by Aidan Thorn
“What is it you do, lad?”
“I’m a paramedic.”
“Good man. I was in the services myself. Fifteen years in the Royal Navy.”
Billy looked at the former sailor with respect. There were so many questions, but the sailor got in first.
“So, what brings you into town today?”
“Little bit of shopping. The missus has taken my daughter off to get a dress. She’s got a party invite. So, obviously she needs a new dress — apparently it’s just not done for a seven-year-old to be seen in the same outfit at two parties in a row.”
Billy rolled his eyes mockingly, but it was clear that he really didn’t mind spending the money on his daughter.
The man sitting next to him smiled warmly.
“A family man. Wonderful. You cherish them, families are wonderful.”
Billy looked into eyes filled with memories. The conversation had taken his companion to a happier past. There was a flicker of a smile, before tears filled both eyes.
“Can I ask, what happened?” Billy said tentatively, sensing the other man wanted to talk.
“There was a fire. I was at sea. My wife and boys were asleep in our home. The report said the fridge-freezer was faulty. The smoke took them before they woke.”
The tears now rolled down his face and soaked into his beard. Billy couldn’t bear to imagine the horror. The street buzzed with weekend shoppers, paying no mind to the men on the bench. Billy’s job brought tragedy most weeks, but off his guard, on a Sunday afternoon, Billy was touched by the tale. He put a comforting hand on the sailor’s arm — a futile gesture but a gesture all the same.
The sailor nodded.
“Thank you for speaking with me. Most people get up and walk away if I open my mouth. In fact, most people don’t even sit down when they see me.”
He started gathering what remained of his life and putting it into a trolley. There wasn’t much — a stained sleeping bag and a small sack. He stood on tattered shoes.
Billy got a sense that he’d become embarrassed to have burdened a stranger.
“Please, is there anything I can do for you?” Billy asked. “Do you need money? Can I get you some food?”
The navy man was warmed by the offer.
“No, thank you, you keep your money, spoil that daughter of yours.”
He turned and shuffled off pushing his trolley. Billy watched as people gave the man a wide berth as if afraid they’d catch something. He watched him walk up the street until he couldn’t see him anymore.
“Daddy, why are you crying?”
Billy’s daughter stood in front of him. He wiped his eyes, reached out and hugged her tight. He looked up to see a concerned look on his wife’s face. He reached out a hand for hers and squeezed it tight.
“I got a beautiful dress for the party, Daddy,” Billy’s daughter mumbled into his chest.
“That’s great, sweetheart, I’m so pleased.”
Aidan Thorn is from Southampton, England, home of the Spitfire and Matthew Le Tissier but sadly more famous for Craig David and being the place the Titanic left from before sinking. Aidan would like to put Southampton on the map for something more than bad R ‘n’ B and sinking ships. His short fiction has appeared in the Byker Books Radgepacket series, Near to the Knuckle Anthologies: Gloves Off and Rogue, Exiles: An Outsider Anthology, The Big Adios Western Digest, and Shadows & Light, as well as online at Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers; Thrills, Kills and Chaos; Near to the Knuckle; Pulp Metal Magazine; Spelk Fiction; and Shotgun Honey. His first short story collection, Criminal Thoughts, is available on Amazon and his second collection, Urban Decay, will be released this spring by Grit Fiction Ltd.