Sport 14: Autumn 1995
Alison Glenny — The Sea of Love
Once, there was a sea of love. A ship sailed on it. The ship’s painted surfaces were spick and span, maintained in immaculate condition by an army of white-clad sailors who scrubbed them down each morning before the passengers arose.
The ship that sailed on the sea of love pricked a perilous path between small, dark islands, hidden reefs, shoals and plotholes. Each morning its passengers came on board to discover, over a leisurely breakfast of brioches and fine, drip-filtered coffee, a multitude of scenes of astonishing and varied beauty. They cried aloud in wonder; they made small noises in their throats like the mewing of gulls. Their hearts fluttered, birds with hopeful wings, or leapt with the flying fish that traversed the ocean in glittering schools.
Beneath them, the ocean stretched and yawned. Mostly it was calm, it glittered and shone. At other times it rolled over and showed its dark, passionate underside. The smooth waters parted before the bow of the ship.
The ship sailed on.
In the morning the women come on deck to lounge in the sun, and smooth suntan lotion onto their long, lovely legs.
Amanda, wearing dark glasses, sensible make-up and a gay, floral print frock, sits slightly apart from them. With practised efficiency, she slips another sheet of A4 paper into the carriage of her portable Smith-Corona typewriter. For Amanda, this is no straightforward pleasure cruise. She is a working girl. And yet, and yet. Amanda has never felt so happy. A strange and giddy freedom seems to have taken hold of her limbs.
Amanda’s typewriter is old. Its capitals jump to the top half of every line. But Amanda is sentimentally attached to it. She inherited it, together with a diamond choker, a pair of crystal tear-drop earrings and a sealed envelope, from her great-aunt, the noted writer of romantic fiction who disappeared suddenly in mysterious circumstances.
At first the typewriter seemed strange and awkward to her touch. But now its worn keys seem, instinctively, to fit her fingers.page 15
Amanda closes her eyes. Her fingers discover a powerful rhythm on the antiquated keyboard.
Once, Amanda was a secretary. But no longer. Love over Gold changed all of that. Published, like her great-aunt’s stories, under the ‘Rose of Romance’ emblem, it told the tale of a secretary called Amanda who falls in love with and marries her employer, Luke Tarrant.
He was tall, handsome and powerful, with a lean, hardboned face that showed a wealth of experience.
She was young, spirited and inwardly vulnerable.
There were problems, quarrels, misunderstandings. For what was their love if not a powder-keg brimming with potential explosions?
But, by the last page, perfect accord. A superlatively happy ending in which love and champagne flowed in equal proportions.
The novel was a huge success. It has been translated into eleven different languages. Eleven! Amanda still has the letter informing her of the publication of the Croatian edition of Love over Gold. Somehow, it seemed special. She keeps it in a trinket box decorated with small shells, along with the diamond choker, the crystal tear-drop earrings, the sealed envelope which reads in her great-aunt’s elegant, sloping script: ‘To my dearest Amanda, not to be opened until the night of your wedding.’
Amanda recalls her great-aunt with fondness. If only she had not disappeared in mysterious circumstances!
A man is walking past on the upper deck. His shoulders are broad beneath the cloth of his white cocktail jacket. A cigarette dangles nonchalantly between slender, tanned fingers.
At the sight of him, Amanda’s heart swells in her chest. It bursts out in the form of a bouquet of paper roses, and is tossed high into the air by the wind. Abruptly it turns into a gull and performs a number of somersaults before sinking, in the form of a firecracker, into the sea, where it is extinguished with the sound of hissing.
Diligently, Amanda follows its progress. Her fingers fly across the typewriter’s worn keys.
‘Oh, Amanda! Amanda!’ she writes.
‘Oh, Luke! Luke!’
The ocean shines. And the ship? It is just a ship.
Often, the ship sails past symbols. Sometimes they are male symbols. Sometimes the symbols are female. Whenever the ship is picking its way through a group of female symbols, the men go on deck with their wineglasses and cigarettes. They make jokes and pass comments amongst themselves. Occasionally, one of the bolder women joins them. The skirts of her short cocktail dress billow in the sea breeze, which chills her creamy shoulders. The less bold women feel sorry for her. Not too sorry, though, for it can be hard to truly pity a woman with a careless, amused smile and wide, fearless eyes, even if she is surrounded by coarse hands and groping, masculine humour. A woman whose silvery, peeling laugh, mingling with the deeper guffaws of her companions, drifts faintly to their ears.
