Walking Distance

New normal

Since moving to a small town, Clara found she left the car at home more and more. So long as it wasn’t absolutely tipping it down with rain, she preferred to get outdoors, to stretch her legs, get a bit of fresh air and enjoy the potential for the odd exchange with her neighbours. Sometimes she’d just pick up milk, or something from the bakery to accompany her coffee when she was back home. More often, it was an excuse to take her notebook down to the river, or to the coffee shop, and people watch. It was surprising how often something would catch her eye and she’d end up scribbling in that notebook. It was her ideas book, she had many, which she filled with observed exchanges or with descriptions of strangers, all to be mined for a story some time in the future.

But she hadn’t written anything for a little while. Not since the day when they’d discovered that lump. Life had been quite the roller coaster since then. Her head had been full of ‘what ifs’ and ‘what if I don’t …’ and she’d been left dog tired, an exhaustion she’d never experienced the like of before. Normally independent, prickly so, she was struggling to accept help, let alone ask for it, and there was no getting away from the fact that she needed it. Her sister stayed for a couple of weeks which was pretty much as long as they could stand each other’s company at close quarters. But she’d arranged for a housekeeper – someone competent but quiet, kind not not a fusser – making sure that there was food a-plenty, a clean home and clean clothes. It meant I could get on with the business of getting better, without putting energy into the mundane.

I’d missed walking terribly but, the first day I went out, I needed rescuing. I’d barely walked around the corner but I couldn’t take another step. I’d ended up collapsed onto someone’s garden wall. I remember the look she gave me, like I was some kind of nutter, when I asked her to drive me back home. After that, my Mrs Miggins insisted she walk with me. What a sight we must’ve made, me shuffling along at the pace of an old man with Mrs Miggins behind me carrying a bright blue chair. I was grateful for that chair though, every single day. And I was grateful for the fuss-free way that Mrs Miggins would leave me sitting on my bright blue chair, bring her car to collect me – and my trusty bright blue chair – to take us home. As my walks got longer, I realised that Mrs Miggins wasn’t carrying my bright blue chair anymore. When I asked the question, she pointed out that there were chairs dotted around and about, all along the route to my favourite coffee shop.

By the summer, I was able to make it to the coffee shop easily. Not long afterwards, Mrs Miggins stopped walking with me. By not being pig-headed, I’d come to recognise what my new normal walking distance was now, and I took a simple pleasure in it. Yes I had goals to increase that walking distance, but now it wasn’t a race. I spent more time on my daily walk, talking to those kind people who are my neighbours. The very neighbours who used to be strangers who – on noticing me and Mrs Miggins with my bright blue chair – had placed a chair outside their homes for me to take a rest. Now I didn’t need them, they were still there, being used by the elderly, people loaded down with shopping, young mothers carrying a child, or – like me, someone who looked fine, but wasn’t.

©Debra Carey, 2017

A walk in the park

The park was tranquil, silenced by the mist that wreathed the trees and draped itself across the grass, diminished but not banished by the late morning sun.  I had agreed to meet my friend, Sam here – it was a conveniently equidistant point from which we could sally forth in search of coffee.  I sat on a bench and pulled out my book – a proper book today, not the usual Kindle, with its hundreds of books in one neat package.  No, today I was working through a book club read, and I might possibly add marginalia, or at the very least slips of paper at appropriate points.  Sam would not be long, but I would be able to get through a few pages, and I had long ago realised that this was an essential tactic for a book club read, to ensure that I was not desperately reading the last chapters on the day itself.

I was quickly engrossed – this was a book more to my taste than our last choice – and it was not until a shadow fell across the book that I realised that there was anyone else close-by.

“Would you mind if I joined you on this bench?  My leg is playing me up.”

I murmered assent to the man before me who had spoken in the sort of plummy tones that are usually reserved for the upper-middle classes in worthy period dramas.  This, the rather stiff bearing and the fastidiously neat attire instantly made me think ‘military’.  The suit of grey tweed with a flamboyant blue-spotted handkerchief did nothing to dispel the notion, although I did pause on a definite diagnosis because of the tie – I knew nothing of what regimental colours should look like, but this was clearly not such neck-wear.

“Thank you so much. An old injury you know.  I should no better than to come out in this fog, but I hate to miss a day.”

“Miss a day?”

“Oh yes.  I usually get in a five-mile walk, ten if there’s nothing better to do.”

I looked at the man sideways; he must have been over eighty, but looked spry.  He noticed me looking and gave a wry chuckle.

“You’re probably thinking I look like an old relic – and so I am.  Ninety next week you know, but I tell you, a good brisk walk every day will do wonders for you.”

“You certainly look extremely well on it – congratulations for next week.”

“Why, thank you. I wasn’t trying to solicit good will, you know.”

I assured him that nothing was further from my mind.  We chatted about this and that for bit, and I mentioned that the park was within walking distance of my house.

“Oh, so quite close then?  I find that walking distance is a lot more local than it used to be.  I notice it personally, because I would think nothing of walking several miles to run an errand when I was a boy, and even ten or so miles was a bit of a jaunt.  These days ten feels like a route march.  Even five can be tricky now and again.  But I’m still thankful for my health.  There’s a chap I see now and again, probably about your age, but it’s as much as he can do to waddle from the bus stop to the arcade of shops – his view of walking distance is very narrow.  I don’t suppose he’ll make old bones.  It’s a different world now.  Shank’s pony is in danger of going extinct it seems.”

I remembered my manners, and offered to ring someone to come and pick him up, he pretended to be offended, but I could see a twinkle in his eye.

“Oh no! No thank you.  I’ll seize up if I sit here much longer.  Thank you for sharing the bench with me, but my leg is much better now – and I live in walking distance.  Good bye!”

He pulled himself up, tipped his hat and a wink to me, and off he went, barely using his walking stick and certainly not shuffling.  Thoughtfully, I put my book away.

©David Jesson, 2017

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