I write this lying on my back, careful to remain as still as I can in order not to wake Mari. I find it cathartic to write down what happened. But I’ll hide what I’ve written beneath the mattress. I’ve no idea what might happen to me if Mari ever read it.
“If you truly love me,” she said, “you’ll marry me on Skera.”
Of course I loved her. I loved the way her nose wrinkled when she smiled. I loved the sound of her laughter and the feel of her caress. I wanted more than anything to spend every single day of my life by her side.
But it was the notion of Skera that somehow unsettled me.
A wealthy surgeon had bought the two-mile wide island from the Ministry of Defence back in the early seventies. The tight knit community he had established there was apparently intended to be antithesis of the type of free love communes set up by new age hippies in the previous decade, a quiet revolt against the permissive age, a place where both marriage and the sanctity of marriage were intended to be the unfaltering foundations of a new society.
Mari’s grandparents had been amongst the first half a dozen couples to settle there. Both her parents were born there, as was she. After almost forty years the community was apparently still holding fast to its principles. “Couples on the island are inseparable,” she told me. “Divorce is unheard of. Everyone works so hard to ensure that the bond between two people who have chosen to be with each other is genuinely unbreakable.”
It all sounded so conservative, so inflexible. I worried about finding myself exposed to some sort of indoctrination.
“We’re not weird,” Mari assured me. “We just enjoy a lifestyle based on a sincere lifelong commitment between partners.”
I had known Mari for almost eighteen months. Despite her unconventional upbringing there honestly wasn’t a single thing about her that raised any alarm bells. She was as clever as she was beautiful, level headed and tolerant of other people’s views.
“You promised to marry me on the island, Luke,” she reminded me. “I told you I simply couldn’t have my wedding anywhere else.”
She was right, I had promised that.
But from the moment I’d agreed to the idea it seemed to me that Mari wanted a lot more than just a ceremony amongst friends and family. It was clear that her dream was for us to settle on Skera. She said it was the best place in the world for couples to bond.
“Plenty of Skerans come back with outsiders as future spouses. They all settle in fine,” she pointed out.
But still something nagged endlessly at the back of my mind.
Mari’s pale blue eyes searched mine.
“You do love me, Luke?”
“Of course I love you.”
“Then you’ll love Skera,” she said.
I smiled, despite the cold shiver that washed over me.