They examine their nail polish for chips and scratches. They do not look up.
Distracted by the sound of laughter, Amanda looks up for a moment from her typewriter. She sees a group of well-dressed men lounging by the deck rail. They seem amused by something. Amongst them, she notices, there is a woman, a woman with a brilliant laugh and a pair of perfect legs.
How Amanda admires her boldness, her splendid insouciance!
And, with her perfect creamy breasts disappearing beneath her fitted bodice (where a single hothouse rose blooms with an intense but dewy lustre) she is, Amanda tells herself, a sight worthy of, at the very least, an extended description.
Amanda thinks, If this woman were in my novel, she would have a name. A name like … Lucinda.
‘Lucinda,’ Amanda types.
These words are her talismans. Solitary isles, drifting at anchor upon the white ocean of her page. Amanda’s fingers hover above her keyboard. She dreams of a story that will lead her, like the dotted lines on the ship’s chart, away from the safe shore, from one island to another, out to the margins of her page, and beyond.
This is how one plots a journey, the journey into romance.
Although sometimes, when you reach your destination, it is different from how you expected it to be.
Usually, they pass the male symbols at night.
Most people are in their cabins, asleep. But there is always a girl, here or there, who could not sleep. A girl who has come up on deck to gaze into the mysterious place where sky and sea meet, to feel the deep throbbing of the ship’s engines beneath her feet.
Seagulls fold their wings over their heads and sleep amidst the dark, rocking waves. Phosphorescent fish leap through the waves with shining bellies.
It is beautiful, yet somehow sad.
The girl’s long, yellow hair is loose. It hangs in soft tendrils about her face, giving her a vulnerable look. She has thrown a cardigan over her shoulders, for warmth. Her feet are bare, her eyes wide.
Look. She is dying for love.
Won’t somebody help her?
This evening, Amanda’s eyes are an unusually clear shade of green.
They gaze back at her from the gilt-framed, oblong mirror in her cabin as she fastens, with fingers that tremble slightly from excitement, the dress that she will wear for her first shipboard dance.
Thank heavens that she decided to spend some of her book royalties on some decent clothes! This strapless silk evening dress, for example. How she sighed when she first lifted it from the box where it rested amongst its tissue paper wrappings! As she slipped it over her head and felt its cool length tumble all the way to her ankles!
A sigh of pure pleasure.
Amanda leans forward and takes from the trinket-box decorated with small shells her great-aunt’s diamond choker and crystal tear-drop earrings. She puts them on, then steps back, startled by her own reflection. How could she have guessed that the crystals would seem to fill her eyes with emerald lights? And yet, it is so.
With the barest touch of perfume at her throat and wrists Amanda is ready. She seizes her purse and fur wrap. The door of the cabin clicks softly shut behind her. Then she is moving in the direction of the ballroom at last, lured, as if in a dream, by the glimmering lights, the soft sound of violins.
Lights. Gay laughter. Fragrances of fruit and flowers. The soaring notes of the ship’s orchestra. And then, a masculine presence next to her, a low voice in her ear.
‘I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you before. I’m Luke, Luke Tarrant.’
‘Luke Tarrant?’ Her astonishment must show on her face, for the man who has just spilled his drink on her dress says, ‘We’ve met before then? But I’m sure I could never have forgotten such an attractive young lady.’ Already his eyes are appraising her in a frankly approving manner that seems to leave no part of her body unperused! It sends a blush to the roots of her hair. To hide her confusion she finds herself answering him more boldly than she intended.
‘We haven’t exactly met before. But don’t you think that the least you could do after making a wet patch on my dress is ask me to dance with you!’
For a moment his eyebrows shoot up in surprise, before he utters a deep, amused chuckle. The next moment she is in his arms, swept onto the dance floor to the soaring sound of the violins, his strong arms holding her dangerously, dizzyingly close.
‘Met you?’ thinks Amanda. ‘No, more than that; I invented you. Every bit of you. And you were just like this! Perfect in every way; handsome, broad-shouldered, deeply tanned, slightly arrogant …
‘Luke Tarrant,’ she thinks, as he whirls her unprotesting body with practised skill. ‘There must be some mistake, an absurd coincidence! Characters from novels don’t just turn up at shipboard dances, spilling drinks on women’s dresses!’ And yet, and yet. Can it really be no more than coincidence? He is so very much as she wrote him!
‘You dance well.’ The voice in which he compliments her is low, husky, unmistakably masculine.
‘Thank you.’ She responds mechanically, too lost in the whirlwind of her own thoughts to attend properly to his words.
