Guilt

A portly man stands on the aft deck of the Channel ferry, watching the lights of Ventnor recede. His face is damp and salty, though whether from the sea air or from the tears that run down his cheeks he cannot tell. He takes off his glasses and dabs at his eyes with a sodden handkerchief and, like the chess player facing the inevitable mate, ponders his next move. He looks around; he is quite alone, the December chill driving even the hardiest of smokers back below deck. He leans over the rail and stares down at the wake, churning and boiling and stretching out behind into the darkness, and he wonders…

What would you have done differently? If you could go back and start again? Not used the bloody money for a start! Sure, those bastards at Enterprise had a lot to do with it, but it was your own stubborn pride that got you into this bloody mess. Sometimes you just have to admit defeat. Just a shame you didn’t know when. Just a shame you didn’t know how. Just a shame you’d left it until it was too bloody late.
It was a stupid idea in the first place; you can’t even remember whose idea it was, can you? Traditional, probably. The community has always done it. But why would you hand your money to someone else if you can’t be trusted with it yourself? If you haven’t got the self-discipline to save your money why would you expect someone else to have the same self-discipline to look after it for you? That’s right, blame everyone else, you selfish bastard. You’ve really buggered Christmas for them all now, haven’t you?
Just an unfortunate set of circumstances, temptation in front of the devil. Just an unfortunate set of circumstances be damned; you stole it. You knew you were stealing it. Every time you failed to bank it and used it to get another creditor off your back. You knew what you doing. You knew it was wrong and you kept going. You could have stopped. At any time. Stopped, owned up, taken the punishment, but your pride kept you going, your stupid bastard pride. You couldn’t let the pub close. You couldn’t let them know that you couldn’t cope, that it was all going under. You had a position. You had standing. You couldn’t be a failure. Oh no, not a failure. That would just be too much to bear, wouldn’t it. How could you hold your head up knowing you’ve failed?
So using their cash was better? That was better than admitting you couldn’t keep the business going? How did you think it was going to end? In a ruddy miracle? Or that you were going to tell them all the truth and they would be very understanding about it? Jesus! What were you thinking? Like you could bear to face them all? Stand there and tell them all that their money has gone? That you’ve spent it? All of it? Every last penny?
Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Fat good your pride has done you. It’s gone. Everything. It’s gone. The lot. The pub, the money, the friendship, the trust. The trust. They trusted you, you bastard. And you couldn’t even take it like a man. You coward. You thieving, snivelling, untrustworthy bastard coward. You couldn’t face them could you? You have nothing but they have less because they no money and no trust. How can they trust anyone after this? And France? Why France? How are you going to disappear in France? How are you going to survive? You couldn’t run in a business in the UK; how are going to manage with sod all in France? And the law? Don’t you think they’ll be waiting for you when you arrive in St Malo? How did you think you were going to get away with this? How?

The man removes his glasses again and wipes his face with his sleeve. He cannot take his eyes off the turbulent water below. Slowly, he rolls an arm of his spectacles between thumb and forefinger before reaching out and letting them drop. They tumble away, lost in the spray and the dark. He is a big man and not at all athletic, his prime years a long way behind him, so he finds climbing up over the rail a struggle. The wet metal is slippery but he is determined. His breath comes in short bursts and he feels a hammering in his chest. His legs tremble as they balance on the edge, his fingers cramping as they cling to the rail. The sea thrashes and fluoresces in the weak light of the moon and he stares at it, mesmerised for a second or two. And then his fingers relax and let go, and he steps out into the air.

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