Four Letters and an Apostrophe

by Matt Triewly

Four letters and an apostrophe...

The thought began to tragically take form in her mind...

The ramp of the Chain Ferry, also known locally as the Floating Bridge, clattered and scraped metallically as it lowered onto the concrete slipway. Immediately a handful of passengers hurried off the vessel and stepped onto the land of West Cowes. She heard the engine of a car rev up and then pass her as she made her away along Bridge Road. Two other cars followed and then there was a kind of pause. She heard a seagull shriek and then listened to a pennant flapping from the mast of a distant yacht. She discerned the faint footsteps of people on the pavement as they walked towards the centre of the town.

She glanced up. The sky was a beautiful blue. She felt the gentle breeze tickle her face and softly blow strands of her hair across her forehead. On this day she was more aware of what it was to be alive than any other day. She attempted paradoxically to conceive the inconceivable: nothingness, oblivion.

She reached down into her coat pocket - the photo was safely still there.

Four letters and an apostrophe...

Three quarters of the way along Medina Road she halted. It was the spot where the photo had been taken.

She slipped the picture out of her pocket and turned to face the road she had just walked along. The picture was dog eared and had been taken nearly two and a half decades ago. She held the photo in her right hand at arm's length - she needed to see what he had seen all those years ago.

Four letters and an apostrophe...

The photo showed a young woman in a halter neck top with a short skirt on a sunny day. The woman though smiling looked serious. She was an attractive, though not beautiful, woman with long curly auburn hair, neat featured with big blue eyes. She was slim yet large breasted, and she could understand why he would want to take a photo of this woman. It was of course, her.

She remembered him standing outside the entrance of the drawing office, where they both worked, camera in hand. He had been waiting for her, waiting for her in the early morning summer sun. She hadn't stopped to pose for him but had carried on walking. She had been flattered but had felt a little uncomfortable with his attention; she dressed to attract attention but not his attention.

She recalled him as being nice, mildly witty, kind - and harmless. He was friendly and only ever asked her out once, but she had politely declined and he had taken it on the chin. She had felt a little bit bad about hurting him but they had become friends and would sometimes meet up for a coffee.

Four letters and an apostrophe...

Physically he was average looking, of average build, of average height. His features were neat but boring, his views conservative with a small c. He could be funny and generous, but he never did anything for her; he was the kind of guy a husband or boyfriend never minded you meeting. She sought more. And she got it.

Rob was tall, dark and in possession of smouldering good looks. He was fiercely intelligent with a buccaneering approach to the world. He had set up a small engineering consultancy fresh out of university, taken on and taken out some of the big boys; he wasn't just going places, he was the place.

He had picked her up in the Ryde Queen - an old paddle steamer converted into a nightclub and moored along the River Medina - swept her off her feet and married her in six weeks. He had taken her around the world as he negotiated contracts and secured work. He borrowed recklessly but the risks always paid off - handsomely. When they had returned to the Island it wasn't just with suntans - she was pregnant. He rented out a quaint little cottage near Osborne House for her and then took off to take on the rest of the world again.

He was away when she gave birth to his daughter. He came back two weeks later; and something had changed. She plonked the baby in his arms.

"It's not mine, neither of us have red hair."

She thought he had been joking but he handed her back.

"I'm leaving you, and you'll have to move out. I've lost everything. I'm bankrupt," he added flatly.

He then walked out pulling the door quietly behind him. She then placed the baby - which was his - in the cot, sank to her knees and cried till the early hours. She was just twenty, and now a single parent. She would never see Rob again, and nor would her daughter.

Four letters and an apostrophe...

The council set her up in a house in Vectis Road; she hated it there but what could she do? She struggled to get by on benefits and would sometimes help at a bar for cash in hand whilst her parents would baby sit. It was a miserable existence and she would constantly think back to when she travelled the world...

Then one day she got a knock on the door. It was Tony from the drawing office, the drawing office she had left when she had married Rob. She had been genuinely pleased to see him; he was a nice man. She didn't fancy him and never would, but she felt fondness for him. He started popping round on a regular basis and would take her and the little one out in his car at weekends. It kind of surprised her when they ended up in bed; she never thought she could sleep with a man she neither loved nor fancied but with her eyes closed, she could imagine it was Rob, wildly passionate Rob...

Four letters and an apostrophe...

It had made sense when they had brought a three-bedroom house in Hefford Road. Tony had steadily progressed at work and was on a good income. He had been kind and perhaps more importantly patient, with her daughter as she grew up. They had got married after three years but despite Tony's desire to have children together she had refused. The problem was that she couldn't stop thinking about Rob. She had made discrete inquiries about him from time to time; apparently, he had got through his bankruptcy and was now in employment. He also had another wife and a couple of kids. That had hurt.

The years became decades and her daughter left home to train as a nurse. She now had a job in the local hospital as an administrator and Tony had progressed to a career in Computer Aided Design for which he was remunerated generously. They were on the face of it quite comfortable.

She should have been happy; but she wasn't. Underneath she still craved to be swept off her feet, shown the world and shagged senseless by a gorgeous man: a man such as Rob had been, and Tony wasn't.

Four letters and an apostrophe...

The problem was that despite his loyalty, his generosity, his reliability, Tony bored her. He was never spontaneous in his actions and never passionate, even his surprises were predictable; she always knew what he would buy her for a birthday, always knew where he would take her for a celebratory meal. Sex was the same.

Sometimes she would stroll past her old council house in Vectis Road to view the 'scrap heap of society' as she condescendingly referred to it and convince herself that she was a lucky person to have escaped that fate by meeting Tony. After a while that didn't work; she could still have got out of it she rationalized.

This slow death by boredom had prompted her to question the marriage; she was forty-four and felt eighty-four.

Four letters and an apostrophe...

It had all come to a head.

"What do you want from me? I've been totally faithful; I've always provided for you. I don't knock you around, I don't drink, I'm careful with money and I've looked after your daughter as though she was mine." And for the first time he raised his voice to her: "WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?!"

She hesitated before dropping the bombshell.

"I don't love you."

Four letters and an apostrophe...

His mouth had dropped open and she thought he was going to speak but instead he had soundlessly swivelled on his feet and walked out into the cold February evening. It was the second time a man had walked out on her.

After forty-eight hours he still hadn't returned; she had become concerned for him. From the day they had moved in together he had never spent a night away; it was two nights now. She phoned the police. And within thirty minutes an officer was at her door.

"Earlier this morning a yachtsman discovered the body of a man washed up on the sides of the River Medina by The Folly Inn. We believe the body to be that of your husband."

For some reason she had remembered the photo taken all those years ago by Tony - she had kept it in a drawer because shortly after she had met Rob. But now, but now she realized with tragic insight that Rob was just a fantasy; her feelings for Tony had never percolated into her thoughts. She had been blinded by an impossible dream.

I don't love you.

Four letters and an apostrophe had murdered a man. A good man. A kind man. A loving man. She had wielded that word, consisting of four letters and an apostrophe, as effectively as an assassin with a knife.

"I do love you," she mumbled dreamily in the street.

She slid the picture back into her pocket and saw that the sun was low in the sky. It occurred to her that if she kept walking west then the sun would never set on her. She turned and headed west towards the town. Once through the town Gurnard would be next, Yarmouth, Lymington, Bournemouth, Devon, Cornwall, America...

Four letters and an apostrophe...

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