The Bench

 

 

                                The Bench

                                   By

                                Carla Day

                            (78,000 words)

 

CHAPTER ONE  - confessions

 

     I watch her pace across the wet grass in bare feet, running delicate hands down the thighs of her jeans as if rubbing away my words. I see her through the eyes of a seriously deluded fool, who thinks he is looking at a doting mother. A mother, who has been tough but fair and has always loved me unconditionally. The woman I think will accept me, no matter what I say or do, she doesn't.

     A woman who cherishes me? I start to question this too, with every twitch of her anguished face. She is my hero my, muse, my inspiration, my nurse and my teacher. How can this be happening?

      She once nursed my cuts and scrapes and chased away my night terrors, she cared about me - I know this, I saw it in her soft hazel eyes, now not so soft and suddenly blazing with fury.  I felt it when she waited at the school gates with such immense pride and affection, knees bent with open-wide arms and a smile as big as a crescent moon.  There is no smile now.

     She hisses words at me, under sobering moonlight, like I am a complete stranger. I begin to doubt my judgement.  I love my mum, no matter what.

     Pushing hands through my soaked hair and bringing them over my eyes, I hope when I look again the scene has changed and she will be standing once again with open arms, on our cliff top, the place we have always loved. She isn’t.

      I see something else in the eyes of this woman, they are screwed tight with such hatred, her nostrils flaring and shooting out lines of steam, like one of the wild horses that roam the bluff. Words spit at me with a viscously cruel tongue, from the very mouth that once said – I’ll always be there for son. She lied.

       Animated arms flail about with no coordination, as if all control is lost.  She seems possessed with the kind of wickedness you know exists but only see in films.

     I am in total shock. I look at my worn Nike trainers ashamed, as if I am a ten year old boy being scolded for pinching penny sweets from the corner shop. The alcohol my mother and I consumed in our happy-family sea side home, only two hours ago, now blurring my vision and clouding my tear-stung eyes.

     My confession, it should have remained my secret, I have been holding onto it for so many years, I shouldn't have told. I should instead, have kept it close to my chest, as my instinct has always told me too. I put it out there to save us, confided in the one person in this world I thought would understand, thought would accept. I was wrong, stupidly wrong.

     I want to take my liberal minded, carefree – can-handle- anything mum and hold her close and tell her it’s OK to be angry and confused. I - after all- have spent most of my twenty six years confused but I can see there is no approaching her – she is as wild and untamed as the new stallion they brought in to break at the riding school wide eyed and ready to kick. A new woman to me. Has she always been there, just under the surface? She scares me. There is no breaking in this woman, at this moment.

     Her silk blouse drenched, clings to her million goosebumps, relentless heavy rain soaks her to the bone. Wine fuelled and bitter, her slight frame sways as she staggers against the force of the downpour her face shiny. Thick long hair separates and sticks to her face in long wavy tendrils they look odd against her blood-drained skin.

      Her mouth twists as she says the words I have always dreaded hearing. I stare at her in disbelief because they are tumbling out of my mum’s mouth. I slap my hands over my mouth one after the other to stop me retaliating. I must show respect, she is my mother.

 

     "I didn't bring you up to be that, you animal – I tell myself it’s the booze talking, she would never hurt me, she doesn’t usually drink, I make excuses, anything but believe this is actually happening

     “This will destroy us, your father and me. How could you bring such shame on the family, I despise what you are! “ Her wounded face distorts, lips curl, I’m sure the light is playing tricks, her teeth look jagged and her eyes have drawn into a thin line of black.

     Her small forefinger points, as if it were about to shoot a fatal bullet, aimed directly at my already shattered heart. I clutch at where my heart is hiding, frantically pumping behind muscle and skin, I feel the knife twisting and my mind is tearing to shreds. I am done.

      Her steps toward me quicken, dainty shoeless feet sink in the mud, slowing her momentarily and her hand raises high above as if she is angry she can’t get to me quick enough to release her blows. Its horrendous, my small mild mannered mother, hurtling towards me with her arms held a high about to strike me. I should have kept my mouth shut, what have I done?

