The Embers Never Died

Sitting on the patio, under the fading light of the evening sun, with the warm sultry air filled with the perfume of strong, fragrant roses and night scented stocks, she couldn’t think of anywhere else she’d rather be, or be with, at this moment in time. The MP3 player was softly playing all their shared music. Some her favourites and some his, but many were favourites of them both.

Even the dogs, his three-legged lab and her small scruffy pooch were peaceful and quiet. Almost, but not quite, touching each other as they laid side by side. One day she hoped they would really connect – just as their master and mistress had done, she smiled inwardly and glanced towards her new husband to find him already looking at her. Their eyes met and they both grinned like a couple of lovestruck teenagers. Well they were lovestruck – just not teenagers any more. Unless you counted this as their second childhood. Come on stop being stupid she grinned to herself, leaning back in the chair and closing her eyes to savour the moment.

It was amazing how her life had changed in one short year. Well it was the normal length but had just flown by, and all because of the combination of lockdown and heatwave.

The panic that set in worldwide as the pandemic spread caused a lot of people many sleepless nights, even she had found her insomnia worse than it had been. Also, she couldn’t understand why she got emotional some days for absolutely no reason. Well no reason except that she couldn’t be with her friends and family and, apart from walking Scruff, spent each day at home either indoors or in the garden. To be honest it was mostly the garden as she couldn’t see the need for much housework as nobody could pop in! By watching tv, to keep up with the disaster, she found that many folk were feeling the same, so stopped worrying about it.

She kept in touch most days with her family via WhatsApp, but that was a nuisance as there always seemed to be someone with a poor connection, a microphone turned off, a nearly flat battery or their quarter of the screen upside down looking as if they were in Australia! Her friends, knowing she was the only one of her “group” on her own either phoned with offers of help to do shopping or rang the doorbell then stepped two metres down the path with similar offers! However, thankfully, she was tech savvy enough to do online shopping. Pity she wasn’t tech savvy enough to cut down on the online spending though, she thought wryly.

Her worst problem was her memory – bad enough to be frustrating and annoying, but not bad enough for a dementia test – yet! One example that came to mind was in connection with booking the delivery slots. Ye gods they were almost as rare as hens’ teeth. That being said she happened to get one with Tesco on day, quickly putting a few expensive things in at random, to hold the order. Unfortunately, she forgot to put it on the calendar.

Consequently a few days later when, just out of curiosity, she found the only available Asda slot (obviously a cancellation) for a couple of days later she booked it. For some reason that one made it on to the calendar for the appropriate Monday night. She was, quite naturally, quite taken aback when someone came to the door on the preceding Saturday night at 8pm. I’m not expecting a delivery, she thought, – wrong! Ah the forgotten order – she laughed out loud (no one to hear except Scruffy and he was used to it!) as she put away 6 various bottles of wine, a large Lenor, 2 rolls of black bin liners and 4 large Pepsi Max. “What a waste of that poor man’s time,” she said to no one in particular.

For the first three months or so, the weather in her part of the world was good. Dry, warm and sunny most of the time. She had felt lucky that she and Scruffy were able to go for an hour’s daily walk in the afternoons until the temperature started to rise and then it had to be mornings. Neither of them liked it too hot so, sometimes, it was a really short walk round the block instead of the quarter of hour amble to the common.

Those days were strange. People she passed looked so crestfallen, and avoided eye contact. Being used to a friendly hello now and again she was saddened that all she got was the top of someone’s head as they stared at the ground. Couples talked animatedly to each other as they approached, giving the impression they were so deep in conversation they didn’t even notice her, let alone speak.

Then, as the pandemic began to subside the heatwave took over. Now she was busy with various projects inside – nothing to do housework still – but trying to digitise old photos and slides – trying being the operative word! Finding old birth, marriage and death certificates enabled her to research her ancestors. Not such a good idea as it really “did her head in” – modern vocabulary!

