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The silence of the deep; Another year, another tedious cruise. But somehow, this holiday was going to end differently.

Byline: SUNDAY SHORT STORY by Amanda Robson

My wife Alicia looks as sophisticated and delicious as ever today, at the start of our annual cruise. This year, like every year, she has insisted that we holiday on the Regal Clipper, the biggest sailing clipper in the world. Her eyes sparkle and a smile plays on her heart-shaped lips while she sips champagne. The Captain is greeting her, his face alive with interest. She is ignoring me, her husband, her insignificant other.

Alicia. Head of her own business empire. A dotcom millionaire by the age of 21, who now owns so many different companies I've lost count. Her beauty is severe and symmetrical. High initial impact.

I look across the deck at Helen, her personal assistant, who accompanies Alicia on every trip, a mouse in comparison to her boss, standing alone by the canapes. Unlike Alicia's, her soft eyes do not try to read into souls without their permission, but she has permission to reach into mine. As she looks back towards me her smile grows slowly, without drawing much attention to begin with, but as it grows it lights the world around it. I know because it lights the world around me.

We drink champagne on deck for several hours. Alicia continues her annual ritual of flirting with the Captain. The Captain changes from year to year, but the flirting continues. Helen and I tire of the small talk and take a stroll around the deck together. It is a hot Barbados night. Out of sight at the stern of the ship, everyone else still drinking at the bow, we stand looking out at the harbour. She puts her arm through mine.

'When are you going to tell her about us?' she asks.

'Soon,' I reply, and silence her worry with a kiss. A slow, lingering kiss.

I have been putting it off for so long, because I know Alicia will take it hard. Alicia is hard. She will do what she can to ruin both of us. Helen and I have helped her to build up so many of her businesses. But she is clever. She will cast us aside without much money. We don't want much money - but we have worked long and hard for Alicia - so we want enough. We have lived comfortably under the umbrella of her success for so long, I am not sure how we will cope if she is too hard on us. So I am a coward and I keep putting off telling Alicia the truth, that I am in love with her personal assistant, her righthand woman.

'Come on, James, it's been 12 years, living like this, under cover. Don't you think we should be together properly? Let our love breathe and blossom?' 'You know I think that, yes. As soon as this holiday is over, I'll tell her, I promise.' We return to the party but it is over.

Alicia is standing alone by the bar looking out for us.

'There you are, come on let's go to our cabins and unpack.' Alicia and I have the owner's suite and Helen the cabin next door. As soon as I enter, I am surrounded by luxury. Silk sheets on the bed. Champagne in an ice-bucket. Chocolates and fruit to welcome us.

My whole life is luxurious.

'There are never enough hangers,' Alicia announces as she opens the wardrobe door, her dark curls bouncing. 'I'll ring the steward to complain.' She stabs at the phone angrily, 'I need 20 hangers, immediately,' she barks.

I sigh inside. Her commanding manner is leaping out of control. When I first met her, one of the many things I admired about her was her strength. The way she got straight through to a problem without emotions complicating things. But I am older now. Emotion complicates everything. I wish she would think about other people's feelings. About my feelings when she treats other people as if she is superior. Money is a destructive influence. A lot of it makes people feel important. The world kowtows to it, treating the rich as if they are more significant. I am pulled along in the wake of Alicia's profit margins. I know I need to pull away from the soft emptiness of my life and step into a new, real world with Helen. I look across at Alicia sorting through her jewellery, and my stomach tightens. Not long now until I face telling her. I will just survive this cruise.

The evening progresses. Alicia and Helen resplendent in evening dresses, we go back on deck to drink more champagne. The ship's sails fill. The band plays Vangelis as we sail away. By the time dinner is served our edges are seriously blurred by the large amount of alcohol we have drunk. The dining room looks so grand, as if it has been copied from an old photograph of the Titanic, with its wood-panelled walls and gold filigree.

Damask tablecloths. Silver cutlery. We sit at a table for eight and make polite conversation with people we hardly know. So many people in our lives these days that we hardly know. Alicia shining with her copious diamonds and a red silk gown. Helen warming my heart in teal, wearing the pendant I bought her last Christmas. Nothing too ostentatious, we wouldn't dare.

After dinner we go to the bar, and buoyed up by the alcohol pulsing through our veins, we continue to drink. Whisky now, bitter on our tongues, until everyone else has returned to their cabins, and the barman is trying to suppress a yawn. Seriously squiffy, Alicia and Helen clinging on to me tightly, we step outside into the moonlight.

'Let's get back to the cabin,' I suggest, hoping I can settle Alicia and pop into Helen's cabin for a while.

'No,' Alicia slurs, 'I want to go to the bow.' There is a pause. 'Now.' Three in the morning. No staff about. Only senior crew busy on the bridge, ensuring our safe passage. Conjoined, we stagger towards the bowsprit, 'Let's climb onto the nets,' Alicia insists. 'We've never done it at night.' I climb on ahead. Up the mahogany steps towards the nets.

I hear Alicia and Helen giggling behind me. Over the guardrail, we stagger. Down onto the nets attached from the bowsprit, for passengers to sunbathe on in the day. Twenty feet above the sea. We flop down and lie on them. The three of us on our stomachs looking down at the ocean, rising and falling beneath us, like a black and silvery monster.

'It's making me feel so dizzy,' Alicia slurs, rolling over onto her back.

She is close to the edge of the nets.

'Hey, Alicia, roll back, you'll fall off,' I shout.

She laughs. So off her head.

Laughs and laughs, and then I roll towards her and she rolls away. As she falls she screams. The wind stifles the noise. Her body falls into the water like a stone. Her mouth is open as if she's still screaming but no one can hear.

Someone else is screaming. I turn around. Helen. Her voice reaches me through the wind.

'I'll keep an eye on where she fell. You raise the alarm,' she says.

I attempt to scramble off the nets but my limbs have become leaden. I am moving so slowly, struggling against the wind. Struggling against the way the world is now spinning around me. If Alicia doesn't make it I can have Helen. I can have all the companies - give the money to charity. Do what I like. If Alicia doesn't survive.

'Hurry, hurry,' Helen shouts. Hurry, hurry. But my legs and my hands won't hurry. Slowly, slowly I climb off the nets. I jump down the steps and land in a heap on deck. Hurry, hurry. My head is spinning. The deck is spinning around me like a kaleidoscope. I pull myself up, and stand a while, before I meander to the bridge and raise the alarm. Clinging onto the guardrail, looking out to sea, watching the waves rise and fall. Until somewhere through the fug of alcohol I know I have taken long enough. They will never find Alicia's body now. Alicia has set us free.

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'Hey, Alicia, 'When are you going to tell her about us?' Helen asked. 'Soon' I replied
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 1, 2018
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