Eddie Hardman

 She was a nice old lady, sitting on a bench in a nice park. Her home was in a row of white terraced houses across the road in a nice part of town. She wore a pretty summer hat with a hint of gray hair washed and set, resting on the collar of her Tweed coat. Her good leather hand bag was loafing on the seat close to her right thigh… not secure, but she was a trusting sort.


She had a contented smile as she sat and stared at the pigeons who were cooing softly, eating hungrily, without being greedy. An empty brown paper bag dangled from between the index and middle finger of her gloved hand, her right glove rested on her knee her legs crossed, sheer stockings disappearing into stout but prim laced up shoes with small gold buckles. There was a gilt edged aura about her as if she should been framed ready to be placed on the mantelpiece of the family sitting room… If only she'd been allowed time for a family.


The calm serene look on her face didn't change but her mind began to puzzle, there was something different about this morning, something missing but she couldn't put her finger on it. There was a hollow clinking sound behind her, empty milk bottles touched and chimed, slapped and squabbled. Anyone observing closely would have seen her ever-so-slightly stiffen… he was signalling her, again.


As was her custom, she had left the milk bottles on the top step of the front door across the road. Each morning, as was her custom, she would come to the park to feed the birds; well!… except for yesterday!.


She concentrated on the echoing resonance of the clinking glass. The distinctive difference between the brusque sound made by the bottles nudged together by his slippered foot; and the remembrance of the happy muffled rhythmic chink of half a dozen empties held captive in a crate as the milkman jogged back to his milk float up the road. The normalcy of everyday life; the sound of everyday living; not as comforting as it should have been. He was calling for her again.


The first time she heard him jingle the bottles she had responded out of love, now it was only out of duty or was it deference, certainly not respect… Well that's what she told herself anyway. 'Just a little time to myself, she pleaded. She didn't react there was no shrug, no outward sign of how she felt. Her face remained passive yet smiling.


A young family strolled onto the grass in front of her. Her smile broadened at the sight of the toddler waddling as babies do with a bulky nappy wrapped around its rear, a chortling laugh escaped from him, as he chased his sister, the kind of laughter only happy infants make. The older girl running and dancing with an agility that was evidently an inheritance from a mother who was lithe and supple without being tall. Father looked fit, but was slow and deliberate, a little unsteady to a trained eye. Obviously convalescing after some illness or disability. The nice old lady missed nothing.


There was the distant clink of empty bottles again… 'Let him wait!' she was about to think, then stopped herself. Half stirred and decided to stay and watch the girl performing cartwheels around her younger sibling. No! not after yesterday she sobbed inwardly.


The young man spoke to his wife and even before he turned she knew he was coming over to sit next to her. 'CLINK'… She should leave… she should leave now and see to him, or for the first time in her life be defiant. She chose the latter and waited patiently for the invalid to make his way slowly toward her.


"May I?" he asked politely, pointing at the bench. She nodded and with one agile movement scrunched and tossed the empty paper bag into the rubbish bin nearby. Sliding along the seat she pick up her handbag and replaced it next to her thigh close to where he would sit. He noticed and sat down, pleased at the invitation and the trust.


"It's a beautiful day!…" he waited for her response. She nodded in agreement, her already smiling face broadening to a full and warm welcome.


"You have a nice family" she glanced toward them playing on the grass.


"Huh… oh!.. yeah, I think so too." Distracted, he smiled as he watched his family playing. There was a moment's silence as each analyzed a stranger's response to an everyday greeting, both deciding whether to continue or just sit in silence.


"You all right dear?" his wife's voice drifted across to them.


"Yes fine!… thanks… I'm just resting!" he called back. Then, glancing toward the nice old lady, her looks compelling him to explain. "I'm.. hmm… recovering from an accident." his manner said he was reluctant to go into details and he hoped she wouldn't ask.


"Yes, I thought so." With a knowing tone. He stared at her, his eyebrows rose inquiringly. "I'm a retired nurse" her turn to explain without revealing her full title and experience. "I noticed the way you walked over". He looked at her with a little more respect, she was observant, a fleeting thought passed so quickly through his mind it didn't have time to register.


Still preoccupied he continued "Retired!?… You don't look old enough" he said it a little too patronizing so as to make it humorous. 'I like him'… she thought…... and laughed a little just in case he may have felt he had been a little too familiar. "Do you come often to feed the birds?" he asked, already knowing the answer.



"Yes, although I'm not usually here this late" a sigh as another impatient clinking came rushing from across the road and resonated down her spine. "Unfortunately I'll have to be going soon" she knew that he was being polite and though he was familiar she could not place him; 'how infuriating!'.


As she got up she dusted the bread crumbs from her lap her loose glove falling to the grass as the bag went under her arm. He lent forward and picked it up, she noticed the top of his head had a lump with a small cut and a couple of sutures.


"Thank you". She concentrated on pulling the glove on and started to walk away. Then, stopping, she turned and said inquiringly… "Perhaps another day ?". that lesion intrigued her but she was a lady, time enough for that!.


"Yes I would like that" he replied grinning like a Cheshire cat. He'd also seen the strained look in her eye and was intrigued as to why. He'd heard the clinking and wondered if it was for her. Just then his family noisily arrived and he gave no thought as she walked away to the sound of breaking glass.


* * * * * * * * *


The Doc had said no excessive exercise so his usual routine changed. By the time he; gentle at first, resumed his daily jog he failed to notice the nice old lady who fed the birds no, longer appeared in the park.


