The True Story of a Man by a Bench on the Seafront, Yesterday

“Hello mate, can I help you?”

He is bent over by the bench, on the seafront. An old man, of an age that is coming up fast. A skinny man, in baggy clothes, sweating under his white cap.

Bent over by the bench, almost on his knees, inspecting the wood of an evening, on the seafront, with the wind whipping at his ankles; an old man, of an age that is coming up fast, with a paintbrush in his hand.

Painting the wood with varnish. Painting the whitened, cracked, seablasted, windworn wood with varnish; painting it brown, a rich, deep brown like cake.

Like chocolate cake with a nice cup of tea on the terrace of the Wish Tower in the Eighties with the kids running about and the Missus sunning her face, to go brown. A light, glowing tan, not the rich, deep brown of the varnish on wood, on the seafront. Bent over the bench, an old man, of an age she will never be.

“I’m okay,” he says, dipping and brushing, watching the brush, face up close. Her name is engraved in the wood and so is the date, which is years ago now, more than a decade, when he was younger and so was Joy.

“My wife,” he says, dipping and brushing, watching the brush then letting it stop and turning his face, but only half away. “The council should do this but they don’t. I’ll leave some flowers. It’s her birthday tomorrow.”

Not knowing the words, I touch his arm, through the baggy clothes, this skinny man, with sweat under his white cap, and the look of the found and lost.

“I’ll think of her when I’m passing.”

The old man, of an age that is coming up fast, says something too quiet to hear and goes on, bent over the bench, on the seafront with the wind whipping his ankles. Painting the whitened, cracked, seablasted, windworn wood with varnish; painting it brown, a rich, deep brown like cake. Like chocolate cake. Like cake with a nice cup of tea on the terrace at the Wish Tower in the Eighties with the kids running about and Joy sunning her face, to go brown.

We go on. We go on. Then we’re gone.

We go on.

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