A Favourite Photo

Obviously, this is not a dedicated photography blog. I follow many of those, and love to see the outstanding images that people create with their cameras, and sometimes enhance and improve using Photoshop, or Lightroom. I do like taking photos though, as regular readers will know, having seen the many photo posts I have published before. I spent some time last night looking back at every image I have posted here, those stored in my WordPress Media Library.

Many are of Ollie, some of historical sites, seaside locations, or records of trips to places around the UK. I thought long and hard about those I liked best, and surprised myself when I settled on this one. Only a ten-minute walk from the house, on Hoe Rough, a place I go almost every day of the year. The weather is perhaps my least favourite, snow, and the subject of sheep is far from interesting or original.

But I really like it.
(Please click on the photo to see it full-size)

Photo Prompt Story: Table For Two

This is a fictional short story, in 2320 words.

It was prompted by a photo taken by Sue Judd, and featured on her blog. https://suejudd.com/

Losing her mother at such a young age had greatly affected Veronica’s life. Just at the time when she was looking forward to moving away from home and going to university, the shock was compounded by her sense of duty to stay and keep Dad company, as well as help out around the house. Not that he ever expected it, or asked her to. In fact, he tried to insist that she carry on with her plans, adding that Mum would never have wanted her to stick around just to look after him. But she would not be shaken in her resolve. She left school that summer with good exam results, and started working for the City Council just one month later.

She had asked herself if she was being self-sacrificing to prove a point, or even to compensate for what she saw as her own inadequacies. But she never truly faced the reality that she was just scared. Scared of a new city, scared of meeting new people, and scared of not making a go of it three years later. Mum’s unexpected death had actually provided her with a means of escape from all that fear and stress, but to acknowledge that would be unthinkable.

The new job meant starting at the bottom, but the prospects were good, and her skill with figures would prove its worth in the buying department. Most of the others in the office were older, and seemed to get some satisfaction from telling her what to do, and giving her all the repetitive, mundane tasks. Her below-average looks and decidedly above-average height meant that she didn’t attract the attention of any of the office Lotharios, and she was left alone to get on with her work. Home life with Dad worked out well too. He was in for dinner most evenings, appreciative of her efforts with the housework and cooking. And was always ready with the car when she needed a lift, or to go shopping on Saturdays.

She spent a lot of time in her room though, as she was secretly studying for professional qualifications. It never occurred to her to miss the few girl friends she used to hang out with. Most had gone off to university anyway, and made new lives in different towns and cities. Without worrying too much about it, she soon realised that she was turning into a version of her own mother. Life went on, and it seemed like a blink of an eye when she celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday. Where had those seven years gone? But as a bonus, great results in the exams meant she was next on the list for promotion at work, and now had the eye of the head of department. She was given the deputy job three weeks before her thirtieth birthday, and Dad beamed with pride when she told him.

The years passed without too much notice. By the time she was forty, Dad had started to cough a lot. He had never been what people thought of as a smoker, but had enjoyed a few cigars most weeks, and the odd glass of malt whisky. Approaching his seventieth birthday, his breathing began to give some concern. The doctor told him his x-rays were not good, and he had to give up the cigars, and take things easy. Veronica kept an eye on him. A low fat diet, no cigars anymore, and whisky only at the weekend. Some years later, she hardly remembered how many now, she had to go on a seminar for work, as it was implied that she would soon be the new department head, with the impending retirement of her boss. Dad would be alright, as she had arranged for some neighbours to check on him.

The guest speaker was no less than entrancing. Julio worked in the huge city of Los Angeles, and had vast experience in urban planning, and how to buy products from suppliers. He noticed her sitting at the front, and Veronica was sure that he was smiling just at her. Never having had a boyfriend, she had no real idea what to make of it. But when he sought her out at the wine and nibbles reception later, she could only feel flattered. He was younger than her, undoubtedly, and his Latin charm overwhelmed her. He listened to her, that alone was something unusual. When he suggested they go on somewhere, she agreed without hesitation. He held her coat, stood up when she came back from the toilet, and opened the door of the taxi for her. His manners were impeccable. She found herself relaxed in his company; he was easy to talk to, and making her feel rather girlish with his compliments.

