AIDA AUSTIN: "There’ll be no more wine crossing my lips this holiday"

Lefkada, 5pm and I’m standing on a jetty. My husband, his sister and her husband are standing on the boat that is to be our home for a week. 

The boat is called “Sophia,” and she’s tied to the jetty by two ropes. 

Sophia looks pretty, bobbing on the water. 

I’d like to inspect my new home, but this means walking along a bit of timber which my brother-in-law flung down between boat and jetty, after drinking his share of a carafe of wine which we ordered in a tavern to celebrate the first day of our holiday. 

I look at the placement of this bit of timber. I can see signs of a quarter-carafe in it.

It doesn’t take an expert to see that this is not a gang-plank; after 30 years of walking around in a kitchen, my eye is trained to spot an old kitchen floorboard when I see one.

“Come on then,” my brother-in-law calls from the boat. 

I look up at him from the jetty. I can feel signs of a quarter-carafe in me. 

I must ignore Captain Pugwash if I am to keep an eye on my footing; to my eye, this floorboard looks like it might have a bit of bounce in it. Could be wrong, but it might.

I look down. I step onto the floorboard. There is no bounce in it but there is even less width. And it’s unstable. It’s a tool to be used only by surefooted acrobats such as, for example, Philippe Petit.

It’s definitely not, I consider, inching across it, a thing that anyone should traverse unless they’re in a state of complete and total sobriety.

I reach the boat. 

“Welcome aboard the Sophia,” Pugwash says. 

“Well,” I say, “there’ll be no more wine crossing my lips this holiday.” 

“It’s very light, the wine,” my sister-in law mutters, heading downstairs looking… shifty. 

“What’s downstairs?” I say. 

“Below deck,” says Pugwash, “come down, I’ll show you around.”

Below deck, Pugwash shows me magic cupboards out of which bits of kitchen pop. Then he shows me a tiny door. Behind it, I’m amazed to discover a toilet. 

This toilet comes with a complicated list of instructions governing its use; something to do with pumping a handle, Pugwash explains, then not pumping it, then pumping it again. 

Then turning a black lever right but never left, then turning it left but never right, “or else what will happen is not what you ever want to happen, believe you me.”

He picks up a small nozzle. I’d never have found it.

“The shower,” he says, by way of introduction.

“The instructions for the shower are much simpler,” says Pugwash but all instructions are lost on me; I’m much too terrified of the toilet to comprehend them.

I back out of the toilet quickly, straight into the magic cupboards. The mercury of fear is rising in the thermometer of my veins.

I point at another closed door. 

“What’s in there?” I say.

“Bedroom one,” Pugwash says.

Behind this door, his wife is in bed. 

“That’s my Competent Crew in there,” Pugwash says, “taking a nap.” 

The nap is not because of the wine because the wine is so light. Shifty is just resting.

“Just having a little snooze,” Shifty says from behind the door. 

My husband descends the stairs to join me on my guided tour. 

“I feel funny,” I whisper.

“What do you mean, funny?” he whispers back.

“I just have a feeling that I need to get out,” I whisper, “it’s a really powerful feeling. I’ve never had it before.”

“You’re just hot,” my husband says, “it’s 30 degrees today. Must be 35, at least, down here.”

“Shh,” I say, “Pugwash will hear you. It’s not just the heat, it’s something else but I can’t put my finger on it. Oh Christ, seriously, it feels like I’m in a…”

“Bedroom two,” Pugwash announces, opening a small door, “I’ll let you settle in, there’s only standing room for one.”

I stand inside the door and look down at the bed. The mercury of fear is rising: the bed appears to have a lid.

I look down at the bed-with-a-lid. I think the bed might narrow at the feet-end. 

“You feel like you’re in a what?” my husband whispers, squeezing in behind me. We stand, nose to nose in 35 degrees.

The mercury is rising.

“A coffin,” I quaver.


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