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No regrets

The first time he saw it was three days after his official retirement.

By GK BirdPublished 3 years ago 8 min read
3
No regrets
Photo by Metin Ozer on Unsplash

The first time he saw it was three days after his official retirement.

For the first two days of Jerome’s retirement, he didn’t get out of bed until 2pm. There was nothing to get up for, no one to worry about, nowhere he had to be. It felt indulgent and wasn’t something he thought he would continue to do, but for those couple of days, it was nice.

A doctor’s appointment on the morning of the third day forced him to get up and put on some going-out-in-public clothes. He was out the door with thirty minutes to spare. All his life he’d worried about being late. The joke in the office was that as soon as you saw Jerome stand up, you knew exactly how much time you had to finish that email or that coffee before heading to the meeting room.

The doctor told Jerome that he needed to start taking better care of himself. If he didn’t start taking his health seriously, his retirement wouldn’t last long. He’d literally be retired from life itself.

All the way home, Jerome thought about what the doctor had said. When he got home, he decided to go for a walk. He was already dressed to leave the house. He looked at his black leather Oxfords, the ones he used to wear for work. If this was going to become a regular thing, he promised himself he’d buy some proper walking shoes.

He set off at a brisk pace, heading left out of his driveway. He followed the footpath to the open grassed area that he’d driven past for most of his working life.

He slowed down after about ten minutes, not used to the exercise. He thought about his wife, imagined her walking alongside him. Judith had walked this path many times—to the shops or to the playground with Amanda and Jason—but he’d never once walked it with her. He missed Judith.

Jerome heard a noise behind him. He kept walking but turned his head and glanced backwards. There was nothing there.

His thoughts returned to Judith and Amanda and Jason. He regretted not spending enough time with them over the years. There’d always been things he had to do and he’d missed a lot of his children’s early years. No, he told himself. Be honest. You missed a lot of your children’s years, full stop. School plays and birthday parties, sporting events and talent shows, graduations and celebrations. The only memories he had of many of those were the photos that Judith had taken. He thought he might pull out the photo albums when he got home.

He heard the noise again. It sounded like humming, or buzzing, like people talking but too far away to make out actual words. He stopped and turned around. A little way back he saw what looked like a group of people. He didn’t have his glasses with him so he couldn’t make out the details, but they looked shadowy, indistinct. His failing eyesight melded them into one dark blob. Just kids, he thought, turning and continuing on his way.

He turned left, glancing over his shoulder again. The blurry group was closer, but he still couldn’t see how many kids it was. His stomach churned and the buzzing made his head feel odd, like his thoughts were disconnected from his body. Stop being stupid, he thought. It’s pure daylight in a middle-class suburb. People don’t get mugged around here.

He walked on and the colours of nature seemed to ramp up to new heights. The greenness of the grass, the reds and yellows of the leaves drifting off the swaying branches of the trees, the sheer blueness of the sky in between the white puffy clouds. He wondered if the colours had always been this bright and he’d just been too busy to notice. Without realising, he’d stopped thinking about his regrets.

He turned left again, glancing behind once more. The blur had dropped back. He hurried home.

*****

It was another five days before Jerome walked again. For all his good intentions, not having to do something at a particular time played havoc with his motivation. He found himself going to bed later and later and getting up later and later. No one was counting on him. He didn’t have to get up and go to work. He could eat whenever he wanted. Most days he didn’t even get dressed, just stayed in his pyjamas all day.

Amanda rang almost every night. The conversation was always the same.

“I’m worried about you, Dad.”

“I’m fine. I’ve been living on my own for years.”

“Yes, but you had a job and a purpose. Now you have neither. You need a hobby. You need some friends.”

Jerome had never had many friends. He spent a lot of time working so the only people he saw were his work colleagues. These days they were so much younger than him and he had nothing in common with them. He’d never thought that he needed friends. Judith had been his friend and she’d always been enough for him.

He pulled one of Judith’s 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles out of the cupboard and tried to get enthusiastic about it. She’d loved her puzzles. He thought that doing a puzzle would make him feel closer to her. It didn’t. It just made him miss her more. The more he thought about Judith, the more he regretted the amount of lost time that he hadn’t spent with her.

He stood up and decided to go for a walk again. He felt guilty about not walking every day like he’d promised himself he would.

He decided to walk the same path as last time but in the opposite direction. He wanted his exercise to be even so one side of his body wouldn’t get more exercise than the other. He put on his going-out-in-public clothes again and headed off.