At the end of the evening, he escorted her back to her nice London hotel, and kissed her briefly on the cheek. Never suggestive, never pushy. In many ways, Veronica regretted his restraint. She laughed to herself as the lift took her up to her room. He would never know how close he had been to deflowering the oldest virgin he had ever met.

Back home, she settled for fond memories of Julio. He was back in America, pursuing his consultancy business, and had no doubt forgotten her by now. Dad was getting worse though. The hospital tests confirmed their greatest fear, lung cancer. He went into a downward spiral, refusing some treatments and medication, and ultimately declining surgery that might give him nine more months. He couldn’t see the point, and Veronica had to agree with him. The end wasn’t pleasant, and she had to use up all her goodwill at work, and most of her annual leave, to see him into the next world.

The funeral was on the same day as her fifty-fifth birthday, and Veronica made a decision, after everyone had gone home. She would sell the large house, and downsize to a smart apartment in the city centre. After all, she needed no more than one bedroom, and the new place would be close to shops, restaurants, and some vestige of life. And it was time to give up work. She had been the department head for a long time, and now had thirty-seven years of service with the city council. Her pension had topped out at thirty years, and was not far short of her salary for still working. On top of that, the difference in equity from selling the house and buying her new apartment for cash left her very well off. By some standards, she could in fact claim to be a rich woman. She tendered her resignation, and reluctantly agreed to attend a mercifully short retirement party, where she declined to make a speech.

But life in the new place was surprisingly lonely. It occurred to her that this was the only time in her life she had been alone, and she didn’t even have the daily routine of work to break up the seemingly endless weeks. One night, she screwed back the top on the bottle of white wine she had become accustomed to drinking, and decided to do something out of character. Taking Julio’s card from a compartment in her purse, she used her new Apple Mac Pro to send him an email, hoping he would still have the same contact address. She was still only fifty-five, presentable, and whilst not attractive perhaps, far from ugly.

Despite the time difference meaning it was very early in the morning for him, the reply was almost immediate. Veronica tingled. He did remember her. He had never forgotten her. He always thought of her, and regretted not taking things further that night in London. He didn’t care about the sixteen year age difference, and he thought she was an elegant and attractive lady. She found herself breathing much faster than she was used to. Replying quickly, she told him that she would be very happy to meet him again, the next time he was in London, or anywhere in England. Failing that, she was now in a position to fly out to America to see him. He could even show her around Los Angeles, if he so wished. Her heart was fluttering as she sent that reply, She had a good feeling about the future, at last.

A long time passed until he sent another email. She opened the wine again, and finished the bottle as she stared at the computer screen, waiting.

Oh, he was so sorry. The consultancy business was in trouble. He had debts, and could never afford to fly to England, let alone expect Veronica to entertain him while he was there. And he was now living in a shabby apartment, on the wrong side of the city. He would be too ashamed to invite her there, and was too poor to even be able to show her around. He really had no idea what the future held for him, and couldn’t imagine when he could ever get back to England, or be able to show her a good time in his home city. He still thought about her every day, but had to sadly accept that nothing could ever come of it.

Halfway through the second bottle of wine, Veronica made a decision. She emailed Julio again, offering to send him two thousand dollars to cover the cost of a return ticket to London. He could stay at her new apartment, and eat with her. She would never mention his situation, or his lack of money. She promised faithfully that her intentions were only good ones, and assured him that she was now wealthy enough to fund his trip, after the death of her father. She sent the email with her fingers actually crossed, then went to bed, where she found it hard to get to sleep.