Admit it. Too lost in the rapturous sensation of lying, lightly, in his arms.
Too desirous that this glorious moment should never end.
Outside, it is cold. In the luminous water, barnacles, dizzy with love, cling to the ship’s side. Pliant anemones and swaying seaweed reach out to caress its perfect paintwork. Only the solitary sea-horses glide purposefully past, intent on their own business.
Yes, yes, we are all dizzy with love, but please, on with the story.
Well then. Soon there are to be landmarks and, before the end, multiple and significant acts of love. Already, fires are being lit on the last of the islands. A barbecue, perhaps.
And what of Amanda, that sensible girl?
She is working on her romance. See how diligently she types. She types to hide the movement of her heart. Her tell-tale heart which flutters, this evening, between despair and a wild, unreasoning hope.
Rumours float to Amanda’s ears, an idle flotsam.
Oh, why are things never quite the way you imagine them! Luke Tarrant, for example. It transpires that he is none of Amanda’s invention. No; nor is he an ordinary passenger. Luke Tarrant is the heir to an oil and shipping fortune worth millions. His is the hand which will, one day, control the fleet of cruise ships that cross and re-cross the sea of love. He has only come on the cruise to keep an eye on his grandmother, whose health is poor.
Her name is not Tarrant. It is Papadopoulos.
She is a sort of generic Greek grandmother, thinks Amanda, with a Continental flair and sophistication. Her iron grey hair is fastened above the nape of her neck in a large but careful knot. Her accent is strong and melodic.
Amanda and Mrs Papadopoulos meet, purely by accident, over coffee in the ship’s lounge.
Amazingly, they become instant friends.
The ship has entered the Tropics.
The ocean fills with atolls, where palm trees nod and wave in the breeze like perpetually fluttering eyebrows, and the blue seas break over reefs of shining coral.page 20
On deck, Luke Tarrant is explaining to Amanda some of the features of coral.
‘Have you ever paused to think,’ he asks, ‘how many millions of tiny creatures have gone into the making of that reef? Why, surely the manner in which the living coral adapts herself to her particular environment is one of the wonders of nature! Consider the far side of the reef where the waves break more violently upon it; there you will find the tough species such as the singing coral. On the reef edge are the more delicate corals: the stag’s horn and the pretty sea fans. While on the landward side of the reef where it is well protected from the breaking of the surf, you will find the brain coral and the favids.’
‘The singing coral!’ Amanda murmurs. She is enchanted. Her heart swells with happiness. She feels as if there is a song hovering on her lips, a strange, ecstatic poem that waits just out of reach of her tongue.
‘You know a great deal about the coral, Luke.’ she says.
Luke smiles. His white teeth gleam almost as brightly as the singing coral.
‘I read it in a book,’ he replies. ‘It’s the sort of information which can come in useful in a business like mine.’
Mrs Papadopoulos is talking about Lucinda. ‘Is she not wonderful?’ the older woman enthuses. ‘The young men can scarcely take their eyes from her! It is not surprising. They are lost in admiration of her grace and confidence, her flawless and bewitching beauty. Which are, of course, inherited from her aristocratic father, while her stupendous wealth comes from her mother.
‘Her mother’s name, you know, is Remington-Smythe.’
Amanda gasps. ‘Remington!’ she exclaims. ‘Surely not—not the typewriter manufacturers!’
Mrs Papadopoulos gives a delighted smile.
‘Indeed! Lucinda is heiress to a typewriter fortune! Ah, what a catch she will make for the young man fortunate enough to win her hand!’ She sighs. In a low whisper she adds, ‘It is well. There will always be a demand for office equipment.’
Mrs Papadopoulos speaks of Lucinda as warmly, Amanda thinks, as if Lucinda were already her daughter-in-law.page 21
‘Where is her ancestral home?’ Amanda asks, faintly.
Mrs Papadopoulos shrugs her shoulders.
‘Some cold country, full of snow and forests.’
How could Mrs Papadopoulos guess that each of her words is like a tiny sliver of ice, thrust determinedly into the vulnerable spaces of Amanda’s heart?
She gives Amanda’s arm an affectionate squeeze.
‘You are a good girl, Amanda,’ she says. ‘It is kind of you to listen so patiently to an old woman. I hope that you will attend the shipboard dance tonight. It is good for young people to enjoy themselves.’
Lights. Gay laughter. Fragrances of fruit and flowers. The soaring of the ship’s orchestra.
