Writer's Blog

Short story: Our Bench by the Sea

Our Bench by the Sea
The strains of the carousel punctured my thoughts and brought me back to the moment. Sitting here on the bench, lovingly donated to this public walkway overlooking the beautiful bay by the family of Joan Walker, who was sadly missed every day, apparently, the gentle warmth of the sun was making me sleepy.

Many years before, we had asked made our children promise, when the two of us had died, they would do the same for us. They would install a bench and lovingly add a plaque with our names on it, locating it somewhere near this bay, giving them, and anybody else, a place to rest while walking in the sun…or the rain…whatever took their fancy. A place for the children to remember us and for us to feel together for eternity.

My husband and I had agreed that if it were possible we would seek each other and meet here in the afterlife. It had long been our favourite place to walk, hand in hand, chatting about anything and everything, or watching and quietly criticising passers-by for not controlling their dogs, their children, the fumes from their cigarettes, anything that took our attention. We just loved watching people and making up stories about their lives and could often be seen giggling at some shared joke or cheeky comment. Obviously, nobody knew that we were talking about them, but it was ‘our thing’.

It is one of the things I really, truly missed about being with him. Our people watching walks together in the sunshine. Of course, I missed everything about being with him. We had enjoyed a wonderful life together. We knew what made each other tick, knew each other’s failings and had put them aside creating a perfect life for ourselves.
Behind me, the fenced-off green beside the old car park had recently undergone a transformation into what a huge sign promised ‘An Old-Fashioned Experience – The Thrills of a Child from Years Gone By.” A funfair at the beach for the duration of the summer. Squeals of delight could be heard from the children as they spun around in brightly coloured teacups which had goofy faces painted on the sides, looped the loop on the mini rollercoaster and circled the carousel, riding on exquisitely painted, galloping horses, their little arms folded tightly around equally beautiful twisted poles which shot unnaturally through the horses’ manes. It was many years since our own children had grown out of these family funfairs, preferring instead the fear and adrenalin of rides appropriately named ‘Queen of Speed’, ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Spin Ball Whizzer’. Rides, which were more likely to inflict a feeling of pure terror than mere butterflies in the tummy. They were welcome to those rides. When our children were at the age that they still needed accompanying to theme parks, it was scary enough just to be holding their coats and taking the photos. In fact, I argued that it was far scarier for the bystander than being on the actual ride itself. I had never been a fan of funfairs – the carousel was enough for my fragile stomach, thank you very much but, these days, the young children could keep it all.

Those days were long gone now. I was on my own and it was a comfort to come and sit here in the sunshine and remember those good times. My husband and I had enjoyed so much time here, but I had lost touch a little, over the years that had passed, and I was alarmed to see teenaged boys and girls hovering, yes, hovering, along the promenade below. What was I missing? They appeared to be unattached, nothing grounding them at all. My eyes were not what they used to be, I told myself I was just unable to see what was keeping them those few inches from them ground. Dogs no longer appeared to have leads to control them. Instead, when they strayed more than a few feet from their owners, they were pulled back by a seemingly invisible force. The dogs didn’t seem bothered by whatever was controlling them, they just knew that it meant they needed to stay close to their owners. Everyone seemed to be drifting or hovering around peacefully. The café along the promenade, hugely popular in our time, still drew lots of custom. It looked different from this angle but had probably changed a lot over the passing years.

Some movement along the pathway caught my attention. A truck was being driven scarily close to the edge, its reversing beep alerting all around to its presence. A couple of middle-aged people were walking directly towards the truck. Faces I recognised were starting to come into focus. Watching them closely, I realised they were fading out of focus because of my tears, my children. My so grown-up children! They were standing at a spot where it looked as though a new bench was about to be placed. My daughter was holding a plaque. They clearly had not spotted me or thought I would be late as usual so didn’t look around for me. I had planned to be here early just to spend some time alone with my thoughts. I slowly walked along to where the truck driver was depositing the new bench and I stood quietly beside them. They both knew that I had wanted to wait until my husband and I were both together in the afterlife and I am sure they sensed my disapproval, but they also wanted to pay their respects, so I had decided to stay out of it and ensured that I kept quiet.

