Underneath the Waves Chapter 5 & 6

Chapter 5

The clock ticked past one o’clock.  

A garbage bag hung from the corner of a cupboard. The kitchen smelt of Mie Goreng noodles. A pan lay sideways in the kitchen sink. An open textbook sat on the table next to unopened mail, empty salt and pepper shakers and a pile of missing dog posters. 

From the back window, one could see the shed door ajar. Its mouth open in the night, whispering uncomfortable thoughts at a frequency lower than the silence of the sleeping home. From the sliding glass door in the kitchen, a subtle mud footprint trail lead into the living room where a pair of women’s ForeverGo running shoes remained, forbidden from entry. 

The couch sat two meters from the back wall. Its weight left four clear marks on the carpet where it had been sitting for an eternity. 

The silence sang out in the straining effort of Gabrielle moving the couch. The thumping of maneuvering it on its corners, the dragging it along the carpet, her hands slipping on the fake leather. 

An old light pink bedsheet lay along the length of the wall covered in dry paint stains. The silence hummed into the sails of the bedsheet being placed softly upon the carpet. 

One-quarter of the wall had been sanded back to its base. The job had been abandoned. The sandpaper dropped on the carpet. The mist of dust still floating in the house – listening to the nothingness.

The silence scraped against the walls. It puffed and panted. It frantically scratched and clawed. It pounded against the carpet again and again. The silence screamed. 

A cup of tea balanced on the arm of the couch. The tea was never tasted. It was ice cold. The string from the bag stuck to the side of the mug. Reflected in that yellow tea was a crack in the roof that ran all the way to the front door. 

The silence slammed the door – too many times it slammed the door. 

Two pairs of teenage eyes scanned the room without understanding the silence, but feeling it deep within the exact space all humans ignore. 

It wasn’t unusual for Gabrielle to be home late, but as time progressed, worry started to manifest inside her children. Yet, neither of them acted, because to do so was to bring worry into reality, something neither of them wanted. Despite the worry, the children slept early that night in the silent house. It was the last night they would rest for a long time. 

Chapter 6

 It wasn’t until two o’clock in the morning when Edward’s ute came to a stop outside his home. He thought of nothing and felt nothing. He found himself sitting in his ute with no sense of time. He turned off the ignition and sat silently looking into the dark street ahead. Eventually, hunger moved Edward to a state where he found his consciousness inside his body again. He opened his door and climbed out. 

“Something’s missing,” thought Edward as he experienced a feeling he dared not follow or name. He paced up the driveway and into his house, stepping over the oil-stained concrete where Gabrielle’s car should have been. 

Edward slowly turned the key and unlocked the front door to his home. The house had a strange smell and feel. For a summer’s night, it was unbearably cold. Edward quietly untied his boots, left them by the shoe rack and made his way upstairs. Inside his room, the bed was empty. The blanket was messy, like it hadn’t been occupied since the morning before. Edward’s head was heavy and craved sleep, but the pillow was cold against his hand. He stood staring down at the sheets, not knowing what to do. 

He silently made his way over to his son’s bedroom door. He held his breath to listen. He carefully opened the door, just a crack, to hear if anyone was inside. Relief entered his body as he heard the sound of Jordan’s subtle breathing. 

He moved on to his daughter’s room. He opened the door quietly to see her leg hanging off the edge of her bed. 

Edward went downstairs and paced up and down the kitchen.  The kitchen tiles were like a sheet of ice, stinking the bottom of his bare feet. He pulled out his phone, his face reflected in its shattered screen from when it hit the wall earlier that month. “I shouldn’t have done that,” he thought, “I shouldn’t have done a lot of things.” But Edward wasn’t about to let Gabrielle get away with what he shouldn’t have done. He called her number and waited for an answer; none came. 

“Where is she?” Edward thought. Just then, Edward tripped over a pair of shoes on his way into the living room. He swooped down and threw them over to the shoe rack. They were Gabrielle’s muddy ForeverGo running shoes. 

Gabrielle had always bought the same pair of runners. The same brand, the same style, as basic as possible. Edward remembered tying her laces sixteen years earlier when they met. When he looked up into her eyes he knew that he would be a slave to her every word, but that it was never in her nature to be a master over anyone. 

As Edward’s eyes adjusted to the darkness he noticed the half-sanded wall and recognised that what he could smell was the old sanded paint floating lifeless in the living room. He put down Gabrielle’s shoes and lifted the pink paint-stained bed sheet from the floor. He covered himself with the sheet in an attempt to keep the cold bite of the room at bay. 

The sound of a car on the damp road outside faded into the room and pulled Edward’s gaze to the window. The headlights swept over his tired, defeated gaze as the car faded into the background of the still night.  Edward’s attention fell into nothingness as he sat in patient anxiety. He stared out the window, bearing a feeling of dread that was quickly spreading through his veins. 

