“Here’s a cup of tea for you,” she said.
She moved so quietly across the veranda on her bare feet that he was aware of her presence only when she spoke.
In the soft light of late afternoon she was still beautiful.
Once his lover, now the wife of a close friend.
He had been invited as their guest for the holidays.
He accepted because his friend didn’t know about times past, and she and he had put that behind them long ago.
Or so he thought until the simmering pot of the past boiled over.
Now she had sought him out where he sat in a rocking chair.
He had retreated into a magazine.
He wanted to be alone.
She knelt, holding the saucer and cup like an offering before an idol.
He considered the tea.
He didn’t particularly like tea – didn’t want tea now.
A gin-and-tonic would have pleased him.
Why didn’t she remember?
She bowed her head, not seeking his eyes.
“I don’t know what’s come between us,” she said.
“But if it’s my fault – something I’ve done, I’m sorry.
It’s just that you . . .
I don’t know what to say – forgive me – I beg . . . your pardon.”
She had no idea how profound were her gestures and words.
That was the heart of the problem – she was oblivious.
She really didn’t know why he was sitting alone on the porch.
She really didn’t comprehend what had come between them way back then and maybe again now.
And she really didn’t know what to say or do.
Up to him.
He felt they were on separate parts of a raft that was breaking apart.
It seemed to him that they were floating away from one another, while reaching out for each other in desperation at the same time.
If he had said that to her, she wouldn’t have understood.
She didn’t understand that they were at sea.
He looked down at her in pity.
He stared out over the veranda into the gathering darkness.
And that’s when he saw the snake.
Coiling just behind her in the shadows.
A small black viper.
The power of its venom made up for its lack of size.
If she stood up and stepped back, she would step on it.
The viper would strike her bare foot.
She would probably die – in agony.
So? In moments of anger at her he had once wished her dead.
He had to admit that.
If he reached out and pulled her toward him she would think his gesture one of reconciliation, as if he said, “All is forgiven, it’s nothing.”
She would have dropped the cup and saucer beside her as she grasped his knees, sobbing, and thrown her arms around his neck.
The snake, startled, would have slithered away.
And the snake in his heart would have struck his soul.
He would have saved her life and betrayed his.
She screamed as the snake bit her.
* * * * *
Alarmed, George sat up in his chair, muttered, Bloody hell.
There was no veranda, no tea, no her and no snake.
George was in his living room, staring out the window
into the Saturday afternoon light.
That wasn’t real – I’m day-dreaming, hallucinating, delusional.
Where the hell did that come from?
And what does it mean?
And what am I supposed to do with that?
It’s all in my head.
What’s my subconscious telling me?
Dr. Rosenberg is wrong. I am going crazy!
* * * * *
“Would you like some tea?” Vera called from the kitchen.
“How about a stiff gin and tonic instead?”
“Good idea,” she said. “I’ll make one for myself as well.”
Vera . . . Vera . . . what to make of Vera?
What does Marcus see that I’m missing – or denying?”