A Way Out
Excerpt from Without Tears and other Tales
“Mrs Bowles, was it you that swam out to the reefs yesterday?”
“Yes, I do it quite often,” she replied.
Miss Jenny grew ill at ease, she looked disapprovingly at Lisa, then said with a frown:
“You should never swim out that far.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m a good swimmer, besides, my husband is with me most of the time,” she explained.
Now Miss Jenny grew agitated, her mien acquired a pallor which penetrated far beneath her skin.
“Don’t Mrs Bowles, don’t,” she gasped.
“Don’t what, Miss Jenny?”
“Do not ever go swimming out there with Arthur,” she was exhorted.
“But he too is a good swimmer,” she declared nonplussed over a relative stranger’s solicitude.
“True, quite true,” she almost lamented.
“You know my husband by the sound of it,” Lisa said in a casual tone, meant to conceal her surprise.
“I do,” came a reply dripping with abhorrence.
Lisa could never have imagined that two words, the shortest possible, could be uttered with so much venom. Taken aback she said:
“You don’t like him, it appears.”
Miss Jenny did not respond immediately, she just viewed her visitor closer, with eyes that expressed suspicion and disbelief. Is she putting me on? her glances seemed to say; does she know all, but only likes to have some sport with me? Visibly garnering resolve she said:
“You are aware of course that there were deaths by drowning near those reefs.”
“No, I am not,” she was answered.
Now Miss Jenny eyed her with outright incredulity.
“Arthur never told you about it?”
“He did not. I guess he knows nothing about them. Don’t forget, he had been absent quite frequently.”
Miss Jenny became quite upset, shaking her head continuously, she walked to and fro between bookshelves while muttering disjointedly:
“He does know. More and better than anyone else.”
Her irrational behaviour frightened Lisa; for the first time she saw the staid librarian discomposed. Suddenly she confronted Lisa once more with that hunted look. Emphatic, more insistent than before she said:
“Mrs Bowles, I implore you not to swim near those reefs, especially not where I saw you yesterday.”
“But according to my husband that is the safest place along the whole stretch,” she blurted out defensively.
Miss Jenny stamped her foot and cried out:
“It is the most dangerous spot south of Bathsheba. A treacherous undertow, not easily recognised, can carry even a dolphin far out to sea and leave him there.”
“Ah, Miss Jenny, it is only water, true a bit tossed up, but in my estimation fairly harmless, certainly to a proficient swimmer. Carry a dolphin out to sea, indeed, what next. My husband told me that he crossed that channel several times, and there, he is still alive and chipper,” Lisa protested.
Then she added:
“I am a better swimmer than you think.”
At the library in Bridgetown Lisa made a thorough search through law books and registers. It took a while to find out what she was interested in. When she read excerpts from one and the other, a smile stole around her mouth that did not diminish all the way back. She gave the impression of a woman whose soul had been freed of a great burden. She chuckled between tunes which she hummed to herself. At times she interrupted herself to say:
“And yet there might be a way out.”
Arthur too was in high spirits, he almost forgot himself and became dallying and demonstrative.
“Darling, did you find what you were looking for?” he greeted her from afar.
“I believe so,” she replied.
“Now let’s see what the lady is reading,” he said mimicking the manners of a stern lecturer.
When he saw her selection, a whistle forced itself from his lips.
“The laws of Barbados,” he sang out.
Whether approving or criticising her choice could not be discerned.
“The lady intends to do some profound reading,” he quipped.
“I hope the gentleman does not mind,” she replied in a similar vein.
“Not at all, not at all,” he confessed, then added:
“Since we are on the subject of law, you probably know that ours are governed by British statutes in practically all respects. I say this for the single reason that our inheritance regulations do vary a bit. In Barbados for instance, without a proper will stating otherwise, the wife is the sole heiress of a husband’s estate.”
When she tried by means of gestures to silence him, he answered:
“No, no, you should know that, in spite of our law, I have ensured that no one can contest your inheritance. A will to that effect has been deposited with my lawyer, I should say our lawyers, Goldstein and Murlay on Bank Street.”
“Come, Arthur, let’s skip all that and talk about something else,” she remonstrated
“Alright,” he acquiesced. “What, for instance?”
“I would like to go swimming with you more,” she intimated.
“Well, that can be arranged easily, just say when and where.”
“Down at the reefs again, perhaps even starting in the morning,” she suggested.
“I’m game,” he confirmed with barely concealed eagerness.