copy for a company based in London is easy but tedious. It fits in though with the other things I like to do, the beach walks and gardening and most importantly going down to the nursing home. I am not keen on the job but I enjoy being in my office.
I love my home actually, I am very lucky. It has been in my family for four generations now and after the horrible time over the last few years it has taken me back, wrapped its solid stone bulk around me and held me safe.
The garden is old and shady with gnarly trees and herbs tucked into the few corners that catch the sun. There is a wooden gate set in the middle of the stone wall and it leads directly into the dunes. The front of the house is where the main gate and the parking and so on are but this little back garden and what the family always called the “beach gate” felt magical to me as a child and thrills me still.
This morning the winter sun is sparkling on the rippling ocean and lighting the tips of the beach grasses as they sway back and forth in the breeze. The gulls are spiralling and drifting, their grey wings bending and tilting in the air movement. This beach, not really mine except in my mind and my heart, never gets too busy. The holiday people prefer the bigger beach round the edge of the headland. There, in the summer are ice creams and boats for hire and laughter and kites but this little place is quiet and calm nearly all the time. Occasionally more adventurous picnic parties will make their way up here and set down amongst the dunes and I watch them and feel benevolent and gracious as I allow them into my fiefdom. In the winter it is rare to see anyone and so I was intrigued when I saw the figure down near the water.
My eye was captured by the man. He was slight and graceful, dressed in trousers, maybe jeans too indistinct in this light to really tell and a loose top. He looked familiar and stirred something deep in me but I couldn’t say what. He walked slowly hands thrust into his pockets and his head lowered. He didn’t seem to be taking in his surroundings or enjoying the play of light on the water and the dance of the gulls but just moving in the landscape like a piece of flotsam on the tide. His feet splashed in the lying water and, occasionally he changed his direction to avoid a patch of weed or some other small obstacle, but as I watched it struck me that he could have been anywhere he seemed so untouched by his surroundings.
The computer chimed and I flicked my eyes down briefly to see the email indicator flashing, a quick glance nothing more and then back up to the window. The figure had gone. I turned my head back and forth and standing on my toes peered towards the garden wall wondering if he had come up to the house. There was no sign of him. I was puzzled but the computer chimed again and the clock in the hall told me it was time to get back to work if I was to finish today’s schedule before I went off to the nursing home. Sometimes when the visit is particularly difficult I can’t face the computer afterwards so it’s best to have it all done by the time I leave.
Today as soon as I walked into the room I knew it had been a bad day. The curtains were closed and Geoff was in bed with the covers over his head. They only let him hide in his bed if they have had to increase his medication to the maximum. It knocks him for six then and its no good trying to keep him awake. His nurse said that he had been disturbed earlier and started ranting and throwing things and they had needed to sedate him. They couldn’t say what might have started it but he had been calling my name over and over and they had been on the verge of telephoning when he had suddenly calmed and then crawled into his bed and slept wrapped deep in the covers, hiding from his demons.
My lovely husband, my darling Geoff so spoilt and broken by whatever horror had taken possession of his brilliant mind to hold him in thrall for what was it now, six years. All our dreams shattered, our plans destroyed. This married widowhood was not how I had seen our “golden years” after all the time we had spent planning our return to the house. We were to walk together on the sand and sit in the dunes watching the diamonds on the water. Before we had a chance to enjoy any of it something had invaded his brain and taken his senses and no-one could say when or even if he would come back.
I sat with him for a while but he didn’t stir and so I came home early. I felt particularly lonely. Mostly I have learned to cope with it all and if I have been able to hold his hand, make him smile perhaps and feel that we have connected it’s okay, well maybe not okay but better. I cling to the hope that one day he’ll be with me and we will sit together on our little balcony outside the dining room and watch the sun as it blesses the water with crimson beauty but today it felt hopeless and endless and I cried a little.
He was there again today, the figure on the water’s edge progressing in his oblivion through the sandy ripples, his head lowered and his hands deep in his pockets. I watched him as he made his way nearly all the way along the beach and then I turned to check the time and when I looked back he was gone again. I went out through the beach gate and down to the edge of the waves. There was no sign of him anywhere in the dunes or up on the headland. He must have been nearer to the edge of the water than it appeared because his footprints had already been obliterated.
Geoff was no better. They told me that he had been very disturbed again at about the same time in the afternoon and so again I could only sit and look at the hump of him under the covers in the darkened room. The doctors think that this is a worrying sign but they will change his pills, try something new, keep on hoping. They smile and pat my shoulder but we all know that we have so little control over this thing and so we simply keep on keeping on and pretend to each other that it will all come out right in the end.
I had no work today but as the time came near, when I had seen him the last two days I was drawn to the office window. I stood with my jacket pulled tightly around me and watched. He wouldn’t come today, it was raining. Sharp driving rain blown by an unkind wind that was stirring up the graphite ocean and flinging the spume into the air in temper. I watched for a few moments but of course he wouldn’t come not in this weather.
I bent to turn on the computer, check my mail and when I stood again there he was. His clothes looked the same no jacket had been added or hat and he walked at his usual unhurried pace. His head was bent a little lower against the wind but that was the only surrender to the elements. He paced half way along the beach and then turned, I was mesmerised. What was he doing there in the awful weather and where was he going. He raised his head and stared at the house and then his arm lifted and stretched towards the window where I stood, breath stilled skin crawling with goosebumps. As he pointed at the house I recognised him – Geoff.