“Oh, Mum’s here!” my daughter smiled tightly but turned her attention back to the bench and plaque and my son gave a nod in my general direction, clearly upset by the whole process. I smiled and held back to allow them to get the bench in place. It was no mean feat. The bench was going to be located on a slope so needed a permanent wedge in place. That done, they both stood back to admire their handiwork and looked extremely pleased with themselves. I gave my own nod of approval as I checked it out from a few feet behind them. My son, I could not remember him ever handling a screwdriver, let alone a drill, secured the plaque in place confidently and I swelled with pride. He was frowning and trying to work out if he had secured it completely level on the bench. My daughter tried to reassure him that it was fine and to remember that the bench was still on the slope and itself was not entirely straight.

It was then that I saw him for the first time since we had been parted from each other, and goodness knew I had tried! Walking, almost drifting, slowly towards me. Was he hovering too? Typical of him, the old show off! I smiled. I was not entirely sure how this worked. Would he be able to see me? I was not sure that my children could see him. They did not even acknowledge him, so I assumed not. Stupid, cancer! Stupid, bloody cancer! It was too soon for us to part, far too soon! As he got closer to where I was standing, I could see that his eyes were full of a desperate sadness. He ignored the children, probably didn’t see them, and knelt by the bench. Then the sobs began, wracking his whole body. I wanted to be able to comfort him, to tell him we would be together again soon, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t touch him.
“Mum is here,” my daughter whispered to him and he took a small step backwards, looking around him but his eyes never resting on mine. It was at that moment that I was able to read the inscription on the plaque.
“Judith. Loving mum and wife”. That was all it said. Simple. As if reading my mind, my daughter grabbed my husband by the arm and said, “I know we said we would do this for you both, but there is plenty of room to add you to the plaque one day, hopefully not too soon”. Mum understands and wants you to have somewhere to come and sit with her, whenever you want to.

He stood up and my son and daughter put their arms around him and hugged him tight. They were all crying now but they were all together, which was a great comfort to me.
They chatted, and he asked if they would mind leaving him here on his own, so my children headed off towards the other car park, hugging him tightly and arranging to see him soon. He sat down on the bench, our bench, and I sat myself down beside him. I placed my hand in his. He looked down at his fingers. I held onto his little finger in the way I’d always done, and he moved it. I knew he was able feel me there with him. I stroked the back of his head and let my hand linger on the nape of his neck. He tilted his head back in acknowledgement. It had worked, and we were back in contact with each other again!
“I miss you so much, Judith,” he murmured, his eyes slightly closed, “but I knew you would come.”

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Finding the positives from 2018

I am no different to everybody else. My family have their fair share of ups and downs, sadness and tragedies but nobody wants to hear about all of that nonsense. The glum stuff is for keeping hidden behind closed doors and away from prying eyes. I don’t want to depress my readers, especially this close to Christmas.

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I wanted to share some of the awesome times from the past year. There have been some real highlights and some great times so read on for a bit of a positive vibe.

The end of the staffing struggle

After a period of ups and downs, advertising, searching and interviews, we finally secured two excellent IT Technicians, and not a moment too soon. I had spent the previous months trying hard to manage the IT department as well as do the job of one or two technicians so I was very grateful to secure an amazing team. Life is certainly much calmer at work nowadays.

Settling times

My son, Daniel, secured himself a job at a local private hospital, after a period of insecurity as the cafe he was managing was going through changes and, subsequently, closure. He loves his work and is now much more settled. His issues following his brain surgeries over the past years seem to have settled and the side effects are now bearable, even if they have not subsided. He has rid himself of a troublesome and unreliable flatmate, turning his spare room into a games room – what else?

More settling times

My daughter and her husband were able to finalise the purchase of their first home. A beautiful four-bedroomed detached house on a new development outside of Norwich. They had rented since they first got together and are so pleased to have overcome a far-higher-than-normal number of snagging issues. I don’t think they will buy from Charles Church/Persimmon anytime in the future but they now have a fabulous home. They also secured great new jobs this year so all is well in the Woods world.