At last the time came when she could mix with friends and family with all necessary precautions! Although the heatwave caused her to be a virtual prisoner in her own home, which housed so many fans she was sure the gentle hum could be heard by half the neighbourhood, there came a day when she felt they really had to go for a walk, so off they went on their old jaunt at 7.30 in the morning.

The pavements were still cool enough not to hurt Scruff’s paws, but she wasn’t so sure about herself – not paws/feet, but the rest of her easily overheated body! She got out her super-duper walker – something she hated using but it got her around, together with all the paraphernalia a dog walker needs – poo bags, dog treats, wet wipes (don’t ask), hand sanitiser (for same reason as wet wipes!), plastic mac just in case – WHAT! And finally, her secateurs to cut down any offending foliage determined to get tangled in the wheels, or the overhanging wild roses attempting to take her eyes out, when using the only available pavement.

As she walked down the wide avenue that linked the railway station and the common she thought she’d found heaven. The shade from the tall trees on either side created a cool haven with a soft sultry breeze running through it. Bliss, she thought. Surprised by the soft thud of joggers behind her she acknowledged the wave from the middle-aged couple as they passed by.

“You’ll get there before me,” she laughed, though seeing their red faces and heaving bodies, she wasn’t so sure!

The man reinforced this by replying, “Oh I don’t know about that.”

“No, well I have got turbo charge, so I suppose that gives me an advantage,” she called after them.

At least is was good that people were speaking again, she thought. A frantic whistling broke into her thoughts but, before she time to turn around and investigate, she was hit with great force from behind such that her legs were completely taken out and she dropped to the floor sending the walker flying. Fortunately, Scruffy was not attached to it so he remained intact.

“That’s useful,” she grimaced to no one in particular, “I’m now like a beached whale as I have no way of getting up (thanks to two artificial knees). As she sat there she started being licked by a three-legged black Labrador. “Not exactly my Knight in shining armour, are you?” she asked it ruefully. “And you don’t look in the least bit sorry either.”

Then the owner, appeared full of apologies and concern. “I’m so sorry, can you get up ok?” he asked keeping his distance. “Boy doesn’t realise he’s only got three legs, or if he does, he has to prove he’s faster and stronger than any four-legged dogs he meets. Unfortunately, he loses control sometimes and bumps into things, but then I see you’ve already found that out,” he couldn’t help but smile and she couldn’t help but respond.

“Well there are no bones broken, but I’m afraid I can’t get up without help.” Wouldn’t mind you helping me either, she thought eyeing the tall, nice looking man smiling down at her, albeit from the required distance away. Was it possible that he was in her age range as well – probably married. “You look strong enough to help me but what about Social distancing and all that?” She looked at him enquiringly.

“That’s fine, after all this is an emergency and, anyway, all the rules seem to have an “except” clause at the end,” he laughed. Hmmm nice, if not familiar, laugh as well, she thought.

“Okay let’s go for it.” He approached from behind with outstretched arms. He looked a bit concerned, not knowing where to put his hands.

She joked and said, “Don’t worry about where to get hold, or what to get hold of, just get me up.” The words were barely out of her mouth when he bent down and lifting her up underneath her arms (phew that was close!) deposited her upright on the path, pulling the walker towards her. Bloody walker, I suppose it’s too late to pretend it’s not mine, she thought, not wanting to admit she had to use it, as he looked very able bodied, amazingly so in fact!

Now the dust had settled, literally, they looked at each other and smiled. That’s when a flash of recognition hit them both. “David?” she asked just as he said, “Kathy?”. Well what a surprise they both admitted. Not having seen each other for about sixty years they found it amazing that they recognised each other – after all a person changes a lot in that length of time. Though she decided that applied more to her than him!

“Have you got time to sit and have a catch up?” He asked leading the way to a nearby bench.

“Yes of course, that would be good,” she answered sitting on her walker in the shade.

That was the start of it. Well not quite the start as they had been childhood sweethearts over sixty years previously. They were known to their friends as “the couple”. From the ages of fourteen and fifteen they were so in love that life seemed perfect. They studied hard and spent all the rest of the time together. They did all the things young people in love did in those days. Of course, they never crossed “the line”, as that was frowned upon in their day. They were quite happy with that and, in no way, did it diminish the feelings they had for each other. Everything seemed settled. They were lucky that both families got on well. In fact, perhaps, things were too perfect.

