Waiting

“He’s there again.”

I was on the boardwalk, leaning against the rail, idly watching an egret picking in the shallows just below. The day was as calm as milk. So Lucy made me jump.

“Who? Where?”

“You know who. Steve. Down at the Point. On the lookout post.”

I knew. I just didn’t want my drifty morning mood diffused. The tide was running. I saw a grey seal break the surface, clutching a silver trout in its mouth, then the ripples closed again over its head.

I knew the expression I would see when I turned. Lucy’s mild, concerned face, with a ‘you’re a man, you speak to him’ look on it. I turned.

“Lu, there’s no point talking to him. You of all people should know how it is at this stage. Nothing I can say will convince him that she’s not coming. He won’t believe it. Can’t believe it. He has to work it out in his own time.”

“Yeah, but I reckon I was – ”

“You were what? Better? Over it? Don’t kid yourself, Lu. I remember exactly what you were like. Seriously. You were still in a million bits at six months. We had to hide sharp objects. Just because you didn’t hang around at the Point, waiting, makes no never mind.”

“Maybe… still… can you have another word with him?”

I turned away and, inevitably, scuffling pebbles under my sneakers to slow my pace, began to walk along the quay, under the beech trees, floppy-leafed with spring sap, towards the Point.

Once, there was a time when Steve was always smiling. He had seen her. They had spoken, He had smelled her hair. In those days they had spent the night together often, spooned in the way that comfortable lovers do.

But, as time went on, they saw one another less and less frequently. She was preoccupied. She was busy. The usual. Still, every now and then, there would be a flash of the old exhilaration. I would spot it in his stride even before I could read the look upon his face.

He had seen her. She had clutched him to her and wept. She had missed him so terribly, and was so dreadfully sad. She wanted him back so, so much. It was all going to be all right.

I could see his silhouette by now, on top of the lookout, one hand clutching the rail, the other shading his eyes against the brightness of the bay. There were sails on the horizon, pale blue, caught like fragile butterflies pinned against the pale parchment of the sky. I don’t think he was crying. I think he was just waiting. It’s still early days for him. We’ve all been there. Just not at the top of a lookout scanning the sea for a ship that never comes.

I sat down on a rock, kicked off my shoes and let the pale sand slip between my toes. Smiled at the first few swallows performing aerobatics overhead. There was nothing I could say that would make it any better, any different. I’d just be there waiting for him when he decided to come down.

We are a strange bunch, we band of the bereaved. No one can know how we feel but us, and yet we barely know ourselves.

In the beginning, we walk with our beloved throughout the day. We go to sleep only to dream of them. It’s there that we meet and touch and love and cling. We put right the thoughtless word, the rushed goodbye, the tiny mistake that led our world to end. Our thoughts are inextricably entwined. They are beside us, we beside them. They are the warm, sleepy body almost, almost encountered as a foot or hand slips over to that empty, sad, cold, far side of the bed. And we wait for them to come to us, against all reason, we wait for our old life to return.

It’s so hard to be the one left behind.

Because for them – the living – life really does, in the most mundane sense, go on. And so, while we wait, for them there are bills to pay, and kids to wash and dress, and obligations that must be met. We are never far away from their thoughts, but we are not in the forefront of their minds, all day, every day. We are not right there beside them any longer. And the bed in which we two once slept and loved becomes colonized by books, or kids, or cats, or, in the end, perhaps, another living body to be warm against.

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2 Responses to “Waiting”

  1. fayfran Says:

    This story was first published in The Astor Anthology (Deal, 2014).

  2. GK Adams Says:

    You’ve captured so well the sense of loss — and the process or recovery. Well done!

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