She nodded. ‘If you tell Sophie this, if you use it, I’ll never forgive you. Only a liar would try to say she’s not beautiful, statuesque, feline, silky smooth and gorgeous in the arms. Only a sycophant would say she’s not a problem child.
As a lover though, the problem for me is that there’s a bit too much of her, this is strictly between me and you. It’s more difficult lifting her or raising a leg or whatever – you’re the perfect size for me and we fit like a jigsaw. When we made love the first time after I came out of the coma, my body recognized you straight away. She really needs a good man of a certain size -’
She suppressed a smile. ‘All right, you’ve said all the right things. I choose to believe them.’
After lunch the next day, the first visitor to Nikki’s hut was Janine and a smiling Nikki bade her sit down.
‘Janine, they have to try. For everyone’s sake, she needs to have that child.’
‘Oh, I’m not arguing. Life at the Pool today is going to be interesting.’
‘They’re not going to the Pool, they’ll be in the fields. You might like to tell people it’ll be safe at the Pool all day. I imagine they’ll go back there to clean up in the evening.’
‘You’re so matter-of-fact about it, aren’t you?’
‘How else can I be? To protect myself, to protect my mind, I can’t afford anger, so I have to rationalize it. I can only cope with it because I’m the one allowing it. If I say it stops, it stops straight away.’
‘You’re quite some woman, you know. People are concerned, no one on the island wants you hurt over this.’
‘I might look naïve at times, Janine, but I’m really the one pulling the strings.’
‘No one doubts that. It’s Hugh that can’t be predicted.’
‘Oh yes he can. He’s terrified of me on this matter, he goes by the book.’
Susannah now sauntered in and took the remaining seat, grinning broadly. They heard footsteps and Mandy burst in, couldn’t find a chair and sat on the edge of Nikki’s bed. ‘ Do you know they’ve gone down the walkway together, Nikki? Why do you permit it?’
‘I don’t permit it, Mandy, I organize it.’
Mandy looked at her. ‘I suppose that’s swimming out for the day.’
Janine smiled, ‘They’ll be in the field. The Pool’s safe until nightfall.’
‘Well, thank heavens for small mercies.’
Now the last person on the island they’d ever have expected to drop in on them was Miri and she’d been busy. ‘Rite, I reddee. I go now n mak shor o babee.’
They looked at her incredulously, at the paraphernalia she had in two rushen bags, then back at her. Someone had to put her straight. Susannah said, ‘Miri, in our culture, we let them get on with it in private.’
‘Except for the Jensens,’ observed Mandy, drily.
‘No, yoo don unnerstan. I gotta be thair.’
‘Miri -’ Susannah started but of all people, it was Janine who stopped her.
‘Miri’s right. Laurence told me a few things about these – these fertility rites, grandmothers pass them down and so on. It might not hurt if she tried.’
‘Thair, yoo see, Yanine unnerstan. I go now.’ She beckoned Janine over and whispered in her ear, picked up her bags of tricks and Janine left with her.
Mandy grinned, ‘Hugh and Sophie are really going to love this. I’d love to see their faces.’
‘You’re not the only one,’ Susannah agreed.
‘I’m not criticizing,’ said Sophie, ‘really I’m not. Is it something with me perhaps?’
‘Not in the least,’ Hugh assured her, hugging her close. ‘It happens, Sophe, things on the mind, I don’t know. It happens when I’m with Nikki too, when we try to force it, when we’re anxious. It’ll get better once we relax.’
‘That’s it – we don’t have all that much time, I’m getting a bit anxious.’
‘Don’t, please – that’s exactly what’s killing it – your pressure. It’s also now the weather which has deserted us – it’s chilly, even the robes are hardly enough. Let it take its own course. What the -’
He’d left off because of something in the distance and now he pointed to the head of the field. It was Miri, in skirt and top, clearly borrowed from one of the women, carrying some bags and running full tilt, half skipping, as she came straight for them.
When she arrived, Sophie noticed she regained her breath quite quickly – a hard miss, our Miri.
‘O Hoo, Sofi, I fort I lait.’
Hugh reassured her. ‘Well, you’re a bit late for the first act but if you take a seat, you’re in time for the rest of the show.’
‘Nah, you doan unnerstan.’ She was scornful. ‘I hear t hell.’
Sophie looked at Hugh and he looked at her.
Hugh explained, ‘Look, Miri, we really do appreciate this visit and we’d love to do it with you too but unfortunately, I’m trying to get Sophie pregnant and you already have a baby in there.’