The thin end of the wedge came when Dave went off to University. They started off okay, writing letters, managing the odd phone call and seeing each other when he came for holidays. But life has a penchant for getting in the way. That’s just what happened in their case. He lived University life as best he could, but he also worked in the student bar in the evenings to help his finances. The time he had for Kathy gradually became less. And so, their once passionate and fiery romance dwindled away to a few dying embers.

She, on the other hand, was not interested in University and had no wish to leave home. As jobs were easy to come by in those days her O level passes enabled her to go straight into the Civil Service. She brought herself back to the present and realised he was asking her a question. “Sorry I was miles away, what did you ask?”

Asking, “I wanted to know if your life is happy and if you found love.” was the easiest way to find out if she was married.

“Yes I’m happy enough with life, although I’ve been widowed for the last ten years so, obviously, times were happier when there were two of us.”

“Ah,” he breathed out slowly to appear more casual than he felt. “Sorry to hear that. I know how awful it is as I lost my wife 15 years ago. And yes, we’d been happy as well.”

Neither let on how wonderful it was to know the other was “available”. Despite their ways parting, they had never stopped loving each other. Both had been in happy marriages but there was always a corner of their hearts that belonged to each other – first love and all that.

They sat there reminiscing about the old days, carefully avoiding the “split”. Far too much water had passed under the bridge to want to rake up old hurt. There was a lot of “do you remember so and so (teacher or pupil)?” They remembered walking hand in hand on a wet and windy beach in winter when all the holiday makers had long gone. They laughed at the visit to a trawler in the harbour just to find a nice seat where they could sit and hold hands whilst trying to look interested at the aging hulk!

There were school trips where their friends would whistle every time their hands met. It a was all so innocent then despite their passionate feelings for each other. They could even remember her spending one Christmas Day with his family. They sat close together on the sofa with her cuddling a cushion to cover up that they were holding hands…… and in front of his parents too. Of course, teenagers never think that their parents were once young!

Time was passing too quickly as both were reluctant go their separate ways. Finally, Kathy got up saying, “We really should go or the pavements will soon be too hot for the dogs.”

“I’ll walk you home,” having been told that she only lived fifteen minutes away, and it was in his direction as well.

“Good that would be lovely, and you could come in for a coffee if you’d like,” she suggested.

“Great idea and then, if you don’t mind, I’ll leave Boy with you while I go back and get the car as I parked it at the station. Can’t have him walking home in the late morning heat.”

It was difficult to talk much on the way back because social distancing meant he was walking behind her. Trust him to have to look at my worst feature, she moaned to herself, knowing he couldn’t get away from the sight of her, rather large, backside. Of course, she had to draw attention to it, together with how embarrassed she felt at having to use a walker.

He, on the other, couldn’t have given a damn. He was so over the moon to have found his first true love who, to him, was just as beautiful, whatever her size, shape or capabilities. Though he broke into a laugh when she explained that her artificial knees only stopped her running and their shared sense of humour!

Back home they covered their lives, marriages, families and careers – including his working abroad until moving back recently. Coffee time turned into lunch time that turned into evening but not into night because of the wretched social distancing! There would be time enough for that, hopefully!

That time did come a month later when, having spent all the time they could together, they decided not to waste any more of it living apart, so he moved in, much to everyone’s happiness.

A year later they had a wedding that allowed for the number of guests with whom they wanted to share the day. It was a wonderful occasion, full of promise, joy and happiness.

So here they were, newly Mr and Mrs with all the passion and fire of youth combined with the experience and tenderness that comes with age.

“It’s getting dark,” he whispered breaking into her reverie, shall we go in and call it a day?”

“Of course, dear, the cocoa’s calling.” She answered with the biggest wink he’d ever seen.

The embers had certainly reignited into such a flame that, they knew, this time would last forever.

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