Passion: The Quick and the Dead

Lifeboat 04

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Sheets of rain crease the darkling sky as if God draws net curtains through the heavens, their hems dragging, snatching at wave tops. Wind whips spray from a battle of surges turned back by the shore and hurled against those behind.

The ocean tumbles in helpless resignation as if the storm has beaten it beyond caring.

Ambulances sear blue light into the lashing downpour as staggering lifeboat crew members secure their craft to the Lochinver jetty. Casualties sway on stretchers hoisted. The crew seem beyond exhaustion, lurching, standing dazed while they try to remember what task they were performing. Those volunteers who didn’t go out this time help today’s crew back to the station. Arms around shoulders, supporting, feet tangled and dragging, boots coming adrift.

Sandor stands apart, hating the heaving rain, hating his inappropriate clothes, hating weather he’s only ever read about – getting frozen and soaked, hating his sister who is one of those being assisted into the station. He can’t tell her from the other crew members, smothered as they are in yellow clothes and equipment.

Turning away and entering the taxi waiting for him, he heads back to the hotel, basic though he finds it. There is warmth there and he suspects his sister will be asleep for many hours.

Sandor spends his day online, on the phone, doing business, catching up, protecting the family’s interests. At other times he’s organising the hotel and its occupants around himself. He’s paying for all the other guest’s meals and drinks, even for a bus to take those who want it to Ullapool for the evening – with tabs pre-paid at The Ceilidh Place. He wants the hotel lounge to himself for his purposes. That’s the deal.

He wants his sister Vana to visit. She has messages by email, text, via her social sites and one handwritten note delivered by hotel staff.

Sandor sits in an easy chair, fingers steepled, tapping his forehead. It’s eleven years since Vana disappeared. Eleven years of paying agents to find her. Letters and postcards, all with happy and warm messages from Paris, Malta, Marrakesh and Vilnius, served not merely to keep the family informed of her wellbeing but as an effective false trail. A fugitive one-way communication.

The door rattles as someone or something bumps against it. The catch clacks and Vana appears. “Sandor!” She races across the room, dodging furniture. She’s tall, lithe and looking fit as an athlete. No makeup, no attempt to make herself socially presentable or wear something flattering, she’s dressed in trainers, cargo trousers and a grey hoodie. He’s wrapped in a fierce hug, pulls back and sees her tired red eyes, still with sleep in the corners and underhung by blue bags. A bruise, under broken skin, runs from jaw to temple.

Vana…” He begins but is interrupted.

Vanessa. Name changed by deed poll. Vanessa.” She steps back and thumps into an arm chair.

Vana…” He’s interrupted again.

Get it right, Sandor. Let’s not make this worse than it’s going to be anyway. Vanessa or I’ll leave now.”

Vanessa…” Again she cuts him off.

The answers you are looking for are that I love my relatives but loathe the family. I’m not part of it now and never will be again. I love the people – not that monster which governs their every breath. I have a life which suits me and will never return to that suffocating doldrum existence. However…” She clasps her long fingers together and leans forward, elbows on knees. “I love you; it’s so good to see you. I’ve missed you so much. I knew you’d catch up with me sooner or later. I’m strong enough to cope now. I’m staying here, Sandor.”

Their parents dead, Sandor is head of a huge extended family and has only one person in the world who can defy him – Vana. He’s out of his depth and taken aback. His speech, revised and edited for this moment, is swept away by her gale-force vehemence. However, he can hang on to elements of it. “Vanessa, we are part of a dynasty…”

I’m not.”

Whether we like it or not…”

Or not. I don’t think either of us like it. Why, why should we live by expectations dictated merely by momentum? If our parents and their parents had been slave traders would you continue the tradition?”

Sandor sighs and collects his thoughts. “What our forebears built is very different to something one could object to on moral grounds. The family looks after the empire and the empire looks after the family.”

Vanessa wails and throws her hands up. “That is so wrong. The family dictates everything and has taken you over completely. I bet you haven’t a clue who you really are and what you want. What I don’t want is a family that thinks it’s looking after me by dictating who I am, what I do, who I meet and cannot meet, and how I think!” She relaxes and sinks back into her chair. “That’s what the family does, turns you into a machine to preserve the family as dictated by profits, social standing, political status – and whatever the prevailing morality is … was … a whole generation ago. A mindless leviathan crushing anything in its path.”

Vanessa, you are making this very difficult.”

No, I’m making it impossible. The answer is no, no, no.” She sags, pulls herself together and goes to sit on the floor beside him. Facing the log fire and hugging his hand against her cheek she continues, “I hid, changed my identity and wrangled a new nationality. I knew what I didn’t want but felt too weak to defend myself against the family’s strength. Now I am strong. I love you. I want my brother. But don’t mess with me.”

You would give up all we have for this?”

I have already: look at eleven years of evidence. I know you’ll have had people research every last detail of my life. It’s mine. I built it myself. I’m proud.”

Proud of working in a shop that sells fried fish and potatoes? You, who had the very best education?”

That was not worthy of you, Sandor. That’s the tiniest part of my life, though I love it too. Last night the Lochinver crew saved a whole family, their yacht swamped by the very sort of ship our family runs. Saved them, people, alive, alive! able to get on with a normal life. Tell me what did you do last night? It’s about passion, Sandor, living it, being it, sharing it. Everything our family has lost.” She squeezes his hand and takes a deep breath. “Let’s not fight. Neither of us are going to move or give in. Let’s just be brother and sister.”

The door swings open and a twenty-something woman strides in dressed in T-shirt and shorts drenched by squalls. “Van! Iain said you’d be here. You left your pager in the flat.”

What’s up?” asks Vanessa, releasing Sandor’s hand and leaping up.

Stornoway’s out, Thurso just launching. We’re on standby.”

Your turn. I’m no good to anyone today. I’ll do station duties. Quick, meet Sandor.”

I heard. Is this really your brother?”

Sandor tenses. “I told the staff we were not to be disturbed.”

Vanessa turns to him. “Fionn, meet Sandor my big and only brother. Sandor, get up and be a gentleman!”

Sandor rises and holds out a hand. “I’m pleased to meet you, Fionn … is that how I say it? Any friend of Vanessa’s is my friend too.”

Vanessa puts a hand on his shoulder. “Brother, sit down: you’ll need to. Fionn is not just a friend.”

What?”

She is my lover, my partner.”

Sandor whirls round, his back turned to them. Chin raised, eyes screwed shut he hisses, clenches fists and says, “Get her out of here.”

He waits long into a silence. “Now.”

Vanessa says, “Where Fionn goes, I go. This is your last chance, Sandor. Do you want to turn around and find your memory of this room for ever empty?”

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©Gary Bonn, 2018

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