Outside, the driveway remained empty. 

The relationship Edward and Gabrielle had at the start of their marriage had long been forgotten, until this night. Edward was afraid that his sudden influx of sentimental memories was a sign that it was over. Perhaps, he thought, It was his mind revealing to him the foolish choices he had made over the past sixteen years. 

Edward was frightened of how he would act when Gabrielle finally rolled into the driveway and walked through the front door. When her keys hit the corner table on her way inside and let out that habitual sigh that said, “I’m home, but I can’t relax.” Would he scream at her? Would he punish her for being upset? Would he simply walk past her, retreating into the bedroom without saying a word?

“The kids had nothing to eat? You can’t just disappear!” Edward shook the hypothetical argument out of his head. Another car drove down the street, accelerating Edward’s mind into the arguments with Gabrielle he hadn’t yet had. Arguments he wished he could avoid. The headlights swept through the room. They reflected on the family photos that lived on a wooden mantelpiece. The light shimmered across the photos and they disappeared again, only visible in Edwards’s mind’s eye. 

Edward unlocked his phone and dialled the number for his voicemail service, feeling shards of glass scrape against his thumb with every movement. Thirty-five messages were backed up from months beforehand. He started to systematically delete each one to reach the most recent message. Most of them were white noise that lasted the amount of time it takes the average person to hang up a phone call. 

“Last message, at three forty-five PM.” The voice was robotic and cold. The following message was deep and calm, but worried Edward to the core. 

“Hi Edward, I’m sorry I missed you. This is Bron from The Yellow House.  Look, Gab had a particularly rough day. She’s tougher than most people think, but not so much today. One of our client’s former boyfriends came over in an altered state and was threatening her and, of course, she’s alright, but just be aware that she’s a little frail today.” 

Bron’s words were a deep, rhythmic wave that filled Edward’s shell.

He involuntarily felt his younger self with his arms wrapped around Gabrielle’s waist. He felt Gabrielle’s red hair brush against his lips. The sun felt warm against his eyes and when he opened them, everything had a tint of blue. His wife’s glow was overbearingly beautiful, like the sun piercing through clouds after a rainy afternoon.

“I’ve dealt with the situation on my end. These things happen on occasion. I hope that you two are okay during this difficult time. I know it must be hard. No need to call me back, cheers.”

Edward paced the room. He felt helpless. His being wanted to protect his wife from what had already happened, but that was impossible. The hopelessness and sorrow manifested into anger and rage. He punched the wall in one instant of impure aggression. His hand when through like it was paper, leaving a hole in the side of a small child in the drywall. His fist cut through the wall so easily that it didn’t even make a sound. It was like paper being torn in an instant. 

Edward’s eyes closed in shame. 

He unlocked his phone again, the shattered glass screen scraping against his thumb. He scrolled down and clicked on Gabrielle’s name. No answer. With each ring, his heart beat harder. After three calls, he gave up and scrolled down to Gabrielle’s sister, Samantha Sanders. After a moment’s hesitation, he called. 

Through the groaning of a waking body, she answered. 

“I’m sorry to wake you. But, is Gabrielle with you? … No, I’m home now.  …I’ll go there now. Thanks.”

Edward felt infinitely worse. He snatched up his keys and burst through the front door without putting on his boots. His feet ran across the driveway, jamming rocks and stray pebbles into his bare skin. He jumped into his ute and cranked it into gear. 

The trees lining the streets blended into one mass. The houses blurred into passing shapes that bent and warped. He swerved around corners, his tires sliding underneath his ute and screeching into the still night. All that existed was the road. It was a winding pathway, a magnetic track that pulled him along. The world disappeared, but despite the speed, Edward was stuck in a loop. What was a physically short drive became an eternity. 

The settings around him began to materialize. He noticed the street sign, “Black Stone Beach”, he noticed the park bench, he noticed the metal railing that ran alongside the footpath. In the carpark, he noticed Gabriella’s Red Mazda. Edward left his ute running and sprinted towards the beach. 

Something was up ahead. The sand fell cold beneath Edwards’s bare feet and flew up behind him as he ran.

It was a towel. He grabbed it and knew instantly it was one from his own home. 

“Gab! Gabrielle!” 

Edward spun around on the spot, but there was no answer to his plea. 

He looked to the ocean as it invited him into its depths. Her waves rolled and crashed and moaned. Her arms spread from one end of the earth to the other. Her laughter muffled through shifting darkness. 

Edward thundered into the freezing water. The current was strong, but he was possessed, not with strength, but with terror. 

“Gabrielle!” He called. 

He ducked down under the surface, reaching for anything, but there was nothing there. The saltwater entered his mouth and lungs. It stung his eyes and chilled his bones. He couldn’t see beneath the waves and he could hardly see above them. All was a mass of dark waves between two sharp cliff faces. 

