She walks merrily through the streets without conscious thought. Headphones dangling down over her summer top, swinging from side to side as her steps quicken. She walks with exhilaration, a bounce in her step.
Stopping briefly and taking her iPod and phone from her pockets to place them in her bag alongside her headphones, she turns to face an old cottage. The inviting garden is decorated with so many varying flowers, the colours are blindingly beautiful. As she walks up the driveway towards the back of the house, her posture changes from relaxed to one of preparation.
He sits silently, expression pensive as he reads his newspaper. He looks up as he hears a knock on the living room door, smiling when he sees the face that appears around the door frame.
“Good afternoon! Cup of tea?” Sophie asks, meeting his eyes with a warm smile. She moves to place her bag by the side of the settee Ron is waiting on. He gives a cheeky smile, nodding his head in the affirmative, then turns back to his newspaper as she leaves to put the kettle on.
Once she returns, she places the cups of tea on a nearby table and sits beside him. Happy to sit in comfortable silence while he folds up his paper and reaches for his drink, she looks around the familiar room. Taking in the familiar furniture and the framed photographs on the fire mantle above the hearth.
“Did you know I was in the war?”
“You have mentioned it to me briefly before.” Sophie’s responds knowing it isn’t a subject that he often talks willingly of.
Ron pauses in thought, contemplating his words and what he wants to share. “I was a medic, you know? Have I told you that before? I used to be in the operating rooms.” He pauses and looks for response.
“Wow, that’s really impressive! You must have some stories.” Sophie replies, a look of controlled awe on her face.
“You’ve never flown before, have you? That’s how we travelled, by air. We’d fly from one place to another. I hated the flying, the times where suddenly the plane would hit an air pocket and we’d drop slightly.” Ron carries on as though he hadn’t heard Sophie’s response.
In the silence that follows, Sophie finds herself once again looking around the living room. The furniture appearing old but of good quality – much too floral for her tastes. The ornaments and mantel being familiar of most pensioners’ homes she has visited, placed in what she assumed to be their place.
Drinking tea that was slightly too weak and a little too sweet, Ron stares into the unlit fire, his voice appearing far away as he relives a memory, “Being away from home. Away from family. That was the worst part, but you try not to think about that, you know. Almost like living a completely separate life. It’s always best to just carry on and get on with the job at hand.”
Not knowing the best way to respond, Sophie sits silently listening to the clock as it ticks. The sound not one that is usually audible within the room but now stresses its importance, like the click, click, click of high heeled shoes walking along a tiled floor.
Placing her palms decisively on her thighs, Sophie asks, “Right, well, do you need anything – any food or another drink?”
“Maybe a sandwich. Are you having one? You’ll stay for something to eat, won’t you?” Glancing at his wrist watch, contemplating the time, “It isn’t too early for you is it?”
“Erm, no. No, I’ll have something.”
Once in the kitchen with the essential food products before her, she looks back over her shoulder, glancing into the living room from where she stands at the kitchen counter. Ron rises from his seat, slowly manoeuvring between rooms. Pulling out a chair to sit down at the kitchen table as Sophie hands over a plate.
Moving to wash up the now empty plates, Ron still at the table contemplating his thoughts. “Have you met my grand-daughter before?”
Sophie hesitates, her head bowed, “Yes.”
“I’d like to tell her one day about my experiences when she’s old enough.”
Turning around to face Ron, a melancholic smile forming, “I’m sure she would like that.”
Ron rises from the kitchen chair, turning to head back into the living room. With a slight limp and a shuffle of feet, he walks towards the hearth. Standing in the doorway, Sophie takes in the sight of Ron; crisp shirt, tie tucked in beneath a smart pale blue jumper. Always so smartly presented.
Taking the several small steps that she needs to, to reach him, she places a hand on his shoulder, “Everything okay?”
“My wife,” he says, pointing towards a photo frame on the mantle. The silence of the moment expands, there are no words Sophie feels are adequate to fill the space around them. She remains by his side, hand firmly on his shoulder offering as much silent support as she can manage.
She feels his spine straighten up as he lifts his head. She feels the breath he takes as he opens his eyes, moving away to sit back down. He points towards an arm chair opposite where he had been when she arrived, “I’m going to sit there.”
“Do you want another drink before I get going?”
He responds by lifting a hand and shaking his head as he offers a polite smile. She notices how tired and worn he suddenly appears, as though his life has just all of a sudden caught up to him. His eyes appear to have lost their earlier light, his frame now slouched in his seat.
“I think there’s a photograph of my grand-daughter in the entrance way, you’ll have to have a look before you go.”
“I will do.” Sophie leans down over the chair arm, extending her arms to exchange a hug, “I will see you soon, okay?”
When she pulls back she reaches for his hand, feeling the frail skill and veins beneath her palm as she offers a squeeze in reassurance. His response is once again a polite smile and a slight head tilt.
Sophie walks over to retrieve her bag, not bothering with her headphones as she leaves. Her mood now more sombre than when she had arrived, she turns and offers a raised hand as she walks towards the entrance way.
As she opens the front door to take her leave, her eyes lift up to the photograph Ron had mentioned. She is greeted with a photograph of a much younger Ron with a child sitting next to him atop a wall. They’re on a beach, the child has her foot casually resting on a broken sandcastle, they are both grinning towards the camera. A small smile forms on her face as she takes in the scene. She remembers the photograph, it has always been his favourite one of him and her together. She turns slowly, shutting the front door quietly as she walks back down the driveway. It isn’t until she reaches the end of the street that she looks back again, eyes misty as she takes her phone out of her bag. Her fingers move quickly across the screen, unlocking it and opening the message app. Fingers hovering over the ‘Mum’ contact, she clicks to write a new message:
“Just leaving Grandad’s now, all okay. See you later. X”
Original work by ‘Just Me’.