You Don't Choose Love Ch. 03bydemure101©
(Many thanks to Northlander for the final paragraph, and to Dawnj for editing and smiles!)
Hal Danvers stood on the old stone bridge. It had taken him quite some time to cover all the distance from his home to the road and on to the river, and he sat down on the seat of his Zimmer frame, panting.
His son, his only child, had come over for Christmas with his wife and children, and they had bought a Christmas tree. It stood in the living room, decorated with his old collections of birds and bells, and the contents of four boxes of rather ugly violet baubles they'd bought at a nearby supermarket. The star he'd used all those years had been found wanting, so the tree was crowned with a red tree topper that seemed an aggressively sharp object to him - not in the spirit of Christmas at all.
Karen and he had never had that big a tree in their house. They preferred a small one, with real candles, and Karen had ritually placed the two white doves on the top branch every year.
Now that Karen was gone, he'd not wanted to have one any more, but the children didn't like the idea much and he had let them do as they pleased. It stood in the living room complete with streamers and electric lights. His grandchildren had done most of the decorating. The doves sat somewhere on a lower branch and they had broken a bell. Oh well, their intentions were good, and it was lovely not have to spend Christmas alone.
The two children were busily playing in the living room and his son Geoff and Kathy, his daughter-in-law, were upstairs unpacking clothes and making beds. He had gone to his study when a howl came from the living room. He went there immediately. The children's play had evolved into a violent quarrel, and this had resulted in an accident involving the tree. They had broken two baubles, and they had knocked the head off of one of the doves.
After having ended the hostilities he had gone down on his knees with the aid of the couch and picked up the head; he could only just see it, but his fingers had managed to get it off the floor. When he had straightened himself again with some difficulty he'd opened the clip the birds were fastened to. He'd gone to the corridor and put the pieces into his overcoat pocket.
When he had left the house he had felt a sudden pain across his chest. It must have been the difference in temperature, he thought.
It was cold. His coat was warm enough but his gloves weren't - even so, he didn't notice the cold too much. The walk to the summit of the bridge had taken a lot of energy and he felt very hot. He felt the doves through the material of his coat. He couldn't bear the idea that they'd go into the dustbin to end up covered in the remains of other people's Christmas dinners. They had always been so important to him. Karen...
Karen had loved the doves, too. She had put them in the tree the very first night they'd spent together. She had done so on Christmas Eve ever since and she'd taken them down every January the sixth. He missed her terribly. She'd fallen ill early in spring, and he had nursed her as well as he could; she wouldn't have anyone else. She had a wasting disease and he had seen her deteriorate day by day; eventually she had died in his arms, a shadow of her former self. When she had seen his dismay it was she who'd tried to comfort him. On the day she died she had been unconscious most of the time. Only once had she opened her eyes; she had smiled at him through her pain and told him to take good care of himself. He had managed to keep himself in hand then, but when she'd died in his arms he had given in to his misery. He had been absolutely inconsolable.
Now only a kind of dull pain remained, together with an empty feeling of loneliness. His son's family was nice enough but they were no substitute for Karen. He stared into the water. When she had been with him for a couple of months they had stood here together playing Pooh-sticks. It had been great fun; they had been noticed by some unimaginative passers-by who obviously thought they must have been out of their minds.
Karen had always been fond of simple things. One warm morning, when it was just getting light, she had woken him up to listen to the dawn chorus coming in through their bedroom window. She had put a finger on her lips. They used to sleep naked, and they lay like spoons, with his arm around her, and she had lifted a leg over his and found his cock, and they had made love very slowly and sweetly - listening to how the birds celebrated the bright new day, in complete agreement with their joy. He still saw her smile that morning in his mind's eyes. Karen, oh Karen!
He looked away from the water for a moment and took off his gloves. He experienced the pain in his chest anew - it was not a good idea for an old man to go tramping up bridges in this temperature, he thought. But it quickly subsided again.
He felt in his pocket and found the doves. He could take them out easily; the little head gave him more trouble. His fingers were stiff and a little rheumatic, and the cold didn't help.
When he had found both parts he held them in his hand and looked at them a little sadly. Once he'd thrown them into the river, the current would break them entirely to little pieces, and they would be ground and polished. The iron was a little rusty already; the water would surely take care of that. He nodded to himself. He hoped they would reach the sea, eventually; they would at least not end their days ignominiously on a garbage belt.