Frustrated, she admonished him, ‘Hoo, I trine t hell hear.’
Sophie began to tumble to it – it looked like some sort of ritual Miri had in mind. ‘A fertility rite?’ she asked.
‘Yeah, yeah, ferteeitee.’
They looked at each other again. She’d clearly gone to some trouble over this, it would have been cruel not to go along with it for awhile. Sophie stood there now in a pose Hugh swore to himself he’d never forget, long fingers on hips, one sinewy foot further up the slope and the comparison was stark. One a loose-limbed European, fair-haired, hard-bodied and well proportioned, the other small, nuggety and all light brown curves. The look on Sophie’s face was one of frustration.
He moved up and held her shoulders. ‘Nikki will give us the extra time, don’t worry, ’ he reassured her, cupping her chin. ‘She said we can go past sunset. Sophe, please relax … for me … for us? It will only happen if we relax.’
Sophie nodded and Miri began.
‘Orrite,’ she said, taking things out of her rushen bags and laying them on the grass. There were two skirts, two things like potpourris and some material – looked like someone’s sheet.
‘OK, yoo too stan verr. No, closa. Rite.’ She laid the material out on the grass in front of her, then asked for their robes, which they took off and gave, she now put them behind her.
‘Miri, it’s not warm any more, will this take long? he asked.
‘Minutts.’ Miri now promptly took off her skirt and threw it away. Naked from the waist down, she stood on the material and hoola-danced with her hips, turning 360 degrees, reciting verses as far as she could remember them. She indicated for them to put the skirts on.
Sophie looked down at hers. It was made out of long grass, matted for the belt and the rest hanging down from that belt. Trouble was – though almost knee length, it hardly covered anything effectively and Miri saw the effect on him and was pleased.
‘Goo, goo. She used the herbs and potpourri, then concluded, ‘OK, now yoo too gotta fuk.’ He winced. ‘Well – go on.’
Sophie laughed and they started the process. Miri, feeling that this was now their affair, picked up all the bits and pieces and sat about five metres away, observing the view out to sea.
‘Are we allowed to have some clothes on? It’s cold,’ complained Sophie.
‘Of corr, of corr.’ She jumped up, grabbed their robes and laid them over his back while he was in mid-thrust.
Some minutes later, Sophie, who was enjoying the rites, stopped and asked, ‘What next?’
‘Yoo keep goin, of corr.’ They laughed, a huge grin spread over Miri’s face and she went away with her bags of goodies, half skipping, half walking.
‘What was she chanting earlier?’ asked Sophie.
‘Some sort of ritual prayer.’
Miri got to Moran’s and all wanted to know how it had gone. ‘Goo, goo,’ she said. ‘It wenn well. Thay fukkin now. Babee soon.’ Susannah put her straight on the usage of the F word in polite society.
Miri left and her next port of call was Nikki, who put certain questions to her.
In Adam’s hut, Lisa lay in his arms, contented. They’d finally achieved success themselves but only Mandy and Ray knew this thus far.
He chuckled and stroked her cheek. ‘We’ll have to seriously think out our plans now. We’ll need some sort of medical support.’
‘Sam’s fine,’ she said. ‘I know a thing or two myself. The truth is, Adam, if we were to return to Britain or anywhere else – things are in a bad way. You knew the state of the NHS even before we left for Beddoes. It’s tranquil here and I trust Sam.’
‘Well, as long as you’re OK with it. Poor old Hugh and his concubines, eh? All that effort and no result.’
‘Give them time,’ she answered. ‘It just takes perseverance. Janine and Laurence were patient, we also were. Let them be.’
‘Laurence, I feel you should have a word to Hugh, man to man.’
Laurence, standing outside Moran’s, sighed. ‘All right, Mandy. We’ll have a little chat tomorrow when this business is over.’
‘Do you think we’ll ever get off this island?’
‘You’re dying to get back to the rat race?’
‘Never, in other words. In the meantime, you tell him there are others on this island, apart from him.’ She turned and walked back to her hut.
The sun sank lower and lower, until it was once more over the tallest tree top.
Miri appeared again but this time they didn’t stop, which didn’t faze her in the least. She told Sophie, ‘Nikki sed too mor owse. She cummin ear ven. Orrite?’
Sophie, otherwise engaged at that point, gave Miri the thumbs up, he looked over and promptly slipped out, Miri put him back in and went straight back up to Nikki to issue a progress report.
