Walking in the rain

Mark glanced at the passing puddles as the rain exploded on their surfaces; his head held resolutely down against near gale force wind. The promenade on which he was being wheeled just seemed to blend with the sea. Sunlight struggled to break through fast moving clouds but occasionally shimmered on the surface of a puddle giving it an orange hue. Mark was isolated from his brother Paul, who was pushing his wheelchair, by his waterproof coverings. Grey and dark thoughts filled Mark’s head, his loss of independence frustrated and gnawed at him from the inside. It was a pain that no analgesic could touch. For a man as active as Mark had been this was no life to lead, reliant on others for so much. A hissing and splashing sound woke Mark from his miserable thoughts, as a cyclist shot by clad in bright red coat with no hood.

Jim was late for work. He’d woken late, skipped breakfast, and rushed outside into the pouring rain.  Jumping into his car He’d turned the ignition key and nothing.  Jim could still hear his wife Ann’s voice in his head

‘You gonna get that car fixed!’  

Then when he hadn’t responded  

‘You listenin’ to me?’

He was certainly wishing He’d listened now.  Instead he had to cycle two miles to work in the pouring rain and he didn’t even have proper wet weather gear, it had been another bone of contention with Ann.

‘What’s the point ‘aving a bike if you don’t ‘ave water proofs for it?’

For some reason that had really wound him up.

‘I’m not gonna cycle in the rain.  That’s… what… the… car… is… for.’

‘Don’t patronise me!’  Ann had shouted.

Why had they always got into such silly arguments?  A wave of sadness crossed Jim’s face.

The rain running down Jim’s face looked just like tears, but these faux tears were the only ones his face had seen since he was a young child. 

‘It’s malignant.’  That was the only word Jim had understood from the doctor about Ann’s illness, so he had to ask him.                                                         

‘Do you mean Ann’s got cancer?’

The Doctor’s answer had been longer than the original diagnosis. Jim and Ann shrank bewildered into their seats fear growing within them.  It all seemed to happen so quickly after that.  The doctors had said she would have one to two years but she died in eight months.  That was three months ago now and Jim still hadn’t got the car fixed and he still hadn’t cried.

Dripping wet, Jim almost waddled into his workplace.  Terry, his line manager looked up.

‘Ah! Jim, a word mate, can you come in here a minute.’

Jim muttered something and dripped his way into the side room.

‘Sorry I’m late, Terry.  I was…’

‘Yeah that’s all right it’s not about being late,’ cut in Terry, ‘I needed a word with you

anyway.  You’ve probably noticed there’s been less work around what with the economic crisis an’ all.  Well I’m sorry to say mate the Company’s having to make some cuts.’

Jim just looked blankly at Terry somehow unable to process what was being said to him.  Water was still dripping down his face and clothing.

‘I’m sorry to say that there are some redundancies and that you are being made redundant.

So from now, you no longer work here, you can go home now mate. You just need to clear your locker out.  Here’s your redundancy details,’ Terry said starkly, handing Jim an envelope.

Jim took the envelope in a wet hand and looked at it.  He then looked up at Terry and beyond him to the rain streaming down the window.  Jim felt as if a dam burst in his emotions and all the sadness at the loss of his wife Ann, the loss of his job and all the frustrations of that morning burst through it.  His face was already so wet that at first Terry didn’t realise that Jim was crying.  It was not until Jim started to sob loudly and his shoulders shook that Terry understood what was happening.

‘Come on mate don’t take it like that.  I’m sure you’ll…..’

Terry shuffled around awkwardly, he really didn’t know what to do in the face of such raw human emotion, and he glanced at the door wondering if he could just leave.  Thinking better of it he took a step forward and tried patting Jim on the back.  But the physical contact of another human being was too much for Jim and he crumpled physically onto a chair, hung his head in his hands and wept.

 Mark and his brother Paul had reached the breakwater at the seafront.  The wind was driving the waves forty foot in the air against the breakwater and blowing them across the top.  Amazingly, one brave soul was walking towards the end of the breakwater.  Mark and Paul watched this lonely figure with astonishment as waves broke over their head.

‘Fancy having a go at that?’  shouted Paul to Mark over the wind.

‘Yes I do actually,’ answered Mark.  ‘If I could.’

Sally was unaware of the waves breaking over her head as she walked along the breakwater.  She could not feel the wind on her face, or the water trickling down her neck as it found its way under her hood.  Sally’s whole mind was focused on one thought; whether to tell her husband of three months, the truth.  Sally stopped for a moment and turned towards the direction of the wind and the waves.  Her fingers unfeelingly gripped the stone wall in front of her.  Another wave crashed up against the breakwater, spray lashed at Sally’s face, her hood blew down and her long red hair streamed out behind her.  Sally stared into the greyness seeking an answer. If I tell Alex he might leave me.  But if I don’t and he finds out then he’ll feel betrayed. The thoughts went round and round the same path without resolution. Why couldn’t she break it off with Terry?  What hold did Terry have over her?  She had only known him for a year and she certainly didn’t love him whereas she was deeply in love with her husband.  Why did she allow an occasional bit of madness with Terry to threaten the security and love she had for her husband Alex?  It was true the sexual excitement that came from doing something wrong was somehow irresistible.  Then there was Terry’s slick charm he had a certain way with him, an experience of life.  Sally deeply loved Alex but Alex was not exciting in the same way as Terry. Oh, but Alex’s love was steady and sure.  This was madness she wanted Alex’s love, which was wholeheartedly and totally for her.  His simple sense of right and wrong that didn’t try to confuse her in the way Terry did.  Sally wanted Alex’s love more than anything else and she wanted to be able to return that love.  Yet day after day she betrayed him in her heart and whenever Terry called and arranged a meeting, she betrayed Alex physically.  But today she hadn’t gone to meet Terry instead she had come here to think it all through. Surely the wind and waves could blow the cobwebs from her mind and clear her head. She had to make a decision.

