I knew she was too close, Erik muttered to himself. Her tongue has become more and more a frigate bird, all forked-tailed, wide wing-spanned and long-billed.
He drummed his middle and index finger against his cheek. For God’s sake if his money couldn’t do for him what he himself could not do for family and self by virtue of perfectly logical limitations, then what was the money there for in the first place? Why couldn’t Joyce understand that he wedged the money in his stead so that it could watch over his citadel while he retreated to the dungeons to lick his wounds, mull over his tragedy. The kind Joyce had never had and hopefully never would, because its aftermath was uglier than hell.
His other hand replaced the humming receiver.
The leather chair hissed as he leaned back into it. He’d just said goodnight to his children. Across eight thousand miles. For this, Joyce was all over his back again with her claws out. Told him he’d taken to his hooves rather than confront or tackle problems he’d created. A few days ago, he’d thought being around his children required everything he had. Now, saying goodnight long distant required even more. Required the Forces of the Physical World.
He looked out of his office window into the lit park and sycamore figs. Beyond that the Indian Ocean was vast and dark but for the occasional ship or the lighthouses. Maybe one of his ships. Mombasa was where the Lindqvist Shipping and Forwarding nestled. Good to be where he felt in control.
His mind came back to the crimes Joyce had accused him of. Back in Montreux where the accusing began, she’d looked at him as if executing a science of freezing his balls. Awhile ago she’d sounded as if she was still capable of doing that through ether and two continents apart.
Gudinna away was like the whole family, in the blink of an eye, had lost the only language they communicated in. Couldn’t even connect the dots because – now you see them now you don’t. How does one tame a savage god? One that invades your heart and pumps hot lead through it and makes this a new normal? His heart was a motorised cement mixer whenever he thought of Gudinna, something much worse when he actually looked at her—so lifeless-like.
Joyce had said he was sailing too close to the wind. Was he?
“Past the armour, past the shield, Erik, the spear goes in bloody deep,” she’d iced him. “They’re mere children with a comatose mother, thanks to you. You’re opening your kids’ veins on both sides! You left them to crawl through barbed wire! Kids need the constant, tight category of parent and parenting to help them hold together in this universe of complicated events!”
She’d gone on and on, running him down. Called him a hardened criminal who thinks that prison – Lindqvist Group – was the core of his career plan. Spat at him that he was not only dishwater, he was circling the drain. The plug was off.
But, Thor and Odin, when he looked at his children he felt like he was standing before the world’s largest and most ancient temple. He wanted to breathe in the air in every nook and cranny, examine every relic, touch and feel the texture of each stone and wall, scroll the papyrus, roll out each parchment, blow his breath on and flap his hand over the dust in shelves and sconces. But there was his guilt and helplessness stoking up the fires of anger and shame. He couldn’t tell them the truth, he couldn’t cure their mother and bring her back to them whole. He was hopeless as a father, turning Patricia and later his mother and Joyce to his tongue when his children asked questions about their mother’s condition. Those were the moments he felt like the blind, slow schoolboy trailing behind the rest of the class with his hands stretched out to steady him should he stumble over some obstacle. The obstacle could be anything from the barbed wire to shards of broken crystal. Norska had been bad enough with her justified accusations. Joyce was like a dozen judges en banc, deciding his criminal case.
So when Phillip, Fabian, Martine and their team told him last Saturday that Gudinna’s condition had worsened…
Christ bloody Jesus. The brain stem auditory evoked potential – the BSAEP they’d conducted – had failed. No brain response. No waveforms responding to stimuli. Except for microvolts from heart and lungs. The super expensive fucking lot of them could not even be sure that Gudinna could hear, let alone understand. Gudinna, his Gudinna wired up like an impoverished Calcutta child’s broken doll. Because of what he’d done. Holes drilled through her skull right to her brain and God only knows how much brain they sucked out with the blood to contain that subdural haemorrhage. Fed through the nasogastric tube. For the time being. Still breathing through the trach tube but—now that her condition had worsened—who knows when they’ll cut her up all over to perform their tracheotomy and percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy and the devil knows what else?
And Joyce had insisted on hearing what the doctors had to say to him and therefore had heard all these horrors. Whatever had stopped her from kicking his brains to spatter on the ceiling (she and Gudinna were karate worshippers) must have been her love for Khira and the children he fathered with his Gudinna.
The brains—his—that were squelching on the edge of insanity right then.
That’s when he couldn’t take it anymore without going to the loony bin. He had to go. Get back to where he was competent and in control. Get away from the sight of her wired up and being cut up day after day. Get away from his children’s confusion, mental pain and questions he couldn’t answer. Or had to lie about.
He called right from the clinic, last Saturday, to have his pilot log the flight plan and have the jet made ready to fly to Kenya.
“I should have known,” Joyce cornered him in the suite he and Gudinna used as offices when working from Stjärnblomma. She ice-picked him. He was sending telexes to all the four corners of the world telling his partners and employees that he’d be in the office on Monday.