They took a break and sat beside one another, shoulder to shoulder, drinking in the early evening. ‘It’s such a beautiful place, Sophie.’
But it was certainly cold now and they were thinking of heading back up to the huts.
About 20:00, in the dark, Nikki herself appeared in a double sari. In her basket were sandwiches and coffee, with fruit afters but she’d also brought six matting blankets over her shoulder, from their huts, a double sari for Sophie and his other robe.
They jumped up to help, laid out the paraphernalia, Sophie dropped her robe and Nikki wrapped the material around her.
Nicolette now suggested they get straight under the blankets, the other three blankets laid on the now damp ground. ‘Hugh on one side, then you in the middle, then me.’
They did that, the coffee was near their heads. ‘What now?’ asked Sophie.
Nikki breathed out heavily. ‘Hugh will make love to you for another hour, I can stand that. And Hugh, suspend your mental crisis for one hour.’
‘What about my mental crisis?’ asked Sophie. ‘I can only do this facing Nikki, I don’t want her lying there behind me on her own, it’s … not good. Can you handle that, Hugh?’
With the two women embracing, with Nikki looking into her eyes and noting every thrust in those eyes, this may have crossed the line and after the second convulsion and his declaration that there was no more left in the tank, they gave it away. He got out from under the covers, climbed over both, kissed them both, got back under his side and promptly dropped off.
The two women talked for some time.
In a way, it was good that it was Miri who came down early, saw the scene and grinned. He put a finger to his lips, then indicated the two sleeping women, Miri nodded and stationed herself as guard at the start of the walkway.
They’d taken all sorts of precautions against the cold, including eating, Miri had come down just before midnight with three towels for headgear for them but despite all that, they were still cold.
Sophie woke up, looked about, saw Miri in the distance and smiled, Nikki woke up and saw her too.
‘I can’t think of any words,’ said Nikki.
‘Cold?’ suggested Sophie.
They got up, rugged up in blankets and towels, ate the remnants, packed the basket and at the same time, at the head of the field, they heard a disturbance. Miri was remonstrating with Mandy who walked straight past her and this was almost a reprise of the last time.
‘This is out of order, Hugh Jensen. You know the rules, you broke them again. I believe you should give up the command and hand over to Laurence.’
‘Which rules have we broken?’
‘Sex with people not our partners.’
‘You know why Sophie and I have these set, predesignated times and it’s not easy.’
‘Not sex with two women at once.’
‘And who does that?’
‘Oh come on – you were under that rug with both of them. All your holidays.’
He actually smiled. ‘You think two women like these particular two are easy to handle? Do you really, Mandy? You really think I control this? I made love to one woman only, the one I was permitted to. What rules were broken?’
‘It’s a wonder you have the stamina at your age.’ She turned around and stomped up the hill, Miri stepping out of her way.
‘Actually, I didn’t,’ he said, his knees buckling as they made their way back up to the huts.
In Nikki’s hut, the three of them lay in a warm bed, thawing out and she now brought up that conversation before he went north to Julia, Sophie now joined in the telling.
At the end, they both looked at him. ‘You really think I control this, says Mr. Jensen to Mandy,’ said Sophie. ‘We both think you do control it somehow, Hugh, we think you have quite a thing going here.’
They waited for him to protest or even grin but he didn’t. Nikki took it up. ‘On the surface, there’s nothing we can get you on … but we all know though … don’t we, Mr. Passivity?’
He sighed. ‘Guilty but I swear I don’t arrange things.’
‘We never said you did. We mean you’re always there at the right time and you always seem to be in luck. Part of that is you do a good job on us and we’re not unhappy with how you do that …’
‘Look, I’m at your mercy, Nikki, you both know that. My fate is in your hands.’ They smiled at his finding the right words again. ‘I now have to tell you something not good,’ he continued, ‘a memory just returned and you’re not going to like it. It’s about Julia.’
‘Oh yes?’ said Nikki.
‘I could easily not tell you.’
‘You know the answer to that. We’re both listening.’
‘Should I be here for this?’ asked Sophie.
‘You were involved with Julia, yes. Stay if Nikki doesn’t mind.’ He went on. ‘It became obvious from the start that she wanted to be preserved in my heart. She saw me look at that photo, she signed the back and told me to keep it forever, not to look at it until we were separated again, back on the island. Then my shooting happened, somehow Nikki got the photo, she showed it to me, but I then … well there was too much else happening.’
