By Madeline Dando. [email protected].
Telephone number 01953603363 Mobile 07884963733
An army of tiny pins crept over Sophie’s flesh. She was scared of the water and dreaded being cooped up on a boat. Jordan was packing their luggage into his car, while she made sure no holiday essentials were left behind.
‘Where are you woman? I don’t want to be late,’ he shouted. Wearing his black leather trousers and thick orange jumper, he sat on the bonnet, fiddling with his keys. Sophie heard his angry voice through the open door.
She reminded her twin girls of the chores that needed doing. Jasmine and Suzanne were sixteen.
‘I hate leaving them, Jordan; you know what kids are like.’
‘I know what your daughters are like. They’re a couple of lazy, untidy brats.’
Sophie sighed. Jordan used to be loving, considerate and full of fun, and she adored him. However, in recent months he had become impatient, intolerant and aggressive. She still loved him, but worried he might have developed a mental health issue. At least at home she could run into another space to avoid his ranting, but on the Norfolk Broads she would be trapped. Sophie rushed to the car in her floral blouse and skinny, navy slacks. She carried two grey holdalls, with her white handbag draped over her shoulder.
‘Come on, woman, we’ll never get going.’ Jordan’s voice was harsh. He had lost his kindness and while driving away from East London he was still berating the kids. ‘I’m glad they’re not my flesh and blood. They spend most of their time in bed or on their phones. I would make them clean the house and do their own washing.’
‘You’ve never liked them.’
‘It’s not my fault their father died. I keep a roof over their head, don’t I? They’re well fed and clothed, but they’re never grateful for anything. Never mind, you’ll not have to put up with them for much longer.’
‘What do you mean, not for much longer?’
‘One day they’ll have to fend for themselves. It might be sooner than they think,’ he said.
Sophie was shocked. He didn’t usually play mind games and she was worried enough about
The boat without this complication. ‘You still haven’t told me why you want this holiday?’
‘I’m forty next week. It’s my birthday present,’ Jordan replied with a smirk.
‘Yes, but why the Norfolk Broads?’
‘I told you, it’s for my birthday.’
‘No! It’s more than that, I know it is. Are you trying to punish me for something?’ Jordan was so amused, he could not stop laughing. ‘What could you possibly have done to upset me?’ His eyes were wide open and his brows raised.
‘Everything I do upsets you.’
‘Please Sophie! Let me concentrate on the road.’
Sophie was glad to reach their destination, the River Bure in Norfolk. The air was different.
Sophie breathed in and exhaled. She didn’t particularly like the smell, but it was better than
London’s vehicle fumes.
‘What’s the pong?’ she asked the car park attendant. He was sitting in a wooden hut no bigger than a telephone box.
‘Oilseed rape, mam, blowing off the fields. I don’t like it either - it gets in the back of my throat. ‘The wind is freshening from the East Coast and its bite will be as spiteful as barbed wire.’
‘Hurry up, Sophie. Look, someone’s waving his arms at us. I can see the name on the vessel moored behind him. It’s ‘Sleep Easy’ - that’s our boat’
Jordan marched ahead, carrying their two large brown suitcases.
‘I’m walking as fast as I can. It’s my sandals. They keep slipping on the mud.’
‘You’re always complaining, woman. Why couldn’t you wear some proper shoes?’
The river was calm and a bevy of swans gathered close by. Sophie, breathing heavily, briefly relaxed. She smiled, watching a little girl in a bright red raincoat feeding the birds. They gobbled up pieces of toasted bread from her tiny hand.
A large passenger boat approached the jetty and sounded its siren. It towered above the boats for hire and tiny ripples on the water turned into small waves. ‘Sleep easy’ rocked up and down and the birds moved away.
‘I don’t like it, Jordan. I’m not sure I can do it. Look! Over there, something has come off the boat, that’s just gone under the bridge.’
‘I think it’s some kind of panel,’ he said, peering into the water.
A man with thick eyelashes and a brush beard waited to welcome Sophie and Jordan aboard. He was the owner. ‘It often happens when the river is high and inexperienced holiday makers are here,’ he said. ‘There’s a large sign telling people to keep to the centre of the bridge, but some think they know better.’
Sophie cringed as the owner took hold of her arm and, reluctantly, she leapt over a gap of about thirty centimetres onto the boat. Her heart was beating as fast as a cat marooned in a tree as the boat moved from side to side. She could hear the water swirling under her feet. ‘All the living quarters are down those three narrow steps,’ he said, pointing in front of him. Sophie’s anxiety increased further, but then her lips curled with glee. She was slim and enjoyed watching Jordan squeeze his flabby waste through the gap.
