Short Stories in Lockdown 2 – Walking Man

Thanks for those who sent feedback after last weeks week’s story, Looking for Rain. While this week’s story is self-contained, it will be followed by a sequel next week. Enjoy.

Walking Man

Chris crossed the creek and passed the willow sentinels on either side of the bridge; the road climbed and the town opened up slowly, like a movie set. Dust was still settling from a car that had long gone up a dirt side-road, a young boy with turned ears and a bad haircut sat in the back of a ute staring at him; farther on a large girl in bare feet hurried across the road; a workman used a hand-saw to trim the edges of new steps that led up to the church entrance. 

Where the road crested and levelled off, the pub stood like the grand old lady of the town; as far as he could see, it was the only building on a concrete slab. A narrow alcove with a door opened into the office and a middle-aged woman stood behind the counter, writing in a book.

“Need a room?” She asked as she looked up.

“Well, actually, I need some lunch,” he responded. She was about to direct him into the bar when he continued. “But I don’t have any money. Do you have any jobs that you need done?”

She had a tough face, but her eyes softened as she took in the situation of the still-young man who’d obviously done some hard yards.

“You can wash my car and I’ll give you lunch. After that, I’ve got some crates need moving. If you’re interested, that’ll buy you a room for the night.” He smiled and nodded, thankfully.

After lunch, as he put his plate on the bar the woman introduced herself.

“Kate.” She reached out her hand.

“Chris,” he said as he took it. 

“In case you hadn’t noticed,” she said. “I’m the owner of this place…inherited from my ancestors, along with all its debt and drudgery. What brings you to The Willows?”

“It was the next town,” he smiled.

“Pick up your plate,” she said as she showed him the way to the kitchen. “If you’re interested, I could use a hand for a bit. The young bloke who works here came off his trail bike last week. He’ll be pretty useless for a while.”

The thought of a few dollars in his pocket and a real bed was tempting.

“Thanks,” he said. “I appreciate it.”

Apart from the crates, there were kegs, cleaning and even bar service when things got busier in the evening. 

His room was plain but comfortable with a view of the street. Most of these towns were in a straight line along the main street with a few shops, houses and not much else; the bulk of the population lived on surrounding farms. 

Beyond he could see the creek where it wound down the valley. In the light of the following morning, it cut a meandering green swathe through the dry, straw-coloured pasture land. 

Downstairs, Kate sat at a table doing bills. Chris picked up her empty breakfast plate.

“Thanks,” she said. “Help yourself to what you find in the kitchen. Cook’s not in till eleven so it’s fend for yourself until then.”

The sun was still low and lit up the whole main street. The fresh smells of morning and the cooler air anchored him in the moment. He sat on the steps of the pub with coffee and toast as Kate’s voice edged in to the silence from behind him.

“It’s beautiful until people come along and mess it up.” He looked around. “Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“Pull up a pew,” he said. “But it sounds like you don’t like people much.”

“Yeah, that was a bit obvious wasn’t it?” She laughed as she sat. “This town hasn’t been particularly nice to me, that’s all.” She laughed again. “But most of the mean shits are dead now.” She paused and looked at Chris. “What about you? You seem like a nice enough bloke. What’s your story, all on your lonesome?”

He looked down the street at an old truck slowly rolling into finding a gear for the run up the hill from the bridge. “Just needed to get away, I s’pose,”

“Been travelling long?”

“A few years.”

“Shit,” said Kate. “No wonder you’re so skinny. I’ll make sure you get something decent into you for lunch. I won’t get a full day’s work out of you on a couple of bits of toast.”

The work was physical but he enjoyed earning his keep. Days turned into weeks. Kate was grateful for someone who didn’t need a boot up the backside every ten minutes; in fact, Chris’ ideas in the cellar made changing the kegs much quicker. During the rush times on weekends it made life a lot easier.

As well as the money, the certainty of a place to sleep each night took a weight off his shoulders that he hadn’t been aware of. Being productive, helping someone and being appreciated stirred things in him. He got on well with Kate, in fact he found himself liking her.