At seven the next morning, Veronica checked her email. dismayed to find that Julio had rejected her kind offer. He had debts of over fifty thousand dollars to settle because of his business, and could not dream of leaving America while that was hanging over him. On top of that, he was about to lose his lease car, due to missed payments amounting to six thousand dollars, and he currently owed over two thousand dollars in rent on his small apartment. He wasn’t about to worry Veronica about his problems, although he missed her, and wanted to see her again, really badly. She hardly hesitated, sending an email asking for money transfer details. She would send him seventy thousand dollars, which would solve all his immediate problems, and allow him to get plane tickets to visit her. If things turned out well, maybe she could even go back with him, and start a new life in America.

He refused of course. Too proud, too ashamed. He couldn’t possibly accept her generous offer. But she kept on insisting. After her third email that morning, he accepted with thanks, as long as he could pay her back one day, when his business improved. He sent bank transfer details, and Veronica sent the money from her account immediately. She felt relaxed and happy, and composed a reply, outlining her plan for their first day together in the city.

There was a nice restaurant just at the bottom of the steps leading up to her apartment. As soon as she knew his date and time of arrival, she would book a table for lunch, and send him the address of the restaurant. He could get a taxi from the airport, and meet her at their table for two. After lunch, they could walk up to her place, and discuss what to do with the rest of their lives. Less than one hour later, she received an email with the flight number, and the arrival time. Only three days to wait, and Julio would be joining her at the restaurant. She rang down, and booked a table for two, for twelve forty-five on Friday.

Veronica had never followed fashion. But she knew how to dress well for her age, and always bought quite expensive clothes, of good quality. She went out and bought a white linen top, a nice flowing skirt in yellow, and matching shoes. The ensemble was finished off with a navy cashmere cardigan, and a tan leather handbag that was twice as much as she would normally ever pay for a bag. She had her hair cut a little shorter, more suitable than the shoulder length it had been, and decided on some auburn highlights too.

On the day, she made sure to arrive at twelve-thirty. The young waiter was friendly, and showed her to an outside table, on that sunny and warm morning. Veronica ordered some still water, and a large glass of white wine. She told him that she was expecting company, and would see the menus once the gentleman arrived. Just after one-fifteen, the waiter hovered, asking if she needed anything. She smiled, sipping more of her wine. “Perhaps another glass of the same”. He nodded professionally, and returned with the wine soon after. Twenty minutes later, Veronica took out her smartphone, and checked the flight arrival online. It had landed on time, no delays. She scrolled down to Julio’s number, and rang it. The constant beeping confused her. Was it engaged, or unavailable?

At two-twenty, the waiter returned with menus. He leaned forward, speaking quietly. “We are of course open all day, madam. But if you want the lunch menu, I am afraid you are supposed to order by two-thirty”. Veronica ordered the first main course on the daily specials. “The salmon fillet, with salad please”. The food arrived quickly, and she nodded her thanks. Picking at it, she was distracted, constantly checking her phone. The afternoon was becoming warmer. Taking off the cardigan, Veronica wrapped it around her waist. Just before four-thirty, she waved a hand at the waiter, indicating he should bring the bill. Her face flushed as she paid, leaving a generous tip.

The walk back up the stairs to her apartment was strangely arduous.

Ollie and his medical history


Ollie’s eyes are stitched in the photo.

Ollie’s recent trip to the Vet got me thinking. The unfortunate dog has had so many things wrong with him, from a very young age. I have written about them all separately on this blog, over the years.

But this post is by way of collecting together the whole medical history of my very brave dog.

It started with a condition called Entropion. This is where a dog’s (or human’s) lower eyelids and lashes grow into the eye, instead of around it. It is unfortunately common with Ollie’s breed, and we were worried he might get it. And he did. At a few months old, his eyes were streaming with tears, and they were causing wet sore patches down both sides of his face.
Off to the Vet he went.

Sure enough, Entropion was diagnosed. They suggested stitching down his lower eyelids, in the hope of correcting the way they were growing. The poor young dog had to endure a general anaesthetic, and then walk around with his bottom eyelids stitched to his face for weeks. He stood it all very well, and didn’t let it bother him too much.

