It had been another uneventful week that was to be followed by another weekend of being on my own, probably sat at some bar or another try to drink myself into oblivion, whilst pretending that I was happy with how my life had now turned out.
At the age of thirty-six I have no wife, no kids, not even a bloody dog to share my existence. There had been someone once, many years ago it seemed now, a beautiful girl, bit larger than most of my mates had approved of none the less. She had been the closest I'd ever been to caring about someone else. I work in London and commute in on a daily basis, I work hard and so I feel I deserve to play hard, and bless her if that wonderful girl hadn't had the same opinion as me.
Mayline, such an unusual name, still there in the back of my mind, the what ifs. What if I hadn't be so shallow as to listen to my mates? She wasn't Kate Moss, but she really was a gorgeous girl; funny, smart, a fantastic cook, and best of all she was great to be around, she didn't wear the weight of the world on her shoulders and had a wonderful way of relaxing you just with a smile...
Well, I fucked that one up the same as I have any other time, and now, here I am, it's Friday night and I'm sat in a boozer two stools down from a bloke who looks like he was part of the decoration when the place was first built!
A deep sigh to my left makes me look at the old boy, seeing him properly for the first time I can picture him being me in another thirty years.
Another sigh brings me back from my own images, the old boy is still sat there nursing his bitter, looking like he has nothing to live for, so in my own arrogant way I've decided to make his day,
“Are you alright there mate?”
I'm a people person, me, know just how to get their attention, “Couldn't help but hear that huge sigh, can I get you another?” Nodding at his almost empty glass.
“Go on then lad, I'll have a drink with yer if yer payin' fer it!” cheeky old sod!
I didn't know it at this point in time but this man was going to open my eyes to things I'd never paid attention to before.
Having paid for two pints, the old boy suggests sitting in the chairs near the fire place.
“It's the cold weather, lad, gets in the joints of an old bastard like me!” There's a distinct northern twang to his voice that you don't hear round our parts, I mean he's not from Leicester originally, and it can be heard.
“So, where abouts is the dialect from old chap? I mean you don't sound like one of the blokes 'round here.”
Not too much of an awkward moment from me, where the hell did old chap come from?
Looking at me he clears his throat, “Moors, Yorkshire.”
Wow, this man's a real conversationalist!!
Hang about there's more,“Came down here 'bout twenty year ago, needed a fresh start lad, you know how it is?” *Shrugs.*
'I cannot believe that I am sitting with a man that's at least twenty years my senior on a friday night. I'm still young I should be partying it up', that's the last selfish thought that goes through my mind, that night.
Turns out that the old boy I'm now sitting with had a story to tell, he was just waiting for the right person to tell it to; me.
Three or four pints of bitter later the conversation is flowing more freely between the two of us, I still don't know his name, so far we have covered the subject of a woman prime minister, women being allowed to vote, the first and second world wars, he's an opinionated old bugger this one. We are now at the point of the evening where we've had a few and are starting to become more somber, I've told him about Mayline and how I cocked it all up, how it's too late.
“Has she moved on now then lad?” A question that I don't know the answer to.
“I couldn't tell you mate, all I know is that she's a good girl, she'll be settled by now with some bloke that isn't such a pillock.”
A sudden coughing fit pulls me back from self pity, banging the old boy on the back as he pisses himself laughing through the choking and the tears I can't help but feel pissed off.
“What the hell would you know, you don't even know me and you think this is funny?”
Having slightly recovered himself the old boy looks at me and says “Lad, you have no clue how pathetic you sound, she's still breathing ain't she? 'Cos as long as she is there's still a chance.”
The old boys name is Gerald, and this is his story:
'In the year of 1944, Gerald was a young lad, in his late twenties, he had been to war, he had learnt the value of 'live for today!' He'd seen his friends' die in battle, watched them get blown to pieces by bombs and seen them captured and carted off by the Nazi's, he'd not only survived, he'd escaped captivity, his nation called him a hero when he returned home. Inside him he knew the truth, he'd just been lucky, he'd been in the right places at the right times and had lived to see the moors of Yorkshire again.
