17-year-old Lucy was recovering from the loss of both her parents and Peter, her younger brother, in a freak car accident. They were driving Peter to his friend’s house, where he was to spend the night, while they went on to enjoy an evening at the theatre. Lucy was then almost 15, and they thought her old enough and sufficiently mature to be left at home alone for the evening. Aside from anything else, she had an important examination coming up, and wanted to spend some time revising. That’s what she had told her parents, anyway. In fact, her boyfriend came around for the evening and, not to put too fine a point on it, transitioned her from girl to woman. He left at about 9:30. Shortly after that, a pair of Police Officers came to the door and told Lucy that her parents and her brother had died in an accident. It later came out that just as her parents’ car was overtaking an army lorry carrying munitions, its load inexplicably detonated, resulting in a crater in the road ten metres wide and three metres deep. As Lucy’s only surviving relative, her maternal grandfather, George, had given her a home and nursed her through her painful, two-year journey toward acceptance of what had happened.
As a special treat, when she seemed ready for it, George offered to take Lucy on a trip around his old haunts; the places he had frequented when he was her age. The latest stop on the adventure was a long-disused railway station.
“When did you say you last caught a train from here, Granddad?”
“That would have been in the 1970s, Lucy. Well before you were born,” George replied, “though I never actually caught it, in the end.”
“And you’ve not been back here since?”
“No call to,” he said resignedly.
“I know what you’re thinking, Lucy, and you’re right. I should have come back here.”
“According to Mum, this was where—”
“I know where this was, young lady, and I know full well what happened here,” he said, angrily, “and if I choose to ignore it, to try to forget it, then I think that’s my business.”
“I just thought…” Lucy said, and started to cry.
“I’m sorry, darling; I really am,” he said, wrapping his arms around the sobbing girl, “You know; I find it very easy to tell you that talking about your loss, your pain, your fears will help you to deal with them and come to terms with what has happened to you. And I’m right. Everything I’ve read, every expert I’ve talked to all agree about that.”
“But I never talk about that part of my past. I know. And that’s for the same reason I’ve never come back here.”
“But if it’s true what Mum said—”
“It’s different, that’s all. I don’t expect you to understand, Lucy. Just accept that it’s different.”
George and Lucy left the old station and started walking around the small town.
“Any of this familiar, Granddad?” Lucy asked, as they walked the length of a very old, cobbled street, past a disused hotel and on up to a set of traffic lights that controlled the junction with the main road through town.
“This street is familiar,” George said, “I recall walking it, just as you and I are doing now. It looks just the same. There was a B&B up there, on the right,” he said, pointing to a mobile phone shop, “and a café just up the road. If we turn left, it was about three doors down. Fancy a cuppa?”
“I wouldn’t mind a strawberry milk shake.”
“Okay, let’s see what we can find.”
Needless to say, the coffee shop wasn’t there. It was now an estate agency.
“Look, Granddad,” Lucy said, pointing across the road. What she had seen was a sandwich-board outside a shop with a large, tinted window. ‘Take the weight off your feet, and off your mind’ it proclaimed, below which the text described it as a new, experimental establishment. It was a place to sit down in an easy chair, relax with a hot drink and, according to the board, love and be loved by one of their specially trained therapy dogs. “That looks really cool. Much nicer than the usual table and chairs arrangement. Can we?”
“Of course,” George said. They walked through the door and heard a bell softly sound at the back of the room. There were about twenty very comfortable-looking chairs scattered around the room, but none was occupied.
“Be right with you,” a young man’s voice said from the back, “take a seat each; I’ll be out to take your order in a couple of seconds.”
True to his word, the young man appeared, with two dogs in tow; a chocolate Labrador and a Springer Spaniel.
“What can I get you folks?” he asked, “Oh, by the way, this is Hector,” he said, pointing to the Lab, “and Jesse.”
“One tea, builder’s brew, and one strawberry milk shake, please,” George said, “and do you know, you’ve brought out our favourite dogs. I have always wanted a chocolate Lab, but never got around to getting one, and Lucy, here, adores Springers. How did you know that? Or is it just a happy coincidence?”
“You can think of it as a coincidence, if you like, Sir, but I can usually tell; and I’m not often wrong.” He turned and walked away, saying, “One strong tea and one strawberry shake coming up.”
The drinks arrived, and the young man disappeared discreetly into the back room, leaving George and Lucy alone. The two dogs behaved impeccably, enjoyed being fussed, and gave back as much as they got.
Suddenly, with no prompting, George spoke, “Do you want to know why I never came back here before today? Why I never speak of what happened here?”
“Only if you want to tell me, Granddad.”
“I think I do, Lucy. I think it’s time I told someone. Perhaps I knew that. Perhaps that’s why I brought you on this trip.”
“Okay; if you’re sure.”
George absently petted Hector, while Lucy had Jesse on her lap. “We’d been married for ten years, Esme and me. That was your grandmother’s name, Esme.”
“I know, Granddad.”
“Well. We’d never had a honeymoon. No money for it back in the sixties, and Esme was very pregnant when we married. Your mother was born three months later. Caused quite a stir, I don’t mind telling you. Had to get married; Esme’s father left me no choice. Not that I wouldn’t have married her anyway, she was a wonderful woman; I worshipped the ground she walked on. So, for our tenth anniversary, we did a railway tour. We were both carrying all our stuff in heavy rucksacks, so we could move around more easily.”
“Where was Mum at the time?”
“She stayed with my folks. They adored her and practically begged us to leave her with them for the two weeks we were away. That made the trip like a honeymoon for us; free of the need to keep a nine-year-old entertained, we could, for the first time in our married life, please ourselves and only ourselves.”
“That sounds really nice, Granddad. What went wrong?”
“I was just coming to that,” he said, still stroking Hector. “We reached this town and stayed in the B&B I showed you just up from the station, the one that’s a phone shop now. When it was time to leave, we were standing on the platform as the train pulled in, and I… I… I…”
“You don’t have to, Granddad; not if you don’t want to,” Lucy said, taking his free hand and giving it a squeeze.
“I want to, Lucy,” he said, squeezing her hand gently in return, “I need to.”
George finished his tea and continued, all the while stroking Hector, “I was standing by Esme, when I heard a piercing scream from the other end of the platform. I turned around quickly, and,” he hesitated for some seconds before continuing, “my rucksack caught Esme on the chest, knocking her slightly off balance. Then the weight of her rucksack dragged her down, off the platform, and under the front of the train that was arriving.”
“Oh, Granddad that’s terrible. But it was an accident.”
“You know that, I know that, and the police knew it, too. There was never any suggestion otherwise. But I knew, I have always known, that I killed her. Accident or not, I killed my Esme, the only woman I ever loved, the mother of my only child. I killed your grandmother.”
George started to weep uncontrollably. Sensing the mood, Hector snuggled up closer and gave George the canine equivalent of a blanket-bath. Lucy held George’s hand and tried to comfort him, as he had comforted her through her two-year ordeal. Eventually, he calmed. Without being asked, the young man appeared from the back room with another tea and another shake.
An hour after they entered the shop, still the only customers, they prepared to leave. Both were calm. George felt a peace he hadn’t felt since that fateful day in the 1970s when he lost his love.
Crossing the street, George said to Lucy, “I can’t believe how much better I feel now. I think I can finally get on with my life. I can live with myself. I’ll be able to look at myself in the mirror and not despise what I see. And it’s all because of that—”
They turned around, and looked at the empty shop, its windows long boarded up and covered with a mix of posters and hand-drawn graffiti.
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 66, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.