 I step backward, my smelly old trainers with worn tread giving way to the slippery grass. I glance backwards briefly and catch the waves crash in white lace on black rock and my heels sink and slide, I am powerless. My mum’s contorted face is the last thing I see as she leaps forward mouthing something, arms stretched– in anger or concern?

   

      I hear her shrill into the black of night, dark rock and sea spray flashes before me, her voice soon drowned out by the enormous sound of the sea.

      My head hits icy water then rock and something cracks. I see black and purple and feel numb as water fills my mouth; I try and shout for help. But I am suddenly under the rising waves and crushed by its bearing weight, I start to drift and see dappled sunlight though the clear warm water and my mother’s gentle hand reaches for me and starts to pull me out.

 

Beep, beep – shhhh – shhhh beep, beep – shhhh shhhh -beep, beep.

     "Hold his hand." I hear a woman saying, I don't know her. My eyes won’t open!

     "Tell him we love him." Another woman weeps,

     "Can I hold him?" A man asks.

     "Can he hear us?" The same man enquires.

     “Will he die?" A young girls cries.

     "Would you like me to call a priest?" A woman asks quietly.

      I don't recognise any of these voices.

It all begins to seep black again, I can’t see, I need to sleep. Beep, beep, beep.

 

                                                                ***

    

‘It’s a bit blowy up ere today Rhyd, you want to be putting your hood down, if the wind takes it, you’ll be off over that there cliff quicker than the gulls.’ His rusty moustache twitched and shone coppery in the morning sun with his hearty up-and-down laugh.

     “Get off with ya now, and pass that hammer and my tool bag let’s get this thing secure now, so we can sit on it and have our sarnies.”  The snowy haired man banged at the joints gripping the hammer with gnarled fingers, pushing the legs and back of the bench firmly in place.

     “That about does it, won’t be long before I have one of these things.’ the wind filled his overall arm and blew it up like a balloon.

     “I’m getting too old for this lark Rhyd.” He danced around unsteady against the strength of the wind, the man’s feathery white hair stood on end and he eventually managed to stabilise himself by leaning directly into the oncoming gale.

     “Oh Shut up Nath and stay low for God’s sake.” He tugged at the old man’s sleeve bringing him to floor level.

    ”Will you ever grow up boy, you’re as light as a bloody feather, you’ll be off over the top in a minute?” “You know, these benches are about a grand so they are, this must be top of the range; the oak ones don’t come cheap.” “How you gonna afford that, you silly old sod?” he smirked and sipped tea from a plastic cup and offered some to his windswept companion.

     “I’ll find a way, never you mind about that; they don’t come light either, my backs bloody killin me.”

     His mischievous eyes laughed as he attempted to stand up again, on knees, then hands, then half bent, then up straight, again dancing against the wind. He stepped back to admire his handy work. Placing his hands on his hips he pushed his shoulders back, he winced as his spine arched and bone clicked.

     He bit into his flapping ham sandwich with one hand and wiped a dollop of escaped mustard onto his overalls with the other. 

     “You are a messy old bugger Nath, who do you think Frank is then?”  He eyed the bronze plaque that gleamed in the sunshine.

     “Don’t know but he sure got a good spot.” With the sandwich demolished and his mouth wiped fee of mustard, he started to munch on a digestive biscuit and poured himself a tea from a flask.

     “I’m surprised a bench has been allowed up ere to be honest.” “Ceredigion Council are quite strict on that sort of thing.” Rhyd twiddled the end of his v shaped beard as he contemplated his comment. 

     “He must have been important or filthy rich.” Nathan turned the last screw, blew away the dust and walked around to check the bench over running his rough hands over the smooth surface.

 

     I can see two men, the one walking around me in blue overalls is white haired, spindly and tall. I hear them talking in a jumble of mumbled words, nothing is clear. I feel the other man is turning a screw, it digs into me, forcing me to focus my eyes and come out of my groggy hibernation-deep sleep.