In the darkest regions of his memories of those days he could feel the aching loss of his comrades and it consumed him. Gerald had gone from a carefree lad working his dads farm to a war worn man that drank too much at the weekends when he was at a loose end.
It was whilst he was on one of his weekends, drinking alone, that he saw her.
The young lass behind the bar, she'd seen him many times before, but Gerald had been so wrapped up in his pint and his pity that he hadn't even noticed that the bar had filled up.
The next generation of lads that'd be taking over the local area with their boisterous ways and raucous voices had roused him from his reverie, made him look up. That was the first time he had made eye contact with anyone since the war.
Curiosity was what prompted her to try and make a connection with moody man that came in most weekends. He'd buy his pint without even looking up, or noticing her, then he'd sit in that same seat by the window, looking out but never seeing. Like any young girl she was intrigued, more because of his lack of interest in her than for his looks, she had been called a 'bonnie lass' on more than one occasion and couldn't understand why someone so young looked so old and tired.
The next time Gerald came into the pub he ventured over a shy 'hello' to the young lass, then hurried over to his seat, choosing to watch her rather than stare at the window.
She was aware of his eyes, every once in a while she would look up and smile at him, wondering again what his story was. After several weeks of dancing round each other she realized that she would have to be the one to start conversation with him.
The following Friday night she wasn't working, she was waiting for him, he came through to the bar and ordered his pint, sitting at his usual table she watched him, her name was Bridie.
As Gerald walked over to his usual table he realized that it was occupied, the lass from behind the bar was sat there, opposite his favourite seat and she was smiling, smiling at him.
Suddenly Gerald was more aware of his heart beat than he had ever been during the war, and it was racing.
He sat in his chair and tried a smile, it didn't sit easily on his face Bridie realized but even so, she thought, I'm sure he could learn to smile again.
That was the first night they were together.
It seemed to Gerald that young Bridie knew when to speak and when to just be quiet, that evening they talked about their families, what they did for jobs, things that they liked and things they hated, and through their common ground, they established a friendship.
Gerald only ever went into Bridies' pub, and instead of sitting on his own he sat with her at the bar end, he started to see her as someone that he could relate to and eventually he plucked up the courage to invite her out.
Not having much money Gerald took Bridie out 'round his dads' farm, they walked for hours, talking.
Bridie gained the trust of Gerald slowly, and as the day drew on he started to talk about his friends, the ones that he had lost.
After weeks of courtship Gerald had shared his hopes and dreams with Bridie, he'd also shared his greatest fears, one of which was his fear of losing her.
Bridie in turn shared her hopes for the future and lamented with him over his fears, assuring him that she wouldn't be going anywhere.
That night Gerald went to see Bridies' father, three months later they were married.
As romances go, it wasn't as you would see in movies today, but as love goes it was one that was forged through friendship and it could never be broken because of it.
They had a simple church wedding in their village, and when they were husband and wife they celebrated with their families in Bridies' pub. Gerald had learnt to smile again and that day he was barely recognizable from the care worn lad that used to go into the pub.
That was the happiest day of Geralds life.
They lived in a cottage a little way out on the moors, it was on land that was owned by Geralds father, a simple yet idyllic lifestyle that suited them both and they spent many happy evenings together in the shelter of their home, life for them was good, and after two years of marriage it seemed to get even better when Bridie announced that they were to be having a child.
The hopes and dreams that they had shared they were now creating together, and as the months passed they began eagerly to prepare for the arrival of what Gerald hoped would be the safe arrival of a son.
In due course Bridie went into labour and the doctor was called to the cottage, hours went by whilst Gerald sat anxiously listening from the other room whilst his wife screamed in pain, the more the hours went by, the weaker her screams became, until, Gerald heard a different type of scream.
Running into the next room he was greeted by a scene that made him think briefly of some of the carnage he'd seen in the war, before he came back to himself and realized he was looking at his wife and the doctor holding his newborn child out to him.
Bridie lying exhausted on their bed could barely manage a smile as Gerald showed her the life they had created together, she lived long enough to hear the doctor say they had a daughter.
