The Island

What a superb place to hide anything!

So ran the subconscious thoughts of John, as he gazed out over the small blue lake to a rough topped island, more or less located centrally (as far as he could judge) within its azure waters. The miniature, protruding hump seemed comparatively near yet somehow inaccessible and deserted, save for a few ducks bobbing about nearby, some gulls standing on its tiny shore and half a dozen geese swimming serenely past.

Actually, he considered, calling the gently rippling, slightly elongated body of water a lake was something of a misnomer because, in truth, it was once an industrial gravel pit. As a permanent sign nearby explained, the site was worked commercially until around twenty years previously, at which time it was handed over to the regional Wildlife concern, who proactively managed the area as a nature reserve to encourage all manner of flora and fauna, providing a constantly changing scene throughout the seasons.

It was this endless variety which brought John, when everything became too much for him, to go and sit - regardless of the weather - on the thoughtfully provided wooden bench here, allowing him to gaze placidly over the scene and to watch the dappling colours in the water and to ponder on the many hues in the surrounding trees and hedgerows.  

Today’s weather was glorious: a flawless sky from horizon to horizon, a gentle breeze and a sun whose late summer radiant heat made one feel slightly drowsy. John could discern all his cares, anxieties and frustrations gradually ebbing away and, as he continued to sit on that seat by the gently lapping water, a growing sense of peace and tranquillity inexorably overcame him.

It was all in stark contrast to an hour or so previously, when he thought he had finally reached breaking point. Barbara had been making his life increasingly intolerable for years. Her incessant outbursts; her sneering, domineering demeanour; her insistence that John was a mere worm, to be trodden on and publicly humiliated. He could never escape, for she held complete control over the purse strings and she constantly fed off this power to make his life as miserably unendurable as possible. She was driving him to an early grave and that is exactly what she wanted, because then she would not have to share her triumphal powers with one whom she viewed as a recurring irritant, like a fly buzzing around frenetically but just out of reach of being swatted for good.

John had tried everything: kindness; conciliation; humour; acquiescence; timid threats; abject appeals. He had been through the whole orchestra of potential instruments of help and self-help, all to no avail. There seemed only one way out of the sordid, bottomless slough in which he was forced to flounder daily and that was simply to yield to the inevitable and say goodbye to life. 

Such was John’s state of mind when he first sat on the bench that day but now, as the quiet of the nature reserve had, as always, slowly worked its balm, he felt the knot in his stomach and the tight coils in his body and brain eking away to be replaced by an almost light-headed peace. He knew it would last only temporarily but, while it maintained, he was going to wallow in it.

That was when the little island, which he had sat and observed many times previously but had never really thought about, began to draw him in a way quite unlike anything he had felt before. Perhaps because of the peerless atmosphere on that bright day, for some reason it appeared to be closer than usual. John tangibly felt the island calling to him, beckoning him to come to it, to explore, to seek the sanctuary it offered, surrounded on all sides by the deep, purifying water. 

He knew then that he just had to visit it and that he could never find the eternal peace he so desperately sought without somehow setting foot on that little sand and gravel peak amongst the oasis of calm. He fell to musing how he could accomplish such a feat.

John was no great swimmer so, to reach the island, some sort of boat would be a necessity. Fishing, he knew, was strictly prohibited for this was a site of special scientific interest and its natural habitat was fiercely protected. That meant visiting during the hours of darkness, in order to ensure he would be unseen and unreported.

The second he had that thought, something stirred within John. The very idea of a nocturnal expedition added an unexpected verve to the ideas evolving in his mind. It turned the suggestion into something darker, more surreptitious and opened up all manner of other lines of consideration. Perhaps, if he was successful, he might accomplish the trip more than once; he might, in a kind of infantile way, “claim” the island for his own, use it as his real escape, hide things there in a place only he knew; yes, he ruminated, what a superb place to hide anything. 

“Hang on a second”, said John to himself, his tumbling cogitations overreaching themselves and running far ahead of one other. “First things first - practicalities”. He would need a small, silent boat or similar worthy vessel and he would have to find a way of bringing it unnoticed to the nature reserve and taking it away again. Something like a canoe might work, he reasoned, for he was pretty sure that even a two-seater one would fit without difficulty in his van and something lightweight such as a kayak would have the advantage of being able to be lifted by him to the water’s edge, without leaving any tell-tale dragging marks on the grass. Yes, that answered the second point too - he could bring it unseen in his van and simply park the vehicle at the nearest accessible location. If he chose his time propitiously - perhaps on a clear night with no moon and at an hour when even intrepid outdoor lovers might be supposed to have ceased their nocturnal rendezvous - he felt the thing might be carried through without too many obstacles.

John had long since ceased to sleep with Barbara at night (or, indeed, at any other time) and provided she knew his whereabouts - in order, it seemed to John, expressly to track him down and humiliate him - she was not bothered about when he came and went during the day or even at night, for she made sure he had nowhere else to go other than, as she referred to it, “your bench by that stupid puddle of water where you sit and contribute nothing to society” (she always stressed the word “nothing”). It would not be the first time that John had taken himself off somewhere at one o’clock in the morning to wander aimlessly, trying to cool down from a blazing argument.

So John’s plan was formed on that cloudless September afternoon and, as the weeks moved on and the days shortened, it finally came to fruition in the small hours of a still, cold, late October night.  

Everything happened exactly as John envisaged it would. He had hired a suitable canoe and paddle from a nearby boatyard and had secreted them in the back of his van with a couple of other things John wanted to take to “his” island. He succeeded in getting everything down, under cover of darkness, to the water and as soon as he started paddling out onto the lake a glorious sense of exhilaration coursed through his veins.

As the island approached, John felt his senses alive to everything: the muffled sound as his blades stroked the water, the plopping of the shallow waves on the canoe’s fibreglass hull, even the very faint noise of an occasional vehicle way over the other side of the distant hill. The black lump of the island - a slightly blacker irregular shape than the blackness around him - was just discernable and, as he approached it, John began to pick up the smell of the island’s damp vegetation. Although the air was cold and his breath was steaming, John was quite warm in his fleece from the steady action of rowing. When he eventually reached the shallow shore, had hauled the canoe up onto dry ground and had scrambled up to the top of that small, gravelly pimple, for the first time in his life he felt he was the King of all he surveyed and in complete charge of destiny.

John spent a couple of hours on the island and, on the return paddle, he threw the spade into the lake. They never did find Barbara’s body.

© Richard Farquharson, Haddenham, Cambridheshire October 2019