     I hear the splitting of wood as it spirals, boring its way into my foundation.  I’m sleepily confused.  Massively just-woke-up confused. Panic rises as utter disbelief descends and I suddenly fear the unknown. I want to shout ‘HELP ME IM TRAPPED.’ but instinctively know they won’t hear me. I’m frightened! They gather up their things and wonder off down the coastal path. I watch them go and once they are out of sight, I take a look around me...holy shit I think I’m dead!!

 

Thoughts spin, words whirl, eyes focus, voices clear, confusion begins.

 

                                                               

                                                                           ***

 

         

The Bench

CHAPTER TWO

Sometime later - Acceptance v curiosity.

 

     A foreboding sea writhes in turmoil and the sky threatens thunder. Distant rumbles hide under far away darkened clouds. Birds have stopped their morning chorus and the air stands perfectly still. I can only imagine its coolness.

     Abundant clouds hurry across the gloomy sky like floating mountains, bringing the appending storm directly overhead. The promise of an entertaining show from my friend the perpetually captivating sky pleases me immensely. As a  Javelin of white light shoots through the clouds and strikes the seemingly fathomless swirling water  - I shudder with anticipation.

     The colour above me changes in a quick and dramatic succession, from grey to purple to almost black in layer upon layer of thickening cloud. The imminent storm now trembles above me in menacing ripples. A single splat of rain hits the dust in front of me and I imagine what it would feel like on my skin.

     The rain materialises in heavy coin sized drops punching the ground with a determined and rhythmic force. Lightening illuminates the rise and fall of the sea into a moving blanket of silver.

     A man approaches me wearing  a t-shirt with holes ripped in the shoulder, soiled jeans hang off of his bony hips. He is unshaven and a diamond shaped cut gapes by his right temple. His dull milky eyes are sunken deep into their sockets. Cheekbones stick out and shine under lightening flashes and his raven black hair sticks to his face in thick wet lines. He looks up into the sky, opens his mouth and lets out an animal-like piercing scream, I imagine a swarm of flies will come out like they do in horror movies; this thought makes me recoil and stay firmly within my parameter.

      He continues to roar as deafening thunder seems to reply to his haunting screams. He lifts his arms up into the sky as if summoning the gods and then he smiles a wide sinister smile, the corners of his mouth crack and blood seeps around his crooked teeth. He stops and abruptly retreats down the hill, his shoulders slumped and his head bowed low, his wet t shirt clinging to his back, offering his spines ladder of protruding bones to the elements. As he reaches the crest of the hill, his soul separates from his human form and is pulled into the sky by a succession of blinding lights. I think he just died. Death number three complete.

 Screams scream, clouds scatter, lightening strikes, rains hits, winds slaps, hearts stop. Death begins.

   The dark clouds disperse almost immediately and the birds begin to chirp as the sun appears and the sky lifts to its summary powder-blue. The sea calms as the day starts over, this time with cheery tone. How quickly things change.                                                                                       

     

                                                                              ***

   

I hear footsteps advancing up the hill, a feathery step and a heavy shuffle. An elderly man and his petite granddaughter appear hand in hand, her short arm is stretched to its full length. I notice she is patient with the old man and walks slowly to allow for his limp and creaky old bones. She watches his every step. 

     He is leaning heavily on a walkingstick that is covered in stickers from all corners of the globe. His eyes are as blue as today’s sky and crinkled up at the corners.

     The girl lifts her face to meet the old mans and smiles sweetly, her cheeks are flushed in crab-apple-red circles and her little round faced is framed with a perfectly neat chocolate brown bob. She reminds me of a happy Lego toy.

     The big yellow ice cream cornet she grips so tightly is dented and is melting, it drips around her stumpy little fingers and on to me. He wipes away the mess with a crumpled tissue and drops onto me with a thud and the girl hops up next to him and perches on my edge with her short legs swinging carefree, she is curling her little toes tightly in an attempt to stop her flip flops from dropping off.

      They don't talk, just look at each other and lick their ice creams. I sometimes know instinctively what relation these people are to one another but I don't know how. Maybe I acquired a seventh sense when I died?

     The man regards the little girl for a few moments, his forehead creasing, he taps at his temple with a forefinger as he thinks, summoning the right words for his speech.  

