It was midafternoon when the local police patrol found me shivering in my swimwear on the shoreline. My weary carcass was covered with abrasions; I had dried blood matted in my hair and fingers wrinkled like anaemic prunes.
“He looks rougher than road kill,” the first officer joked, wrapping a heat reflective blanket around me, as if he was covering burnt barbecue scraps in tinfoil.
The second officer offers me a plastic bottle. “This’ll help you, sir.”
“No, it’s too late...” I whisper.
“Suit yourself, sir,” he says, “I was—-“
“She was with me last night...”
“Who was with you?” he asks, straining to hear my voice.
“My wife was in the water too...”
Their jovial banter evaporates faster than raindrops on a forest fire. They alerted the coastguard, whilst bungling me into their vehicle and then grilled me during our journey back to their base.
My confused version of events marked the start of an endless round of cross-questioning. Sunday evening proved to be both a frustrating and dispiriting end to a romantic midsummer solstice.
Mister Sorensen, my allocated duty solicitor, was less abrupt and advised me on police procedure during my visit to the police station.
“You’re a lucky man, Mister Holdings. That tide roars in and the next thing you’re washed out to sea and---”
“You’ve had your half an hour, right?” said Detective Bergen, barging into our room.
“I’ll tell you when we’re ready, Detective,” said Sorensen.
“That’s time enough, man,” he said, drumming his fingers on the door. “We haven’t got all night.”
“My client has rights, Detective and I’m---”
“I’m more concerned about a missing woman’s rights, Sorensen.”
“Thank you, Detective, I’ll let you know.” he said, turning to me again. “Please continue from when you parked your Jeep, Mister Holdings.”
It was late on Saturday evening when Lauren and I ended our pilgrimage to Haukland Beach. We’d made the journey to bathe in the midnight sun and rekindle the spirit of our honeymoon. The sun disappeared behind the rugged headland and we witnessed the sky acquiring an ethereal glow that stained the coastline in its sepia reflection.
I remember turning to face Lauren and recall her eyes glisten as I nodded my head in recognition. She drew her lips into a tight smile and tapped her fist against the side of my jaw. We left our vehicle on the coastal road and wandered like wraiths down the velvet sands to the lapping water.
Except for essentials in my dry swim bag, we abandoned our outer garments and waded into the beckoning sea. I hooked the bag over my shoulders and felt Lauren's outstretched fingers reaching out for me. At the water’s first touch, she gripped my hand and together we waded forth into its icy embrace. I held my breath and grimaced as it splashed over my upper thighs and exhaled as it passed my naval.
When the water washed our upper arms, Lauren turned and reached over to contain my face within her hands and kissed me as if she meant it, staring at me all the time, as though I was an airfield and she was making her final descent. I changed the container and her face became a flower in my hands before my fingers drifted down to her neck and shoulders. Her gaze never wavered, but for a brief blue lightning flash that passed through her eyes. “Let’s swim further down the coast…”
We soon floated out of our depth and I followed her lead, kicking my legs to assume a horizontal line and breathing in sympathy with my arm strokes. We ploughed through the liquid glass; she was like a sleek predator and me following behind in her wake; my dry swim bag standing proud like a goofy dorsal fin.
There is an intoxicating beauty to swimming in this half-light; it’s neither day nor night. Here, we’re held in the sea’s gentle grasp and weightless, and caught between two worlds. Shades of grey obscure the truth and lies. They’re subliminal notions: mysterious, beguiling and seductive. Our souls are drawn to this place for sentimental reasons and yet we understand so little about its power.
Lauren treads water while I play catch up, and points to a low rock-strewn outlet below the high cliffs and a shallow cave. It’s familiar to us both from our honeymoon and our sacred spot to camp out. It’s both remote and free from prying eyes, and we both have a need to return here.
I smiled when we reached the shallows, tossed down the dry bag and catching her eye, I reached out for her hand.
‘It’s good you’re happy,’ she said, curling her fingers round mine, but she looked at me as if from a great distance through a telescope. It was as though being here had altered her in some way; as if this was the end she had in mind; a desolate place where we wouldn’t be disturbed.
I opened the drawstring on the dry sack and plucked out a bottle of Gordan’s Dry Gin. Its familiar green glass has a mischievous twinkle in the crepuscular light. We each take a few sips and flop out on the sand under the cave’s low ceiling. Lauren rolls over next to me and tiptoes two fingertips up my abdomen before sliding her warm hand across my chest. I shift my arm under her torso as she pulls into my side, resting her head on my right shoulder. My eyes are heavy and I’m enjoying our moment together. Our busy lives in the city could be a million miles away. Lauren draws a long breath through her nose and whispers, “You never wanted the baby, did you?”
“Honestly, you know that’s not true, you---”
“You were so distant when I lost her.”
“It couldn’t be helped, it was just—-”
“Just one of those things?”
Mister Sorensen bit his lip as I disclosed this conversation.
