“Blue Cardigan, Pink Tights”
by John Quinn
It was a crisp and sunny Saturday morning, free from normal family duties he went to the local café and read the week’s news over a coffee. This was an indulgence, being a busy family man he did not usually get the chance to peruse the newspapers at leisure. He discussed matters of the day with the regulars who met there to solve the political and economic problems of the world.
Afterwards he headed for home, to prepare for the mountain, which up to then had resisted two previous attempts.
The phone rang, a woman was reported missing, she had left a note. The regular search crew were at a training weekend and he was nearest to the location ….did he have a couple of hours to spare?
He drove to the lake on the edge of town and parked near the football pitch at the local school. The Saturday morning game was in progress; the shouts and exhortations of the players which floated on the light breeze turned the morning air blue
…ah what a miss! … ya stupid dickhead, you wouldn’t get it in if it had hair on it….!
he laughed under his breath
he shouted, and the obscenities abated.
Slipping into the cool, bristling water he started on a surface scan of the one hundred metre section between the exit stream and the first weir. Locals passed on their dog walking duties but paid only passing interest, he was glad for that.
The riverbed was clean and easy to search. After the first pass he commenced a sectional search among the reeds by surface diving under the banks of the river. The shafts of morning sun made the search under the river bank relatively easy.
He found a Mepps spinner that had been fouled in the reeds and pocketed it. A scavenger by nature he was always happy to pick up these lures to use on his own fishing trips. He knew from boyhood how treasured and deadly those lures were and the anguish that had been incurred on their loss.
Because of the slowness of the search and the ebbing of initial excitement burst, the cold began to kick in. He persevered for another half an hour and was satisfied to have completed the search.
He was certain that the area he had covered could be ruled out.
Back in the café he warmed himself over another coffee and chatted. There was talk about the missing woman, who she was and when last seen. He listened without disclosing his previous efforts. She had been a troubled woman and was known to be at risk. In the past when such persons went missing the keepers in the ‘mental hospital ’ trawled the lake using snagging hooks , a crude technique but one that had yielded some rewards or so he had been told. Someone mentioned about the attraction that bodies of water had for people with mental illness and he knew how soothing it was to walk along a mountain stream.
The note had said she was “ going down to the river ” but he instinctively thought that ‘the river’ might have been a loose description, pointing to the most obvious place, the swimming pier at the other side of the lake.
He had time to spare, so he drove over to the small pier, an area which was used by the young people from the town during the summer. He braced himself, donning the previously used and now cold wetsuit and re-entered the water.
The water here was not so clear, it had a murky brownness which made the skin of his hands look tanned. After the fifth surface dive about ten metres from the shore he saw her outline, which looked stiff and rigid like a shop window mannequin. The initial shock took his breath away, he surfaced quickly and made a note of his position relative to the shore.
As he swam back to the pier two young boys had come for a swim, their spirits high and they were outdoing each other with jumps, reverse flips , and cannonballs from the wall of the pier.
..what tyme is it ?..gis a look at da watch mister, jaysus look at dat knife! what are ye looking for, did you loose sumting ….
He answered politely without disclosing his true purpose.
Two female nurses from the hospital arrived, he recognised one of them and knew why they were there. He told them about his find and soon after a young policeman arrived and asked for confirmation. In the interest of decorum he requested a body bag and ambulance and waited for the arrangements to be put in place.
At this stage the true purpose of his mission had leaked and the older of the boys asked
….hay mister, is dur a dead body in the water ?…
He answered with an unspoken nod, the boys made a sudden and frantic evacuation from the water, blessed themselves and were gone.
Finally when necessary arrangements were in place he put on the diving equipment having decided that although a breath dive lift was possible it would be less forced if he were to use the breathing apparatus.
He dropped down to a depth of about four metres, feet first from the point which he had noted earlier. She lay, face down on her chest with her head turned slightly as if looking anxiously over her left shoulder. The palms of her slender hands were facing up, it seemed she was sleeping on the gravel bottom.
A blue cardigan, pink tights and a navy skirt.
Shall we dance…?.
He placed his left hand gently under her right arm, then he noticed the delicate horn-rimmed spectacles lying nearby. He picked them up and carefully folded them in his right hand. He knew how personal a pair of spectacles could be, useful only to the owner but something perhaps to be cherished by a relative or friend. He lifted her, exhaling carefully to prevent the silt from spoiling the neatly tied hair bun. She moved gracefully without resistance, and not looking at her face he slowly surfaced arm in arm and then stabilised his new partner. He finned steadily back to the shore and the waiting group.
He handed the spectacles to one of the nurses. She sobbed.
The priest came and said the family were grateful,… ..it was no trouble , glad to be of help , condolences to the family , a difficult time for all concerned …… the words came out mechanically like Lego blocks. But his real feeling at that moment was one of almost elation and quiet satisfaction.
Later while packing the equipment, as he put his hand in the pocket of the buoyancy jacket the triple hook of the Mepps gave him a nasty and accusing jab, the barb embedded under a thumbnail, puncturing his internal good feeling. He winced, blood flowed, he sucked his thumb, the pain ebbed away .
He smiled wryly to himself, …..yes he would use that one on another day.
On the drive home, he thought about the mountain.