Fiction: The Bench by Paul Matts

She slumps down. On the park bench.

And lets out a loud sigh.

I am sitting on the other end of the same bench. I turn to examine the new arrival.

She immediately bursts into tears.

‘Bollocks. What do I do now?’ is my initial thought.

After composing myself but doing precisely nothing, I turn to the woman sharing my bench. Her tears begin to subside. Maybe I spent too long composing myself.

‘I’m sorry. I had to bury my husband today,’ she explains through the remaining tears.

‘Bollocks, bollocks.’ I think once more to myself. This was not the explanation I was hoping for. Or can cope with.

I muster a weak smile.

But a sympathetic one. Apparently.

‘Thank you. Thank you.’

‘Eh?’ This is my first actual audible verbal contribution to the conversation.

‘For not, for not disappearing.’

A pause.

‘As if I … ‘

‘Most would. You know, a hysterical crying woman plonks herself next to you. And ruins the tranquility of a spring day in Abbey Park.’

‘I wouldn’t blame you if you were to go now.’

What do I do or say? The indecisiveness keeps me firmly planted to the bench. A bench in Abbey Park, Leicester. I couldn’t move if I wanted to. Which to be honest, I do. Move, that is. I cannot deal with this right now. She meanwhile, for the first time since the ‘conversation’ began, averts her eyes from mine.

‘He’d been ill for eighteen months. He fell whilst out riding his bike on Valentines day in 2017. Straight into a coma. Never came out of it.’

‘Oh. I’m so sorry.’ I can’t say a lot else really.

‘It’s not your fault.’ Her eyes return to mine.

‘Thank you for not leaving. I just need to vent.’

‘No problem.’

‘I don’t know why I’m like this.’

‘You’ve just buried you’re husband. His funeral was today, I’m guessing?’

‘Yes. Today.’

‘Then being like you are is completely understandable. Nothing to be ashamed of.’

‘I know, I know. But I really lost him on Valentines Day in 2017.‘

I have no follow up to this either.

So a uncomfortable pause ensues. However my eyes look deeply into her’s.

‘He’s been basically dead ever since then. So I’ve had plenty of time to get ready for it.’ She bursts into tears again.

‘But it was always going to be a hard day. A difficult day, when you bury a loved one,’ I say.

You see, I have had experience here. More than the woman could ever imagine. Recent experience at that. My name is Rob Munroe, incidentally.

Only a month has passed since the love of my life was suddenly struck down.

‘Maybe today will help you get closure. If he has been lost to you all this time, then the day you bury him will be emotional. Then things will move on a little. Slowly.’

Her watery eyed stare becomes more intense. She sniffs, and wipes her eyes three times. It seems to work effectively. The tears subside once more.

Something has started. Whether I want it or not. Whether she needs it or not. I know this feeling.

She lets out another sigh. And puts both hands down on her knees.

‘I have to go. I have nothing in for tea.’

‘Okay. Take good care of yourself.’

She wipes away another tear. One that ran from the corner of her eye right down the arc of her cheek. A real big blobby one.

‘Thank you for talking to me,’ she says, getting up from the bench.

I rise up with her.

‘No problem,’ I reply. I think whether or not it would be appropriate to shake her hand.

She solves the conundrum by leaning forward and hugging me. Just quickly. Nothing that even remotely lingered.

‘We are complete strangers, after all,’ I think to himself.

And she is gone. I sit back down on the bench. I watch as she disappears into the mid afternoon sun. She walks on with her head straight ahead.

If nothing else the meeting was a welcome distraction. Only a month had passed since my own personal tragedy. Not too far removed from what the woman had experienced. In so far as it involved the death of the love of my life.

Assuming her husband was the love of her life of course.

The big difference is that her husband took eighteen months to die.

Angela’s death was instant. Killed by some total twat who was late for work one day.

‘Is that Mr Munroe?’

‘Yes.’

‘I’m afraid I have some bad news. Can I come and see you?’

