Ken grieves for his dead wife and decides to look for consolation by returning to his childhood home; by Glenn McGoldrick.
He opened the kitchen door, shaking his head as he watched the cigarette smoke escape.
"Good idea, Ken," said Bernie. "Let a bit of fresh air in."
"Well, I don't smoke, so I don't -"
"Best way to be," Bernie said, taking a big drag on his cigarette. "Nasty habit."
Ken nodded. "How long do you think everybody will be staying?"
"Just a little while, Ken. Give you a bit of company. It's not a day to be alone."
"It's just that..."
"What?" Ken said.
"We're all worried about you, that's all. We know how close you and June were."
"It must be a terrible loss."
"Well, yes, but -"
"Come on, Ken. Let's grab a whisky, and join the others in the front room."
"Oh, I don't think so."
"Come on, don't stay in the kitchen alone."
"You go ahead. I'll be in shortly."
"OK," Bernie said, taking the whisky bottle with him.
Ken sat at the kitchen table, picking at a pork pie, waiting for everybody to leave.
He woke up in a sweat, saying, "No, no, no." Stretching out his hand, he felt only a cold sheet where June used to lay.
He made his way to the kitchen, switched on the kettle and checked the wall calendar.
"A month," he said, shaking his head. "Where does the time go, love?"
Taking his coffee into the living room, he sat on his end of the sofa. He picked up a red cardigan and held it to his face, breathing through his nose.
"You always did smell good, love," he said.
Switching on the TV news, he sipped his coffee and thought about leaving the house.
"Thornaby?" Bernie asked, taking a seat next to Ken on the sofa.
"That's where I'm from. Where I grew up."
"Right. Right. What about it?"
"Well," Ken said. "I've been thinking about it."
"I don't know. It makes no sense. I've been living here in London almost fifty years now. And -"
"But why think about it now?"
"Well, I've been thinking about my parents. The accident."
"Oh, yes," Bernie said, shaking his head. "Terrible business."
"Icy road, they told me."
"Yes. Very bad luck. But why dwell on it now?"
"I used to do a lot of walking, with my mother and father. Out in the hills where we lived."
"Some of the happiest times of my life. June was never much of a walker. She -"
"Ken. Stop! Listen to me."
"It'll do you no good," Bernie said. "This moping around."
"I am not bloody moping around."
"It's been three months, Ken, and you've barely left the house."
"Yes, I have," Ken said, nodding his head. "I've been to the cemetery, and I also -"
"That's not what I'm talking about, Ken. You need to get out and socialise a bit. Or talk to someone. You can't go on like this."
Ken sat in his living room that evening, replaying the conversation with Bernie in his head.
"He's right, love," he said. "I can't go on like this." He buried his face in the red cardigan.
Ken rose early the next morning, and had a large breakfast. He had a long soak in the bath, a close shave, then he put on his favourite suit and left the house.
After a visit to the bank he stopped at the florist, taking his time before selecting an expensive bouquet.
He walked to the cemetery and placed the flowers in the planter, then knelt down beside the headstone and talked softly to June.
"I hope you'll understand, love," he said, before leaving to catch his train.
He stepped off the train, admiring the afternoon sun and nodding his head.
"It's as good a day as any," he said, buttoning his jacket against the mild chill.
He noticed a ticket office, and a small area with plastic seating; everything else was as he remembered. He walked to the taxi rank, and took the first cab in line.
As the taxi drove away, Ken stared at the small shop with the Post Office sign in the window. He'd never used its mailing services, but he could still taste the boiled sweets he used to buy there, daily, so long ago.
He set off walking, beside a quiet road that cut a straight line through the village. The gardens were green and well kept; he was struck by the contrast, between this peaceful place and the noise of London.
He passed a pub, unsure if he remembered it or not. The road led him up a gently sloping bank. He stopped at the top to catch his breath.
"Well, love," he said, "that's steeper than I remember."
He followed the road for another minute, then took a right into Falcon Close. There were six houses in the quiet cul-de-sac, and he stopped in front of the second one.
Looking at the detached house, he took in the neat garden and the fence that enclosed it.
"That fence wasn't there before."
He looked at the windows, replaying childhood memories. He put his hand on the gate, deliberating.
"I'd better not, love," he said, stepping away. "I don't know who lives there now. What on earth would I say to them?"
He walked back to the main road, glancing over his shoulder and wiping his eyes.
"What can I get you, sir?"
"I'll have the filet mignon, please," Ken said. "Well done."
"And to drink, sir?"
"A large whisky, please. An expensive one."
"Yes, sir," the bar server said, scribbling in his notebook. "The food will be about forty-five minutes, if that's OK?"
"That's fine. I'm not in any rush."
He looked around the pub, seeing a lone drinker at the bar, and a young couple sat in a booth by the window. The bar server brought his whisky; he took a slow drink, nodding his head appreciatively.
He picked up a newspaper from the empty table next to his, and flicked through it as he waited for his meal.
"Thank you very much, sir," the bar server said, seeing the large tip that Ken had left him.
"You're welcome. It was lovely."
They chatted a little, as the bar server cleared the table and Ken finished his third whisky.
"Up by Cod Beck? Don't you have a thicker jacket, sir?"
"No. Just this one."
"Oh, well, be careful, sir. Don't stay out there too long."
"It gets very cold, out in the open."
"I should be OK," Ken said. "Thanks again."
He followed the road leading from the village, taking a right and walking down a small slope to the reservoir.
He took a seat at a picnic bench, looking out over the water. Then he took a path through a wooded area, which bordered one side of the reservoir.
The path led him up a small hill. At the top of the hill he took a left, and walked a little further. Then he sat on the grass, taking in the expansive view over Cod Beck and the surrounding countryside.
"Just as beautiful as I remember," he said. "This is the spot, love."
He lay back in the grass and closed his eyes, listening to the wind, hearing the voices of his parents, long gone. And he could hear June, whispering his name.
He smiled, knowing that he would see them all soon.