Too exhausted and losing too much blood through childbirth, the happiest day of Geralds life had now become his biggest nightmare.
Bridie was buried three days after she gave birth to her daughter, Gerald was too.
He continued to eat, sleep and breathe. He left the cottage with the child and moved back to his dads farmhouse so his mother could bring up the child he couldn't bring himself to want.
Her name was Beatrice.
As she grew up Beatrice came to resemble her mother in looks, apart from her eyes; she had the eyes of her father, she seldom smiled and rarely spoke, she watched.
She watched her grandparents age and become less able to show their affection towards her, she watched her father leave the house in the morning to go to work in the fields. She listened to him stagger through the house late at night when he returned from the local pub drunk.
Beatrice went to school, and though she was a likable child, what she craved was her mother, she had never had that bond and she wanted it badly, just the same as she wanted it with her father.
Gerald ignored his daughter, it brought back the pain of losing Bridie all over again, on the rare occasions that he could look at the child, he didn't see what he would gain in the future through his daughter, all he could see was what he had lost in the past because of her. It wasn't because he was a cruel man or even a heartless man, he was broken.
As Beatrice was approaching her ninth birthday Gerald lost, first his mother to an illness, then his father to an accident on the farm, he was left to deal with the child alone.
Still unable to look at her or speak to her, Gerald would make sure that Beatrice had meals to eat and a bed to sleep on. He still drank down the pub so Beatrice was forced to get her own clothes clean and make sure that she herself was eating and doing schoolwork, with winter approaching it was down to her though to make sure that she was warm enough through the nights and days.
Unaware to Gerald he was conditioning his child for a lifetime of despair and loneliness. Whilst he was out drowning his sorrows, Beatrice would wonder round the farmland on her own, wishing that her life had been someone else's. Most nights she would return back to the farm house, hoping that when she got home that her life would somehow be different. As she got into the yard she would see that her father was still out, crawling under her blankets Beatrice would cry herself to sleep.
This was the damage that Gerald was causing his daughter because of his own selfishness and self-pity.
As November approached that year it began to snow on the moors like it hadn't for years and Friday night saw Gerald in the pub; just like it usually did, except, the furnace at the farmhouse had broken and Beatrice had gone to find her father to tell him.
Gerald was sat on the same stool he used to sit at and talk to Bridie whilst she worked, immersed in his own thoughts, the voice of one of the other farm hands brought him back in the room,
“Isn't that your Beatrice with her face up against the window Gerald?”
Outside the pub window Beatrice was looking through for her dad, she put her hands against the cold window panes whilst she stood on tiptoe to get a better view. There he was!
One of the lads that worked the farm with him came out to see what was wrong, then went back to tell Gerald what was going on, Beatrice could see him say something to the lad and wave him away.
That was the night Beatrice knew that she had no one to care for her.
The lad came out and told her what Gerald said with a sad smile on his face. Beatrice turned to go home blinded by tears, just as it started to snow.
The more that the snow came down the more Beatrice cried, she would go back to the cold farmhouse and put on as many clothes as she could and get into bed like her father had said she must. Crying hard and not being able to see where she was going, nine year old Beatrice stumbled over a rock hidden by the snow; she fell.
Beatrice was now at the bottom of an icy irrigation ditch, slowly freezing to death whilst her dad was drinking away wallowing in self pity.
As the snow came down heavier Beatrice became more submerged, until, eventually when her father walked past three hours later her frozen figure could not be seen from the path above and Gerald remained oblivious of her.
There she lay, barely able to stay awake through the night no matter how hard she tried, towards the breaking of dawn Beatrice' eyes closed for the final time as she let out her final shivery breath, a single tear frozen on her face.
Back in the farmhouse Gerald was rousing himself for the day ahead of him, dressing in the cold room that he slept in, he thought of the broken furnace and cursed that he would lose half a days work because of it, he would have to get one of the farm hands to clear the irrigation ditch on the side of the field. It didn't even occur to Gerald that he should check that his daughter had returned to the homestead safely after the blizzard that had hit the area last night.