‘You forgot about her.’
‘That sounds terrible, really bad. I feel ashamed.’
Nicolette climbed out of bed and went for her drawer, coming back with the photo. ‘Turn it over.’
He did and read, ‘You belong to her but know that I’ll always love you to the end of time. Touch my face before you go.’
‘Did you?’ she asked.
He told them about the Merrilee Rush song on the last morning, they both knew the song, about the touching of the face and the way they’d parted. He told them about her saying she’d given her photo, her words, her song, her body and her love. He’d sworn to her he would always keep them nearby.
‘And you didn’t, Bebe, you didn’t. It was all for nothing.’
It took a lot for him to weep but now his eyes filled. ‘I feel so low,’ he mumbled.
‘No,’ they both said and Nikki indicated that Sophie should speak. ‘You see, Hugh, she was running you but you’re also guilty in how you treated her … I too have a stake in this. You made promises you should never have made to someone not your wife – yes, it’s me saying this – not with your words but in your manner.’ Nikki nodded her agreement.
‘She said that too,’ said he. ‘She said that if I hadn’t wanted this, if I’d wanted Miss Ice, then I should not have acted as I did. That she was only human.’
‘Précisément, Bebe, précisément. Kindness is one thing but this crossed the line.’
‘And this, Hugh, is why Nikki is allowing me to remain in this bed now to hear all this.’
Nikki nodded. ‘I’m not devastated, I’m glad, I feel vindicated, I feel there’s been a breakthrough with you at last.’ Sophie was vigorously agreeing. ‘You must preserve her memory, Bebe, as you promised, but in context. You didn’t forget about her, you forgot everything in the shooting – she’d understand that and be glad we’ve said these things today. As Sophie would say, a good result.’
Both placed a kiss on his cheek.
Late September, 2011
Any procreational plans had to be put on hold by the outbreak of flu on the island.
Lisa was first and as she was pregnant, Sam was naturally concerned but he went through his Symptoms-Signs-History routine, he’d narrowed it to flu, maybe avian flu – he’d need more time and didn’t have all the equipment they needed but felt they were on the right track here.
He’d kept a clipping from the Mail about it and had put it with all the rest in his big black box as he called it. Now he spent a day and a half finding it but eventually did.
Sam was not much given to conspiracies but as events had showed them in no uncertain terms, the days of denial were probably behind them now – that is, people really were trying to kill them.
In practical terms, Lisa had been quarantined in her hut and Adam had moved in with Mandy and Ray for now – clearly, the Moran’s meeting was about building new medical huts.
‘We’ve been so lucky so far,’ explained Sam. ‘If you had a look at my medical books, you’d think it a wonder all of us don’t have at least two or three of the conditions. I mean, we haven’t spoken of diabetes, heart disease, prostate, any of those, let alone hepatitis and you all had thorough medicals on Beddoes, so we’re at least ahead of the game, fairly fit and in a healthy atmosphere.
But we’re subject to many birds above – they’re our main food source too, with us not able to go out and fish, not that I would these days. OK, I’ll read parts of it to you:
‘National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity chairman Paul Kiem, an anthrax expert, said: ‘I can’t think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one. I don’t think anthrax is scary at all compared to this.’
However, others pointed out that similar fears – raised six years ago when another team of scientists recreated the Spanish flu virus that killed up to 50million in 1918 – proved groundless.’
‘But that’s insane,’ said Nick.
Sophie just looked at him. ‘Insane? Yes. Common among them? Yes. It amuses me the way people who don’t know keep saying, ‘But they’d never do that.’ Go on, Sam.’
‘ ‘Now, scientists at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam have created a H5N1 bird flu that spreads as easily as winter flu. The scientist behind the project, Ron Fouchier, said: ‘We now know which mutations to watch for in the case of an outbreak and we can stop the outbreak before it is too late.’ ’
‘Why?’ demanded Sue. ‘Why on earth would he do that? I don’t buy any of his crap.’
‘Nor do I,’ agreed Sam. ‘The picture of him in the paper is of a grinning man. He was doing it to see if he could provide his masters with the ultimate weapon. Trouble is, these things are unstable and often die off quickly but applied bio-war is still a frightening thing from a medical point of view. Nothing we can do at all.’
‘Did they deliberately send it to us?’ asked Mandy.
