“Don’t look now,” John said to his wife, “but there are a couple of old girls two tables away who are trying to hypnotise me.”
Laura, quick on cue, made an elaborate pretence of yawning, then tilted her head as though searching the skies for a non-existent aeroplane.
“Right behind you,” he added. “That’s why you can’t turn round at once-it would be much too obvious.”
And so begins the terrifying story by Daphne du Maurier. John and Laura are vacationing in Italy; John is hoping that Laura will be able to overcome “the numb despair that had seized her since (her) child died.”
Apparently, one of the two women who have been staring at them has psychic powers. She is able to see Laura’s daughter, and she tells them not to be worried. Christine is sitting right between them laughing. Laura is overjoyed, and immensely comforted by this idea, but John is instantly on guard.
“He felt himself held, unable to move, and an impending sense of doom, of tragedy, came upon him. His whole being sagged, as it were, in apathy, and he thought, “This is the end, there is no escape, no future.” A strange foreboding, to be sure, for what is to follow.
When they return to their hotel, after traversing the alleys and bridges of Venice, they discover their son is in need of an appendectomy. Because he is away at his boarding school, Laura decides she must fly to him at once. John can follow in the car. Arrangements are hastily made, and Laura departs.
However, John sees her with the two women in a ferry passing them downstream. What has happened? Has Laura missed her flight? Is there some emergency of which he is unaware? No matter how hard he tries, and he does work frantically to solve this misunderstanding, there is no solution until the conclusion of this tale.
What a masterful story teller du Maurier is. My favorite book of hers will always be Rebecca, but this short story? It evokes so much of what terrifies me: losing a child, becoming lost myself, chasing someone in a dream who is always just one step away, misunderstandings between a spouse which cannot be bridged. It doesn’t take the bizarre, although that is certainly included, to make this story any scarier than it is.