New addition

At the start of September, we welcomed the newest addition to our family – a gorgeous granddaughter, called Harper. Her parents are my husband’s oldest son and his lovely fiancee. Harper is now just over three months old and she is an adorable delight. I have genuinely never encountered such a contented baby. This has given us a great excuse to travel a couple of hours down the road to visit them and their little family as often as we can. We have also made new friends, Harper’s maternal grandparents, Pauline and Guy. You can never have too many new friends and we look forward to getting to know them better each time we visit.

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Speaking of new friends

When I mention new friends, it seems wrong not to mention old friends. We have so many friends and acquaintances through our hobby, dancing. We have far too many friends to mention but it’s worth mentioning that we almost lost touch completely with a few of our friends, because we became wrapped up in a couple of quietly-controlling dancing friends who monopolised our weekends and, through the medium of sneaky comments and suggestions, we almost, but not quite, completely lost touch with some very good friends who we had known and become close to, through dancing for years. Luckily, we were given a lifeline when those friends suddenly and unexpectedly became jealous of our visiting alternative dance venues and enjoying any dancing time without them. It’s funny how the penny suddenly drops and you feel freer than you have done for months. We realised we had become too reliant on these two, quite frankly, dull friends. The upshot is that we now have more dancing friends than ever and have rekindled an almost-lost friendship. We are both eternally grateful for all of our dear friends.

Not losing Mum

This time last year, Mum was not looking like she would be able to crawl her way to Christmas but, with some lifestyle changes, plenty of drugs and intervention from doctors, she is still with us all. Mum may not be in the best of health – far from it – but we are lucky to have had her with us for another year.

Workmates 

Turnover of staff has meant a number of new additions to the school over the past months and I am lucky to be blessed with some lovely people in my working life.  I am not generally one for socialising with colleagues but with such a lovely bunch it is difficult not to keep in touch.

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Blogging and writing pages

I have almost completed my Comprehensive Creative Writing course which I am taking with the Writers Bureau and, as part of this course, it was suggested that I set up a blog and start sharing my unpublished works on my site and social media pages. This has been a successful starting year to my writing. I have had a handful of short stories published, a couple of poems and have started to build a portfolio which I am secretly quite impressed with. I have the starting chapters of four novels rattling around in my laptop but have not yet decided which one will take my full attention in 2019. Watch this space for more!

New gnashers

I am not going to go on and on about my new teeth but I am seriously pleased with them. From my baby teeth, I have always had a large gap in the front which I hated from High School when I was bullied about them. I was lucky enough to be introduced to a dentist who, over the past few months, has created me some new teeth with no gap at all. Everything feels nice and secure and they look better than they ever have done. That’s all I am going to say but its a huge positive!

A REAL summer

There was a lot of grumbling, and yes I do realise just how hot it was, but summer 2018 was awesomely warm. a few short weeks after heavy snowfall, we were beset with a glorious heatwave which lasted for most of the summer months. It was such a lovely season, I personally could not have asked for more beautiful summer weather. My husband and I were able to visit the beach and parks which gave him plenty of time to fly his kites (you can read all about this in some of my other posts) and me to do some writing.

Nieces and nephew

We are lucky enough to have three nieces and a nephew on my brother’s side. Somewhat ideally, they are aged 11, 9, 7 and 5 and they are a fabulous bunch. As with all of our family, we don’t see enough of them but have been  blessed to spend more time with them this year than ever before. We plan to do more next year so they will soon be bored with us!

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Winter Wonderland

We decided to pay for a holiday to Center Parcs, just a few miles down the road from us in Elveden, while the Winter Wonderland was in full swing. The whole resort is lit up for Christmas with sparkling white lights adorning the woodland pathways, and numerous seasonal events taking place around the site. Its truly beautiful and we made this a Christmas present for those who came with us. We hired a huge four-bedroomed lodge, each bedroom with its own en-suite. The lodge had a games room and a sauna as well as the usual kitchen, dining and living areas and was such a luxury to be there before Christmas. We loved it so much that we have booked again for next year with the addition of the new granddaughter and her mummy and daddy, too, who have never been there.

2018 has been such a positive year all round that the positives have far outweighed the negatives. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2019 for all of my readers.