But when the stitches were removed, nothing had changed. The local Vet recommended specialist treatment, at the famous Animal Health Trust Hospital, near Newmarket. We took him off for the 90-minute journey by car, and he was seen by a canine eye specialist. Little Ollie had to endure having test-strip papers inserted in his eyelids, and sit there until they changed colour. But he didn’t complain at all. Not once. They told us he would have to come back for surgery, to have a section of the lower eyelid cut away.

Not long after, we took him back there, and watched as he trustingly walked off with one of the nurses. He would be staying for three nights, after surgery that morning. They telephoned to say it had gone well, and that he was recovering. The next night, they even took the phone into the recovery kennels, so he could hear our voices over it. When we picked him up, he had to wear a ‘cape’, to stop him being able to use his back legs to scratch the wounds. But he was pleased to see us, and didn’t seem too bothered about the experience.

He had to go back for a post-op check, and the news wasn’t good. The eye tissue was growing back rapidly, and into the eyes again. He would have to endure more surgery, this time to remove much more of the lower eyelid, and the eyelashes too. Once again we had to leave him to face surgery, and another three day stay. He was still no trouble, and the staff loved him, as he never complained at all. After this third operation, his eyes were literally ‘wide open’, and he had no recurrence of the condition. That was a relief.

Then his skin started to flare up. There was a redness under his body, and between his back legs. Very soon, large patches of his fur fell out in perfect circles, leaving bald skin with a large crusty sore at the centre. It was obviously causing him some distress too, as he wasn’t eating, or wanting to play. Off to the Vet once more. They diagnosed a bacterial skin infection, and told us is was associated with certain breeds, including Ollie’s. It was a yeast-based infection, and not something that could easily be cured. He came home with a special shampoo, and assorted tablets for the irritation.

That slowly cleared up, but we then found that the infection had spread into his ears, something that would come back to haunt both us and our dog. More tablets, and now ear-drops too. His little ears were so swollen inside, he would cry out when I put the long spout of the applicator down deep into them. The medication eventually did the job, but we were to learn that this was going to be a lifelong problem for him, at least twice a year. And it has been, right up to last week.

Once I thought I was on top of everything that was wrong with him, I considered that I could at least cope with knowing what to expect. Then one day over The Meadows, Ollie tried to dominate a small feisty terrier, and the tiny dog turned and bit off the end of my dog’s curly tail. Not only did he scream with pain, he wouldn’t let me look at it. For the first time, he turned on me as I tried to examine the wound. When I got him home, I noticed the small injury wouldn’t stop bleeding, so had no option but to take him to the Vet.

They gave him an anaesthetic, cleaned out the wound, and bandaged it. But when I picked him up, it was apparent the bandage irritated him too much, and he wouldn’t stop shaking, until it fell off. I went back in, and they re-bandaged with an adhesive option, adding the bad news that this could be very serious, as it was at the tip of his spinal column. If infected, it would kill him very quickly. So surgery was the only option once more, with the top of his tail being amputated, so they would have enough skin left to close over the wound. Ollie had to go under the knife for yet another procedure.

Now with a slightly shorter tail, perfect eyes, and me having a handle on the continuing skin infections, I finally hoped that all the trauma was over for Ollie. Then in the summer of 2017, he was chewing on one of his favourite plastic ‘bones’, when he yelped, and jumped up. When he wouldn’t eat his dinner that night, I knew something was wrong. I carefully lifted his jowls, and inspected his teeth. I knew he must be in pain, but he let me do it with no complaint. I found an otherwise perfectly good large molar cracked in two, and was able to move it with my fingers.

Back to the Vet for Ollie. Another anaesthetic, and no option but to remove the damaged tooth.

This post is now well over 1,000 words, and all about the treatment one dog has had to endure, over just seven years.

It is frankly amazing to me how he has remained so docile, and such a loyal friend.

A message from Ollie

A 2014 plea from Ollie. This is for the benefit of new followers, as many of you have seen this before.

beetleypete

DSCF1450My dating profile photo.

