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TITLE: Without Her
By Dean Herring

Without Her

Dean Herring

As usual they’re sitting there on the seawall arguing over lunch. I couldn't tell you how long they have been together, my guess is a long time. As far as I know they’ve never come to blows but there are plenty of threats, raised voices and flailing limbs. Every lunch time they sit there eating hot chips and fighting over every chip. Then they sit together, a courting couple watching the waves break on the beach. They sit without a word until the local schools empty their charges into the streets, then with looks of disgust at the antics of the laughing, squabbling students they quickly head off, away from the noise and excitement.

They're there everyday the sun shines. Sometimes they arrive around midday, just in time to have their chips, while other mornings they're already there when I open the curtains. It seems they have little to do, and fewer cares. If they have worries more pressing than who gets the most chips for lunch they hide it well. For them the day begins and ends with the sun, the passing hours marked only by the shadows growing across the sand towards the water. Some may say they lack ambition, that they have lost their youth; some may think they have grown complacent and tired with age. I think they have probably achieved their ambitions; I think they have a right to be tired.

In the summer they occasionally venture from the seawall onto the hot sand of the beach and down to the waters edge where they wet their feet and race away from waves that come too close. They keep their distance from others on the beach, preferring their own company. If anyone gets too close the old couple moves on, muttering to each other and warily eyeing the intruders. I have seen them clash with toddlers who have strayed from their parents; they don't seem to like children much. They complain loudly. This often has the opposite effect to that which, I assume, is intended. Instead of running back to their parents the toddlers laugh and continue wobbling into the forbidden zone. The more the old couple protests the further the children advance, shrieking their delight at upsetting the old dears. The result is always the same. The moment the child comes within two or three metres, the old couple move away and settle themselves at a safer distance. This encourages the child to chase them, a game has been initiated. The old couple repeat their movement appearing to become frustrated but, more likely I think, secretly enjoying the game. It usually ends when the child's parents finally intervene and call off the interfering toddler or, less often, when a persistent child drives them from the beach back to the seawall where they sit and complain to each other, in loud voices, about the behavior of children these days.

Now, in the winter, they perch themselves on the seawall, rarely venturing onto the cold sand, and never near the water. Sitting closely they watch those less carefree than themselves hurry about their important lives. To me they seem amused by the focus of the businessmen, by the dedication of the exercisers and the purposefulness of the mothers with their four-wheel-drive-all-terrain-all-weather baby strollers. They appear bemused by the modern mobile phones that steal the attention of those clasping them to their ears. The suited tourists spilling onto the beach to smile for photos and being swept back into their white minibus by their foreign-speaking guide earn only a glance. The disdain they feel towards the elderly walkers striding, pacing, and marching for firmer flesh on their dodgy hips is apparent. They seem most interested in those like themselves. The couples who stroll past hand in hand, sharing a bag of chips, those who walk aimlessly, and those who share their seawall content to breath the life of the sea air.

When the cool of the late afternoon ushers back the quiet to our beach front they return. For a while they meander up and down the path behind the seawall that keeps the sand and waves from the street. Completely ignoring good pedestrian etiquette, they stop in the middle of the busy path to squabble over some unimportant matter then, matter resolved, they find a place to settle. They glance at the last passers-by of the day and watch as the waves darken until nothing remains but the froth as each wave breaks on the inky sand. I stand at the window a few moments longer and as I close my curtains for the evening they get stiffly to their feet, stretching their old, cold limbs. They stand looking for a moment at the beach then at each other. That look tells their story. They turn to watch the last light drain away, and with a murmur of effort they spread their wings and fly off to wherever it is seagulls spend the night.

One morning only one will arrive and sit there on the seawall that keeps the street from falling into the sea. When that day arrives I'll dress and go down to the path and the seawall and the beach. I'll buy some chips and share them with the old fella who misses his mate. We'll sit together and watch the waves follow each other onto the beach and we'll watch the world hurry on, and we will know it is an empty world without her.
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