     "Lottiepop, now I want today to be especially super- duper special, do you see that cloud up there that looks like a bunny and that one that appears to be crocodile?" He points a gnarled finger directing her eyes.

     “Yes gramps, I see them.”  She giggles and shields her eyes from the sun with a sticky hand."

     “Well, if one day I’m not around and if ever – let’s say - you are feeling alone or you should you miss me.” -  He coughed finding it increasingly difficult to get the words out.

     “I want you to look up to the sky and see what shapes you can see, I bet you will see all sorts Lottie, fish and cars and ice creams, flowers and other fantabulous things.” His voice wavered and he coughed again.

     “Is it the bloody ice cream granddad?”

     “Lottie plop!” “Your mum would tell us off for using that word.”

     “But she’s not here, right Grampsy-bo-bampsi?” she squeezed her eyes tightly together.

     “Right you are, yes it was the ‘Bloody’ ice cream.” He winked.    

     It was their word – fantabulous - they had invented many special words enough to fill a book.

     “Majisticle, aren’t they Gramps - the clouds?” “ she formed an ‘O’ with her mouth, smacked her lips together like a fish and giggled showing a row of milky white baby teeth. He flashed his aged crooked teeth back at her with an impish grin. He was feeling far from impish, instead airing more on the side of heartbroken and trying desperately to think of just how to say the things he was going to without crushing her little heart. He wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.

     “They are positively marvelonious Lottie loo!” He prayed that she would find someone to help her keep up her playful vocabulary.

     One day when I am up there Lottie, I will try and arrange the very best shapes for you to pick out.” He choked with emotion and felt his throat constrict as he tried to get the words out and blamed it – again - on the runny ice-cream.

     She wrinkles her nose for a second digesting his words. “Gramps, what if there are no clouds, then what you gonna do?” She moves her ice cream covered lips to the side.

She was both impossible and clever for a seven year old; He hoped to god he would be able to watch over her from where ever he was going. The thought slices right into his heart as he feels the pain of a thousand knives.

     “When will you be going up there Gramps and how will you get there, on a plane, or magicolony broom stick?" She swung her legs and lost her battle with the daisy patterned flip flops, they dropped into the dust. She gazed up him waiting for an answer.

     He laughed at her beautiful innocence.  

    “Soon my little Lottipop, I will ask Gods little helpers to have a special ladder woven for me from gold and silver and I will climb it all the way to the top, I think it looks nice up there, don't you?"

     keeping her eyes busy pointing to heaven he finds just enough time to wipe away a tear with the sleeve of his shirt. He thought she might just take all of this as the ramblings of a silly old fool but desperately hoped that this day would be etched in her memory and she would know just how much he loved her.

       Lottie smiles, nods and looks at her granddad with arched eyebrows and wide open eyes.

     “But what if they are big helpers, how do you know they are small?” she gazed up at his face and chewed on her lip challenging him.

     “Well, I don’t really, but I like to think they are.”

She stares right up blinking at theshifting clouds, he notices the sun picks out the golden flecks next to her pupils and his stomach lurches and his heart almost leaps through his chest. He stares right into them knowing it might possibly be the very last time. 

     Lottie is oblivious to her Granddads unstoppable sorrow as she peers up to the shifting clouds, composing a happy memory. She watches them float away on their lazy summer journey.  Granddad smiles, as another tear escapes and attempts to make its way down the deep grooves of his cheek. He quickly fumbles in his pocket and uses the same crumpled tissue to wipe it away before she noticed. Goodbye - number 308 complete.

Ice creams run, memories form, flip flops drop, tears fall, hearts melt, goodbye starts

     I used to feel intrusive eavesdropping in on these conversations but now I look forward to them. It helps me. I tend to do a lot of thinking, I fill my time by thinking. I am also an astute observer of all things. I occupy myself by watching the people who visit me, as if watching a TV show. It can be most entertaining. I also like to spend my time staring at the eternally beautiful and ever changing sky and the enchanting sea that stretches out before me. I marvel at its very creation, these two magnificent forces of nature seem to collaborate and work in tandem to create the most spectacular views.