Edward’s clothes weighed him down. His breath became heavy and interrupted by coughs. The current moved him this way and that. There was no hope for him. He couldn’t save her. He couldn’t even see her. 

For a split second, beneath the waves, Edward gave up. His body relaxed and he didn’t bother lifting his head above the surface. The struggle was too great and the burden too heavy. Submerged in the void, he screamed louder than ever before. Again and again, he screamed and cried. 

Edward gasped for air on the surface. With one final ounce of energy, he swam back to the shore. He crawled onto the sand on all fours like an exhausted dog. He lifted one foot and then the other and felt weakness in his entire body. He ran back to his car on numb legs.  

His wet hands upon his broken phone screen made it difficult to do the most simple task. Edward squeezed his fist together in frantic frustration. He took a deep breath, dried his hand as best he could on his car seat and tried again. 

“I need an ambulance or a search team, or something! My wife is missing at Black Stone Beach.” 

The rest of the conversation fell from Edward’s consciousness. As soon as he gave the details, he was back in the water looking for his wife. 

Naked and alone, Edward sat on the back of an ambulance with a towel wrapped around him. The coffee in his hands had gone cold. His vacant stare into the ocean was part shock, part exhaustion and part disbelief. He wasn’t inside his body. He was somewhere else. 

It was early Wednesday morning and the sun was beginning to rise. 

Hank North, a detective for the NSW Police Force, approached Edward. His leather jacket and jet-black hair contrasted against the summer morning. His face was thin and tired, but his eyes were sharp and piercing. His brows were sharp angles, defined by hours of analysing the smallest details in every case – and every person. 

He took the coffee out of Edward’s hands and felt its weight. Only a keen observer would have been able to see the relief on Hank’s face when he felt that the coffee was still full. Edward looked up at his old friend, not saying a word, then back out to the ocean. 

“Is there anywhere else she could be?” Hank asked through damaged vocal cords, not from overuse, but underused. 

“Her car is here, Hank. Her towel was right there on the beach.”

Hank cleared his throat in an official manner.

“Edward, where have you been all night?” 

“Working. I left from Mt Kilda a few hours ago, went home and then came here. 

“Did you talk to anyone in Mt Kilda?”

Just then, an emergency services office interrupted the conversation. 

“Mr Adams, the search team will do their best to find her. If she managed to stay afloat, she should be okay. We’ll have the chopper here in thirty minutes. Just sit tight, okay?” 

Edward nodded and faced the ground. 

“What time did you leave?”

“I left around eight o’clock…. Or maybe nine, I don’t know.”

Hank lit a cigarette and handed it to Edward. “She was a strong swimmer, Edward.”

Edward nodded to himself. 

Hank sat down next to Edward and stared out at the ocean. Hank and Edward had been in touch throughout the years. Hank’s son, Damien, was in the same classes as Jordan at Blackwater Private. The same school that both Hank and Edward attended. When they were in school together, Edward was the trouble maker and Hank would cover their tracks. But, neither of them liked to reminisce about the past.

“I don’t think it matters,” Edward said without warning, his eyes welling up. “It was fifteen years ago today. She did this.” 

Hank put his hand on Edward’s shoulder for a brief moment before standing up and resuming his role as a detective. 

“You’ll need to write a statement. But before you do, is there anything else I should know? Anything at all?” 

Edward sat in silence for a moment before his eyes started darting as he tried to remember how the evening unfolded. 

“There was a car. It sped off as I arrived. A black sedan.”

“Number plate?” Hank asked, studying Edward’s face. 

“I don’t know,” Edward said and rubbed his eyes. 

Holding back tears, Edward begged, “Hank, can you do me one favour?” 

“What is it?” Hank’s voice was hesitant. 

“Can you tell my kids?” 

Hank’s face flushed with disappointment in his old friend. Doubt began to grow where denial could no longer keep it out. He got to his feet and fixed his thoughts upon his mission.

“Please, I can’t talk to them. I can’t do it.” 

Hank shook his head. 

“I’m sorry, Ed.” 

Hank left Edward and headed down the beach. On his way, his keen eyes took stock of everything in sight. Two police cars, one ambulance, one emergency rescue van and the various people hurrying about and preparing boats to search the ocean. There were distant men amongst the rocks that lay beneath the cliff faces. They scanned for signs of life with powerful touches that flashed in the night.  Two fishermen stood by watching it all unfold, unable to cast their lines. 

A small ray of sunlight reflected off something in the wet sand. It pulled Hank’s attention and focus until he recognised it as a wedding ring. He picked it up and held it in his hands. He felt the ring with his fingers and looked out into the dark ocean beyond. 

Hank’s hard exterior wasn’t a mask. It had become a state of being. He was a hard man with a hard job. As he looked down at the small diamond ring in his hand he involuntarily reflected on how cold he had become over the years. For a moment, he felt a memory of Gabrielle’s hands before they were bound by Edward. 

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