Yes, they have long been preparing for just such an evening of love. The violinists lift their perfectly rosined bows high above instruments that gleam from repeated, loving attentions, from numerous applications of a special wax that is obtainable only from the best music stores.
They bring their bows down upon slender, gut strings. They launch into ‘The Pride of Erin’.
Amanda taps her foot in time to the music.
Tonight, she has the satisfaction of knowing that she looks her best. Sipping at the contents of the long-stemmed champagne glass brought to her on a tray by a black-and-white clad servitor, she gazes out onto the dance floor where, already, a few romantically precocious couples are entwined in a slow and tender waltz.
It is easy to follow the progress of the man in the white cocktail jacket who is lounging, one hand thrust carelessly into the pocket of his dark trousers, on the edge of the dance floor. Is he moving in her direction? Involuntarily, she finds herself stiffening at his approach …
Amanda gasps. In her throat there is a small, inarticulate noise of disbelief.
For he is not alone. There is a woman in his arms. A woman dressed in a short, black cocktail dress, with a careless amused smile, and wide fearless eyes. Black tulle drifts like a fine, dark mist about the bodice of her dress, now hiding, now revealing her lovely shoulders, her perfect breasts.page 22
He holds her in his arms. They dance as if with one accord. He leans forward to place a kiss upon her creamy brow, her tender lips. She smiles. Their eyes meet in a glance of perfect understanding.
At the sight of them, a tiny wave of despair breaks over Amanda’s heart, draining her hopes in its icy undertow. The lights of the ballroom seem to flicker and dim.
Amanda’s knuckles whiten on the long stem of her champagne glass. Abruptly, she drains its remaining contents in one searing draught. Then, still clutching the glass, she turns and flees from the ballroom into the cool air of the upper deck.
By the solitary light of the single bow lamp, Amanda types furiously.
The white silk of her evening gown billows in the night air. Absently, she unclasps her great-aunt’s crystal tear-drop earrings, and slips them into her purse.
Between pages, she leans back to light another cigarette. Far beneath her she can hear, faintly, the sound of the ship’s orchestra.
If this were a story, Amanda thinks, wealth and beauty would count for nothing. Only love would count. My love.
But this is no story. It is real life, flawed and uncooperative.
How could she ever have been so stupid! To have imagined, even for a minute, that Luke Tarrant might care for her! Luke Tarrant is rich; unimaginably rich. He moves in a world of stocks and shares, deals and mergers, of abrupt and lingering transactions that echo down corridors carpeted in beige, or hang in the air of boardrooms like the aroma of expensive cigars. His suits are of the highest quality and possess an international style. He wears authority like a wristwatch, discreet but expensive, a glint of gold beneath the cuffs of his perfectly ironed shirts.
And the other woman?
She is the taffeta that rustles through his dreams. The cloud of black tulle that floats softly at the corners of his gaze. The sparkling black eyes that are always raised to his in laughing mockery. She is the laughter that is like champagne.
She is Lucinda. Her mother is heiress to a typewriter fortune. Her father lives in the country and breeds horses.
Amanda stares out to the dark line of the horizon. A melancholy page 23 figurehead, she gazes past the ocean’s shifting, deceptive surfaces, and into its mournful depths. Surely the water is as cold and melancholy as a grave, a grave for lost love?
The ship is passing a male symbol. It looms up out of the darkness, massive and somehow threatening.
Briefly, Amanda finds herself hoping that the navigator knows what he is doing. She has never been able to rid herself, entirely, of the fear of shipwreck.
We are entering a time of mist.
The ship’s engines throb uneasily.
Amanda, who in a determined effort to be cheerful has chosen a colourful frock and an unusually bright shade of lipstick, has brought her typewriter up onto the deck.
She sits alone by the ship’s pool, where abandoned lilos drift like ghostly waterlilies, casting shadows on the luminous water.
It is no use. Her rapturous phrases have fled.
Her fingers lie, as listless and unmoving as the sea, on the typewriter’s worn keys.
A wind comes stealing across the pool. It sends a shiver running from her slim, crossed ankles, along the length of her uncovered legs.
She has just made up her mind to go inside when a scrap of paper, tightly folded, goes past her in the scurrying wind.
Idly, Amanda reaches out and catches it, just before it is blown overboard.
Carefully she unfolds it.
There is a message on the paper. It consists of a single sentence, scrawled across the page in large, untidy letters.
The plot must thicken.
Amanda looks around for the writer of the mysterious message. She crushes the thin scrap of paper between her nervous fingers. But the deck is empty. She is alone.