‘I said you should lose weight; health-wise you must be a ticking time bomb.’
‘When your blond hair bob loses its colour, I don’t tell you to get your roots done do I?’ he retorted.
‘That’s different. I’m talking about your health. I would never mention your hair, even though it curls like wood shavings in the rain.’
The owner waited patiently with his arms folded to show Jordan the controls and, within half an hour, they were on their way. Sophie sat still with her life jacket clipped tightly around her body. She tried to leave her fears behind, but was too frightened to close her eyes. Every little movement disturbed her and Jordan seemed intent on upsetting her. ‘More tea, woman! Driving this thing is thirsty work.’ He knew she would have to stand up and struggle to get below.
‘I’ll make it for you in a flask tomorrow and you can pour it yourself,’ she said; as she slowly stepped into the cabin.
‘I hope those kids of yours don’t leave the gas on. We lost the budgie last time; thank God the cat was out.’
For once Sophie agreed, but Jordan’s thought process disturbed her. ‘Are you going to tell me why you want this holiday?’
Jordan was silent, his face still, but his dark penetrating eyes told her there was a motive. His mood was scary.
Time passed quickly. The sun set in a crimson sky and the air cooled. Accompanying the darkness was a strengthening wind. The birds were resting and there was a hush through the trees.
‘I can’t find anywhere to moor up. All the designated areas are occupied,’ said Jordan.
‘I’m frightened,’ said Sophie.
‘Shut up, woman! You’re frightened of every bloody thing.’
Small spots of rain peppered the glass roof and without warning, vivid lightning tore through the gathering clouds. Sophie put her hands over her ears and counted to three before the force of nature ripped through the air. She screamed as the deafening thunder exploded above them. ‘I’m going to tie up over there.’ Jordan pointed to a wooden post by the bank, away from the general flow of traffic. It was near some thick rushes and there was a rowing boat with a huge hole in the bottom turned upside down on the bank. ‘I’m not sure we should stop there. I don’t like it.’
‘Shut up! There’s nowhere else. You’d better be ready to help me.’
More lightning lit up a wooded area close to them as Sophie gazed out of a window. ‘Look! Someone’s left an axe embedded in a tree. Why would anybody leave it there? We can’t stay here,’ she shouted.
‘You’re being hysterical, Sophie. Calm down. It’s probably for tree cutting. I suppose you’re going to worry about that now? Quick, give me the rope. I don’t want the current taking us further down the broad.’
Sophie was shaking so much she fumbled with it.
‘Give me the bloody rope, woman. I can’t moor up without it.’
She slipped while handing it over. Only by grabbing a handrail did she prevent herself from falling into the broad.
Jordan laughed watching her struggle to regain her footing. ‘It’s those bloody sandals! Will you ever learn?’
When the boat was secured they ate hot tomato soup and bread. It tasted fishy, like the smell that lingered in the cabin. Sophie did not expect any sleep that night, but her light slumbering was interrupted by a thrashing noise on top of the boat. She shot out of the bed covers with a jolt. Her heart felt like it was running for its life.
‘What’s that?’ she said as the peculiar sounds intensified. There were scratchings and scrapings.
Jordan came out of a deep sleep to find her shaking with a pillow over her ears. ‘What is it? asked Sophie. ‘I’m really frightened. The man might have come back for his axe and perhaps he doesn’t like us being here. Maybe he’s attacking us.’
‘Don’t be stupid. Why would anyone come here in a storm and when it’s dark?’
There was a violent thump above and they both looked up expecting something to come through the roof at any second. ‘Please, Jordan, you’ll have to find out what it is. I’m terrified.’
Jordan reluctantly put on some shorts. He eased his large frame up the stairs and, without making a sound, undid the two bolts securing the door. Inch by inch he pushed it open as
Sophie held her breath and clenched her fists.
‘You can stop worrying, woman. We’re being attacked by tree branches, that’s all. They’ve been bent over by the wind.’
Back downstairs they lay silently together. Sophie wanted Jordan’s arms around her, but he turned his face toward the window. The storm had moved away, but she lay awake open-eyed, listening to every creak and worried about the slightest movement of the water.
In the morning, Jordan awoke and stretched his arms way above his head. ‘Look, the sun’s up. It’s going to be a scorcher in more ways than one,’ said Jordan, laughing out loud. For a man so angry most of the time, he was remarkably cheerful. Sophie was tired and irritable. Her nerves re-surfaced and she was at boiling point. She couldn’t control her emotions and burst into tears.
‘What is it, woman? Don’t you ever stop?’
‘I can’t go on like this. You’ve starved me of affection, treated me like a slave and humiliated me for far too long. Why?’