As he walked, he thought of Simon and Jasmine at the office. Following Jerome’s retirement, Simon and Jasmine had been left to do the work of three. Over the last couple of years, the department had made it clear that as people left, they would not be replaced. The remaining people had to work out how to fit more tasks into their day to cover the loss of a staff member.

He’d been walking for around ten minutes, lost in his thoughts, when he felt the buzzing in his head again, just like last time. He glanced behind and saw the same shadowy blur as the other day. It looked closer than the last time he’d seen it, but it still wasn’t close enough to see clearly who it was.

He continued on, dismissing it as the same group of kids from the other day.

He thought about Simon’s family. Simon’s boy turned three the week of Jerome’s retirement. Simon was so proud of him but, Jerome thought, he wouldn’t be seeing him much. Not if he wanted to keep his job.

And Jasmine had recently become engaged to her high-school sweetheart. She’d been saving up her leave so that she could use it to arrange the wedding and then go on her honeymoon. With Jerome gone, she would have to settle for something small and quick. The department wouldn’t give her any lengthy time off.

Years ago, there had been up to six people to share the load, but as people left, the team dwindled to just the three of them. For the twenty years that Jerome had worked in that department, he had always taken the lion’s share of the work. Now it was just Simon and Jasmine. He felt guilty about leaving them and regretted not doing something about the excess workload while he’d had the chance. He should have insisted on more staff or less work.

The buzzing got louder and the pressure in his head built up to an uncomfortable level. Am I having a stroke? he wondered.

He stopped and turned around. The blur was closer but he still couldn’t make out the details. He squinted and moved his head around, trying to focus. It looked like a swarm of little black bugs, like the ones who invaded the house in summer when it was hot and he left the windows open and the light on.

There was a seat up ahead, so he headed over and sat down. He figured he’d wait for the blur to get closer so he could reassure himself that it was nothing ominous. But the blur stopped too.

The breeze tickled his face and he watched a small brown pigeon waft down to the footpath and strut towards him, bobbing its head up and down importantly. It came right up to his feet, so close that he could see the colours and intricate markings on the bird’s delicate feathers. It pecked at invisible crumbs on the ground before being joined by another and another. He didn’t realise he’d stopped thinking about his work colleagues as he sat there enjoying the warmth of the sun and the camaraderie and trusting nature of the birds.

He didn’t know how long he sat there but when he looked up the blur had moved away.

He stood up, flexing his stiff muscles, scaring the birds into a whir of flight and a flurry of feathers.

“Sorry,” he said, feeling silly for talking to birds but also feeling happy for the first time in a long while.

*****

For the next two weeks, Jerome made himself get out of bed every day, get dressed, and go for a walk. Each time he walked, he started reminiscing about some aspect of his life. He thought mainly about regrets, all those things he’d done or not done, opportunities now lost forever.

As soon as the buzzing nauseous sound and the blur appeared, he stopped and sat. As he sat, his mind wound down and he began noticing the colours and the sounds and the smells and the feel of the world around him. He sat and forgot about regrets and forgot about the blur.

When he stood up again, he felt like he was part of the world. Not just someone scurrying along the path from birth to death, but a real participant. He felt like he was in the world now, not just on the world.

His nightly conversations with Amanda improved and he surprised himself by ringing Jason. Jason sounded pleased to hear from him and they arranged to meet for lunch.

*****

Jerome had been walking regularly for two months when, one day, the blur wasn’t there. He no longer thought about regrets as he walked. He noticed the world around him as he moved through it.

An old man was sitting on one end of Jerome’s usual seat but Jerome sat down anyway. The two men sat there in companionable silence as the pigeons bustled around their feet. The man offered Jerome some bread. Jerome smiled, took some, and tossed small crumbs to the birds who pushed and shoved each other to get to the delicacies.

When Jerome got home that day from his walk, there was a box sitting on his doorstep. He frowned. He hadn’t ordered anything. He picked it up—it was heavier than it looked. He smoothed his hands over the plain brown paper wrapping, turned it over, shook it. He listened. There was a faint buzzing coming from the package, barely audible.

Jerome took the box inside and sat it on the side table. He hung his jacket on the coat rack and a slip of paper fell out of the pocket, drifting lazily to the floor. He grunted as he leant down to pick it up.

Tears welled in Jerome’s eyes as he read the message.

Leave your regrets and the past in the box, J. Look forward, not back. Live life while you have life. See you soon.” Love, Judith.

Short Story
3

About the Creator

GK Bird

Australian fiction writer and reader, always on the lookout for good writing.

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