“That’s quite a mood swing, Mister Holdings.”
“I didn’t expect the question, and I wasn’t prepared for her reaction.”
“In retrospect, that probably wasn’t what she expected, either.”
“We’d had our problems, and I thought we’d worked through them.”
“The cave was a special place for you,” he said, pursing his lips. “But it sounds as though you had very different reasons for returning there.”
That was the start of the end of our night. I had to divert the topic of conversation.
“Hey,” I said, raising myself on one elbow. “How about truth or dare?”
“I need to talk about this, I want to---”
“How about, spin-the-bottle?” I say, reaching for the Gordan’s. “I’ll go first and I’ve---”
“I’ve got a better idea,” she says, plucking the bottle from the sand.
I scowl and avoid her stony gaze. “Oh, yeah, what’s that, love?”
“It’s called drink or swim.”
Mister Sorensen frowned, “I’ve never heard of that challenge, is it---”
“The rules are self-explanatory,” I say, shrugging. “We take turns to roll or spin the bottle in such a way as to hide the label and---”
“The person who exposes the label has to choose---”
“Exactly,” I say, “and the first one to faint or drown loses.”
“And that’s how the night ended?”
I regained consciousness with my knees curled up under chin and my arms tucked around my shins. I raised my head and searched around the cave. Lauren was absent. Shards of green glass surrounded me and the sea was pounding through the cave entrance. Despite my blinding headache, I understood that our secret bolthole was both a refuge at low tide and a natural sarcophagus when the high tide returned. In a panic, I struggled against the fierce surges of water pinning me down and trapping me inside. The merciless waves threw me against the cave walls when I progressed into their midst, but I braved the onslaught; my life depended on it. By the time I reached the safety of the shoreline where we’d parked our Jeep, I looked like an abandoned barbecue feast; shrivelled, burned out and smeared in dried ketchup.
“So you were playing some sort of game?” says Mister Sorensen.
“It wasn’t my idea, though,” I say, furrowing my brow. “You need to understand.”
“Well, Mister Sorensen,” says detective Bergen, pushing his way through the door. “It appears your client has been spared the rack and branding iron.”
I look at Mister Sorensen for an explanation. He shrugs, closes his notebook, and opens his brief case. “My work here is done for now.”
“I don’t understand,” I say, looking from one to the other. “I thought---”
“You have my number,” he says, sliding an embossed card across the wooden table. “Call me if circumstances alter.”
“We’ve no questions, Mister Holdings,” says Detective Bergen, squinting his eyes and dropping his head. “But we may want to contact you before you return home.”
“I’m staying at the Harstad.”
Detective Bergen turns to his assistant and raises an eyebrow.
“You know it?” I ask. He nods and inflates his chest to capacity before speaking.
“That’ll be all for now, sir,” he says, “however, do take advantage of our range of items available from lost property.”
“I don’t think that will be---”
“I’m sure we’ll have your size, sir.”
There’s a sudden hush as I meander through the Harstad Hotel lobby. Late night guests extend their necks as I approach the receptionist behind his desk. The young man in his tailored uniform sniffs as I halt in front of him. His eyes scan my ill-fitting attire with the precision of a barcode reader.
“How can I be of assistance, sir?”
“The name’s Holdings,” I say. “Room ninety-nine.”
“Nice outfit, sir, now…” he says, turning to retrieve my key. “Let’s see, Mister Holdings…”
”You’re too kind.” I say, plucking the keys from his extended forefinger.
“Your wife’s been expecting you, sir.”
I let myself into our darkened suite to be greeted by the overpowering fragrance of rosemary and lavender oil. There’s a glow emanating from the bathroom where I discover Lauren luxuriating in a steaming hot bathtub. She is up to her neck in water with a view of the breathtaking Grovfjord mountain range.
“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” Lauren whispered as I peered round the door.
“The local police tell me I’m now a ‘Person Of Interest’.”
“It’s not surprising,” she says, “but it couldn’t be helped.”
“You might have tried calling earlier,” I say.
“Be a love,” she says, offering her glass. “Fill me up.”
“Mother’s ruin, is it?” I ask through gritted teeth.
“I’m way beyond all that, my love.”
“No change there then.”
“This one’s on you.”
I keep my counsel before we come to blows and that’s when I observe signs of discolouration on Lauren’s wrists. The bruises have variegated tones of ripe plum with yellow fringing, and she’s grazed her knuckles again. The thought occurred to me that any person who tangles with Lauren comes off worse. I retreat into the bedroom and hear the gentle ripple of swirling eddies as she lowers her broad shoulders back into the heavenly infusion. Lauren’s movements are as calculated and resolute as a roving iceberg and now she can relax knowing the best seat in the house belongs to her. I can’t afford to challenge Lauren for that position tonight and risk a further encounter at the police station. There must be other sanctuaries within the hotel to relax and appreciate the midsummer’s evening light in Haukland.