OK, just because we can’t talk, does not mean that we cannot learn the basics of how to work a computer, and publish a blog post. After all, I have watched countless hours of Pete doing this, so it can’t be that hard. It is a bit tricky with paws, I will admit, but if you are careful with your nails, it is not impossible. The mouse is a lot easier, as my right paw covers that completely.

You will know a bit about me, if you read this blog. I am Pete and Julie’s dog, Ollie the Shar-Pei. The truth is, I am a bit lonely, and would like to have some female company. I thought that I would use this blog as a platform to advertise myself. If you are regular readers, you already know a lot about my life. It is a comforting routine…

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Ollie’s Nose

Ollie is a dog driven by the need to sniff things and smell them carefully. His nose can seemingly detect almost anything long before he can see it with his eyes. And because he has never been neutered, his main obsession is to leave his own scent everywhere, to let every other dog and animal around know that he is in the ‘Hood’. The short walk to Beetley Meadows, with the entrance visible from our house, begins with Ollie sniffing our front hedge. He then marks a few leaves of that hedge, just in case any other dogs are in doubt that he lives here.

Next, every road sign, wheelie bin, front gate, and back fence has to be marked, in a walk of less than one hundred yards that can take a good few minutes. Then his lead is removed, and he is free to mark the sign telling everyone about Beetley Meadows, before dealing with the four corners of the fences surrounding the children’s playground, followed by the basketball court. The first big Oak tree always gets a cursory splash, prior to the serious work of marking the nettles and other plants fringing the pathways.

Once he is satisfied with that, he lifts his head, nose twitching. He is trying to get the smell of any other local dogs, or a squirrel or deer in the vicinity. I am usually well ahead of him by the time he catches me up, after he has been checking under the blackberry bushes for any evidence of much smaller dogs who might have peed up them. Once we get to the bend in the river, Ollie goes into overdrive. There is the rubbish bin to deal with, the dog-waste bin, and the assorted picnic tables and benches.

By now, his ‘marking tanks’ have almost run dry, so he is straight into the river to refill them with a very big drink. Cooled and replenished, he trots off to sort out half a dozen molehills, and the reeds at the side of the riverbank. All this, and we have only been out for ten minutes. Once we are under the trees, every tree and overhanging branch must be inspected. As those trees are home to lots of squirrels, this takes a considerable amount of time. So I carry on walking, and let him catch me up later.

If he arrives with his jowls covered in froth, looking like he has just downed an exceptionally milky cappuccino, then I can be sure he has detected some ‘lady-dog pee’. And if that dog was in season, he will have enough foam around his mouth to make any passerby think he had Rabies.

We have now arrived at the bridge, on the way across to Hoe Rough.

The bridge has to be inspected carefully by Ollie. So many dogs cross it in a day, that he has to mark at least three spots, sometimes five. And woe betide I try to pull him away using his lead. He will stand his ground, suddenly becoming dead weight, refusing to budge until the sniffing is complete. Getting through the gate at Hoe Rough is a mission in itself. Every wooden bar and post of the large gate has to be examined in minute detail, and ‘precision pees’ delivered onto the smallest areas. Any dog coming onto the small nature reserve must be left in no doubt that Ollie has entered before them.

Then I let him off again, for the majority of his daily walk. Off he goes, tracking overnight deer, dogs from earlier that day, and any other smell of any sort he can detect. Once the long walk is over, you can guarantee that he will repeat the process as we retrace our steps on the way home.

Just in case.

Feeding The Pigeons

This is a fictional short story, in 1520 words

Eric knew the best time to get to the small supermarket. He knew exactly when they would reduce all the soon-to-be out of date loaves of bread, usually cutting the price to a quarter of what it had been a few minutes earlier. The young man knew Eric by sight, and smiled as he stuck the reduced labels onto the plastic packaging. He guessed the elderly man would most likely buy them all, as he did most days. And he was right, as Eric walked forward and piled them all into his basket, having to carry the four that didn’t fit. It didn’t matter to him if they were white sliced, wholemeal, brown, or granary. And it certainly wouldn’t matter to the birds he would feed them to, he knew that.