This was to be the very last time that Gerald would never consider his daughter, she would always be in his mind after today.
Noises out in the farmyard told him that the laborers were starting to arrive, sticking his head around the door he yelled over to a young lad. The same lad that had told Beatrice to go home the night before, his name was Eddie.
Having been given his orders to pull as much snow out of the irrigation ditch as possible, Eddie set off with three other lads to assist him, the sun was starting to come up and already he could hear drips from the guttering on the farm. With any luck by lunchtime the boss would have the furnace running again and he'd be able to get back to putting the rest of the fodder down for the livestock.
That was the last time that Eddie would have any thoughts about work he had to do round the farm again.
Starting at the top end of the field Eddie and one of the other lads he had with him jumped down into the ditch with their spades and started to shift the snow up to the top of the ditch whilst the other two lads moved it further away, in doing this they were hoping to slow the flow of the water after the thaw. They'd been working solidly for nearly two hours in the cold working their way down towards the farmhouse, all the time the snow was melting around them in the now morning sunshine. Before they had got a third of the way down the ditch one of the other lads stopped Eddie and pointed out what looked like some sort of animal buried under the snow, with just a bit of brown fur showing through. Thinking that one of the cows might have fallen on its wanderings the day before, Eddie went to investigate. The closer Eddie got the more the intense feeling of fear grew in the pit of his stomach. Clearing away some of the snow from the fur he realized that it was in fact a coat. Paralyzed, unable to move any more of the snow for fear of what it might show he yelled for the other lads to come over. Not knowing why, just knowing that he didn't want to be alone in his discovery.
Surrounded by the other lads he screwed the remnants of his courage up and began to clear away the snow in earnest now. Too late he realized that he wasn't looking at a carcass of some poor stray stock, he was looking at the only living relative of his boss, his knees went from under him with the weight of the realization that she must have been there alone and scared all night.
Under the weight of his own guilt Eddie cried, he cried for the little girl who had been little more than an afterthought to her father, he wept for his own sake when he thought of how he had sent her away as her father had told him to the night before, at the memory of that heartbreaking look on her face. Without realizing what he was doing Eddie had lifted the small body to his own and was cradling her, weeping like she was his own child.
Shocked silence, there was no noise from the other farm hands, as Eddie gently lifted the child and carried her out of the ditch that had served as her deathbed. In a trance he walked down to the farmhouse, there was no sound that Eddie could hear, numb with shock his eyes were glazed, he didn't hear the raised voices of the laborers around him, nor did he register the sounds of the world around him or feel the warmth of the sun as it rose higher in the sky. All he could feel was the stillness and the cold of the frozen body that he carried in front of him as he stumbled to the door of the house.
That was to be the last time that Eddie would enter the farm.
Hearing the commotion outside and wanting to know what all the lads thought they were playing at, Gerald wiped the oil from the furnace on to a rag and went stomping red faced into the yard, he was spoiling for a row and they were going to know who was boss by the end of it. He stomped towards the back door and was just about to start yelling when he saw Eddie coming towards him, holding something out towards him and crying like an old woman.
For one brief instance Gerald thought he was carrying a pile of wet clothes, that was until he saw that the clothes had long brown hair.
His heart stopped, it couldn't be what it looked like, the child was still in bed, he was sure of it.
Running up the stairs Gerald flew through the door of the room that his daughter slept in, a room that he passed every night without going in to. His living reminder of the one woman that he had ever or would ever love, who had died to give him the daughter that he now ignored, not through hate but grief.
It was empty, Gerald pulled back the bedclothes to find; nothing.
He ransacked the bedroom searching for the child, feeling fear for the first time since he had found the love of his wife.
No matter where he looked he turned up nothing.
Walking back downstairs Gerald braced himself, he wasn't prepared for what he would see or what he would feel.
Laid out on the kitchen table was the almost doll like figure of his child, his only child. She looked so small and helpless, yet peaceful, the same look that his Bridie had had on her face all those years ago when Beatrice had been placed in his arms. His heart had broken that day and he never thought that he would feel that again. Yet as he looked at this miniature version of her mother Gerald felt it break all over again.