The plot must thicken.page 24
Whatever can it mean?
Amanda knits her brow in concentration as she gazes at the mysterious message.
There is something vaguely threatening about it. Something that reminds her of her home economics teacher, standing grimly over a recalcitrant sauce, grasping a wooden spoon in her hand.
The plot must thicken.
Well, then. It is rumoured that the ship has been infiltrated by undesirable elements. A ring of drug smugglers, perhaps, or international jewel thieves. The rumours generate fear, anxiety, a morbid sense of foreboding. The tranquillity of shipboard life is threatened. The women clutch their jewel cases in perplexity. They mutter uneasily over their Rabbit Blanquette, their Shrimps Mariette, their Potatoes Gorbachev, their Fillets of Sole Véronique, served with a Sauce Aurore whose colour resembles the perfect sunsets that flame every evening above the sea of love.
‘Potatoes Gorbachev?’ Amanda asks.
The waiter smiles enigmatically.
There are other rumours, too. Of legacies, rightful inheritances, fitting conclusions. Mrs Papadopoulos is grave. She speaks of business difficulties and uncertain speculations, of the shifting fortunes of the stock market, as changeable and deceptive as the shifting surfaces of the sea of love itself. It is not easy, she says, to be the heir to an oil and shipping fortune. A single scandal, she says, could spell certain ruin.
Amanda pays little attention to the rumours. She has, after all, little to lose! Outwardly, she remains calm. Until the evening when she goes to her trinket box to take out her great-aunt’s crystal tear-drop earrings (purely, it must be said, for the pleasure of holding the cool crystal to her hot cheeks), and finds that they are gone.
The steward who brings Amanda her breakfast arranges the tray carefully on her bedside table before he leaves, shutting the door discreetly behind him.
As soon as he is gone, Amanda sits up and begins to pour herself coffee. It is not until she reaches for the cream jug that she notices the envelope that has been carefully propped against the toast rack.
The envelope is the colour of apricots, and is scented, faintly, with gardenia.page 25
There is a letter inside it, written in an elegant, sloping hand.
‘My dearest Amanda,’ it begins. ‘I have taken up my pen after a long silence to warn you that you may be in danger.’
Amanda passes her hand over her forehead, disturbing a few soft tendrils of uncombed hair. Surely she can feel a headache coming on! And is it possible, she wonders, that she may have caught the beginnings of a chill, the night of the shipboard dance? She forces herself to focus on the letter she is holding in her hand. How difficult it is to think clearly at all!
‘But first, my dear Amanda, do you think it is wise to type so long in the night air, in a thin ballgown and without a wrap?
‘Writers in my day did not do so, I am sure.
‘And now, some advice of a literary nature! Dear Amanda, I am greatly concerned about your minor characters! I fear that if they gain too great a prominence, your romance may go quite awry and you may end up with something quite different. A problem novel, perhaps. Who knows? But certainly not something that would find approval with the editors at ‘The Rose of Romance’!
‘But most of all Amanda, I feel that I must warn you—’
The letter is unsigned. It breaks off in the middle of a sentence. As if, Amanda thinks, its author had been suddenly interrupted …
Tossing her breakfast tray aside amongst the sheets with their repeated motifs of scattered rosebuds and fishermen in small boats casting nets after dreams, Amanda rushes to the door of her cabin and peers out into the corridor.
Is it her imagination? Or is she really in time to see an elderly woman in a grey suit, sensible but elegant court shoes, and silvery hair fastened in a neat chignon, disappear into the shadows at the end of the corridor?
Imagination or not, by the time Amanda reaches the place in the corridor where she thought she saw the silvery-haired woman, the woman has vanished. Puzzled and disappointed, Amanda tuns back towards her cabin.
But what is this?
An unexpected wave causes the ship to lurch, throwing Amanda sideways, against the wall of the passageway. A moment later the ship has righted itself, but not before Amanda has had time to glimpse, through the suddenly opened door of a nearby cabin, a woman kneeling in front of a small suitcase.page 26
It is Lucinda.
But why is she dressed so strangely? In stockings that resemble fishermen’s nets, and long boots of leather, as black and shiny as kelp freshly washed from the sea?
Her tight-fitting, beribboned corset is cut low in the bodice, while in one hand she grasps a small but flexible riding crop. The suitcase before her is filled with gleaming jewels.
Lucinda looks up. Startled, her eyes meet Amanda’s and fill with recognition. She opens her mouth as if to speak. But before she has time to utter a word, the door swings shut, hiding her from view.