Back at his tower block, Eric was sure the broken lift would not have been fixed. He hardly glanced at the Out Of Order sign as he began the long walk to the sixth floor with his bags of shopping. But almost half a lifetime spent in the services, and later in other jobs that kept him fit stood him in good stead. He wasn’t even out of breath as he turned the key in the front door lock. Hanging up his coat, he took the bags through to the kitchen, and began his routine. A special knife, two wooden chopping boards, and some large plastic bags. Once it was all laid out on the work surface, he began unwrapping the loaves, and cutting each slice of bread into tiny pieces. Then the pieces were deposited in one of the plastic bags, to keep them fresh until tomorrow morning.

It took a very long time to do this carefully, but it wasn’t as if he had anything else to do.

When he was almost done, he saved the last two slices, and made himself a cheese sandwich with them. Despite supposedly being out of date, the bread tasted fine to him. Washing it down with a cup of tea, he went to sit in the small armchair by the kitchen table, and switched on the radio. There would be a play on later, and once he had listened to that, he would get ready for bed. No need to use the living room anymore. It had been years since he had bothered with the TV, and there was nothing to see from the balcony, except the car park.

Almost thirty years in the navy had left Eric with no time to meet a wife, or start a family. During his last tour on ship, he had been informed that his mother had died, and offered leave to go home and attend the funeral. But he wanted to see out the tour with his pals, so left it all to his older sister to sort out. Once the navy was finished with him, they found him a job as a security guard. Lots of walking around empty buildings, and always working alone. He had got used to it in time, and the radio had become his best friend. He knew the times of all the best shows, including the plays, and discussion programmes.

But then retirement had followed his sixty-fifth birthday, and he wondered how he would fill his days.

One morning, he went for a walk in the local park, stopping to rest on a bench to eat a sandwich he had brought from home. Almost immediately, he was surrounded by pigeons. They were bold, happily walking right up to his shoes, to eat the tiny crumbs falling from his lunch. He started to peel off slivers of the crust, and drop them on the ground, delighted to see dozens more of the birds appearing, tussling over the bread, and cooing excitedly. He resolved to bring more bread the next day, so that they would all get at least one piece.

What started with a few slices soon became a whole loaf. Then two loaves, until he was carrying two in each hand, bought from the small supermarket just for that purpose. It became something Eric did, and stuck to in all weathers, seven days a week. He began to recognise some of the birds, and named them in his head. There was Twisty, whose deformed right leg faced the wrong way. Hoppy, a bird born with one leg significantly shorter, and Long John Silver, a bird with one eye. After the first week of this, Eric could see the huge number of birds waiting by the bench for his usual time of arrival. As soon as he sat down, they fluttered around him. Many were keen enough to take the bread from his hand, but he still never had enough to go round.

It wasn’t long before Eric turned his pigeon feeding into an art form. The careful cutting of the slices into tiny squares, the plastic bags to keep it fresh, and special large bags to transport the bounty to the waiting birds. Then he discovered the cheap reduced price loaves, something that saved him a lot of money. After the first year of his retirement, feeding the pigeons had become what Eric did. It gave him purpose, a reason to get ready to go out, and a regular routine that made him feel relaxed in his mind. He couldn’t imagine his life without the park, the bench, and the pigeons.

That morning was crisp and clear, and Eric wrapped up well against the cold. Despite the bright sky, it was very chilly. Carrying his two special bags, he didn’t even bother to try the always broken lift, and just walked down to the street. He knew it would take exactly fourteen minutes to get to the park, and he also knew that the pigeons would be waiting. No sooner had he sat down and reached into the first bag, then close to one hundred birds were around him. Most stayed on the ground, bobbing up and down as they waited expectantly. Others tried to gain an advantage by flying onto the bench, and the really brave ones actually settled on his legs and shoulders. Eric smiled as he flung handfuls of the neat squares around, making sure that the birds at the back got their chance too. He spotted Hoppy, amazed how long his old friend had managed to survive.

