by Alison Proud
a hot chocolate
Henry opened his eyes as he woke from his
sleep. He was aware of the sunlight seeping through the side of the
bedroom curtain. He loved a sunny spring day. He turned in his bed
to see if Joyce was awake yet. It hit him hard like a thud to his
chest. The other side of the bed was empty, Joyce was not there. In
a panic he sat up quickly and struggled to get his breath. Then he
remembered yesterday and a solitary tear trickled down his wrinkled face.
It had been a normal start to the day for Henry and Joyce, they had woken early, had some breakfast and got themselves ready for their daily walk into town. Hand in hand they slowly strolled every day, always to the same shops in the arcade. Henry to buy his paper and Joyce to buy fresh flowers.
Over the years the town had struggled, unemployment was high, and crime had increased. Henry read about burglaries, mugging and even murders in the local paper. Now in their eighties, he and Joyce had become a little apprehensive walking through the streets each day, but the adolescents who gathered at the entrance to the arcade had not bothered them and they had carried on with their daily routine.
That morning Henry had gone into the newsagents, bought his paper and some extra strong mints while Joyce waited outside for him. Then they had walked further through the arcade to the supermarket for Joyce to buy her flowers. The tulips were out, and she had bought a bright yellow bunch. Flowers made her happy, they made Henry happy too. They added colour and joy to their rather old and damp front room.
As they had made their way back through the arcade, that group of adolescents had been blocking the exit. There had been a lot of noise, angry voices and what had seemed like a scuffle between some of them. Henry had gripped Joyce’s hand tightly. He had seen a man fall to the floor, there was blood. The group had begun to disperse, running past him and Joyce at speed. One of them, not looking where he was going had knocked into Joyce. She had fallen, hitting her head on the ground.
The rest of that morning had been a blur, Henry had cradled her in his arms, telling her to stay with him. The ambulance had come and taken her; he had not been able to go with her. COVID they had said, no one is allowed at the hospital they had said.
He had walked back to the flat and waited and waited for the phone to ring. Hours later, the call had come but with the devastating news that his beloved Joyce had passed.
For Dale, it had been another normal start to the day. He had woken as he always did on a mattress on the floor of his brothers’ bedroom. There had been no food in the kitchen for breakfast, just empty bottles of wine and cigarette butts on the floor. His mum was an alcoholic and this was always the same scene every morning. He had left the house for the arcade, where he went to meet his friends, well they were not really his friends, just people he hung about with. He had nothing else to do.
Every day was the same and this one had been no different, well not until a fight had broken out between two of the lads. It had got nasty; Leo had a knife and Jack got stabbed. Everyone (including Jack) had run off. Some old lady had got knocked over; Fin was not looking where he was going, and he had run into her. Dale knew he should have stopped but he had been scared. He hoped she was ok.
Henry got up, got dressed, made some toast with jam as he always did, but he could not eat it. There were no calls to make about Joyce. They had no children or family left. He was alone. He felt sick and giddy and he wanted fresh air and he needed his paper, so he set off down the street. He did not see anything, he felt like he was detached from everything going on around him. He could not hear the cars, or the peoples voices who passed him, it was like he was not there. He bought his paper and the man behind the counter said how sorry he was. “Sorry for what” said Henry. “For your loss” said the man. As Henry left the shop, he wondered how the man knew about Joyce. He had not noticed the headline on the local paper which was now tucked under his arm.
But Dale had seen it on his way to the arcade this morning and as Henry walked past him, he felt sick with the memory of yesterday. He had seen this couple walk past every day, hand in hand, him with his paper and her with her flowers. They clearly had little but had everything in his eyes. Love, which he had never known.
Henry arrived home, he made a cup of tea which he did not drink. He sat in his chair and stared into the room, a room full of blankness. He must have dozed off as he was woken by the sound of a knock at the door. He wondered who it could be. He and Joyce never had any visitors. He opened the door but there was no one there. He was about to go back inside when he noticed something, there was a basket full of flowers on the doorstep, yellow tulips. There was no note and he looked around outside but could not see anyone.
Dale watched him out of view from the other side of the road.
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