‘On the law of averages, no – we have to keep some things in mind though. Lisa doesn’t seem to have anything severe at this moment, just a flu but then again, I’m talking out of my backside about this this super-strain because I have no idea what it would do. I don’t even think he knows. We’re just under a flight path, with prevailing winds and all that sort of thing. Now, how long until I can have three small huts built for quarantine?’
‘We’ll get onto it now,’ said Laurence.
Sam continued. ‘I have this from a Harvard article.’ He took it out and read from the cutting:
‘ ‘Research has shown that a highly contagious strain of H5N1, one that might allow airborne transmission between mammals, can be reached in only a few mutations, raising concerns about a pandemic and bioterrorism.’ We’re pretty well on the end of H5N1 globally just now – cleaner areas, less populated, seem to be doing better.’
‘It’s horrible,’ said Nikki.
It had taken four days to do properly and in the meantime, Nikki herself, Mandy and Janine had gone down with it, Ray was showing signs.
Even with the three huts, they couldn’t isolate every sufferer so other huts nearby had to be used and that meant people doubling up and even using Moran’s to sleep in.
They were in Moran’s now and Sam, quite exhausted, was explaining to the seven who were left.
‘It’s a full time job attending to the sick and thanks for understanding that quarantine means quarantine, except for the nurse, herself in her own quarantine. I have to talk to Sophie by remote control, should really use semaphore. Meanwhile, same for infected and non-infected – rest and fluids are indicated.
For those with it, we did bring with us zanamivir, celecoxib and mesalazine. The medicos on Beddoes reasoned that Tamiflu might be getting resisted now but these others still seemed all right. Janine brought back our supplies.
Not a fun time, people, but keep your chin up, stay quarantined and it will pass. Eventually, it will pass.’
‘We’d be dead without you, Sam,’ said Nick.
‘Don’t know about that old chap, just doing what I was brought along to do.’
‘Can it affect the baby?’
‘Yes, it can spread throughout the body but at this stage, it’s just flu. Flu’s not nice but it’s nicer than this thing in the article.’
By the 15th day after Lisa had gone down with it, it had started to abate – with Lisa first, then Nikki and so it went. The last down, the nurse herself, Sophie, was still not fine and Sam was now also nurse.
By the 22nd day, there was only Sophie down, everyone was back in uniforms, the only really warm gear, with coats, they’d started on the jars of produce but the birds still flew over and they took the risk.
Early October, 2011
Sophie had an idea.
‘You two need a place of your own – I love you being in the field but Nikki needs her own refuge too and the field’s a bit cold now. I have my other place. I don’t even know if it will ruin it for you but I know a good place for you too. I’ve had a lot of time to explore.’
‘You really know somewhere?’ asked Nicolette.
‘I’ll show you the path down and you decide for yourselves. But Nikki, is your body able to climb rocks yet?’
‘It looks worse than it is. I’m quite OK inside. The weak arm is all right, I strategize.’
‘When do you want?’
‘This afternoon, after lunch?’
She took them out to the walkway which had not yet been swept and made a map in the dust with a twig. ‘You know roughly where?’
They nodded – it was where the drop to the pods started but halfway down, they veered off right.’
‘To the left at the bottom is my place and to the right, around a large rock, might be yours.’
Hugh went to inform Laurence of their plan and he gave them three hours before a search party went out.
‘And Laurence – please don’t tell anyone.’
‘What do you take me for?’
Nikki, Hugh and Sophie had three layers of clothes, two caps each, waterbottles, a bag of food, two blankets, metal spikes, hammer and length of rope as they set off. They didn’t need the map anyway.
They slowly went down the ladder to the pods, step by step. It was slippery in this weather, treacherous.
They found the track which veered, Sophie was strong again, she’d quite recovered, but Nikki felt herself struggling. Fortunately, he was struggling too.
They now made their way down to the right, past rocky outcrops, past the tops of trees, down, down, down, past branches and ferns, the rocks giving them good, if tricky footholds and handholds.
About two metres above the waves, which seemed more muted here, there was a rocky ledge leading eastwards but there was also a lowhanging outcrop above with enough cragginess that they had a handhold if they crouched and shuffled around that rock.
Hugh took one of the ropes, Sophie cottoned on and shimmied up over the top, he threw the rope, she swung it around a tree. He then wrapped the other end around his waist then called Sophie to come back down and haul it in enough so they would only fall a metre if they fell, then attach the rope to a nearby tree and make knots to hold it.
‘OK, now throw me another, shorter rope.’
