The text message
I was paddling. The sun was shining and the sea was calm. Not a single wave. I loved the feeling of my tired core and arm muscles as I kept paddling on and on. I don’t know how long I had been going for, but I was starting to feel very hungry. Emma was supposed to make paella that day. And the thought of the paella made me paddle faster. I had done my favourite round. I could see Nellevine the lighthouse perhaps a hundred meters ahead. Not long now till I was home. But as I approached Nellevine, the sea suddenly started moving under me. First the waves were small, but the closer I got, the bigger the waves. I sat frozen with shock as my ore was yanked away from me as if by a pair of invisible hands. The waves were rhythmical in a strange, disconcerting way, as if the ocean was chanting something.
I was clinging on to the sides of the kayak for dear life. I didn’t want to fall into the water. I knew it would envelop me like a shark dragging its victim to the bottom. But something much worse than me falling out happened. The kayak with me inside started sinking. I was powerless. I would never come back to Emma and her paella now. I would never see Melissa again. I would never…. My frantic thoughts were interrupted as I suddenly understood what the ocean was chanting.
“Sandra, you’re guilty
Sandra you killed her
And for this you will die, die, and die.”
Nellevine’s revenge. I knew it. It was my turn now. I closed my eyes and accepted the inevitable.
I woke up by the sound of music next to my bed. My phone. My heart was beating fast as I reached out to check the caller ID. Deborah. Wiping the sweat off my forehead I replied “Hello” trying to sound awake. What time was it anyway?
“Sandra. What’s up?”
Deborah sounded concerned. Norman told me you’d had to rush off for some family emergency and that you weren’t sure when you’d be back exactly. I just wanted to….” She trailed off “I’m sorry. I hope you don’t mind me calling. It’s just that, you didn’t seem yourself after receiving that phone call. And you’re never usually away, so I was wondering if there’s anything I can do for you?”
“I’m fine Debs,” I replied in what I hoped was a calm, reassuring voice. “As Norman said, I had to go away for a family emergency. I’m in Norway and I’m really not sure when I come back.”
I felt like a parrot only repeating what Deborah had said. “Norway? Wow. Well, I hope whatever it is will sort itself out. It’s boring without you here in the office.”
“I am sorry you know.” I said and meant it. This had happened at the most inconvenient of times. On Friday, the mayor was going to open a new centre for under-aged alcoholics and drug users. A project that had been going on for a while and surrounded by a lot of controversy. We’d worked nonstop and had even been in the office Saturday and Sunday of last week. Something that should probably have clicked in my brain on Sunday suddenly became very clear. For Him to have called me in the office on a Sunday, he must have spied on me to know I was in. Nobody randomly calls an office on a Sunday. And if he had I decided not to dwell on that right now. Though the possible realization wouldn’t let go. Spied on me, did that mean He now knew where I was?”
“Sandra, you there?”
“Yeah, Thanks,” I said with a little laugh. “I’ll keep you posted as and when I know what’s going on. “
“Ok. Cool. Well, take care of yourself and I hope you get to enjoy a little of Norway. And it’s fine. We don’t choose the timing of these things.”
Norman had said the same when I’d rushed to tell him that I had to go. “You’ve worked hard and although it’s a shame you’re not gonna be with us for the opening of the centre, it’s more important you take care of your family back in Norway.” Not many other press secretaries would have reacted like that.
“Thanks. I’ll do my best.”
The time was already a quarter past ten. I wonder why I kept sleeping in so late. Especially because I’d had that awful nightmare. I figured it must have something to do with the long kayak trip I’d been on yesterday. I’d stopped in a quiet little bay and had a swim. I’d had enough sense to pack my bikini in my haste to leave London. And even more so to put it on under the wetsuit. The water had been a little cold at first, but as I swam, I had gotten used to it, and I was refreshed when I lay drying in the sun before paddling back.
Emma had already arrived home when I returned. She’d made us omelettes we’d eaten at the kitchen table, and I had told her what mad Gerda had told me about Nellevine’s revenge.
“Nonsense!” she’d exclaimed and started laughing. “As if she has a hotline to the spirit world. Well, she’s just trying to frighten you for some stupid reason. Don’t take any notice of what she’s saying. Remember, she has quite a few screws loose.”
“But what about the mysterious drownings?” I said. I was prepared to let Nellevine off the hook, but the drownings sounded like she didn’t make them up. Emma had stared pensively in front of her for a while, picking at her tooth with a tooth pick before she said, “I suppose that’s true yes. I wasn’t alive for some of them, and only a little girl when her two ex-husbands disappeared. But everyone was talking about it. I remember that clearly.”
What were they saying?” I asked.
“They all happened close to the lighthouse Nellevine. That’s true. And…. There is one more thing. Apparently they all happened on mid-summer eve. The 23rd of June.”
Emma had again left a note on the kitchen table as I went downstairs. I wasn’t feeling hungry. My stomach was tight and I was tense, so I found some oranges and strawberries and made a smoothie.
Sorry to be a bother, but would you mind going in to Lillesand and change the top I bought in Belinda? I need it in one size bigger. The note said. Next to it stood a fancy blue paper bag with Belinda written in intricate raised silver letters.
I was on the lookout, but didn’t see Gerda as I was walking down towards the jetty and Emma’s motor boat. Despite everything, I was looking forward to taking the boat into Lillesand. Like when I was kayaking, being in the motor boat, feeling the wind in my hair and the smell of petrol filling my nostrils made me feel completely relaxed and care free. I guess I’d been either a fisherman/woman, captain or perhaps even a pirate in my previous life.
I was a little nervous about going to Lillesand in the boat by myself since there had been a few years since the last time, but apart from going a little astray at one point, I got there in one piece. I even managed to moor the boat to the pier, though I did struggle and at one point received questioning looks from a couple of men further along the pier.
It was still early June, but the summer residents from Oslo had already started arriving. The wives of the posh shipping and oil company CEOs, or whatever their stinking rich husbands were doing. They were so easy to recognize. And they all looked more or less the same. Slim bodies as a result of various crazy diets, hours at the gym, and in some cases, I suspected plastic surgery. Tanned from either sun beds or fake tan. Statement jewellery and handbags. And bored looking faces behind skin perfecting makeup and fake smiles.
Belinda was the latest boutique that had opened in Lillesand to cater mainly for these types of women. It was still so newly opened that I could smell the paint as I walked in. The shop was empty except for a middle-aged woman at one of the dress wracks and a young blond woman behind the counter who smiled and got up when I came in. After having changed the top for Emma and bought an overpriced summer dress that looked really good on me, I walked around a bit before I found a café. I ordered a cappuccino and sat at one of the tables outside. I was happy. Enjoying a perfect summer afternoon.
I felt something vibrate in my handbag and I dug out my phone. Probably Emma who wanted to ask me to get something else while I was out.
“”Did I scare you? Well, I’m sorry, but you knew you’d hear from me sometime. I know you’ve travelled. I spoke to one of your neighbours just now. I’ll find out where. We need to talk?
The number was withheld, but I knew who had sent the message. Suddenly, my perfect afternoon felt less perfect.