I flew from the room took the stairs unheeding and flung out of the back door. How could this be, what had happened? How could my poor deranged husband have escaped from the home, how could he have travelled here it was fifteen minutes by car and in this weather. I grabbed a blanket on my way through the sun room, he would be frozen and sodden.
I became aware that I was calling out his name as I ran. I flung through the garden, my fingers already slick, argued with the latch on the gate but then I was out in the dunes and running for the beach.
He had gone. I ran forward head twisting back and forth my eyes squinting in the driving rain, but there was no sign of him. I staggered along the water’s edge. searching the dunes and the headland path. He was here somewhere, I had seen him moments before. I searched for long, long minutes calling his name, running back and forth uselessly up and down the dunes and the steps back to the gate which was slamming in the increasing wind. I had to find him quickly he was under-dressed and in his fragile state he couldn’t take this assault on his body.
He just wasn’t there.
I dashed back in to the house snatched up the phone.
“Woodlands Nursing Home. How may I help you?”
“This is Mrs Blakely, I need to speak to Doctor Jones, now quickly now.”
“Just one moment I will try to put you through to his secretary”
“No, no this is urgent I need to speak to the doctor right now, quickly. Now for goodness sake.”
“Hold on Mrs Blakely.”
“Hello Mrs Blakely, Doctor Jones here what can we do for you.”
“Geoff he’s here, out in the wind, in the rain on the beach. What is going on, how can he be here?”
“Mrs Blakely try to keep calm. Geoff is here, he is in his room.”
“I’ve just seen him, how could you let this happen, he’s here out in the cold in the rain, get the police we need to find him.”
“Mrs Blakely he is here, he is in his room I have just been with him.”
“When, when did you see him?”
“Less than five minutes ago. He has had another bad afternoon I’m afraid we have had to sedate him again. He was very disturbed he was calling for you again. Look I think the best thing that we can do is for you to come down. Are you fit to drive you sound very agitated.”
“I’m fine; I’m coming down there now.”
He was there, in his room. Well, the bump in his bed was there, the light was dimmed and the curtains closed but they assured me that it was Geoff and I lifted the edge of the covers to glimpse his dark head the little flecks of grey and his dear hand cushioning his cheek.
What a fool, I saw a man in the rain on the beach and ran about like an idiot ended up soaked through and shouting at the doctor on the phone.
The night was wild with wind and raucous with the driving rain. The old house shuddered under the onslaught. The loose window rattled and the doors creaked as the draughts sneaked under and around the old wood. Tossing and turning under the duvet my mind unsettled by the happenings of the afternoon I couldn’t sleep. In the end I gave up and decided to try and do some work and get ahead of my schedule so that tomorrow I could maybe go into town for lunch and try to lighten my mood.
I switched on the small desk lamp and opened the wooden shutters on the inside of the windows to let in the windswept moonlight. I could see down there beyond the stone wall that the sea was churning and roiling, the white horses gleaming under the cloud streaked sky. I shivered. My beach was unfriendly tonight, the wet sand glowing darkly.
There he was.
He walked head down along the water line, the moonlight picked out his dim shape and then the scudding clouds wrapped him in darkness. I didn’t stop to think, the next moment I was out there on the beach running towards him, it was my Geoff.
As I came within a few feet of him my breathing was suspended. Geoff, he was whole and strong before me his arms reached to me and he smiled, his teeth white in the dimness of the moon. I went into his embrace and he held me, oh how I remembered this, the feel of his lips on my hair his hands on my back his body strong and hard against me. Geoff.
He pulled back, his lips met mine warm and gentle. I raised my gaze to his, I didn’t question this reality he was here in my arms he was real and solid and mine. His eyes were shining with tears that now flowed down his cheeks as he released me and stepped back. His arms stretched towards me now his hands clasping mine. I couldn’t speak. He stepped beyond my reach and back and back. The water was up to his knees. I stood on the sand racked with sobs, possessed entirely by grief my face sodden with rain, spray and endless, pointless tears. Back and back he went to his waist, to mid chest and by now the waves were reaching his head. His hair was a shining helmet, the sea streaming over his body and then the waves covered him, they receded once, just one more glimpse of his face and then he was gone. The sea roared on as my screams were snatched away by the wind.
I don’t know how long I stood on the wet sand, whipped by the elements, shivering and soaked and stricken with grief. Eventually I returned to some sort of sense and turned away from the ocean. Reaching the house I heard the phone in the hallway.
“Mrs Blakely. This is Doctor Jones. I am sorry Mrs Blakely I’m afraid I have sad news for you. We have lost Geoff, a few minutes ago. It was so unexpected. It was peaceful and he didn’t seem to be in any distress. I need to talk to you but don’t come now. If you are up to it come in tomorrow early. Are you alright? Can I do anything? Is there someone I can call for you?”
“It’s fine doctor. I’m fine. I’ll see you tomorrow about eight if that’s okay. It’s all okay now. Everything is fine now. Thank you.”