Jordan’s face lit up, red with rage. His eyes were like beacons. ‘You know why, don’t you? On today of all days are you really seeking an explanation?’
Sophie was aghast and fearful. ‘You never speak about it, Jordan. Why don’t you ever mention his name?’ she asked.
‘Alright, I’ll say it. Greg died at 11.07 on the 18th August 2013. He was only one year old, and you killed him. Do you want me to repeat it?’
‘You’ll never understand, will you? It’s done, I can’t turn the clock back? I only left the door open for a second. You’ve done it a hundred times, you know you have. The telephone rang and I thought Greg was inside. The next thing I knew there was a screech of brakes and when I looked behind me he was lying in the road. It still seems like yesterday. You’ve been punishing me ever since. Will you ever be able to forgive me?’
‘Forgive you? You stole his life. You might as well have pushed him into the road yourself.’
‘It was an accident, Jordan, the most awful accident. I’m pleading with you.’ More tears spilled from her eyes.
‘It’s all about you, isn’t it? Poor little Sophie. You’ve no idea how much I have been hurting, have you?’
‘I know you’ve been grieving, Jordan. It seems like you’ve not shown any emotion since the day Greg died, except to take out your anger on me. For a while I didn’t mind. I was prepared to put up with your moods and acts of aggression because I love you. But they’ve got progressively worse. It’s like you’re a different person.’
For the first time Sophie saw tears flow down Jordan’s cheeks.
‘Let me comfort you,’ she said taking hold of his hand, but he tugged it away.
‘Do you think my affection would ease your pain or take away your guilt? How selfish can you be?’ he raged.
‘I want to do something, anything, to make our lives better,’ said Sophie.
‘There’re some things that can never be undone.’ Jordan gritted his teeth. He was winding himself up into a frenzy. ‘I don’t know how you can live with yourself. You’re a deceitful, cow,’ he bellowed.
‘What do you mean? You’re frightening me, Jordan!’
‘Do you remember the large congregation in the church?’
‘Of course I do. How can I ever forget it? And the sight of Greg’s little coffin laid out in the aisle will haunt me forever.’
‘As we made our way outside, there was a man sitting in the back pew crying. His face was bowed, and he was sobbing. It was as if his whole world had been destroyed.’
‘I’ve read about people who love funeral services, but surely no-one would want to intrude on a congregation mourning a young child,’ said Sophie.
‘I wanted to know why he was upset. You were being comforted by your daughters, so I made an excuse of needing to do a shoelace up and you left the church without me. Do you remember that?’
Sophie nodded, watching Jordan’s shoulders tense up. He clenched his fists, his anger ready to burst.
‘The man was well dressed in a pinstripe black suit. He had shiny shoes and greasy black hair, but what I’ll always remember is the long birthmark on his left cheek.’
Sophie froze. Her body was as rigid as a rod of steel.
Jordan’s face was pitted and sweaty as he waited for her to speak. Sophie was terrified with him towering in front of her and she broke down in tears. She buried her head in the palms of her hands, her fingers pressing into her face.
‘Do I have to repeat it, Sophie? Maybe he’s got some other distinguishing birthmarks hidden away. You’d know, wouldn’t you?’ Jordan shouted, using the weight in his legs to rock the boat.
Sophie shook like a dog on Guy Fawkes Night.
‘Look at me,’ Jordan commanded.
Raising her head, she saw his steely eyes. They looked like cannons waiting to fire.
‘How have you lived with yourself, Sophie?
‘I could say the same about you, Jordan. You’ve known about Justin all this time. It’s been two years, two bloody years. What’s the point in bringing it up now? Do you want me to plead for forgiveness again?’
‘What could you possibly say that would console me? Would you tell me it was a mistake, you were drunk or even that old cliché, ‘it didn’t mean anything’?’
Jordan calmed his voice and slumped into a chair. ’I’m not interested in your sordid affair, but I want to know why Justin allowed me to bring up his son?’
Sophie dried her face with a tartan tea cloth that hung on a hook in the galley. She sunk on a bench at the kitchen table, her body was trembling. ‘I don’t think I will ever truly understand it. I met him in the supermarket, a chance meeting when I dropped a packet of cereal and he picked it up.’
‘How noble of him and how convenient.’
‘After that, I saw him in the food shop every week. I was always there at the same time before driving the children from school and we often chatted. Sometimes we had coffee, too.
I know I shouldn’t have done it, but he made me feel special and we laughed a lot, like you and I did when we first got married.’
‘It’s so long ago I can hardly remember,’ he said.
‘We fell in love, Jordan, but he’s in the air force and he was going away to Scotland. We were both devastated and made love in his car. It was the only time and we both knew our relationship wasn’t going anywhere. I never wanted to destroy our family life, and Justin wouldn’t let me anyway.’