He had failed and he knew it.
The tears of anger and grief began to flow, he heard Eddie when he told him where they had found her, he heard him and raged inside, he had walked right past the poor child on his way home, turning his back on Beatrice tiny body he picked up the kitchen chair nearest to him and bellowed as he threw the chair as hard as he could against the wall, smashing it, smashing everything that he could touch whilst Eddie stood in the doorway watching silently with tears running down his face. Watching Gerald destroy everything he could touch and realizing that he had never shown the child love because he never wanted to feel the pain of losing her.
Geralds anger abated and he sank to his knees, his whole body shaking with the sobs that racked his body, quietly Eddie approached his boss and knelt next to him trying to show some kind of comfort to the man who had lost his world without realizing it until it was too late.
The funeral for poor little Beatrice took place three days later in the same church where her parents had been married.
Gerald stood beside the tiny graveside, set apart from the other people who attended the funeral, he knew they blamed him, they couldn't blame him anymore than he blamed himself. After the service Gerald went down to the pub and took up his old place at the table he had occupied before he had courted Bridie; he stared out the window looking but not seeing.
There he stayed until darkness fell, staring, as it got darker and colder his eyes focused on the window pane in front of him for the first time seeing but not really believing his eyes.
There on the glass were two little hand prints.
Right where, less than a week ago, Beatrice had stood with her nose pressed against the window pane, Gerald got up from his chair and ran from the bar, getting outside he saw that there were no hands on the pane to make the marks, Beatrice wasn't there, he must have imagined the hand prints. Yet when he went back inside the hand prints were still there. And every night since Beatrice stood there with her hands on that window pane, the night that she froze to death, those hand prints were still on that window pane.
Eventually Gerald moved away from the area that had cost him so much in life, the farm that had once belonged to his mother and father Gerald sold to a development company.
The day they pulled down the old farmhouse Gerald stood and watched as his past crumbled into the rubble that his life had now become and decided that he would move away from the moors altogether. They had brought him nothing in life except heartbreak.
That is where Gerald's story ended up.
He moved down to Leicester and hadn't been anywhere else since, he still came down the pub for a drink but he had never met anyone else.
“So, considering what you lost through drinking mate, how come you still do?” Not too much of an impertinent question I thought, but then that's just me, I never know when to quit.
“When exactly have you seen me drink owt lad?” Gerald asked me.
What the hell? I'd been buying the old boy drinks all night, but now thinking about it the only one that had been drinking and was now very pissed because of it was me!
As I was contemplating that the landlady came over to me, “You've got twenty minutes 'til closing time love, you gonna be able to drink those before then?” she nodded towards the full pint and half empty pint that was in front of me.
“Erm...Gerald?” As I turned to look at him, the landlady looked troubled, she looked at me, shrugged and went to walk away.
The seat where Gerald had sat all night telling me his story was empty, getting out of my seat I approached the woman behind the bar.
“Have you seen... ?” Feeling a bit daft at this moment in time, how do you lose a person?
“Look, love, I'm closing up in ten minutes, so if you've finished your pints?” Obviously not the very friendly type.
“I understand, look sorry, but the old boy I was sitting with, Gerald, have you seen him?”
The woman behind the bar is looking at me like some sort of wierdo and to be honest with you I'm not feeling overly confident about not being one at the moment. This is the stupidest that I'm going to feel, at least for twenty four hours!
“Look, mate, you've been sat there on your own all night, I don't know if you are trying to be funny or something but Gerald's been dead for at least six months now.”
Well you could knock me down with a feather right about now, stunned, I headed for the door, putting one foot in front of the other but not entirely sure where they were leading me.
Knowing that in the last few hours my perspective on life and love has been altered and not knowing how it's going to affect me from now on.
About the author
I'm 35 and on a mission in my life, not for me but for future generations,to try and stem the need of people for things and replace it with love for people again,to try and show compassion where it is needed and help others like myself