This is a fictional short story, in just 608 words.
It was a very conventional wooden bench. Varnished slats, with wrought-iron frames at each end to support it. Arm-rests capped off each end, and the metal feet were set into a concrete base, so that it wouldn’t be stolen. The curve of the back was enough to allow someone to rest, but still be able to admire the view. It would seat four adults comfortably, if they didn’t mind sitting quite close together.
On the back at the top, fixed to the wood by four tiny screws, a small brass plaque carried an engraved message, for anyone who could be bothered to read it.
‘Dedicated to Thomas Arthur Wilkinson, 1931-2010. He loved this spot.’
The brass was already pitted, worn down by salty air, and blowing sand. There was nobody left to polish it anymore. It had been paid for and placed there by his wife, Edna. But she was gone now.
One of the wrought iron frames had been disfigured by garish purple paint. A squiggle with no meaning, other than to the young person who had sprayed it on there. Scuff marks on the front slats showed where some had raised their legs and rested their feet on the woodwork, wearing away varnish that would never be re-applied. The seagulls that walked around looking for food scraps had anointed parts of the bench with their droppings as they flew away, quarreling and squawking.
Determined plants had eventually forced their way up through the concrete base. Dandelions and scrub grass, finding the smallest cracks as they broke through into the sunlight. A milk-shake carton had survived since last season, rolling from one side to the other underneath, further progress halted by the stout iron sides. Cigarette butts congregated in the corners of the base too, next to chewing-gum wrappers and squashed plastic straws.
The dark wood-stain has fared badly against the elements. The rich brown now faded, little more than a light tan now.
But the view is unchanged. The view that Tom loved as a boy, and continued to cherish as an adult. The small pier to the right, with the pavilion of entertainments at the far end. Glance to the left, and there is the Beach Cafe; still the same, despite new management. Open even during winter, offering hot drinks and warm food to the hardiest walkers along the promenade. Look straight ahead down the sloping beach, and in come the endless, gently rolling waves. They rush onto the stones as if needing to be somewhere in a hurry, then slowly recede, when their strength expires. The sound of sea on stones, the lullaby that soothed Tom for decades.
As wonderful vistas go, it may not have counted for much. But for Tom, it was paradise.
A family approach the bench. Young mum, squeezed into leggings that seem like a second skin. Heels on shoes inappropriate for long walks at the seaside. She pushes a folding buggy containing a screaming baby, with an older boy hanging onto the handles, demanding ice cream from the Beach Cafe he has just spotted. Her partner is tall, with arms and neck heavily tattooed, ignoring the demands of his children as he stares into his mobile phone.
She sits down, removing the shoes, and rubbing her blistered feet. The baby has stopped screaming, but the toddler’s demand for the ice cream is relentless. The man perches on the edge, rolling a cigarette from the makings balanced on the legs of his jeans. Once he has finished, they give in to the tantrum, and walk in the direction of the beach cafe.
Neither of them even noticed the plaque.