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STEPPING INTO THE LIFEBOAT

Louise has been friends with Sigrid for about six months and in that time she has become attracted to the openly gay woman. After a trip to Sydney, Louise discovers that her late sister Cathy and Sigrid both had mutual friends in common even though they never met. That night they make out but are forced to stop when their boss calls to tell them her husband has just committed suicide. In the aftermath of the tragedy Louise faces the final hurdle before she can consummate her relationship with Sigrid. Can she make the crossing or will she stop short?

“Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”

Voltaire.

Over the years there’s been a lot of media coverage over heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and other drugs, but by far the drugs that kill the most people are tobacco and alcohol. The irony being that they’re freely available if you’re over eighteen and if you tried to ban them it’d be a massive shot in the arm to organised crime. The figures for alcohol related deaths are much higher when you take into account, accidents, murder, and suicide.

Jeff had a blood alcohol reading of about 0.17 meaning he was well over the legal limit. The till receipt the police found on the front seat showed he’d bought a six pack of beer, a bottle of Jack Daniels and a packet of cigarettes from the Ferntree Gully hotel at 16:30 but when he got home nearly forty minutes later a neighbour said he seemed to be in control of the car. He even avoided the garden gnome by the mailbox, which he’d been taken out several times in the past. Melanie was out at her parent’s place in Templestowe and only came home later than planned because the kids wanted to watch the latest Jurassic Park movie again.

“I should have said no,” she blew her nose, “I’d told him I’d be home for dinner but the kids were really wanting to watch the video. The stupid thing is they’ve seen it a couple of times before but it was the first time I’d seen them laugh in ages, so I weakened and just called Jeff at about five and left a message on the machine.”

The neighbour who’d seen him come home told police he’d seen him park the car in the garage but he didn’t go into the house. He did tinker with a generator on the garage floor and then went out to piss on Melanie’s flower garden. He had a beer in his hand and according to the neighbour it was nearly empty because he had to tilt his head back to drain the stubby. Because Jeff had verbally abused the man in the past, his neighbour left him to his own devices when Jeff went back into the garage and closed the door.

Thus, he became the last person to see Jeff alive. Melanie got home about half past eight with a family dinner of chicken and chips from the local takeaway shop, thinking to at least get something into him. She opened the garage door, wondering why he’d left the engine running but didn’t make the connection until she started coughing and saw him slumped over the wheel. By then the kids were out of the car but Melanie couldn’t get into the car because he’d locked it.

Despite her state of mind, Melanie had the sense to wrap a damp rag around her mouth and nose before entering the poisoned garage and picking up a crowbar, smashed the window and hauled him outside. She shouted on the oldest kid to get the neighbour to call the ambulance and tried her best to revive him while keeping the kids at bay.

“I managed to drag him outside but he was blue all over and cool. The kids were crying and screaming but my neighbour managed to get them inside.”

Elke arrived about then. She’d literally just come off a shift when Agnetha called her en route to Olinda. She jumped in her car and headed out as well. When she got there the police at first thought she’d been called out as well because she still had her uniform on until she explained the situation and they let her into the house to sit with Melanie for a bit. Elke put her arms around Melanie and just held her, and that was where it all began with Elke and Melanie.

It was a night that will live long in my memory. My most vivid recollection is Melanie’s face partially illuminated by the porch light on the verandah and partly by the flashing blue lights of the police car. Her face was ashen and devoid of emotion, almost as if Jeff had killed her emotions along with himself. Melanie never smoked but Jeff did and she smoked three cigarettes in the hour it took for her parents to arrive from Templestowe and then threw up in the front yard while her mother rubbed her back.

Partly because the garage had been sealed off as a crime scene and partly because she just wanted to get the children away from the house, she arranged for the children to stay with her parents while she stayed with Elke. I went back down the mountain with Agnetha and Melanie while Sigrid took Melanie’s two dogs back home. We hugged in the driveway as I stood by the back door of Agnetha’s car and parted with a brief kiss.

“I’ll see you at work,” she rubbed bursa escort bayanlar my back, “if not sooner.”

