Wednesday 17 October 2018

The Bench

by David Deanshaw

a nice cup of tea 

It was a perfect summer’s day, little in the way of clouds but with a gentle breeze. Temperatures were touching twenty degrees, ideal for my wife Pam, who was a keen photographer. The Botanical Gardens had an excellent reputation for its variety of trees, plants and colours. As Pam strolled round I looked for somewhere to rest my arthritic knees, which were making me hobble. I saw a secluded bower, with a bench. It was occupied by an old man. He wore a check jacket and grey flannels with a knife sharp crease; on the armrest beside him was a matching cap. I didn’t really want to disturb him, but I needed to rest.
I looked over towards him seeking to share his bench. He turned his face towards me, perhaps reading my thoughts; he nodded, as I approached slowly. I could see a tear was trickling down his cheek. His hands were clasped together, holding a handkerchief which was embroidered
It was a truly tranquil situation. We could hear a gentle chorus of birds hidden in the trees.
‘Peaceful,’ I said.
‘Yes, she loved it here.’
I hesitated fearing I had interrupted a tender moment.
‘How long ago?’ I asked.
‘Today, last year,’ he croaked.
‘I don’t want to disturb you.’
‘Not a problem. Perhaps you’d stay a while?’
‘Can we talk?’
He nodded.
‘Tell me about her.’
He smiled as he took a deep breath; obviously the memory of her was both pleasant and sensitive.
‘She was the kindest, gentlest woman you could ever wish to meet. She organised me from the day we got engaged, kept house, managed the money and the cooking.’
‘But you helped, providing for the family?’
‘Yes that’s what we men were for in those days. Then there were the children.’
‘How many?’
'Just two, one of each.’
‘But you helped?’
‘Yes of course. But whenever they fell or got bruised or scratched it was her warmth that mended them. She used to say, “There you are; Mummy mended it.” They’d recover as if by magic. I was the one who taught them to read; then listened as they read to me. I did sums as well – fractions they always found difficult, but not decimals later.’ He moved his head as if looking into the distance. ‘Now they’ve both moved away.’
‘Australia and New Zealand.’
‘Do they come back to visit?
‘Only for the funeral,’ his voice croaked again. ‘They stayed for three weeks to help me sort things out, then left.’
  ‘Would you want to go and live with them? ‘
‘Difficult, I’d have to be sponsored at my age. Besides, she’s still here with me, not out there.’
‘But do they want you to go?’
‘No I don’t think so. They only think of the future, not the past.’
At that moment, he leaned forward placing his elbows on his knees. Now, I could see, behind his back, engraved on the bench were the words, ’in loving memory of Amy.’ She had been “sitting on his shoulder” the whole time,
‘Do you do much with your time?’
‘Not really I don’t know what to do without her.’
‘You were obviously very much in love.’
‘I loved her more every day.’
‘Can I make a suggestion?’
 ‘Please do,’
‘A friend of mine decided some years ago that he knew nothing of his parent’s family or any of his ancestors. So he decided to write a book about himself for his children and the grandchildren. He wrote his life story all the way from junior school to retirement.’
‘Oh, I couldn’t do that.’
‘If I said that the most touching part of the book for me, when I read it, was the story of how he met the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. Right from first meeting, to falling in love and realising that they were soul mates. It was a love story that brought a tear to my eyes. What would you say to that?’
‘It sounds a nice story.’ He relaxed and lifted his elbows.
‘Anyone who read your story would learn just how much you loved her. My friend told me that it was a joy to write. Did your grandchildren ever meet Amy?’
‘No they stayed with the other grandparents for the funeral.’
‘Then why not write something for their sake. I am sure you have pictures too?’
He nodded.
‘Not just about Amy and me, but of the children too. What their parents looked like as they grew up.’
He was beginning to sound interested; and this did bring a smile to the old man’s face.
‘Do you know I think that I quite like that idea? We got a computer some years ago to stay in touch by email. My son recently introduced me to Skype. We take it in turns. We speak every Saturday morning at ten in the morning here, so it must be the same time out there only at night. Thank you for talking to me. Shall we stay in touch?’
‘I’d be delighted. Let me give you my contact details.’ With that I wrote down my email address and phone number.
‘It’s been a pleasure to talk with you.’
With that, I pressed one hand down on the armrest and got up. We shook hands and I walked away.

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