Silence. The voice asked me where I was. I was at home. He asked me my address. I told him. That voice was with me in person ten minutes later.

‘Angela has been involved in an accident. I’m sorry to say she died immediately at the scene.’

Those words, delivered by the police officer in mid March, have been the only things bouncing around my head ever since. It is now mid April.

Apart from wanting revenge on the total twat, that is. I have his name. And address. Simon Tranger. He lives near the university across the city.

He has been arrested, and is awaiting trial.

I now have a dilemma. Whether or not to save the justice system of England the time and cost of interviewing and sentencing Simon Tranger. When I could impose the requisite punishment in about five seconds flat.

This is all I have has had on my mind. This form of closure had been decided when I buried Angela. By me. You see, I am indeed now an expert when it comes to acquiring what closure is needed when you bury a loved one.

When burying THE loved one. Of your life.

And I feel quite comfortable and more than qualified in passing on advice to the woman on the bench. Once I’d composed himself anyway. And got over the shock of having a hysterical crying woman plonk herself next to me on that very bench.

Her words, not mine.

I get to my feet and head off into the sparse spring crowd. An ice cream van playing, trying to entice its first early custom of the season. Kids running on the grass. Being chased by parents. Lads playing football. With jumpers for goalposts. Happy noises. Usually. To most.

I feel numb though. And have been feeling so since the words of the policeman a month ago. Angela’s death. Today’s distraction has been the only, if only mild, respite.

I haven’t gone back to work. I haven’t trained with the football team. I have missed the two concerts I had tickets for. The intention was for me and Angela to attend both of them together.

No chance. I haven’t even put any music on at home. No Spotify, no vinyl, no radio. I used to moan over Angela’s decision to stream music on Spotify. As opposed to purchasing a vinyl record from the independent record shop in the city. Which I do. Not a real moan of course. Just a grumpy middle aged man moan. Not to be taken seriously.

Oh how I wish I could moan about this to her now.

I have no appetite. For food nor drink. I have hardly eaten, much to Mum’s concern.

‘You have to eat Robbie. You have to maintain yourself. Do it for Angie’s sake.’

‘She ain’t here Mum. And never will be. That’s a stupid thing to say.’

Those were the last words I said to Mum. She’s only worried about me. Like Mum’s do. Imagine if this happened to you. Or maybe it has? I don’t know. Your Mum would be worried.

That was a week ago. She hasn’t rang since. I knew I’d upset her. However I don’t care. As stated earlier, I’m numb. The words and behaviour of others are all a blur.

I mentioned ‘home’ earlier. You know, where me and Angie used to live together. Now it’s not a home. How can it be? She ain’t there. Like the woman on the bench, I have no food in. I am capable in this department. I can cook. I’m capable of doing the weekly shop.

Except I don’t. I don’t care. I am, to repeat, numb. Numb.

Before I know it I arrive ‘home’. Which is my/our flat. Fortunately, I suppose, we hadn’t lived together that long. Only about three months. So it’s not like we have a lifetime of memories beyond the front door.

It just seems that way.

I drop the keys on the coffee table after I unlock the front door. The sound of the impact as they hit the surface echoes around the empty room. The cold room. I took all the pictures down from the walls on the day she died. Now it looks dull. It also looks numb.

It reciprocates my mood.

So the meeting with the woman on the bench was a temporary distraction. Maybe it helped her with a bit of closure, also.

Maybe she will seek out someone to blame for her husband’s death and plan to kill them?

Her own Simon Tranger.

20181105_101720Bio:  Paul Matts is the author short stories such as ‘Donny Jackal’, ‘One More Season’ and ‘Household Names’. His debut novel ‘Toy Guitars’ is to be published in 2019. His web site www.paulmatts.com is online in January 2019. He promoted live Punk rock shows under the name 101 Productions and has been the guitarist and songwriter for several bands in England, including the Incurables. He has also been a grass roots football coach for all his adult life. He lives in Leicester, England with his wife and children. He has recently started work on his second novel.

 

 

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