Samantha feared, in guilty moments, that she loved the lakes more than she loved her father. Today, on their usual monthly circuit, her father hobbled slowly, clutching his stick, and she looped her arm through his. Over the expanse of water, boats tacked in an embittered breeze. The lakes looked dispiritingly grimy: Rickmansworth in February wasn’t known for hospitality. Long ago, she’d given up on winter visits from friends. The short days were devoted to work at the Regus offices and helping her father. Still, she loved strolling through the canalside fields, or drinking in the views of Stockers Lake, where clumps of trees sprouted wildly from the water and squabbling geese massed on the pontoons.
A walk with her father ought to feel like a noble pursuit; a slice of walnut cake a deserved reward. But her father, as he picked cake crumbs from his teeth, was drowning in the details of his last hospital visit. She already knew its disappointments – she’d been there, sobbing alongside him. Recently, her father, who’d taken pride in writing novels, was misplacing strands of conversations, repeating himself, exhausting her. It worried her what lay ahead.
She played truant from his story, kept thinking of Monday’s return to an ecosystem of staplers and filing cabinets. Life had a habit of cornering you in an uncomfortable place, refusing to relax its grip. Here she was, holed up in this fussy Home Counties town, maintaining a watchful eye as the years performed their slow erosion, her mother long gone, and her own ambitions to be a big nose lawyer in London long fizzled out like snuffed candles.
She swam to the surface – her father had found an ending to his story. He wanted a second circuit of the water. She helped him from his chair and accompanied him back to the lake. Gaunt trees huddled beside the shoreline. Swans picked over mulch and honked at a child who was hurling small chunks of cheese.
A vintage thunderstorm was looming in the distance. Most of the sailboats had packed up now, hunkering down for the impending frenzy.
“Look!” Her father pointed at a grey heron by the riverbank. It picked its feet slowly over the grass. “It’s an old man from a black and white movie.”
She laughed. He seemed pleased. “It’s a tailcoated barrister,” he added.
“He’s nearing retirement. The days run slower now. But he feels no pity for himself.”
The heron lifted from the bank. After a few sluggish flaps of its wings, it climbed, easy and elegant and effortless. She closed her eyes, blessed the grace of its wings as it glided overhead, blessed her father’s words. And she willed the moment to last. The heron would linger for a minute, then soon, like so much else, would be gone.
Michael Loveday’s novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. He is working on a miscellaneous flash collection on the theme of ‘secrets’. He also writes poetry, with a pamphlet He Said / She Said published by HappenStance Press (2011). He teaches an online course in the novella-in-flash: https://novella-in-flash.com/ Find him on Twitter here: @pagechatter.
Senior Fiction & Features Editor – Steven John