Troubled, Amanda walks back to her cabin. The brief glimpse of Lucinda has caused her head to spin and her mind to travel in curious paths
So many mysteries.
She fumbles with her door key. And fails to see the attacker, hidden in the shadows behind the door, who steps forward and delivers a crushing blow to her head; a blow which causes her to fall unconscious to the ground.
The passengers are groaning. They are unhappy; there have been complaints. Romance, they say, we were promised romance. Is this not, they say, a sea of love? And yet, so far, there has not been even so much as a single kiss!
They do not wish to believe that there cannot be love without mystery, romance without hesitation, passion without violence, or happiness without inevitable delay. Their mood is mutinous. They cast angry, sullen looks at Amanda as she sits, dutifully typing. Just one kiss, they say.
The air is filled with soft cries and whispering voices.
We will soon be in possession of all the dark facts.
Madeira was swallowed. A black night pressed into the uncanny music of the distant, churning waters.
Sunlight played on the water, highlighting the azure depths.
With the faintest hint of leashed and tethered strength.
Face it, Amanda. We’re two human beings who feel a strong attraction to each other. What could be wrong with that?
The night, penetratingly dark and cold.
The misty islands, whose contours seemed to have been carved in the dawn of time by a loving finger.page 27
The ship lurched sideways.
‘This is absurd,’ she cried. ‘Sheer physical attraction, the result of being flung together!’
They rode unbridled fancy through the long nights of romance.
He kissed her in a way she had never been kissed before.
Amanda shuddered delicately.
Indeed, she had never known that love could be like this.
A golden blissful time.
There had never been a love like this before.
Because, until now, there had always been misunderstandings.
Ah, thank goodness!
Word has been brought to the Captain that a female symbol has been sighted, suspended in the mist. Through the ship’s telescope it can be seen that this is one of the finest wonders of the natural world. Breathtakingly beautiful, astonishingly fragile, and yet of a monumental strength that has enabled it to endure for millennia!
Eagerly, the Captain consults his handbook. Yes, this is indeed a listed attraction. It even has a name. It is called ‘The Gateway to Happiness’.
Everybody crowds on board. The mood is one of general exultation. The Captain orders ‘Full steam ahead!’ and the ship glides forward.
Alone on the upper deck, the man in the immaculately cut evening suit prowls restlessly. He is like a lion, or a caged panther. Smoke drifts from the tip of his expensive cigarette. Perhaps he is waiting for someone, or something.
Impatiently, he checks his wristwatch.
He glances up at the storm clouds, which are rushing to arrange themselves about the boat. He frowns.
Sounds of softly clinking cutlery drift up from the ship’s galley. Soon, dinner will be served.
Inside the ship’s dining room, chandeliers cast soft pools of light over the white-clad tables, the sparkling wineglasses, the gleaming silver, and the black bow ties of the attentive serving staff. Amanda, whose head still aches from her curious accident, picks uneasily at her Fillet of Sole Véronique. She gazes down at the fish called Veronica which once, she presumes, swam happily in the sea of love, and sighs.
There is much to look forward to. A tempting array of desserts, served by waiters from a groaning trolley. And after that, champagne; followed by dancing on the ship’s poop, high above the dark but luminous waves.
Gazing around her, Amanda sees that Mrs Papadopoulos is sitting at the Captain’s table. She is wearing diamond earrings and a tiara, and is eating her dinner with evident relish.
Luke Tarrant is nowhere to be seen. His absence, however, is an ache that fills Amanda’s heart with a fierce and inexplicable longing.
Suddenly Amanda notices that there is an elderly woman seated at one end of the Captain’s table. How oddly her unpretentious grey suit and plain necklace of pearl contrast with the glittering jewellery and costumes of the other guests!
As Amanda watches her, she lays down her knife and fork, brings her napkin delicately to her lips, and begins to rise.
Amanda’s heart beats with a sudden intensity. Surely she has not imagined it! Surely the silvery-haired woman looked in her direction and beckoned to her! Ignoring the startled eyes of the other diners, Amanda leaps from her seat. ‘How rude I must seem!’ she thinks to herself as she dodges the waiter with the dessert trolley. But there will be time later to explain. For the moment all that matters is that she reach the mysterious woman before she disappears again!
But by the time Amanda has pushed her way to the Captain’s table, the grey-suited woman has disappeared. All that is left to show she ever existed is a crumpled napkin, lying carelessly on the table beside an unused wineglass.
