Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Alexander Road

Jeanne Davies

chocolate milk shake

The ocean changed its shape in a perpetual motion of dips and swells beneath a morning sky which boasted the clear blue everyone had longed for. The Southsea beach fronts were laden with families enjoying a typical British summer. Excited children grasped colourful buckets as they patiently watched their fathers hammering windbreaks into moist recently exposed sand. Clutching and snatching at shells, the tide had begun its retreat from the pebbles piled high against the promenade. All along this coastal stretch the new day was beginning, with a promise of ice creams, penny arcades and all the fun of the fair, amid the under scents of chips and greasy sun lotion.
     Gripping the lead securely, Elizabeth carefully navigated Bella to safely avoid streams of bicycles, joggers and the miniature blue train with enormous painted eyes. Bella was slow and sedate now and didn’t cope well with stress. For a moment, Elizabeth paused to gaze out across the vast sparkling sea, far out to the distant horizon. The sepia shadows of several ships hung in limbo on the faded boundary between sky and ocean, motionless except to those who turned away for a time. 
     They crossed the road and vanished down a narrow street, leaving the chaotic seafront noises behind them. The grand beach front houses and hotels gradually disappeared. A few respectable B&B’s sprung up between shabby rented accommodation and flats where foxes had raided black bin liners abandoned in dishevelled front yards. Dust and debris collected on empty spirit bottles and discarded beer cans, amidst scatterings of dried dog faeces.
     Along the cracked pavements, weeds grew high against crumbling brick walls covered in an eczema of lichen. Before she turned into Alexander Road, Elizabeth encountered an elderly drunk with several days of grey stubble on his sun scorched chin. He gave her a toothless smile before reaching down to touch Bella's curly ivory coat. The man hovered there for a second or two, balancing precariously as if on a tightrope which he grappled to remain on, but never managed to control. As usual the Retriever gazed up into his withered face, her kind brown eyes focusing on him whilst her whiskered jaw dropped open into a panting smile.
     As they approached the black pointed railings of Alexander Park, Elizabeth could feel Bella’s enthusiasm mount. They quickened their pace until they were engulfed in a peaceful green canopy of beach and oak. Taking their usual route from left to right of the big grass square, Bella was grateful to receive the freedom to roam off lead as she wished. Having completed the square three times, Elizabeth sat on a bench, allowing her arms to stretch across its width. She resisted frenzied tears hiding behind her dark green eyes, convincing herself that she was doing the right thing.
     Bella returned to her owner’s side and carefully settled herself down beside her feet. The gentle breeze ruffled the graceful fully-clad branches above them in a dance of their own; Debussy’s Claire de Lune echoed in Elizabeth’s mind, in tune with their motion. She allowed it to flow over her like the sound of the waves on the beach. They often sat there watching the world go by; Bella would twitch her nostrils and sniff the air periodically harnessing different scents. Their usual friendly Jackdaw would often hop along the path, searching for crumbs and blinking curiously at them.
     A woman wearing impractical shoes walked her Westie quickly along towards them, gesticulating to her phone. The dog cautiously glanced over at Bella but was soon tugged along sharply like a little white puppet. As they left, it yapped briefly at the postman who’d propped his bike against the railings, juggling an armful of mail for residents in the square.
     Soon an elderly couple entered the park, casually wandering hand in hand behind their bouncy Jack Russell. They eventually sat opposite Elizabeth; the man placing his hand gently on top of the woman’s. They were too far away for her to hear their conversation or understand the topic of their smiles and laughter.
     When the couple left, they nodded happily over at Elizabeth. Sudden unwelcome tears rose to sting her eyes. She sighed heavily, permitting them to roll and make damp tracks down her cheeks. They used to hold hands and gaze out into the world together like that … she’d questioned repeatedly why he had been taken from her. Only Bella had kept her going through those sad times.
     A jogger appeared at the gate, her long lean legs pumping at the path. Elizabeth quickly swiped a tissue across her face and blew her nose, chastising herself for such stupidity. She said a prayer for him, as she always did, and inhaled a full lungful of air. Bella took this as a sign and rose slowly to her feet. She turned to focus those knowing brown eyes into Elizabeth’s … they both knew … it was time to go.
     The sun was beginning to weaken and fall as Elizabeth walked alone amid the cries and tantrums of exhausted children covered in salt, sand and remnants of ice cream, being coaxed and dragged back to cars by weary adults. She too must go back to the loneliness of her life, or at least find some way to carry on without the love of her life. So many long nights with pillows soaked by tears and a cold empty space beside her.
     Elizabeth felt the restless pull of the ocean beneath her bare toes and the huge tug in her heart to go back to the veterinary practice, to scream and shout, shake Bella awake … and to return to Alexander Road.

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