His actions, his decision to leave, seemed to lack coherence to Joyce. “I should have known that you were saving yourself for bigger things than the care of your kids and comatose wife. Oh, right,” she added with a tone that brought goose pimples to his balls, “nobody ever said that PARADISE, apart from being just that, was a place to get filthy rich in.”
He tried to explain something about his motives, his state of mind, what was going on inside him, but his lips simply rumpled up. After all, Joyce acted corgi to him, protector of his wife and children. His right royal brick.
“Sure. You’re not exactly a tight arse, your money will kiss your kids goodnight and hug them good morning at the breakfast table and make sure the ambulance is here with a team of doctors should one of them graze a knee. Right now, they’re out of the equation, right? You’re sailing too bloody close to the wind, Lindqvist!”
She’d added for good measure, chucking him into the eye of the storm.
Now the chair sputtered again when he rose and went to stand by the window. He watched the city lights below him, his arms crossed, thighs slowly wiggling, twitching quadriceps twice the circumference of Gudinna’s waist. The moon dodged some grey clouds and moonlight trembled over the dark ocean. Tomorrow was Monday and he’d fly to HQ in Nairobi. This time yesterday, he’d escaped Joyce’s wrath, her words having a vigorous tennis match in his skull on his way to the jet and all the way to Mombasa: You can run but you can’t hide, Erik. You don’t seem to have a semblance of conscious even when your own kids need you desperately. Not even redeeming features. But don’t worry, you’re not the only key holder to the welfare of your family!
Now, that had had elements of threat in it. The fear he’d felt then now came back and he allowed it to settle low in his belly so that it didn’t rise up to his throat and shoot his brains to smithereens. What had Joyce meant? It’d sounded exactly like Danielle’s Who was the first dearly loved woman who so emotionally hurt you, Erik? Or, as you would put it, betrayed your love and trust? Women were threatening him all over the place. And probably he deserved it. But, unlike Danielle with her sink-in-deep therapist’s furniture, he had at least expected Joyce to understand him, see his side of the coin. Hear the furniture in his brain scraping around haphazardly. Have a different point of view to his but firmly wedged in the rock of truth. The undeniable universal truth.
Seeing his children’s emotional suffering and Gudinna’s…
Blame and guilt were natural, rage inevitable. He had to move or go completely off his mind. What good would that be for the children and Gudinna when he got locked up in a loony bin? He needed to feel useful somehow, have a purpose, find a place that fitted him, be capable, good at something, for God’s sake. But no, Joyce was quids in and he didn’t even have a quid pro quo for her.
She was the best addition for and to his family and yet the worst to his situation yet. She wanted to do something, anything, but ended up offering the kindness that made him feel guiltier even as it rejuvenated his children. So he’d tried to stop suffering in order not to feel guilty and that was something he couldn’t cope with. He wanted to suffer. He enjoyed his suffering. Wanted more of it. But his children and their mother’s suffering tore at his heart and soul.
Joyce’s words were still hitting about in his head. Why couldn’t she just be there for him and the children, understand that he had to negotiate his own routes before he coped better? That he had to find his own way of helping himself out of this sell-created hell?
Unlike her face, Joyce’s true colours might not be very pretty. If there is a guidebook about a wife’s best friend, he wouldn’t recommend Joyce. Christ, he was so terrified of Joyce’s accusations that, when he’d called the Clinique earlier to ask about Gudinna’s progress – or regress more like it – and learnt that Joyce was at the bedside since hours talking and playing music to her girlfriend, he’d declined Martine’s suggestion that he talk to Joyce. Joyce was far too good at accurately throwing spears of solid icicles to his most vulnerable organs. Of course he more than appreciated Joyce’s steady and supportive love for Gudinna and the children, her utter devotion. So, wasn’t she right? Was his behaviour not tantamount to committing a grave dereliction of duty? Had his children not acted… lifeless on the phone tonight? Lifeless, like their mother. Their current life support was first and foremost Joyce…
Jesus, he had to clear his mind of all this. A walk down the beach should do the trick, he mumbled to himself as he turned away from the window and went for his blazer.
After all, this was the city.
The place she’d made him almost have a heart attack by holding him off with a chastity belt the world had never heard of: a metal letter opener.
The place he’d spent his first night with her while she held onto her undies like she was drowning in the deep blue seas and they were her life belt.
The place he’d proposed to his Gudinna, after courting her for but one weekend of a Saturday and a Sunday.
On the Monday he was in the bush rattling verbal sables with her grandfather for his granddaughter’s hand in marriage.
By Monday afternoon negotiations were concluded and the Consent Money and dowry price agreed on. When he stepped out to claim his future bride he was grabbed and pinned on the spot by strapping young men of the compound, who materialised from nowhere, and told him he’d not set eyes on his bride until the wedding day which turned out to be fifteen days away. When she’d be “ready”, as they put it to his uncomprehending alien mind.
Now, which man on this earth had that kind of a nuptial résumé about the mother of his children, as his undisputed credentials?