Gone Fishing

by Mark Rickman
Email: mrickmans@aol.com

When they were young marrieds, Maggie would often slide forward off the couch and end up on the floor with Simon's fingers gently winding through her short curly hair while they talked, watched TV, or he slid to the floor beside her and they made love. As time rolled by she sometimes had a baby in her arms and the lovemaking had to wait until they got to bed and the baby slept through the night. Or at least part of it. As more time rolled by, the babies grew into people. Tim the eldest married the girl next door but one and Gwennie the baby was in her first year at Manchester University. Maggie's short curly hair was touched with grey and the last time Simon joined her on the floor, he clutched at his back and had to get up again. With Maggie's help.
   Now the chickens had flown the coop, Simon had retired, he and Maggie were too much together and they got on each other's nerves. For the first time in a long time, Maggie was sitting on the floor again. Holding her nineteen-year-old daughter's Raggedy Anne, the doll Gwennie couldn't go to sleep without until she was eight. The doll she had now given up for a boy friend. Maggie held Raggedy close and told her she was much nicer than a boy friend could ever be.
   Simon, who never seemed to have a temper to lose when they were young marrieds had stormed out in a rage. 'Gone fishing,' he snapped in answer to her question. Which meant taking the boat out on to the lake. Her second question about topping up the fuel in the outboard motor's tank went unanswered or unheard. Not that it mattered that much. If it spluttered to a halt, he'd say a few choice words and row back.
   'Serve him right,' she told the tattered doll tucked into the crook of her arm. 'A spot of exercise won't hurt either.'
    Still angry, Simon shrugged on the waterproof he kept in the boathouse and pulled the boat along the grass verge of Lakeshore Drive and down the slipway into the water. It was cold, far colder than he expected, and an edge to the wind made the water choppy. Deciding to stay out half an hour to prove his point even if he couldn't remember what the point was or for that matter what the argument had been about, he climbed inboard and started the motor. Fifteen minutes later, the motor spluttered to a stop, Simon reached for the oars that weren't there and as the breeze stiffened, the boat tilted and continued to drift away from the barely visible landing stage. He huddled lower, aimed at keeping the bow to the wind, and began to bail out with the old biscuit tin he was beginning to wish still held a few biscuits.
   An hour or more passed before Maggie began to feel concerned. Not worried exactly, Simon was at home on the water but it was cold and as the night drew in he wouldn't stay after dark, however angry he got. No, she reasoned he was probably punishing her by having a pint and a pie in the Kettle of Fish and not telephoning home.
   'That'll teach her,' he'll be saying to one of his cronies.
   'That'll teach me,' she said aloud while she walked into the kitchen and put the kettle on. 'The trouble with me is, I worry too much.' Another hour passed before she phoned the Kettle of Fish. Being told by the landlord that he hadn't seen hide nor hair of Simon, she half ran down to the boathouse before calling the police.
   'No,' she admitted to the policeman who picked up the phone, the boat didn't carry lights because Simon didn't take it out after dark. After which, she told the officer her husband couldn't have topped up the petrol tank, must have forgotten the oars, and was probably adrift somewhere.
   'Pretty forgetful, isn't he, your old man?'
   'Not usually,' Maggie defended. 'He was angry.'
   'Angry? Hey, you don't think he's…'
   'For God's sake no,' Maggie interrupted. 'He wouldn't do a thing like that. He's adrift somewhere. Will you please look for him?'
   'Right,' said the officer, 'I'll get back to you.'
   At that moment the boat bumped against the Lake's north shore and tipped over to one side. Icily cold, Simon stiffly got to his feet and made a grab for a spur. Missing it, he fell forward, hit his head on the stone flood barrier and accidentally pushed the boat back into the lake. Drifting away, it was found empty a hundred yards off shore with nothing to indicate where the occupant had got to. A sweep of the shore by the patrol boat's searchlight revealing nothing, the boat was taken in tow and the search for Simon called off until first light. By which time Maggie, having identified the boat, was beside herself with worry and promising God she'd go to church every Sunday forever and ever if only He'd send her stupid husband back to her in one piece.
   The WPC who walked down to the boat with her, tried to comfort the distraught woman. Pointing out the green scuffs on the side and bow, she said they looked fresh. Maybe he bumped a seawall and wandered off not knowing where he was. Meanwhile there was a call out and the entire lakeside would be checked. 'We'll find your husband, I promise you.' The words dead or alive were left hanging in the air.
   Meanwhile Simon, suffering from hypothermia and almost invisible against the rocks was found by an early rod and line man and his son. Carried into their rented cottage, he was fed hot soup, spewed most of it back with the water he'd swallowed in the lake, and wrapped in blankets before being taken to the casualty department of the local hospital. His attempts at speaking through his chattering teeth waved aside, he was gently stripped and bathed, and his head wound treated before he was fed. After which his eyes closed involuntarily.
    After his description was circulated, he was fortunate in being fast asleep when Maggie, who had spent the night alternately with her head in her hands and being physically prevented from rushing out to search the entire eighty-mile perimeter of the lake with a flashlight, arrived with his clothes. The WPC, who spent the night with her, promised Simon that after all the trouble the emergency services had been to, she wouldn't allow Maggie to kill him. Not yet anyway.
   A week or so later, they were sitting side by side on the couch when Simon rubbed a finger over the new scar on his forehead and said, 'Hey, what were we arguing about when I walked off?'
   Maggie smiled. 'I was saying we never get a night out, you old barnpot, but I think you cured me of that one.'
   'Did you say old?' Simon asked, putting his arm round her. 'I'll show you who's old.'
   'Promises, promises,' murmured Maggie, feeling his fingertips caressing the back of her neck before gently moving down her spine. 'Promises, promises.'

©2007 Mark Rickman

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