A Soar Life
He would count the twelve steps leading down to our bench often – aloud and without purpose. He would take my hand and gently guide us through crunched leaves and spots of sunshine; away from unfavourable youths and long since littered gum. At the final step he would pretend to trip to make me laugh. I’d try to hold the corners of my mouth shut each time he did so – though never with much success.
I always sat on the left, for the right had an obscene word scrawled in spray paint or marker or something. I told him it made no difference: the graffiti was dry; there was no danger of it marking my coat. But he’d insist. He carried the bread too, as if the stale loaf would somehow weigh me down, be a burden in my hands.
Lily and George (after our own two babies, who – as they often remark – are now far too old to be labelled as such) would swim over from the dense overgrowth on the opposing bank, through the darkness beneath the bridge on Mill Lane towards the smell of yesterday’s uneaten wholemeal. He placed the bread straight into their beaks, stating that he didn’t have much faith for the purity of the thick green river. A soft whistle would escape his lips as he fed them, the same nameless tune he would sing as we cared for our garden, or gently hum into my neck after sex.
I often try to turn the clock back by the river. I go back to our favourite time; a river not filled with cigarette butts or takeaway wrappings, but busy with the endless flow of barge and boat. A time when he and I would walk the cobbled lane through Castle Yard to work, teasing one another with stories of St Mary de Castro’s many lovers, or the tiny priest who had the good fortune of his own custom-made entrance at the back of the church.
We’d bickered playfully about maintaining our weekend ritual of walking to our bench that Sunday. He had argued that the wind was high; a storm was on the horizon. I countered with the presentation of waterproof jackets, his golfing umbrella and a toothy smile – the latter resulting, as always, in his surrender.
The rain began to fall as we descended twelve familiar steps and was thundering by the time we stepped off the final riser. The droplets hammered into the river causing the Soar to spray upward, passers-by started running for cover underneath the old bus-stop on Western Boulevard, the passing cars forced to a crawl. I finally admitted defeat when I saw the seat of our bench already immersed.
Turning to leave, my left hand searched for his right only to find nothing but air. I twisted back to find him still staring at our saturated bench, his head lolled forward, his hand grasping his left arm, embracing himself. He drew a deep breath and then he began to fall.
I was unable to hear the howling wind; the rain seemed to slow down – the droplets looking like diamonds, feeling like bricks. A shopping bag fell to the ground. The thin loaf escaped from the plastic and rolled into the river, the ripples spreading out into the water, like passengers fleeing a sinking ship.
I don’t bring the bread anymore. Lily and George don’t come for it without him. I like to think they know I would find the memory of them eating painful on reflection. Maybe they don’t trust the old lady without the familiar whistle. Or perhaps they’ve just forgotten the man who would bring their breakfast on a Sunday morning. I envy those hungry little ducks – sometimes I wish I could sit on our bench by the river and forget him. If only for a short while.
Rich Styles has recently completed a degree at De Montfort University, and soon starts another at Warwick. These academic pursuits help him to write short-stories and avoid living with his mother. His Dinner Date Preparation website – lennoxleroy.podbean.com –has now helped over two hundred lucky gentlemen.