About halfway down the mountain as we drove past Kalorama Park, Melanie reached back for my hand and I held it all the way through Mount Evelyn and Montrose before she finally released it to answer a text message. When Agnetha got to my house, Melanie got out of the front seat and held onto me for dear life and I just let the hurt flow into me as best as I could.

“Thank you for coming up,” she released me, “I won’t be at work on Monday.”

“Take as long as you need, you’ve done the same for me.”

I remember sitting on the couch where Sigrid and I had made out a few hours earlier. The diaries were still on the coffee table and I could still smell her perfume on the cushions. I cried that night, for Melanie and Jeff, although I didn’t know him all that well, but most of all I cried again for Cathy. That night instead of going to bed to sleep, I curled up on the couch where I could at least smell some of Sigrid’s perfume.

I dreamed of Cathy and Sigrid that night, both women seemed to change places in my dreams, it was Cathy at my back with her hand on my breast but when I turned around it was Sigrid. I woke sometime before sunrise with the duvet half off and a sore neck. Eventually I went through to the bathroom and had a shower and changed into fresh clothes.

It was a strange day. One without phone calls from anyone and eventually I jumped in the car and headed over to Elke’s place. She lived in Ringwood Street, not far from the police station where she was stationed. Melanie was there with her mother and the children. We went out to Ringwood Lake for a while and I felt Sigrid’s absence keenly.

I learned from Melanie about Jeff’s struggle with alcoholism. It’s an equal opportunity disease and as a casual member of Alanon she had a good grasp of the disease concept, but it still shocked me to realise the happy go lucky man who turned up to the occasional Christmas night out was an alcoholic. I always thought they wore old raincoats and slept in the park. Melanie had hidden it for years, hoping it would get better but eventually she withdrew emotionally and physically until finally he cracked and called Alcoholics Anonymous.

“For a couple of months he was actually better. We started talking again, but then he started to ease off the meetings and began working longer hours because he was catching up for lost years. Before I knew it the meetings were gone and when he started staying overnight a couple of times a week at Adam’s house, I knew he’d started drinking again but didn’t want me to know.”

When Melanie confronted him about it the previous week she’d actually used what she’d learned in Alanon.

“You can’t control people, I knew that well enough and so I told him if he chose to drink then he could drink himself into the gutter but I wasn’t going to lift a finger to help him. We’re the worst ones for enabling, we mollycoddle them and clean up after them,” she bit her lip.

“He hit me then and that was the end for me. I’ve put up with a lot from Jeff, he’s embarrassed me in front of my parents and his parents, I’ve cleaned up after him, nursed him, bent over backwards to try and please him and the thanks I got was a fat lip.”

I recalled she’d been off work for three days with a stomach bug.

“And that’s the other price I’ve paid. I’ve lost time off work because of his monkeying around,” she lit a cigarette, “he was facing bankruptcy before he got to A.A a few months ago, guess who helped stave off the creditors for the last three years?”

She tapped herself as she continued, “I paid off his fucking debts only to see him get back into debt again, in the end I had to take the cheque book off him because the cheques kept bouncing, but all I got from him was how I was a control freak.”

She stared out at the lake.

“I’ve had it with men,” she sighed.

There was more that came out that afternoon as we sat by the lake and eventually we went back to Elke’s place and not long after that I left and went home. Periodically that day, I’d checked my phone to see if she’d sent a text but there was nothing and when I got back home I found a card under the door.

Thinking Of You.

Inside instead of the usual generic message there was a short poem.

When all about is fear and doubt

Let me be your rock.

When light and love comes shining through.

Let me share it with you.

When the day is done and your load has shifted

Let me be the one to lay in your arms.

Sigrid.

P.S. I love you.

A tear dripped down my cheek when I read that poem. It was the first poem anyone had ever written to me, Cathy wrote to me but poetry wasn’t one of them and let’s be honest, she didn’t need to write me poems. It was also the first time anyone apart from Cathy had said I love you to me. I have the original card stored in an album bayan sarisin escort bursa but a few years ago when Sigrid took up calligraphy for a hobby, I had her write it out on a card and we framed it.

There was a piece of paper inside it as well.

Will be at mum and dad’s place, staying the night there.