‘Yes.’ He did a locking clove hitch around the one already around him and asked Nikki to play out that second rope as he went around.
They watched as he gradually disappeared around that convex rock and after two minutes, he called out for them to pull the vertical rope back round.
‘You might have to flick it out to sea to get it round.’
They understood and Nikki attached the vertical rope to herself, Sophie helped with the knot, then the process repeated.
‘OK, pull the rope round, Sophie,’ he called.
‘No, Hugh, that’s your place. One day you’ll show it to me. I’m going to my place. Are you all right to go back up?’
‘We have to be.’
She grinned and disappeared.
Hugh looked at Nikki, Nikky looked at Hugh. Hmmmm – possibilities in this place.
They were up on a ledge of course but if they looked beyond this ledge, then to their left, the sea side, there was a steep beach, quite solid, not just silt and they realized they’d come round to the far east of the island, although another cliff face did cut them off from the rest of the eastern side of the island and this cliff stretched some way out to sea.
In that clear water, they could see where the beach dropped down to an underwater shoulder and they didn’t think they’d risk stepping out there. The bay or cave they were in, depending on your definition, was about twenty metres along and came back in landwards maybe ten metres, but that back ‘wall’ was a convex curve, so that the effect was like a half moon.
Straight ahead of them was accessible rock, very slippery though, with three recessed rock pools and the main thing they realized about the rock pools is that they weren’t accessible from the sea – they must have filled during stormy weather, there seemed no wildlife down there and the best part was that the water was still tepid to cool – possible.
They looked at the back wall and there was a slightly raised rock ledge sticking out. He looked at her and she at him – that would be their bed, there was much foliage about, much bracken too. They set to work gathering it, also sand from the only ‘beachy’ part they could access without danger and started laying it all on that ledge, patting it down, flattening it out, putting more on and so on.
They were exhausted and it was time for that picnic. ‘We don’t have much time, Bebe,’ she said.
Twelve minutes later, it was time to leave according to what Sophie had said, they reversed the rope attachments, Nikki first on the third retrieval rope this end.
Three quarters of the way up the hill, they met Sophie coming down, she turned and went back and at the top, they sat and got their breath.
Nikki said, ‘Tomorrow, we’re coming down for a few hours. Would you come down and meet us there afterwards?’
‘Not a problem. But if it’s sacred to you,’ interesting choice of words for Sophie, ‘are you sure you want me there?’
‘Very much,’ Nikki had to be the one to say it.
There was a nice mood as they made their way back along the path.
Mandy dropped in on them in Moran’s and she was a bit sheepish. ‘I may have been a bit harsh and you’ve really set an example of late,’ [she ignored the Sophie baby business]. ‘I’d like to make up, Hugh, Nikki and Sophie.’
They were delighted – this was a major moment. Hugh looked into Mandy’s eyes and she nodded, he jumped up and fixed drinks. Hugh whispered to Nikki on the way back, “I’m getting a good feeling about tomorrow, about all of it.’
She squeezed his hand. Sophie deliberately kept over to the other side, talking to Janine who’d just come through. Hugh now proposed a toast to all the women with children and to their men, then they went back to chatting.
Adam came in, Hugh asked him if he’d come outside.
On the walkway, he said, ‘I was well out of order with my behaviour on this island. Can you forgive me?’
‘Nothing to forgive. You’ve settled down, the word’s got out about the babies and everyone seems quite happy. Just keep it a bit more private, Hugh, OK?’ Hugh smiled and offered his hand, which the other man now shook, then they went back inside.
The morning winter light filtered in through the leaves, Sophie woke up and did a crazy thing – she said half a prayer for those two in their hut, then dressed and went up for breakfast at Moran’s.
Breakfast done, Nikki and Hugh needed to give the tide an hour to go down and then they’d start out. Sophie stood with them on the walkway, Laurence came out and joined them, nodding at their plans.
Time to get ready with the blankets, bags of food and drink, the lines, spikes and hammer.
At points on the climb down, he paused to drive in some spikes and attach a length of line, as they’d be fairly weary on the way back up … and thus they made their way down to the ledge.
They’d left ‘Sophie’s line’ attached and wrapping the end round his waist again and tying it, he went round the rock, hammering in spikes and a smaller line between them as he went.
He got to the beach, Nikki pulled the line back and then made her way around. Over to half moon bay and the ‘bower’ – apart from dust and silt and a bird’s footprints, nothing had been disturbed.