The napkin! Impulsively, Amanda seizes it, ignoring Mrs Papadopoulos’s astonished expression. There is writing on the napkin. Amanda recognises a familiar, sloping hand.
She will read it alone, in private. Right now, though, she must follow the mysterious dinner guest.
Thrusting the napkin deep into the pocket of her evening jacket, Amanda runs towards the companionway that leads from the dining room page 29 to the outer deck. As she emerges onto the starlit deck, the cool air of evening surrounds her. A moment later she collides violently with the man who is waiting for her in the shadows.
A man whose broad shoulders strain the fabric of his white cocktail jacket, whose hands are thrust carelessly into the pockets of his well-cut trousers, while his dark eyebrows carry the promise of thunder …
He grasps her by the shoulders, so firmly that she could not move if she tried. His voice is harsh and sarcastic. ‘Another precipitous exit, I see,’ he says coldly.
Amanda wishes that her voice were less tremulous. The words ‘W-what do you want?’ spill out of her like tiny, terrified gasps of air, dissolving on contact with the solid chill of his icy demeanour.
‘All this typing, Amanda,’ he is saying, and she has never heard a voice so charged with menace. Oh, he is like a venomous snake, coiled and waiting to strike!
‘All this typing, and not so much as a single kiss …’
His mouth clamps itself onto hers.
She struggles, but is unprepared for the wave of desire that sweeps her like a drenching, foaming wave, leaving her week, trembling, exhausted, waiting for the next breaker …
‘Oh, Luke,’ she moans.
All around the ship, a storm is brewing. There is tension in the wind. The sea tosses its foaming heads, imperious, commanding. Unnoticed, the shadow of an elderly woman with an upright posture and soft, silvery hair, flits past them down the passageway and vanishes into the darkness at the end.
Soon, the storm will be upon us.
‘Oh, Luke!’ Amanda is moaning. If only he did not have her wrists imprisoned in such a vice-like grip! Desperately, she redoubles her efforts to break free. Almost certainly, something is terribly wrong!
Perhaps it is the strange way in which Luke is looking at her, the expression in his eyes which is one of hunger, almost ferocity! And he has not said once that he loves her!
As she gazes at him he seizes her shoulders once more and shakes her violently.page 30
‘What of the legacy?’ he hisses. ‘The diamonds! Your great-aunt’s fortune!’
‘W-what diamonds?’ she manages to gasp. ‘W-what fortune?’
‘Don’t play the innocent with me!’ he sneers. ‘You’re not as naive and foolish as all that!’
‘But I am!’ Amanda cries. ‘I don’t know what you mean!’ Oh, if only there were some way to make him believe her! To her shame, she feels a tear escape from one eye and roll slowly down her cheek.
Luke does not appear to have noticed. He has undergone a strange and terrible transformation. Whatever can have caused his hands to swell into fists the size of cabbages, and the veins in his neck and forehead to bulge in such a hideously livid fashion? Amanda chokes back an exclamation of dismay as he smashes his fist into the thin passageway door, as effortlessly as if it were made of matchsticks. She stifles a sob as he throws his head back in a demonic and triumphant laugh.
In vain, she attempts to escape from his vice-like grip.
‘Not like that!’
The voice is high and clear. It comes from somewhere behind Amanda. One of the diners, come on deck for a breath of fresh air? A steward, fortuitously sent to clear the drifting lilos from the abandoned swimming pool? Amanda gazes wildly about her. No! It is Lucinda!
Lucinda, barefoot and clad in a white martial arts costume, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Lucinda, her face filled with an unexpected urgency.
‘Aim for his vulnerable points! Like this!’
And as Amanda watches in admiration Lucinda sidles up behind Luke and lands a series of perfectly judged crescent kicks to his head and shoulders. Following them up, moments later, with a flurry of lightning-swift jabs to his solar plexus!
Luke falls heavily, and Lucinda bends over him, pushing back the strands of blonde hair that threaten to escape from her ponytail.
‘Luke Tarrant!’ She spits the words out as if they disgust her. ‘I should have known!’ She turns her wide, fearless eyes upon Amanda. ‘Do you want to tell me what happened?’
‘We met by accident and I—he seemed to have some kind of seizure. Is he in any danger?’
Luke makes a feeble attempt to rise and Lucinda pushes him back down again. ‘We’re all in danger as long as he’s like this,’ she responds grimly. ‘I’m page 31 afraid I shall have to disable him further.’
