Then fate, in the form of tragedy, played its part…
Julia had overheard Nashe arranging to go swimming one evening with three of his mates, so she arranged to meet three of her own on the same stretch of beach, where there was a diving raft afloat not too far out to make it a difficult swim at high tide. The party of girls arrived soon after the young men and there was a cheerful exchange of surprised greetings, over-acted a little by the schemer, as they chose adjacent wooden frames of canvas-stripped beach-huts in which to change and leave their gear out of sight of people strolling along the promenade. There was laughter and banter as the young people trod warily and quickly over the shelving pebbles to the sea into which they plunged with shrieks of pleasurable shock from the girls.The water was soon up to their necks and they all made for the raft, which was bobbing gently, invitingly, bathed in the warm evening sunlight. Naturally, there was competition as to who would reach it first and the girls were more than content to let the men win easily. Julia allowed herself to be hauled on board by Nashe and expressed her thanks for something she could easily have done herself, indeed usually did.
‘Fancy seeing you here,’ he said to her and she answered with a judicious smile, not sure whether or not he was teasing her. It was a happy, lively group, diving and swimming, all displaying their healthy, sun-tanned bodies, the men showing off their swimming abilities, the women their fetching bikinis. Despite the vigorous exercise, the session did not last as long as it would have done under the daytime sun. Julia and her friends began to feel chilled first and made their way to shore, soon followed by the young men, who had quickly lost some of their enthusiasm for the sport with the loss of anyone to impress.
Nashe had arrived in his car with one passenger and one of the other men had also brought a friend in his, whereas the girls had been dropped off by a father with a people-carrier. When offered lifts home, the daughter of the obliging father was annoyed to find that she would be the only one waiting for his return, the other three having made more agreeable arrangements. Julia would go with Nashe, but first he had to take his friend home to a farm several miles out of town. Would Julia mind the detour? Julia definitely would not.
The cars were parked on the wide grass verge at the far side of the road. Julia was sitting behind Nashe and his friend. In the other car they were waiting for Selma Farrell to join them, but she was still chatting to the girl who was waiting for her father, feeling guilty, no doubt, at leaving her for a more exciting ride. Someone shouted across to her to hurry up. Nashe was beginning to draw away, when Selma, thinking she might miss her lift in the other car, made a sudden dash across the road. She was hit by a van travelling fast towards the town.
Recalling the scene as she sat on the sofa that evening, Julia experienced the horror of it once more and was, as usual, overwhelmed with the desire to block it from her memory. They had all seen it happen and been unable to stop it. Their warning cries had barely left their lips before Selma was struck down. Julia had difficulty remembering the names of her other two friends and could remember nothing at all about the friends of Nashe, but the name Selma Farrell was seared on her mind as indelibly as the sight of her, lying there in the road while they waited for the ambulance, her brightly striped towel and orange-patterned bikini pieces lying beside her. Then there was a blank space, beyond recall, blocked out by numbing shock, or subsequently erased as one mercifully forgets how severe a pain has been, yet vaguely holding an anxious wait at the hospital and tearful explanations to Selma’s distraught parents, before Julia could re-live the remainder of that evening; late evening by now and this time she was sitting beside Nashe in his car, the friend having been dropped off at a farm track on the edge of a village previously unknown to her. She was weeping uncontrollably, facing away from Nashe towards the dark shapes of trees and high hedgerows, briefly illumined by the glancing headlights. After a mile or so, Nashe stopped the car in a lay-by and turned to her with words of comfort, but she did not stay to hear them. The moment the car stopped Julia had opened the door and run off into a small copse, futilely trying to flee the unbearable. He gave her a few minutes to herself before following. He found her leaning against a tree, no longer crying, just a limp figure with her head hanging in sad acceptance that there was no escape from the fact that Selma Farrell was dead. One moment she had had a friend, the next, as the shout of warning died within her throat, she had watched, powerless to help, as that friend was killed. Nashe took her into his arms. At first she did not respond, just lay against him in the patchy moonlit darkness, comforted by his embrace and the warmth of his body. After a while, she started to tremble. She lifted her tear stained face to his, as if mutely asking to be kissed better, like a child does when it has been hurt. Nashe kissed her gently, comfortingly, and was staggered by her response. She clung to him and kissed him back passionately, hungry for his love. In that small copse on that narrow country road began the short, intense love affair that was to alter Julia’s life and, she thought now, looking back objectively, have hardly any effect on Nashe’s. Not that it had been his fault. She had ended it by pushing him away, back to Frances and, subsequently, when the consequence of their love became apparent, she had kept that knowledge to herself for as long as possible. Why had she done that, she now asked herself.
From the novel Cross Currents by Barbara Masterton, Il Moscardino 2012