Afternoons With Ellen

It can be a long wait… but it’s always well worth it when she comes to see me

Doesn’t look like she’s coming today. She doesn’t come every day. Still, there’s always a chance.

I don’t mind if she doesn’t. I know she will if she can.

It’s pleasant sitting here anyway – a nice place to spend an afternoon. I hope she does make it today. She loves the delphiniums. Pity if she misses them.

If she’s not here before the sun sinks behind the oak tree, I know she’s not coming.

I might wait a bit longer. Just in case.

It’s the sort of late summer day she likes here in the park. Warm sunshine. Light breeze rippling the water on the lake. The trees in full leaf, fresh and green.

Problems at home, I expect. I hope it’s not James again.

He’s been difficult ever since he was a child. Always in some sort of bother.

She told me last time she came that James was doing well these days.

“He’s managed to get an apprenticeship with the local garage. Wants to be a motor mechanic. And Sally’s found herself another man,” she told me.

Hope he’s better than the last one who deserted her just after their second child was born. It was then that Ellen began to take over.

I grumbled at her, told her I didn’t want the house full of grandchildren all the time; that I wanted a bit of peace in my retirement.

I didn’t realise that it was what she needed.

I retaliated by spending more time down at the allotment. Left her to it. She probably found James less bother than me.

Or it could be Mary next door having a bad day. That woman was the bane of our lives from the day she moved in.

I’d have given her short shrift, I would. But Ellen’s not like that.

“The poor woman can’t help being of a nervous disposition,” she’d say.

I’d swallow my words and walk away. I suppose that was the trouble. Anything to avoid an argument; that was me.

I miss her when she doesn’t come. Wish I’d listened more, been more understanding when I had the chance.

I’m surprised she even bothers to come and see me now.

She sits and talks to me. We watch the swans on the lake and the children playing. She loves watching the children and we laugh at their antics.

There are lots of them today – I suppose with the weather being so good. Lots of mums with babies in buggies.

We only had Sally. Ellen wanted more. She’d have liked a big family.

But it never happened. I’d catch her crying sometimes after she’d lost another one.

She needed to talk about it. But I just couldn’t. I wish I’d been stronger and listened more.

There’s a dad pushing a toddler on a swing. I should have spent more time with them when Sally was small.

I was always working. Thought it was expected of me. Bring home the money so we could have a good life, nice house: nice holidays.

I realise now she’d have preferred to have had me around more.

Sometimes she stays an hour or two if the weather’s good. She doesn’t like the cold.

I’d like to give her a cuddle and warm her up. But that wouldn’t be appropriate now.

So I listen to what she tells me. It’s the way she likes it. I never interrupt. I’ve mellowed in the last couple of years. I seem to understand her better.

I wish I could put the clock back, but obviously that’s not possible.

So I’m just grateful for the time she spends with me.

All I can do now is be there for her when she comes.

She never stays long, just an hour or two. Then she stands up and sighs.

“Better get back and get the dinner on. James will be round at five. Always starving, he is,” she chuckles.

Then she’ll read the inscription and stroke the little brass plaque.

“This bench was a good idea, Bill,” she’ll say, nodding her head. “Even now you’ve passed on, I can still open my heart up to you here. It helps.”

Finally I’ve learned how to listen.

I can see her now, making her way slowly round the lake as the shadows deepen.

I’m glad I waited that little bit longer today. It would have been a shame if she’d made the journey and I’d gone.

Our My Weekly Favourites series of lovely short fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.

Don’t forget – you can find brand new, uplifting short stories every week in My Weekly magazine! Subscribe now for a great money-saving deal.