25 – BERNIE

25 – BERNIE

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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THE LIFE AND LOVES OF ANNIE GRABLE - 25

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The door bell rang and Annie decided it was music to her ears and that she’d best let whoever had pressed the button know that she was still in the land of the living because she was quite sure that to the passing stranger her house would like like a home for the dead. At her age, she thought, she might have dropped off into that everlasting sleep that knows no boundaries, and it would take ages for anyone to find out.

But opening the door to that bloody virus was a no-no. She didn’t want to catch it, not ever, because all the news reports suggested that ladies of 102 might be likely to die before their time was up if they did. It would almost certainly prove to be fatal, and despite her age she wasn’t ready for a meeting with the subsoil yet.

It was Letitia, great grand-daughter and angel of the first order.

I’ve come to take you for a walk,” she said.

But I can’t...” Annie began to protest.

Oh, but you can,” laughed Letitia, “I’ll keep my distance from you and we can talk as we take a stroll round the park. You have got your walker still?”

I wouldn’t be without it, dear,” she replied, and, with all due consideration to the age of her muscles, she nonetheless yanked it from the under-stairs cubbyhole where she kept it.

Are you sure I’ll be all right?” she asked.

Absolutely! I’ll keep my distance from you and we’ll make sure there’s nobody else for miles! You’ll be all right and it’s much better for you than sitting in that house of yours for twenty-four/seven!”

And it had been lovely. When she finally arrived back home she’d walked almost a mile though it seemed further, the sun had been shining and she felt altogether more like a human being that she had before Letitia had set out with her.

Finally, back home, she settled with a cold fizzy drink in her chair and smiled at Mr Thrush who she was sure was looking at her most disapprovingly for leaving him out of his adventure.

I’m sorry I left you for a while but it took me back,” she told the bird, “and it helped jog my memory. I hope you’re recording all my waffle, young fellow, for posterity. A woman, or a man, any person, lives their lives and does this or that, at some times not very much and at other times quite a lot, and when they die most of it gets washed away as if it was rubbish, and it mostly is just that, the detritus of a life. But Bernie wasn’t rubbish. Far from it. Bernie was a gentleman.”

And that word described him perfectly. Gentleman. It was the walk in the park with Letitia that had brought him back to her. Because it had been in that park that she had first bumped into him.

It had all been a long time ago.

It was raining, a sudden squall and out of the blue, unexpected or she wouldn’t have taken a short cut through the park to get to the shops. But she did, and found herself sheltering from an unheralded downpour under the old oak tree that was why the park had been left green and open in the first place.

There had been history to that tree, tales told that were most likely totally rubbish but that had a suggestion of truth wrapped round them. Was this the hollow, men had asked, where Robin Hood once hid? And when it was decided that the tree was nowhere near old enough for that, another rumour circulated that it was the very tree where Shakespeare had sheltered while contemplating Macbeth, quill in hand inside its ancient hollow, which made it precious indeed. Yet the tree, actually, wouldn’t have been more than an acorn when Shakespeare lived, but maybe it had been Pepys who had immortalised it, writing his secrets in his diary under its balmy bower?

The story had done the rounds for a couple of generations or more, so in its wisdom there was a preservation order slapped on it by the council, and a small area of open grass, the park, established around it.

And it was under that tree that she sheltered at the same time as Bernie sheltered from the same squall.

The next decade had just rolled over. It was 1960 and everything, with the darned second world war finally in the footnotes of history books where it damned well belonged, and the world looked suddenly bright.

It even sounded bright. And, miracle of miracles, she had a television set. It wasn’t unusual for people have such a thing in 1960, they were, in fact, very common, but she’d resisted getting one until the new decade had dawned. And now she had one and almost constantly found herself asking herself if it was worth it. But it soon won her over, at the end of that year, with the haunting theme of Coronation Street and the soap opera lives of the people who lived on that fictitious corner of the world. So the television set remained along with the rasping mouth of Ena Sharples.

But she was sheltering from the rain.

Not so nice now, is it?” asked the man sheltering with her, the one she would soon know was Bernie. Bernie Godswipe, widower and quiet gentleman.

It’s horrible,” she agreed, “best being indoors when the weather turns like this.”

It’s just a spat. It’ll be over soon,” he assured her.

I hope you’re right.”

He then held one polite hand towards her. “Bernie,” he said, “Bernie Godswipe, which is a far from lovely mouthful.”

Annie. Annie Grable,” she responded, shaking his hand and noting the firm but gentle pressure he held hers with.

I’m a widower,” he told her, then smiled, “I don’t know why I told you that: maybe because you might think I’m a married man with no morals, or something like that, talking to a perfect stranger in the rain like I am. But I’m a widower who holds sacred his wedding vows even after death has divided us.”

I’m only just married. Not seen him for years, don’t want to, but he won’t countenance divorce,” she told him, wondering why she was explaining more to a stranger than she needed to. “He thinks he might end up winning me back,” she added “but there’s no chance there!”

Being alone is not always easy...” he murmured, “when a man’s not at work. I teach, for my sins, English literature, but when I get home there’s only me and Coronation Street.”

I watch that too,” she assured him.

My wife Mary, she was an angel until the cancer got her,” he said sadly, “you’d have liked her. Everyone did. And she made love so beautifully.”

Really!” gasped Annie before she could stop herself, but it still wasn’t the ‘done thing’ to discuss such things as matrimonial sex with a stranger of the opposite gender.

I know what you think,” he sighed, “there are some things that shouldn’t be told, but why not? I mean, look at it like this: a human being achieves very few unique things in their lives, that’s me and you and everyone that ever was, and if a woman is remarkable for the way she entices a man into her arms and convinces him that beyond all things he’s the perfect one for her, and proves it with many a burst of wild passion… why must it be deleted from history?”

I’m in danger of sounding like my mother.. thought Annie, and then she remembered the sandy beach of long ago, the blue towel, the long night of ecstasy, everything that belonged to that other man and a lifetime ago, and she sighed, and nodded.

You see,” he told her, quite frankly, “the only thing besides procreation that gives our lives any true purpose is love. The poets have said it down many long years. Without love we just have our children who grow up like mine have, and then a huge vacuum until death. And that’s it, really. I hope I’m not boring you.”

No. Not at all. Look the rain’s down to just the odd few spots, and I’m off home, Do you fancy a cop of tea? With sugar, maybe, but without love?”

He smiled at her. “That would be very nice,” he said quietly.

Then over a steaming cup I’ll tell you my antidote for love,” she smiled.

© Peter Rogerson 24.05.20



© 2020 Peter Rogerson


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Added on May 24, 2020
Last Updated on May 24, 2020
Tags: meeting, park, rain


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 76 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

Writing