One morning he started his run, setting out a little earlier, he'd decided it was time to test himself on a longer one. As he approached the park he saw her in her usual hat and coat feeding the birds. Recognising her, the fleeting idea he'd had when they spoke some weeks ago sprung back into his mind, changing direction, he headed towards the bench.


Her normal calm look turned to surprise as she heard his footsteps behind her. 'This is what had been missing!'. Most days when she would come out for her few moments of solitude she prided herself on noticing all that went on around her, she rarely missed anything. It was her way of disappearing into another world, a world where there was no pain, no anguish. A place where people laughed and were happy. Her watching them seemed somehow to include her; make her part of their joy, gave her a sense of belonging even if it was for just a few moments.


"Hello!" he gasped "how are you."


"Oh!… " she exclaimed, her hands clasped across her chest as she studied his face, recognizing him .

"I didn't realise it was you!".

"I am sorry… I didn't mean to frighten you."

"No! no! no!. I didn't mean it that way. Please forgive me!… "relaxing. "What I meant was, I didn't realise that you were the jogger". Panting, he sat down beside her. "I didn't recognise you the other day we talked. You see… I knew something was different then… I have only just realised what it was", pausing, "Every day I would hear the jogger passing by." Pointing behind with her finger over her shoulder "As he…" correcting herself… "you, normally do. But on that day; and since, he... You, didn't…" frowning "Do-you-see-what-I-mean?" he nodded, "You were here with your family" looking back with contentment at the grass spread out before her, finding the puzzle and solving it at the same time, her eyes glassing as she recalled something.


"Yes!… well… I think I understand?" breathless "Actually, I hadn't missed you until I saw you sitting here". A little embarrassed, "I was reminded of our chat the other day". Now showing his discomfort as he recalled the chink of glass, "and well…" changing his mind, but not knowing why "Isn't it funny how we become creatures of habit?". She nodded; goodness! How her own routine had changed quite dramatically within the last few weeks, her eyes filled up.


He sensed her change of mood and inquired "Are you ok" with a soft appealing voice. "What is it?… can you tell me?". He didn't have to be a retired nurse to see that something was wrong.


"My husband… he … he died".


"Oh! My dear; I am sorry"… he wanted to ask more but didn't know how or what to say.


She continued for him. "He had a heart attack… the door step… he… he was trying to call me" now beginning to fill up, "I didn't go… I let him down… he fell… on the doorstep… on the bottles…" faltering "He was very ill!. So demanding all the time, it was my fault!" pulling out her handkerchief and dabbing at her eyes and nose. "The day before… I couldn't even get out to feed my birds." Recalling the invective he had hurled at her, calling her selfish, 'You old cow, going out when I can't'. she began to compose herself sobbing quietly into her lacy clenched fist.


"Goodness… I am so sorry… I… I don't know what to say." They sat in silence for some time, it seemed best, each one deep in their own thoughts. His memories of that day bewildering and confusing as ever, seemed to be overtaking him. She finely broke the ice, trying to change the subject. "You said you had an accident?"


"Yes. "he stared at her, remembering their first meeting here on the bench. When was it? Some two weeks ago. Then he began to remember other things as well. "It was right here!" looking around the bench, and the rubbish bin near by. "I'm just starting to recall what happened to me." Jumping up, examining the base of the seat and rubbing the back of his head at the same time.


"This is were I fell. I jog past every day; but that day I slipped and fell; you were not here… I usually go round the back so that I don't disturb the birds. That day I came this way… I lost my memory; they thought I'd been mugged. It's all coming back to me now!".


He was rambling and excited at the same time, pleased to recall what had happened. "I was found unconscious… I must have slipped on the grass, just here, as I passed the rubbish bin striking my head on the seat!." He saw her concern. "Oh!… it wasn't serious, I was ok!, just a few hours in hospital and they sent me home that night, and I saw you here the next day".


She wanted to tell him more, feeling guilty, tell him why she was not here on the day of his fall; but that would have meant explaining about her husband and the way he had treated her that day. What about loyalty?… She would have to explain why she put up with him; that wasn't this young mans business anyway. Then she remembered that day herself, more guilt. She realised why she had hesitated going back when he signalled her with the milk bottles. It was her husband who had changed everybody's routine the day before. Suddenly feeling a lot more at ease with herself she became resolved, vowing never to give it another thought.


Smiling she turned to look at the carpet of grass spread out before them. "May I tell you a little homily my Mother used to say... "She bent forward and plucked a handful of grass, selecting a long healthy blade she said. "Mother used to say… 'Life was like a meadow of grass that's moved back and forth as the wind saw fit. The meadow was made up of many blades of grass, every blade of grass playing it's part, every thing that happens to us, everyone we meet, everything we do is like another blade of grass that helps to make our meadow; our lives, complete…'''


He stared at her, totally resolute, that fleeting inspiration now taking on clarity.



* * * * * * * *


"Honey! I'm home" he shouted as he entered the hall, still trying to catch his breath. "Guess what" he said smiling and excited as his wife walked from the kitchen to greet him with his towel. "I've solved the nanny problem". He took hold of her hand and led her back to the kitchen table where they sat down. Her curiosity getting the better of her, smiling with one eyebrow raised she asked, "how?".


"First" he said, rummaging around inside his shirt he pulled a long blade of grass out "Let me tell you a story,… it's about a blade of grass…" as he offered it toward her…



  The End