      Brilliant colours fill my every moment; I am jealous that I can’t smell the air that others seem to breathe with such effortless ease. Mountains sit opposite me touching the clouds with their velvety tips. On a clear day there are five majestic peaks. 

 

                                                                             ***

                       

 

CHAPTER THREE – The Bench...

 

I imagine you are wondering? So here’s what I know about me: it isn’t much at least not yet but I fully intend to learn.

I am carved from the finest Oak and smoothed at my edges. A small bronze plaque sits on my front it reads:

For Frank, who loved this place.” I am most definitely not Frank! I just know I'm not. Tufts of grass sprout from around my feet. I have listened to arguments, proposals, secrets and lies. People leave random items on me and sometimes in summer children lay sticky hands on me, a couple may sit with me for hours and talk or often a lone person will sit and gaze out to sea. Some stay for only a few minutes to catch their breath or rest their weary legs, others climb the steep hill purposely to tie lost possessions to me.

     I hear stories, thousands upon thousands of conversations and yet I do not know my own. I hear thoughts too, peoples saddest and happiest, often very funny ones and every now and then their inner most, deepest and darkest. Sometimes sand drifts across me as a light summer winds carry the tiniest particles and I crack and peel in winter. I am one of many but I don't have a name. What am I? I am a Bench! Of all the things I might have come back as, although I am told it is my choice, I will get to that.

     I am relatively new, I have no knowledge of how to measure time, because I 'am' new, I can't seem to be able to speak with others that are with me. Although lord knows, I have tried. I can't see them but there are many. I am as new as a shiny penny, so I am not allowed, just yet. I hear their alluring whispers, yet I can't hear everything, it comes in low frequency waves.   

     I listen out all the time. I feel no pain of my own, in fact I don’t really feel anything much apart from a burning curiosity. I know that I don't belong here. I have gleaned this from the whispers. ‘They say,’ that because I happened to mentioned during my 'time on earth' - that when I die, I want to have my very own bench on a cliff top, in my favourite place. That’s exactly what I got! I have listened to so much babble and yet not once has it come to light where my bench is situated.

      I keep hoping someone will spill the beans. I don't know where this place is, because I don't know my story. I think that's why I am here, to work it all out. I know that I am dead – it seems glaringly obvious - but I don't know how I died? I have fathomed that my soul is very much alive or at very least subsisting. I do not know if I am male or female or tall or short. I am not sad, I am simply for now - a curious soul whose home for the time being is a bench!

     This is my waiting room. I can't go to where I am supposed to (so the whispers tell me) heaven - at least I hope, because there is no room, so until there is, I am stuck here, hanging around as it were, just as though I am waiting for a bus that isn’t about to turn up any time soon. I could be here forever. I hear the whispers say things like, “If mine turns up I can get out of here”.

     I am clueless as to what that means. I here laughter sometimes, the whispers are both male and female although - I don't hear children - some have names, but not like earthly names. The last whisper I heard was from Iowishi - more like the sound of a Japanese fish that a defined name - and it said: "Not bloody likely old chap, yours must be long gone, missed your bloody chance...ha ha!" and before I can ask what that means, it tunes out, like the frequency re wires and fizzles to where silences starts all over again

     I can see, my vision is crystal clear as if I have brand new eyes, in front of me is a fragrant juniper green bush with thick spidery-black spikes and curls of wiry bramble, its dotted with dainty florescent -yellow flowers.  I have a random thought: Green occupies more space in the colour spectrum visible to the human eye than most other colours. It is the colour of balance and growth. And wonder, was I a painter?The flies seem to like the flowers.

     Beyond this a never ending sea shimmers silver and glittery under the crisp morning sky. A pale sun gleams, yielding a citrus glow to the rough outline of mountains on the horizon. The narrow path infront of me is very dusty and makes me want to sneeze. I find this particularly strange, I can't see myself or feel - although a slight vibration happens quite frequently - but I get an overwhelming urge to sneeze.

     I have no nose with which to sneeze with, so I can't. Little boats are thrashing around on the choppy water and white sails slice through frisky waves.