‘How did Justin come to know you were pregnant?’
‘I had his military address and decided to tell him.’
‘You wanted to be with him, didn’t you?’
‘It was an impossible situation. I could have left you and he would have supported me, but he made the hard decision to let me and his baby go.’
‘This is all very touching, but you didn’t let him go, did you?’
‘When Greg died I decided to tell Justin, but I didn’t expect him to attend the funeral and I didn’t see him.’
Jordan’s anger once more built up inside him. ‘You’re lying to me Sophie! Your little secret back-fired on you. When Justin found out you were pregnant, he dumped you.’
‘No! That’s not true. He said he wouldn’t come between a man and his wife, but he loved me.’
‘You’re a disgusting woman. After your sordid fling, you manipulated me to look after another man’s child. Greg never knew his real father and you’ve made me live the most awful lie. Jordan paused. ‘Well, not anymore.’
‘I still love you,’ said Sophie, but he was a broken man.
Sneering at her, he reached into his suitcase lying on the floor. He picked up a brown package and laid it on a table. Sophie sat rigid as he unwrapped several layers of paper before unrolling a well-worn cloth. Inside was a blue-coloured bottle, the smell of its contents carefully contained.
‘Arghhhh!’ screamed Sophie when he unscrewed the top and the fumes hit her. It was petrol.
‘Please, Jordan, this isn’t right,’ she pleaded, but he had lost his mind.
‘You think you’ve been so clever playing the loving wife, tending to my every need. Did you think you could make up for what you did?’
‘I know whatever I do it’s not good enough for you.’
Sophie tried to make her escape up the steps, but Jordan gripped her arm tightly with his powerful fingers. She squealed as he pulled her back into the cabin and locked her inside. Sophie was desperate. She tried to open the bow door. It was locked. She desperately checked the windows, but they only opened on tight hinges.
‘Help, help,’ she shouted as loud as she could, but the other boats on the broad were far away.
Jordan held up the blue bottle as if it was a prize and, through the door window, Sophie saw him slowly open the screw top. He was laughing like a hyena.
‘Please stop,’ she shouted but he turned his back.’
Jordan coughed as the fumes assaulted his chest. He sat down on the stern breathing heavily and Sophie banged violently on the door.
‘Let me out, let me out,’ she demanded as Jordan climbed on top of the boat.
Still wheezing, he drizzled the liquid about haphazardly. Sophie cringed as petrol dripped on the sunroof. She was trapped and helpless. She sobbed, knowing there was nothing she could do. But what was that? She saw a man in black overalls on the river bank. He was holding the axe. Jordan did not see him until she screamed as loud as her lungs would allow through the window.
‘What are you doing? You shouldn’t be moored here. This is my property,’ he called out.
‘He’s going to set fire to the boat. He’s going to kill me,’ Sophie bellowed.
Jordan panicked, and the bottle slipped out of his hand as the man approached.
‘Don’t take another step, I’m warning you!’ he said, taking a box of matches from his pocket.
‘Don’t be silly. Let the lady out and get off the boat’.
Jordan wasn’t listening and hurriedly struck a match. He cursed as the flame dropped by his foot. The axeman leapt onto the boat as the petrol caught fire and Jordan shrieked. His legs were ablaze and he jumped into the water.
‘Please help me,’ shouted Sophie. Flames filled the top of the cabin. She was panic stricken as smoke found its way inside. She tried to open the windows, swinging at them with every hard object she could find.
‘Stand back!’ shouted the man. He lifted the axe above his head and with a single stroke broke the door down. Sophie sobbed as he carried her off the blazing boat and onto dry land. Sophie’s face was scorched red and speckles of fire dust blotted her hair. She had a lucky escape, but her mind turned to Jordan.
‘Where’s my husband? Is he still on the boat? I can’t see him.’ Sophie was in shock and she was shaking.
‘He’s in the water, but I can’t see him anywhere,’ said the axe man.
‘Oh my God, he can’t swim. Where is he?’ They searched along the river bank and amongst the rushes but, shielded from sunlight, the water was dark and dingy.
‘I’m sorry but I think he’s done for. The broad has fast and dangerous under currents.
They’re known as rib tides and drag people under the water.’
‘Please God, I love him. Please let him live. It wasn’t my Jordan who tried to kill me. It was his anger talking. I love you, Jordan. Where are you?’
Sophie collapsed on the soft, muddy ground. She closed her eyes tight against her pain and an unbroken stream of tears raced down her face knowing Jordan would never be found. He was gone forever.
Author Notes: I don't think so.