Even the twig Hugh had left across the bower was still there. They looked at each other, satisfied, and started putting more sand and bracken on.
The two of them had started to get a bit religious at times these days and thought a silent prayer might be the way just now.
He now poured two wines, took a bit of their bread and they ate and drank, then it was time. This was the tricky bit. In hoods, saris, robes and blanket, they now got up on the bower, found a comfortable position, she took his hand and he said, ‘Je t’aime, je t’adore, tu es ma vie, Nicolette Vasseur.’
The kiss was deep, the robes parted, the nether regions came together and there it was.
An hour and a half later, Nikki was lying on her side on the bower, looking out to sea, Hugh behind her, holding her close. She arched her head back and kissed him.
‘I get the feeling, Bebe, that we’re never going to find this again, this oneness, this peace. Look at the winter sun on the waves.’
‘It’s superb. I think it’s been granted to us.’
‘I’m not sure,’ whispered Nikki after they’d had one more bout, ‘but that may have been the one.’
There was a call from the other side of the rock and Hugh called back to Sophie to use the line to get round if she could.
A minute or so later, Sophie appeared, also rugged up, she saw them both on the bower and said, ‘Oh wow.’ She looked about, saw the pools and the beach, the little basket of food they’d hardly touched and looked back at them.
‘This is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful place.’ She actually danced around in a circle, which reminded him excruciatingly of Ksusha for one moment.
They got up from the bower and whether Miri had got to her or whatever, Sophie instantly tumbled to the spirituality of it. ‘I brought you both some afternoon tea, early supper, but I see you also have some. We could make a feast.’
She laid it out on one of the small ledges and they unpacked their own basket too. It was like a feast, with everything from cooked wild bird to fruit, plus the all-essential wine.
Sophie toasted to Nikki’s and Hugh’s baby. The moment Nikki went to say something about Sophie’s, she touched Nikki’s lips with her finger. ‘This place is about you. This is yours.’
‘We call it a bower,’ said Nikki.
The following morning, Nikki and Hugh eventually got to their ledge but it was a different scene.
Some animals or someone had been through because the destruction of the bower seemed wilful. They couldn’t pinpoint it but there was something quite spiteful in the way it had all been swept away.
Time to leave.
He removed the spikes on the way back, she carried the ropes – the three days now had a symmetry to them that neither wanted to disturb nor alter in any way. They would not return to that place.
The Pool was pretty well unusable now, except for washing clothes, their drinking water from their other sources. They’d take a quick dip to wash, shiver and jump out.
Nikki wanted an afternoon nap after lunch in Moran’s, so he went back with her. Knowing the ever-turning wheels of her practical mind, he wasn’t at all surprised when she said. ‘Hugh, we had three wonderful days, long enough ago for me to say this now. I know what you have to do and she’s been very patient.’
‘I suspect she’s building a bower herself somewhere up in the rocks – that’s her motif. When she’s ready, she’ll come for me.’
‘This I where I have trouble, Bebe. I don’t mind the lovemaking and I know you love her – you couldn’t do otherwise – but it’s still difficult for me to lie here alone and think of the two of you … doing that. There were things we had in that bower -’
‘You’re talking to the one person who has to keep things separated in his mind in order to remain sane. Sophie will never cross the line – tell me your ground rules, your terms.’
‘You have the night, until the morning light. You do not treat it as a relationship but as a means of producing a child, as you well know. She will understand that very well, she’ll stay within that and I can handle it that far, Bebe.’
Sam dropped in to Moran’s with Miri who was looking positively radiant these days and she knew all about Sophie’s bower. Nikki was tucking into a snack.
‘Does anyone else know?’ Hugh asked her.
‘No, ownee me. I hell bill it.’
They pulled out a pack of cards, they poured some wine and it was a pleasant late afternoon.
Sophie came back and went to her hut, Hugh could see she’d been working.
She came up to Moran’s, her first look was at Nikki, she went and kissed her, then looked at Hugh. Actually bashful for once, she went back hurriedly to her own hut.
The night Nikki was dreading had come.
She left their own hut as arranged and went to join Sophie, Hugh went to Moran’s and the almost full moon made it possible to stand on the walkway with Laurence and Janine to have a drink or two.
‘Lovely evening,’ observed Laurence.
‘Yes it is. If Laurence is willing, Janine, would you let me talk to you in our hut?’
She was surprised. ‘What about?’