Will see you at work tomorrow,

Sigrid. xxx

Nevertheless, the next day was hectic. Because Melanie was now off on sick leave, I took over as temporary manager. No one knew what to say and to be honest there wasn’t much to say. Melanie was off on stress relief due to a personal tragedy and wouldn’t be back for a few weeks. Thus, we didn’t get to have lunch at the same time and I had to take care of the end of day closing down procedures just as Sigrid was leaving.

“I’ll call you later tonight,” she murmured in my ear, “I have to go somewhere first.”

I smiled and said, “okay,” and kept working.

I thought about Sigrid all the way up Dorset Road to Croydon but instead of turning down my street, I cancelled the indicator and planted my foot, which meant a car coming up fast behind me had to brake suddenly to avoid hitting me.

“Fuckin’ sheilas,” his mate screamed out the window, “get off the fuckin’ road.”

I ignored the comment and kept driving all the way to Mooroolbark and came to a dead stop outside Agnetha’s house. Her car was in the driveway but her husband’s car was gone and Sigrid’s Celica was parked out the front. I sat there for a few minutes pondering my next move and then the door opened and Agnetha stepped out and made her way down the driveway and across the street. I got out of the car and she came to a halt beside me.

“You heard?”

“About your session on the couch?” Agnetha leaned against my car, “I’m impressed. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“What do I do now?”

“About Sigrid?” Agnetha turned to look at me, “a lot depends on you right now.”

“I started it.”

“And she didn’t exactly back off, so now you have to decide on the best way forward.”

“I’m not gay, at least I don’t feel gay.”

“What is this?” Agnetha bumped me with her hips, “feel a gay moment coming on?”

She tapped my forehead, “watch out for that gay lightning.”

I managed a half smile and she flicked at my hair.

“It’s a label. A way we process information. Everything has a label but sometimes those labels become restrictive. Society uses those labels to isolate groups they don’t trust or don’t understand and the gay community starts taking on some of those labels as a badge of honour, dyke, femme, lipstick lesbian, queen, butch, the list goes on and on. But when it all comes down to it, sexual relationships between two people only require one thing,” she stared into my eyes.

“Love is the only ingredient needed. As to how long the love lasts is another story altogether but there’s no right or wrong way to love as long as both people are consenting and above the age of consent. You love my sister and judging by the things she’s been saying to me the last half an hour I’d say you’re quids in right now. You don’t have to be gay to sleep with my sister, but if you want it to go beyond one night then you better get in there and tell her how you feel about her.”

Agnetha put her hand on my shoulder.

“If you ever kiss me the same way you kissed Sigrid, as much as I love you, I’ll slap you down but if you and her move in together and become a couple then I’ll be proud to introduce you as my new sister in law and the kids will call you auntie Louise.”

She leaned over and kissed me on the forehead and then pushed me lightly away.

“Go on, she’s your hygge, act like it. She’s in my office, lock the door and close the curtains if the urge comes on you.”

I turned around as I crossed the road and she grinned.

“It’s a Danish thing, trust me,” she called out.

Hygge. A Danish word that means contentment, more or less. I’d heard that word many times up until then, but as I walked into the study I felt more ill at ease than I had in months. Sigrid was perched on the edge of the small two-seater couch and I sat down opposite her. She looked tense, anxious and kept fiddling with her watch.

“About the other night,” she looked at me.

“I’m not gay,” I replied, “but I love you. I can’t stop thinking about you and I’ve never felt this way before, not even with a guy so please be patient.”

“Louise,” she exhaled, “thank fuck for that, I thought I’d lost you today.”

“You didn’t, I was busy at work, so were you, we were all busy but I was going to go home and get changed first. I loved your card, it’s on the mantelpiece and it’s staying there until we can work something out.”

“Work out what?”

“Our relationship,” I put my hands between my legs.

“I’m not into one night stands but I should be. I’ve had three failed relationships and I’ve spent the last few weeks with Agnetha talking about bayan esmer escort bursa sex. I’ll be thirty in a couple of months but I’m so sexually inexperienced that despite Agnetha’s sex classes, I may as well be eighteen. I clean when I’m nervous, it used to drive Cathy mad. Sometimes I get so depressed about Cathy I just lie in bed and sleep. My relationship with mum is practically dead and if I get with a woman she’ll cut me out of the will completely,” I focused on the bookshelf behind her.

