Chapter 21. New beginnings
Steve was mesmerised watching her as she went on in, then he switched into official mode.
“Stop! What are you doing?” He was shouting as he moved into action and followed her into the water.
Maeve carried on wading into the river, the water was up to her waist. She reached her arms down into the flow, then pushed off with her feet, almost diving into the river. She was right at the bottom, touching the river bed, before Steve got to her. He put his arms around her middle and pulled her out of the water, dragging her over to the river bank.
Coughing and spluttering, he held onto her until they were lying on the bank, safely on dry land.
“What the hell were you doing?”
Coming out of the water woke Maeve from her trance, she was holding tightly onto Steve, like a security blanket.
“Oh my God! Did you not see her?”
Even though Steve was relieved that they were both okay, it had given him a fright which came out as exasperation,
“What the hell are you talking about? What on earth made you do that?”
Maeve was too shaken to react badly, she was coming out of a dream state,
“That woman, lying there at the bottom of the river. I needed to get to her. She needed me. She wanted me down there at the bottom of the river with her.”
Now Maeve was sobbing with relief.
“If you hadn’t been there…..”
Steve had recovered enough by now to be comforting Maeve,
“It’s okay, it’s okay. There’s no one there now. There wasn’t any one in the river. Well not anyone that I could see. You were reaching for some of that river weed. But you’re fine now. And I am here.” He held her tightly.
She opened her hands and she was indeed still clutching some trails of long flowing weed. “I thought that was her. I was trying to get hold of her clothes, to save her. But I couldn’t get a proper grip. And someone, or something, was pulling me down.” She stopped talking, looking at her hands in disbelief. “It was so real.”
Steve let her talk. They were lying on the ground recovering. As their levels of adrenaline dropped, they both became aware of the cold, and of their wet clothes.
Trying to lift the mood, Steve laughed,
“If anyone saw us they would think we were mad. Let’s get you home and into something dry.”
Maeve was white and still trembling, she nodded without saying anything. She was processing what had happened.
Propping her up, Steve guided them round to where he had parked the bike. Once on the road, he was fast. They were back outside Maeve’s house in a few minutes.
Steve sorted the bike. While struggling to get the keys out of her wet clothes, Maeve saw the note pinned to the door.
‘Gone shopping for provisions. Marianne & Orla XXX’.
She managed to open the door, thinking, good I can get myself warm and dry before they get back.
Once Steve was happy that she was safe and on the way to a hot bath, he left to go and do the same thing, shouting over his shoulder on his way out.
“I’ll be back in half an hour for that tea you promised.”
Knowing that she was alone, Maeve began peeling off her wet clothes, managing to smear herself with more mud in the process. She was too cold to care. Moving into the bathroom, running the bath and then back to her bedroom to get clean clothes. Heading for the bathroom, now fully naked holding the dry clothes out at arm's length, she saw a young man standing in front of her. She stopped, extremely annoyed that Edward had chosen today to make someone appear.
Edward often appeared at inappropriate moments, Maeve had tried to ban him from her bedroom without complete success. Irritated, she stood there, not wanting to actually walk through him.
“For Christ’s sake, out of my way!”
She moved towards him, as he backed away turning puce with embarrassment. Not registering his discomfort, Maeve carried on,
“Where’s Edward? And who are you? I can’t deal with any new people today. I’ve had all I can take. So whoever you are, Get out of my way!”
“I’m Adam.” The young man managed to get out, as Maeve slammed the door to the bathroom behind her.
Still in shock Adam stood there not knowing what exactly he had seen. Possibly a naked woman streaked with mud and bits of pond weed in her hair, who might actually be his hostess. Who was inexplicably angry and shouting at him.
He was wondering if had made the right decision to take Orla up on the offer of a place to stay. Christmas might be more ‘interesting’ than he had bargained for.
A moment later. Gingerly, the bathroom door opened. Maeve stuck her head out, keeping the rest of her body covered by the door.
“Oh my God. You are Adam.”
“Em, yes?” Adam didn’t know where to look, or what to expect.
“You are really here. In the house. In person”
“Er, yes” by now his voice had dropped to a whisper, thinking that even if this was her house, she was at best eccentric, at worst totally deranged. He began wondering if he could get his stuff and creep out of the house without being accosted.
“Oh God! I am so sorry. I thought you were a ghost.” Having recognised the extreme awkwardness of the situation, Maeve was still desperate to get into the bath.
“Well as you can see, I have to have a bath. Then we can have tea, and I’ll explain.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say, so closed the door. Shit, shit, shit, thought Maeve, who had by now remembered that it was her idea to get Adam over. Well she reflected, it’s too late to do anything about it, what’s done is done, depending on how he reacts we’ll know what kind of a person he is….
Stepping into the bath, luxuriating in the warm water she forgot everything else for the moment.
Adam was still standing on the landing, turning to the room where he had been in the process of unpacking and turning back to make sure the bathroom door was still shut. Could he repack his bags and get out the door before Maeve came out of the bathroom?
He was still hesitating when he heard keys in the door, this time it was what he had been expecting before. Orla and Marianne were back from the shops, with bags full of groceries. This he could manage, so he dashed down the stairs to help with the bags.
Seeing Maeve’s clothes abandoned exactly where she pulled them off. Orla looked up at Adam as she said,
“I see you have met Mum”, the girls looked at each other and back at Adam with raised eyebrows wondering what exactly had been going on?
Looking deeply uncomfortable Adam blurted out,
“She thought I was a ghost!”
The girls turned to each other and burst out laughing, Orla managed to get out
“well you are as white as a sheet.” Before collapsing into another fit of giggles.
Marianne recovered first,
“I have no idea what happened, but these clothes are wet, and Maeve wasn’t expecting you to be here, so I guess it was a bit of a shock for both of you.”
The laughter signaled normalcy to Adam, maybe he could see the funny side of things,
“Oh yes, of course I know that Mrs McPhillips can communicate with the other side. I never thought she would see me as a spirit.” By now he was smiling too, and as he told them exactly what had happened, their infectious laughter had Adam joining in. Things might work out fine after all.
Adam was a PhD student at the University of Kent, studying medieval archaeology, that was pretty much all that the family (except for Orla) knew about him. He was tall and slim, well maybe skinny, and had a strange way of bobbing up and down when he was excited which was quite often. Everyone thought he was English, but he had grown up on the Greek island Folegandros, his mother was Greek. Canterbury was an escape on two counts, it was far away from Greece, and his choice of medieval history was far from the ancient world too. He needed the space. Folegandros is a small island where everyone knows your business. He didn’t know many people in the UK, wasn’t yet comfortable with English customs, and equally he had some very strange misconceptions. He had only recently learnt from Orla that Ireland was a separate country.
Over tea, and freshly made blueberry cake, Adam was reconciled to Maeve’s strange behaviour, they had both decided not to mention that she was actually naked when they met. Maeve had filled them in on her river spirit. At which point Adam said, “Ah yes, Ophelia.”
The three faces turned to him as one, expectantly,
“Em, well you must know about the famous judge James Hales? Of course it’s not really my period. But he was one that committed suicide in that river, the Stour in Canterbury. They say his death inspired the gravediggers speech in Hamlet.”
Steve didn’t make it back for his promised cup of tea, he had been called into the station for a crisis that linked to Maeve. He was coming to the house all right but this time it was one hundred percent on official business.