So much had changed that year. Last Christmas they'd still celebrated together, unaware of the illness that must already have been undermining Karen's system. They had cuddled up together on the couch, watching the candles burn with a bucket of water stand-by, and they had finished another bottle of Drambuie. It had lasted longer and longer, that bottle. Karen had insisted on it. She had no taste for wine any more, but she'd loved the sweet, strong liquid. It gave her a feeling of opulence, and it reminded her of their first night at his place, in the early morning of December 24, almost forty years ago.
They had had a fantastic time together. Karen, who had been thirty-five at the time, got pregnant that summer. She had stopped taking the pill while he was away on business for two weeks, and when they were together again she'd told him. They had discussed children before and they felt that the time had come if they really wanted any. That very night, when Karen had been even friskier than usual, she had simply floored him in the living room and almost torn off his clothes. He grinned when he remembered how she'd lifted her skirt; she'd obviously planned the attack for she wore no panties and jumped him just like that. It had been quite a trick to get her dress off while she was riding him with complete abandon, smiling at him and laughing and crying. Once her dress was off, he had lain there watching her breasts swing up and down, and she had taken both his hands in hers. The impressions of her nails had taken some time to disappear, but it had been one of the most joyous times of all.
She used to say she had felt it was that very time she got pregnant; he was rather inclined to believe her. Geoff was born nine months later to the day. He hoped she was right; they had been so completely into each other that night...
But all other times had been great, too. Hal sighed; there was something wrong with his eyes. He told himself it was the cold and wiped his eyes with his gloves. Being old was a nuisance. When he was younger - oh well, he had no reason to complain. Karen and he had enjoyed each other's company for a very long time. Life had been really good together, and even the final months had been very valuable. He had read to her when she couldn't do so herself any longer, and he had wheeled her to all her favourite haunts in the neighbourhood until the pain got so unbearable that she had to have her painkillers in a drip. She had loved to be in his arms until the very end; he could almost feel her head on his shoulder still.
The little doves got cold in his hands. He looked at them once again, and then he dropped the pieces over the low parapet into the river that swirled under the bridge. He lost sight of them straight away. It was a rather ambiguous feeling - the one true symbol of their love for each other had gone down in the fast, cold water, just like Karen had gone, irrevocably - she had gone, but there was no getting around her for him. Still, it was much to be preferred this way.
He put on his gloves again and pressed the little handle to get his Zimmer frame off its brake, and carefully turned it around to descend to the road again. When he'd just started to shuffle down the bridge the pain returned again. Somehow it didn't want to go away, and breathing seemed more difficult than usual. He tried to press on to get home and out of the cold. In his mind Karen's old image and the wasted, well-loved face of her final days seemed to come together. My love, my love, he thought. Oh Karen...
Then the pain seemed to reach out for his throat and everything grew dark before his eyes.
It was some time before Geoff noticed his father wasn't there. He asked his children if they knew what their granddad was up to, and Jim, his elder son, said that he had left without telling them where he was going. Geoff looked at them perplexed.
"Why did he do so?" he said.
Shamefacedly the boys admitted to their quarrel, and they said they'd broken some decorations. Geoff saw the broken baubles on the floor. He didn't think they could be the reason, for his father didn't like them very much anyway - and then he noticed the doves were missing. Grampa had picked up the broken head, Jim said, and taken the doves from its branch, and gone to the hall...
Geoff understood. He had guessed the importance of that one object long ago - putting them up was one of the very few true rituals his parents had observed all through their marriage. It must be unthinkable for his dad to dispose of it in the garbage. Now where would he take it instead?
He went back upstairs and told Kathy in a few words what had happened. "We'd better go and look for him," he said. "I'm afraid..."
Kathy nodded. She knew what Geoff meant without his finishing his sentence. "So am I," she said.
Geoff and Kathy found him about an hour later. He lay on his back, looking peacefully up at the sky with unseeing eyes; his walking aid had collapsed on top of him, and they stood looking at him, wondering why on earth he had walked all the way to the bridge. Then suddenly Geoff understood. He went to the parapet and looked down into the water. There, lodged between two rocks, was a brilliant fragment of something white. He pointed it out - and then Kathy had to hold him close.
Geoff Danvers stood with his family at the graveside as Hal's body was laid to rest alongside his Karen. He thought of his two parents, of the love they had had for each other and how the bridge and the river had been a part of their lives. It was if a light had been turned on in his mind, he looked at his wife and after his youngest son asked, "Why did Grampa go to the bridge?" had no difficulty saying, "One day you will love someone so much that you will understand why."