The Spirit of Loch Ness
"…and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters…"
The words, dredged from the depths of childhood memories, sprang unbidden into John's mind as he sat at the edge of the loch staring out across the vast expanse of dark water. How did the rest go? He frowned in concentration, but the final remnant of the phrase remained elusive, just out of reach. No matter.
What did anything matter now?
He felt the first black tendrils of despair beginning to curl out across his mind, as the early morning mist curled across the surface of the loch. Where had he gone wrong? It had been so idyllic, a marriage made in heaven. Everyone had said so. They had been a perfect match, he and Jean, full of life and love, delighting in each other’s company. What was it Jean used to say with that catchy grin of hers? “John’s my best friend as well as my husband.”
He grunted. She’d hardly be saying that now! He watched little waves slapping at the shore, and as the silent spirit of the loch began to seep into him, immediately felt little waves of guilt beginning to slap against the edges of his consciousness. So he pushed away the blame by reminding himself firmly that it wasn’t all one way. Those terrible, searing words Jean had screamed at him, tears streaming down her face. No wonder he’d slammed out.
Anyway, it was all her fault in the first place. Didn't she realise how much he invested each day in coming home from work to his family, to her and Isabelle, the two people he loved with a bursting intensity which filled his heart and his life? Surely she recognised that such anticipation was the only thing that made work bearable? Wasn't she aware of his need for her, of the suffocating fear which any thought of her absence elicited?
They had shared such heartache over Isabelle, their strange, waif-like daughter, born to be unique, unlike other children. Although neither of them had ever minded about her condition even when it became obvious, and when later on she'd been diagnosed as autistic, it had been hard work from the moment of her birth. But they’d accepted her limitations with equanimity. Where other couples had been forced apart by the demands of such a changeling child, he and Jean had grown closer and closer.
He gazed unseeing across water still dark in the early morning mist, and shivered with cold. Or perhaps with the pain he'd thought locked up forever in the recesses of his memory. He remembered the nights they’d stayed up with Isabelle, taking turns to snatch an hour or two’s sleep, while first as a baby then as a toddler she’d been wide awake and vigorously active nearly all night. But they’d worked as a team, he and Jean, prepared to extend their love infinitely to fill their child’s needs.
He remembered the hurt of Isabelle’s initial inability to respond emotionally to either of them, and the way they’d patiently coaxed and cuddled and played with her. And he remembered the huge joy of that time when she’d fallen and cut her knee and run to Jean to be comforted. How they'd shared that delight! And how miraculously their love for each other had grown and spread and deepened as they'd coped with this extraordinary, oddly gifted daughter.
And now he’d blown it. All those years of self-giving devotion tossed away in one regrettable moment. Goodness knows how Isabelle would react, sitting there so quietly in the shadows at the top of the stairs, little pointed face peering out through the banisters. She’d never heard her parents argue before, let alone rage and physically fight with such venom. Perhaps she would withdraw again into her impenetrable shell, where she sensed safety. Or perhaps she would play the piano for hour after hour after hour, until Jean's brain turned from the pleasure of the music to become scrambled with the repetitive monotony of it all and Jean was stretched taut and tight as cling-film.
John groaned, standing up to flex his muscles and skim a flat pebble over the surface of the loch. It jumped only once, then sank. A bad omen. He shuddered and began to walk, his bones aching with the cold and the mist, or perhaps reflecting the internal ache of his spirit.
How could Jean possibly want a full-time job? It was so unreasonable. Just because Isabelle was at school all day didn’t mean she no longer needed her mother at home. Surely Jean could see that? All the dynamics of this family life they’d so carefully built over the years, did they count for nothing? A secure, stable family background was so desperately important for Isabelle. That's what the experts had impressed upon them right from the beginning. And they'd taken it to heart, overwhelmed with their love for their child and the awesome responsibility which had been thrust upon them.
As the first light began to filter through the clouds, the wind increased a little and the surface of the loch became quite choppy. Almost as though he was resonating with the changes in the loch, panic started to rise within him. He couldn't believe the violence of his anger, now spent. He, normally so calm, so placid; a rock on which Jean could fasten, where she could rest secure. But a rock which had become suddenly sword-sharp and dangerous, which hadn't protected Jean but had damaged her. How could he have done that? Was he mad, a potential psychopath with no control?
He couldn't bear to picture her face, yet it stubbornly appropriated his mind with its blood seeping from her nose and that eye already beginning to swell and close. He stifled a sob as he fearfully contemplated the hidden monster within him.
A movement on the loch caught his eye. He strained to see through the dark grey of early dawn and the swirls of mist. Surely not the Loch Ness monster! Even in his disturbed and fragile state John refused to believe in that. No, it was something much more ethereal, something slight and delicate. He moved carefully towards the movement, his vision growing as dawn expanded.
Soon he could make out a sprite, an elfin figure dancing on the dancing waves, so that he was unsure which was creature and which was water. He paused spellbound, as the fairy creature wove enchanted patterns of movement, turning, pirouetting, darting motion. She was absorbed in her dance, at one with the waves on which she was poised.
Unaccountably, as the sun stole tentatively above the horizon, John felt his mood begin to lighten. Perhaps the spirit of Loch Ness wasn't dark depths of despair in rising terror, but was this bewitching water-nymph who could dance on the surface of the loch. He inched closer, creeping slowly, cautiously, anxious not to frighten or disturb, focusing intently on the whirling Spirit, white-blonde hair wind-blown from her pixie face. But she spotted him.
“Don’t stop,” he pleaded. “It was so beautiful.”
She nodded solemnly. “I’ve finished.” And she turned and ran back along the landing stage now emerging from the mist.
“I thought you were dancing on the water,” John confided.
Her eyes lit up and she smiled a secret, elfin smile, but she didn’t answer.
He added, “What are you doing out here alone?”
“Dancing. But I’m going now. Come.” And she beckoned John as she slipped into the undergrowth along hidden paths hitherto unnoticed by him.
John was reminded of the sirens of old who would lure unsuspecting males to their doom. Yet he followed, unable to resist, captivated by the ephemeral charm of this Spirit of Loch Ness. What did she want with him? Was the hope licking at the corners of his mind all an illusion, an elevation designed only to plunge him finally and irrevocably into black, black depths?
She led him away from the loch shore, through fern and bracken, thorn and thicket, until he was disorientated, uncertain of the direction in which they were travelling. And she moved lightly, quickly, confidently, never pausing in consideration of his clumsiness. He felt like a mammoth crashing through the underbrush in the wake of a wispy moth.
He regained his bearings as they emerged through a clearing onto the winding lane which led down to the shore from the cottage. John's heart began to thud breathlessly as they neared the cottage door, but Isabelle seemed oblivious of any difficulty as she scampered on. Perhaps she had already forgotten he was following her.
John stopped, his euphoria suddenly evaporating. His daughter was after all no Spirit, merely a slightly damaged human being. How foolish to imagine for one fleeting instant that she might be a portent, a symbol of hope.
Her dance had activated the security device over the door as they approached, so that the front garden was instantly flooded with light. The front door opened and Jean stood framed in the doorway.
As John tremulously looked at her, fear so huge that it threatened to overflow his mind, he saw her arms open towards him. He stumbled towards her, and clutched her to him. They clung to each other, the love of years infinitely stronger than the fury of one moment.
Out of the corner of his eye John noticed the child slip off unconcerned towards the swing. And that long-forgotten phrase leaped into his mind:
"….And God said, Let there be light! And there was light."