The young woman walking toward him looked stern. In many ways, she looked more like a man, with close-cropped hair, shiny boots, and a green uniform. But he could tell by her face and complexion that she was female, and he smiled as she approached. Her tone was officious, deliberately unfriendly. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to be feeding these pigeons, Sir?” She sneered out the ‘Sir’, as if reluctant to add the respectful term. The birds had scattered as she approached, but were soon back, rather than miss out on the bread. Eric looked up at her, reading the Council logo on the front of her polo shirt. “No, I didn’t. I have been feeding them every day for over a year. That’s what I do”. The woman shook her head, and removed a small notebook from a pouch at her waist. “Well not anymore you don’t. These things are dirty, and they are a pollution hazard too, with all their droppings. Besides, any bread they don’t eat attracts rats. The Council has banned bird-feeding, there’s a sign by the main gate. The fine is up to two hundred pounds you know”.

Eric flung another handful as he stared up at her. “I don’t come in the main gate, I use the side gate by the canal towpath. No signs there, not that I have seen”. She opened the notebook. “Please stop feeding them now. And I mean now. I suggest you put the rest of that bread in the bin over there, and go about your business. I will be taking your name and address, and issuing with a warning. If I see you here again, it will be a fine. Get it? Now, what’s your name and address?” It never even occurred to Eric to give her false details, and he supplied his real name and address. He watched as she picked up both bags and walked to the bin, emptying the contents deep inside. The confused birds gathered around the bin, seeing the woman as a potential new feeder.

She walked back to the bench and handed him the empty bags.”I did it for you, save you the trouble. Now you are welcome to use all the facilities of the park, but no more bird-feeding”. With that, she walked off, a smug grin on her face. Eric sat for a while, then stood up and walked to the bin. He stuffed the two bags inside, on top of the bread. He would have no further use for them now. As he walked back along the towpath, he wondered what he would do tomorrow, and who might buy the reduced loaves that evening.

And he hoped they had fixed the lift by now.

Photo Prompt Story: By The Tiled Wall

This is a fictional short story, in 1280 words.
It was prompted by this photo, taken by Sue Judd. https://suejudd.com/

Felipe was setting up the tables outside the cafe, as he had done every morning for the last six years. He could see that he was there again, the old man huddled on the steps beneath the tiled wall. The first time, Felipe had approached him, asked if he was unwell, offered him a coffee, or a glass of water. But the sad eyes looked up, and a heavily-veined hand had just waved him away without a word of reply.

Asking around some of the customers, he learned that he had sat there every day, for as long as everyone could remember. But even in a community rife with gossip and idle chatter, nobody knew anything about him. Or if they did, they were not saying. When tourists arrived, bursting like bubbles from the doors of coaches, they flocked to take photos of the famous tiles. But every one of those photos would also include the crestfallen old man, as he always declined to move away.

Occasionally they actually pulled at his hands, trying to get him to move. Some even offered him small bribes, so he wouldn’t be in their souvenir photo. But he never moved, and waved away their objections as he returned to his characteristic slump beneath the tiles. Felipe had never seen him eat or drink. He sat in the spot from first light until dark, not even leaving to use a toilet, apparently. It didn’t seem possible that this elderly man could survive all day without so much as a drop of water, especially in the summer months. But he did, that was undeniable.

Over the years, Felipe found his curiosity getting the better of him. How could he sit there like that, in all weathers? How did it not make him ill? Surely it must be boring in the extreme too? But most of all, why? Why would someone spend their daily life sitting aimlessly in one spot, with no good reason for doing so? That morning, once the tables were arranged, and the umbrellas raised, the young waiter resolved to try again, to find out all he could about the old man, and his reason for sitting there.