“I must be the worst candidate for a partner anyone has ever seen but if you’re willing to put up with all of that then I’m prepared to be your girlfriend. I know I’m not that way inclined but I love you like I’ve never loved anyone,” I stopped and looked at the smile on her face.

“What?”

“Come here,” Sigrid patted the other cushion.

I shifted to the couch and she took my hand.

“About the time I started hanging out with you, an old girlfriend called me up. We got to talking and then down to the usual, who are you seeing? I told Dee I was seeing the most beautiful girl in the world, she’s magical, she makes me feel good deep down inside and she’s as straight as a die. Dee told me to get off the grass, it’ll never work. I’ve tried hard to keep my distance and stop myself thinking about you. I think I wore out my vibrator trying not to think about you and then I started to fantasize about you while I was using it.”

“You masturbated over me?” I smiled, “I’m flattered.”

“When we kissed on Saturday night, the next morning my head was a mess. I cleaned the entire house from one end to the other, did all my washing, dried it, did the ironing and then went to dad and mum’s place. I dropped the card off and felt as if I’d just stepped off a cliff. Today at work I just didn’t know if it was a short drop or a long one. I don’t care if you’re not gay, I don’t care about all the things you just said about yourself. I just want you in my life. You’re my hygge.”

I leaned forward and kissed her gently and she parted her lips and reciprocated. We parted a moment later and she stroked my face.

“Sigrid said we could use the office,” I bit my lip.

“I know but let’s not, we’ll go to my place.”

Agnetha was in the kitchen when we walked in, hand in hand and she smiled.

“Gee, that was quick. I didn’t even hear any Meg Ryan moans.”

“That’s for later,” Sigrid grinned, “we’re going back to my place.”

“I’ll follow you up there,” I broke in.

“Leave your car here,” Agnetha held out her hand, “Robbie will park it in the driveway later and you can pick it up tomorrow night.”

I handed over my car keys and she gave us both a hug.

“We’ll keep this between us for now but when you two are ready to tell the others we’ll have our own private party,” she looked at me.

“Remember, a healthy sex life is built on a bedrock of healthy communication, you have two ears, two eyes and only one mouth because you learn more by listening and observing. Never go to bed on a fight even if you have to stay up until three in the morning, trust me, I’ve kept Robbie up to that time more than once and we’re still married.”

She kissed our foreheads in turn.

“Have fun you two.”

I’ve been up and down that mountain road so many times over the years I’ve lost count, but every now and then I’m reminded of that night when an old song comes on the radio or my playlist randomly plays one of those songs. Sigrid was the one who turned me onto mixed tapes and she had one on all the way up the mountain. U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name, The Master’s Apprentice’s Because I Love You, Credence Clearwater Revival’s Up Around the Bend, and other songs, it was an eclectic mix!

The hills in winter are magical. The mist hangs over the road and stringybark dangles like streamers from the power lines. Now and then you smell smoke from pot bellied stoves and see lights in windows. You feel the weight slipping off your shoulders like an old grey blanket the higher you get until it’s just you, the cars in front and behind and your own thoughts. My hand rested on her thigh and now and again my thumbnail moved along her leg. When she didn’t have to change gear she put her hand on my leg.

I knew what was going to happen that night. There would be no turning back, my car was back at Agnetha’s and although she hadn’t said it out loud, I knew why she’d taken my keys. She wanted to leave me with no way to go but forward and as Sigrid pulled into the driveway and parked in front of the garage, my hand moved further up her leg and she smiled.

“What do you want for dinner?”

“The last time I had sex was four years and three months ago,” I replied, “and the last time I had something to eat was four and a half hours ago. Dinner can wait.”

Even so, I had to wait while she lit the fire. She has one of those open fires, and I’d always loved just curling up in front of it, I still do! I was so mesmerised by the flames I was only barely aware Sigrid was moving cushions from the couch in front of the fire and moving a beanbag onto them. She left the room and I stood looking at the makeshift bed and then she returned with a dildo and a bottle of oil that she put on the coffee table.

“A little light refreshment,” she smiled slyly.

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