OF SEA AND SAND

Officially spooked, Gabriel became fretful, watchful, and tensed whenever Prudence came into sight. With his senses on high alert, he became more focused. She had no odour; at night she lay as still as a stone, her breath so quiet he had to lean over to make sure she was alive. He heard things, in the house and out of it. Those waves, crashing against the rocks. Heavy waves, ocean waves. Memory. Had to be. These sounds were streaming from his childhood days on the Irish coast. A gentle reminder. Had he retreated into some comfortable pocket of his own mind where he stored happier times? This, he knew, was what most concerned Annie—that the delusion was entirely of his own creation, for his protection from his misdeeds.

Because although that rumbling ocean was distant, he could have sworn it was getting louder.

He woke one night, hot. A strange kind of heat covering him, neither clammy nor dry, more like lying in the direct path of a beam, as under a sunlamp or the sun. The heat of the sun—yes. All over him, though the room was dark as Hades.

Alarmed, he sat up. What kind of dreams were these—the weight of a purring cat and dark heat burning him—and what had they to do with Prudence?

More sounds came, filtering through his attempts to keep them out. Alert in the course of another unquiet night, he heard someone coming along the corridor—a woman—nylons rubbing together. He leapt from the bed, again, and stood naked halfway across the room. Heart thundering, he turned on the landing light, fearful of confronting some woman with large thighs, but no one stood on the whitewashed landing, even though he could not have dreamed it, since he had not been asleep, and when he turned, Prudence was no longer in the bed.

The lady in the stockings had taken her away.

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