The bird and the bear

by Jenny

When he closed his eyes they were back there again, her little hand slipping into his and leading him along the moonlit beach. The air was hot and close and the thrill of being out after curfew felt exotic and exciting in a way he’d never known before.

When she pulled him to her in the tide he still remembered how the sand felt between his toes, the way the water soaked into his trousers instantly, and how he didn’t care at all because she was kissing him. He could taste the salt on her lips and feel the heat of her body against his and he wrapped her tightly in his arms thinking he’d give anything not to let her go ever again.

The clattering of a steel trolly on a rubberised floor. The rhythmic, ever-present beeping.

And he never had. They had sat opposite each other at their breakfast of coffee and Greek yoghurt and fruit, thinking the others in the orienteering group couldn’t see their irrepressible conspiratorial smiles, their covert hands touching beneath the white folds of the table cloth. Thinking no-one could know what they had done together just the night before on the beach they could see right now from the hotel breakfast room.

They had sat together on the way home too, switching seats with the Bradshaws’ two boys for a shilling slipped into a back pocket and not hearing the disapproving tuts or seeing the sour, pursed mouths of their companions.

He had married her, of course. A quiet, simple affair, like they both wanted. She wore a neat white dress and carried flowers from the neighbour’s garden down the aisle.

The slow mechanical pulsing of machinery. The exhausted, clinical voices of the staff. He pushes them away and listens instead for that familiar crashing of sea on sand, the light cadence of her voice.

They had been happy. One child, a boy, all grown up now with a family of his own. They pottered on, day to day. He called her his little bird and he was her bear. They had bought a house, grown a garden, learned how to be content.

A cold hand on his wrist. Fast words whirling overhead. Something was wrong. He didn’t like it here.

He remembered their garden and the smell of honeysuckle in the summer. He walked there with her now, rubbing rosemary leaves between his fingers and inhaling the scent, stooping to pick a tomato from the vine.

There is rushing now, the sound of tired voices urging themselves to action. He doesn’t think he’ll stay. He’d far rather be back in his garden.

So he leaves the tomato where it is. He realises, with a start, that it is evening. It will be dark soon, so he straightens up, walks away from the noise and the panic and the bustle above him and follows her down the garden path and back into the house.