‘About the situation on the island, about things which might happen very soon. I can’t put this to Laurence today because he’d then have to act, to do something about it. Laurence, I think we need to be ready to leave at any time, at any moment. I’ll explain all of this tomorrow morning to you, including what I’ll be asking Janine now but it’s important you don’t fully know my suspicions today – you might quite inadvertently tip off certain parties.’
‘Need it be your hut?’ asked Janine.
‘No, we could go to the cliff face over the pods, in fact that’s a better place to be.’
‘Intriguing,’ said Laurence.
‘All will be revealed to you, Laurence, tomorrow morning. Please tonight – just keep your eyes open for anything unusual in anyone’s behaviour, this is a grand place for surveillance just here. I don’t want to be leading you in suggesting things to look for – just look for anything unusual in your opinion. I believe things are going to happen tonight, involving people on this island. Carry your sidearm.’
Still with glasses in hand, Janine and he sat on the rock and dangled feet over the edge.
‘So much happening, Janine, I didn’t get much time with you.’
‘A certain amount of sex kept you busily away from me,’ she chuckled.
‘Well, yes. Look, I think there’s an attack coming and I’m thinking pods – who’ll be in them, then about two traitors we have on this island. Yes, that’s right – two traitors. There are some things I’d like you to watch out for when I’m up on that rock with Sophie tonight, and first thing tomorrow morning. The situation will have broken open by then.’
He then told her the lot – she was flabbergasted, she never questioned it and she was flattered by the confidence.
‘I don’t remember everything, Janine, but I do remember you were integral, you were the one who made it work and you’re going to be needed again tonight and tomorrow.’
‘The moon is mine but the morning sun will be yours.’
They were in the grove and in the middle of the grove, slightly to one side actually, was the bower and a magnificent bower it was. He thought he’d best not make too much of this to Nikki, nor about that opening line.
On a bench she and Miri had constructed to the right, everything had been laid out, including plates of food, smorgasbord style, covered with large leaves. The wine had been poured and covered, the bread was at hand and all was in order. Hugh still stood back, she went to him and led him by hand three steps to the bower.
It was unfortunate but it could also have been construed as a funeral pyre. With a rectangular base of stones, on top was another layer of stones, both seemingly filled with sand and on top of that, a bed of rushes and heaps of them too. This was her piece de resistance.
Beyond that was a tree, right on the edge of what appeared to be a cliff but on closer inspection, was a slope down to the real edge. Still, it would be hard to dig in once you hit that slope so best avoided.
And then he saw it.
Right on the edge of the grassy slope was a tree. The trunk of that tree was bare and smooth but more than that, it was forked about two metres above the ground, in such a unique way that it was parallel to the northern point of the island, meaning that if you climbed into that fork, you could look out either way over the sea. And in that fork, she had tied some padding.
‘Are you pleased?’ she asked.
‘It’s almost mystical,’ he said.
‘Are you pleased with me?’
‘The moon, Hugh, is going to be with us tonight. I come from darkness but I’m embracing light tonight.’
‘It’s all been done beautifully.’
It was consummated over and over and over, they’d broken for refreshments, they’d then put in another long bout and then, around 01:00, she suggested they rest for three hours, try to sleep, even though it was her time with him.
‘You’ll see why,’ she said.
She woke and refreshed him, then led him to the tree, taking a little stick ladder from under the refreshment table. He had to climb up first and she handed him some more padding. ‘You’ll need this over three hours before the morning light. I’m not coming up until you are completely cushioned and say you’d be comfortable with my weight on you. Tie your robe to your waist with this, leave your lower half nue.’
That took some minutes, he leaned back, facing east and yes – it was fine, legs either side of the branch, with small footholds she’d driven in.
Now she climbed up and carefully positioned herself, he was as hard as a rock, she very carefully lowered herself, he helped, and there they were.
‘You must stay in there and come as many times as you can, just let it happen, don’t try to force it, no need.’
He looked at her and realized that kissing was not possible in this position but it was very comfortable and her weight was nothing the way she lay back against the branch. She’d obviously thought this one out very carefully and the lack of kissing was a concession to Nikki, to what their purpose was here.
And come he did, over and over.
She smiled in the receding moonlight and they held hands. ‘You see I face west, the setting sun and you face east.’
‘The point had not escaped me.’
‘My weight, is it too much, just say and I’ll lift, you can get some feeling back in those legs.’
‘Let’s talk then. About the past, about the future, about everything. If you’re capable, that is, with you … um … doing that.’