Paul stood behind the wheelchair looking over Mark’s head at the figure of the lady with the red hair on the breakwater.  He thought she looked so forlorn and lost it reminded him of a film.

‘There’s something rather sad about the lady standing on the breakwater. Don’t you think Mark?’ Paul had to bend down close to Mark’s ear to be heard over the wind.

‘Oh, yes very sad to be able to wander onto the breakwater whenever you want, to be fit and healthy, very sad indeed.’ replied Mark.

Paul was just about to enter into a diatribe of why Mark should think of others rather than himself but he caught his words just in time.  Paul felt guilty about Mark that is why he pushed him on the seafront every Saturday.  He felt it was his fault that Mark was in a wheelchair.  Paul had encouraged his younger brother Mark to follow him into motorcycling.

Paul could still remember that Friday afternoon when he was heading home and he saw an ambulance at that particularly difficult junction.  Somehow he knew the first moment he saw the accident that it was Mark who had been injured.  Call it a sixth sense or maybe he just saw a glimpse of the bike, but he knew.  Those had been terrible days not knowing if Mark would live or die; a feeling of guilt.  The guilt had never gone away.  Now here he was three years later pushing Mark along the seafront on yet another Saturday, come rain or shine.  But Mark had not managed to come to terms with it and who could blame him?  Paul wondered if he would do any better.

At that moment a cyclist, wearing a red coat without a hood, came weaving along behind them and crashed into the back of the wheelchair; it overturned Mark and tipped him out. Mark ended up sprawled out face down in a puddle.

Time has a funny way of playing tricks. Mark lay on the ground for just a short while and Paul was momentarily stunned to inaction.  But in that moment a lifetime of thought passed through Mark’s mind.

In that pool of rainwater Mark saw himself reflected as he used to be; a young fit man full of hope, energy and ambition, and as he had become; limited, closed in, bitter and without hope.  But Mark saw something else as well.  On his face he saw a smile, something he had not seen for three years.  The ludicrous situation of lying sprawled out on the promenade amongst the puddles somehow tickled him and he found it funny.  At that moment Paul had regained his sense of action and moved forward to lift Mark up. The cyclist who had hit him also anxiously helped Paul.  As they turned Mark over they were astonished to find that Mark was laughing.  Paul was so relieved to see Mark laugh at last that he almost let go of him.  Between them Paul and Jim lifted Mark to his feet and putting an arm around each of their shoulders supported him there. There was a drop in the wind and the rain eased almost as if the weather had taken pity on them.

‘We’d better put you back in your chair.’  Said Paul

‘No, please let me stand here for a moment and just look out to sea,’ asked Mark more gently than he had spoken for years.

‘Are you all right mate? Dunno know what I was doing.  I was just so distracted, I’d just lost

me job, me wife died.  So sorry are you ‘urt.’  Jim sounded so full of remorse. 

‘It’s OK.  You’ve actually done me a big favour.  I think I needed a kick up the backside.  I’ve

been sat in that chair feeling sorry for myself and biting poor Paul’s head off whenever he’s tried to help.  I owe you thanks; you don’t owe me an apology.  In fact it sounds like you have enough troubles of your own, I’m really sorry to hear that.’ 

There was a deep compassion in Mark’s voice that caught Jim by surprise, he glanced at Mark and saw understanding in his eyes.

Sally had left the breakwater and was walking towards the three of them.  It looked a strange sight to her three men arm in arm, the middle one wrapped head to toe in some sort of nylon covering.  An empty wheelchair tipped over to one side with a bicycle lying on its side just behind it. 

‘Is everything okay?  Can I help?’

It was Mark who answered ‘We’re OK, but what about you?’

Sally was taken aback by the directness of Mark’s question.  But there was also something in his eyes, a warmth and empathy as if he really did want to help and was not just going through the motions.

‘Back there on the breakwater I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.  Then the stormy weather got me thinking.  I guess it’s exciting to spend time in stormy weather but long-term it’s just destructive.  Peaceful sunny days can seem boring, but you know? I reckon they’re best.’ 

With that rather enigmatic answer Sally left them and walked back to her car.  She walked more upright her resolve having made her strong and certain.

‘Do you think she’s a weathergirl?’  Asked Jim perplexed. 

‘I think she’s someone who has decided where to put her hope.’  Replied Mark with a wry smile, watching her go.      

The rain returned more heavily and the wind grew stronger, battering against the three of them.  But linked arm in arm as they were, the weather stood no chance of breaking the newly forming bond of friendship and understanding.