And she does so, with a flurry of blows that make Amanda feel slightly dizzy, watching them. Indeed, it is not often, she thinks to herself, even in these liberated times, that one sees a woman behave really viciously towards a man. The sight, it must be confessed, is not altogether unsatisfying …
Lucinda straightens at last. ‘There!’ she says. ‘That should give us a bit of breathing space! I’ve been meaning to talk to you for some time now.’
‘You have?’ The strange sensation of dizziness seems to have spread from Amanda’s head down to her limbs. She feels as if she is floating in a field of static electricity. It must be the storm, which is threatening to break above them.
‘But first,’ Lucinda is saying, ‘I want to give you these.’ Fumbling in the pocket of her costume she retrieves a pair of crystal tear-drop earrings which she drops into Amanda’s astonished hand.
‘My earrings! But whatever—’
Crash! Lucinda’s reply is drowned in a loud peal of thunder. Bang! The thunder is followed by another jagged streak of lightning, which lights up the sky. The moon, full and round, rides the backs of the black, massed clouds. By its light Amanda sees that they are sailing close to ‘The Gateway to Happiness’. It looms up out of the storm-tossed sea directly in front of them.
Oh! There is some witchery in the air, tonight!
For why else would Amanda’s hand reach out, boldly, and come to rest upon the creamy fullness of Lucinda’s left breast?
And why else would Lucinda’s answering kiss be filled with a tingling depth of passion which takes them both by surprise?
As their lips meet, a wave crashes against the ship’s side, drenching them with its icy, salt-tinged spray.
‘Shouldn’t we go below?’ Amanda murmurs.
‘Soon,’ Lucinda replies. And she leans forward, her eyes hungry with desire, and takes Amanda’s mouth in her own.
Despite the storm, the passengers have crowded on deck to see ‘The Gateway to Happiness’.
The Captain signals for the ship to be brought alongside the monument. This is the position from which the most spectacular views can be obtained.page 32
He reads aloud from his handbook, in a steady monotone. Statistics, of height, breadth, structure.
In Lucinda’s cabin, amid the sheets with motifs of scattered rosebuds and fishermen casting nets after dreams, two bodies twine in the throes of an abrupt and precipitous passion.
Their cries float aloft, into the tender night.
In the largest of the ‘Gateway’’s multiple entrances, the hollow voice of the sea can be clearly heard. A flock of gulls flies, screeching, into the air. Bull kelp sways upon the surface of the ancient rock where limpets have already prostrated themselves in attitudes that speak eloquently of devotion.
Everywhere, camera shutters are clicking, preserving this moment of wild grandeur. The Captain peers through his binoculars and shakes his head in wonder. For once, even he is moved.
Her lips close to Lucinda’s left breast, Amanda confesses: ‘I never knew that love could be like this.’
Lucinda smiles. As she moves her breast closer to Amanda’s mouth she replies, ‘That is because, up till now, there have always been misunderstandings.’
On deck, the show is finally over. The ship has passed on, and the passengers begin to drift below. A few linger by the stairway, turning back to catch a final view of the rocky mass which, even as they gaze longingly at it, is melting back into the surrounding darkness.page 33
Perhaps, if they stood still and listened very hard, they would hear the passionate sounds that rise from Lucinda’s single-berth cabin on the B-deck.
Probably not. For, after all, on a sea of love one is used to such things, and few chances can have been taken with the sound-proofing.
Tonight, the stars have grouped themselves in lustrous combinations. It is possible, by their light, to see the misty peaks that rise, mournful, above the sleeping ocean. The storm is over; the ship is at peace. It drifts silently upon the ocean’s dark face.
On deck, Amanda is typing. Her rapturous fingers flit and soar across the keys. They resemble the quick underside of gulls’ wings or the pale, starlit bellies offish, as they swoop down to spear a word, or hover to consider the felicity of a phrase.
‘The lesbian cavalry,’ writes Amanda, ‘could always be trusted to effect a rescue in the nick of time.’
‘We sailed all night towards the coral dawn.’
There are love scenes too, filled with inarticulate noises and wordless sounds.
Whispered cries and soft moans. The stuff of romance.
‘Oh, Amanda! Amanda!’
And so she types, on and on, unaware in her rapture that at some unknown part of the night the typewriter ribbon has run out and the dark print trailed into obscurity.
Unaware that the pages emerging from the carriage of the Smith-Corona are as smooth and blank as the ocean; as empty and featureless as shells whose surfaces have been scoured to an exemplary pallor by the unceasing motion of the waves …
To be continued.