But the day was unusually busy. Felipe was run off his feet, with Gaspar the owner in a bad mood, and customers complaining about the delays in getting their food. Tips were scarce, and when Felipe finally got a break, he sat outside the back door, smoking a cigarette and enjoying the kick of caffeine from a very strong coffee. But it wasn’t long before Gaspar was harassing him to get back to his work, and clear away the outside tables at the front on the square.

As he piled cups and glasses onto a large tray, Felipe glanced across to the tiled wall. The old man was gone. For the first time in all those years, his spot on the stairs was empty during daylight hours. He checked his watch, not even three in the afternoon. Far too early for him to have left already. He spotted the road-sweeper, standing out in his bright orange overalls. Walking across to him , he spoke politely. “Excuse me sir, did you see the old man leave? You know the one, he sits on the steps under the tiles?” The sweeper raised his eyebrows, ash falling from the hand-rolled cigarette between his lips as he replied. “Oh him, yeah. An ambulance took him away about fifteen minutes ago. He wasn’t moving much, and they had him on a stretcher.” Felipe was shocked at the news. “Do you happen to know where they took him, sir?” With a shrug, the sweeper replied. “They didn’t say, but I suppose it would be the nearest hospital. That would be the São José Hospital, do you know it? Filipe nodded, adding “Thank you sir”, as he turned back to the cafe.

Gaspar was less than pleased when his waiter told him he was taking some time owed to him, and leaving early. Filipe got a tram to a stop close to the hospital, and walked the short distance to the Emergency Department. At the reception desk, it suddenly occurred to him that he knew no details about the old man, and as the receptionist looked up, he wondered what to say. “I have come to ask about one of my friends, a regular customer. I don’t know his name, but he is old, with lots of white hair. He was dressed all in black, but there was a grey and red pattern on the top he was wearing. An ambulance took him away from the square, close to the famous tiled wall”. The lady eyed him suspiciously for a moment, not taken in by his white lie. “Take a seat young man, and I will get a nurse to speak to you.” Felipe nodded, and walked over to stand in the corner. He wanted her to be able to see him, so she didn’t forget.

Almost thirty minutes later, a nurse appeared. She looked impatient as she scanned around the waiting room. A young woman with a lot to do, who didn’t need such interruptions. The receptionist nodded at him, and she walked over. Her tone was not unfriendly, just professional. “You were asking about Mister Cubas? Follow me, and I will take you to him”. She seemed unconcerned that Felipe wasn’t a relative, and he followed as she walked very quickly along a corridor to a small room with an open door. She pointed into the room, where the old man was lying still, under a sheet. “I must ask you to be quiet, and not agitate him. He has had a massive stroke, and we fear he may not last the night”. Felipe nodded. “Thank you miss, but tell me, how did you know his name?” As she hurried off to her next task, she spoke without turning. “From the letter in his pocket”.

It seemed to him that the nurse had been right. The old man looked gravely ill. His face was grey in colour, and the oxygen hissing through the mask seemed to be doing little to help him. On a small unit next to the bed was a crumpled letter. The envelope had a just a name on it, written in tiny neat handwriting. There was no address or stamp, suggesting it had been hand delivered. ‘Raul Cubas’. So that was his name. Felipe looked across at the man again. His eyes were shut tight, his breathing sounding little more than a faint rasp. Feeling guilty, he opened the envelope and removed the single sheet of paper. As he read, he felt he was intruding, but the need to know overwhelmed his manners.

‘My darling Raul. It is as we feared. I am with child, and cannot possibly tell my parents.
We must leave the city, as you suggested, and start a new life far away.
I will come to you tomorrow morning, and meet you by the tiled wall, where we first kissed.
Then we will turn our backs on this district, and be together always.
If I am late, I beg you to wait for me, my dearest, as you know I would always wait for you.
My love forever, your Serafina’.

At the top of the letter was the date. The 12th of October, 1966.

Felipe returned the letter to its envelope, and left the room quietly, a lump building in his throat. Now he knew what the old man had been doing for the last fifty-three years.

He had been waiting for Serafina.