Simi follows Marybelle into the dark, and tries to ignore the throb in her hand. She keeps her eyes fixed on the torch beam ahead, willing it to swing back and find her. Occasionally it does.
“Fine,” she shouts, the lie bigger than the word. She feels wilted by storm, strangers, dark and the hurt in her palm.
They are halfway across the verandah when the wind smashes back. It comes up sharp and sudden, sending the torches on the terrace below bobbing for cover.
“…. the games room … there …” Marybelle shouts, turning back, and pointing her torch off to the right. Simi follows the beam and sees that it has found a door she has never seen before.
They hurry towards it, and pull it wide enough to step through, blocking its slam. In the middle of the room is a billiard table. Their beam of light runs over its solid green, and then around the walls, each lined with raised, padded benches.
“Wow!” says Simi. “Did you know this was here?”
But Marybelle does not answer. Her torch is frozen on a spot on the far side of the room, and her hand is reaching back to find Simi.
“There’s someone here.”
“Where?” Simi sees a bundled shape across the room.
“Fred?” Marybelle calls.
“Can you put the torch down?”
“Sorry,” says Marybelle lowering the light to the floor.
“Come. I’ve just arrived. Fred and Bernard are here.”
“Hello,” a deep voice calls out to them. “Fred’s okay but he needs his muti and blankets. Can you stay with him while we go to the room?”
“Of course,” says Marybelle, hurrying over with Simi close behind. “Hello Fred.”
As Jambee and Bernard head off, Fred begins to cough. His struggle for breath alarms Simi. The last time she’d heard such a cough, she’d had to call for help. The ambulance crew had arrived quickly, and that old man had been taken to hospital. Hypothermia they’d said. Too long in the cold on the park bench. She places her good hand on Fred’s shoulder, and feels the damp in his jacket.
“He’s wet. Can we get him out of the wind?”
Even as she asks, Simi knows it is hopeless. The floor is covered in water, and the wind is everywhere. The only dry is the green of the billiard table, and there is no way she and Marybelle can lift Fred on to that.
“Perhaps we should just sit either side of him. Block some of the wind,” Marybelle suggests.
“That could work.” Simi sits down on the bench, angling her body to absorb as much of the gale as she can. As she lifts the soggy hem of her kaftan off her feet, Fred raises his right hand shakily towards her. She takes it, smiling at him, alarmed by the pale, puffiness of his face.
“We’ll get you warm,” she says. “They’ll be back …”
Before Simi can finish the door flings open, and someone else thuds into the room.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023