It had been nearly a month since he’d arrived when Kate asked him to pick up some groceries in the ute; he said that he didn’t drive. But she remembered later that she’d seen a driver’s licence in his wallet. 

He was a good worker and seemed to be honest in all of his dealings – over-honest, if anything, even wanting to pay for beers that he’d poured for himself at the end of the day. But one thing that she’d learnt from life in a pub was the ability to keep relationships on a superficial level. Besides, she liked Chris; he was one of the best, easiest-to-get-along-with workers that she’d ever had and she didn’t want to scare him off. If he wanted to talk or not, that was his business. 

Ethan, Kate’s young employee who’d come off his trail bike had used his time off to find a job with “more opportunity for advancement” in another town, so Kate decided to offer Chris a full-time job. On Monday afternoon, she broached the subject slowly.

“You’ve been here over a month now,” she said. “Nothing else to see in The Willows that you haven’t seen already.” She paused between each statement. “Guess you must be thinking about moving on.”

“You kicking me out?” Chris said with a smile. Kate realised how it could’ve sounded that way. She decided to leap into the breach.

“Actually, Chris, I’d really like you to stay on. You’re a good worker – very good. And with Ethan not coming back, I can afford you full-time.”

Chris looked up to see if it might be pity. Kate recognised the look and changed tack.

“Of course, it’d be useful if you could drive.” Chris shifted a little.

“Sorry, I can’t,” he responded. Kate decided to push it a little.

“I thought you had a driver’s licence.”

“Yeah, I do, but I…had an accident. Hit my head…and I’m not allowed to drive anymore. They punched my licence full of holes but I keep it for old-times’ sake…and ID.” Kate paused then smiled.

“Oh well, it’s not a big deal, I suppose. I’d still like you to stay.”

“Can I have a think about it? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it, I just…” His words faded out.

“Sure…I’m in no hurry.”

Over the following days, Kate found herself thinking about Chris’ story of hitting his head and whether that had anything to do with why he was such a loner. She thought about her own need to look after the ”birds with the broken wings”, as she called it. Ever since she was a little girl, after her mother shot through, she’d bring home all kinds of wildlife that needed attention and more often than not, nurse them back to health. When her Dad gave in to the bottle and ran the pub into the ground, she’d find solace in caring for animals.

After her Dad died and she took on the pub, plenty of drifters turned up having heard about the not-too-ugly owner of The Willows pub who might need a bloke to share her inheritance. She showed them all the door, along with some of the self-entitled nobs around town who thought that they were going to pick up the pub for a song after her Dad was off the scene. They were horrified when his twenty-year-old daughter made it her project to save it. Kate figured it was a legacy that she wouldn’t get any other way.

Although Chris was a drifter too, he seemed to be different. It wasn’t about money for him; but Kate didn’t know what it was about. 

The weekend came and Chris still hadn’t given her an answer. She had said that she wasn’t in a hurry but she didn’t know why it could be so difficult for him to make a decision.

Late afternoon, in the quiet period before the Saturday evening blitz, a knock came on the office door; a grey-haired man with a worn face stepped in and asked for a room. 

As she handed back his licence and gave him the room key she asked, “What brings you to the bustling town of The Willows, Mr Douglas?” 

“I’m sorry, it’s been a long day,” he replied with a smile as he turned to leave. Then he stopped, wearily turned back and proceeded with a well-rehearsed line. “But maybe you can help me.” He pulled a dog-eared photograph from his shirt pocket. “Have you seen him? A bloke over in Burrandeena said he thinks he might’ve seen him in this pub a couple of weeks ago.”

In the photo, Chris was holding a little girl about three years-old and stood beside a pretty woman. He looked younger and happier. 

“I’ll ask around,” she said as she directed him up the stairs to his room. “Is he in trouble?” The old man shook his head.

“No…no, not at all.”

Chris was sweeping the courtyard and setting the tables out for the evening. It’d been a warm day and wasn’t going to cool off anytime soon. He’d been thinking since Kate had offered him the job and began to like the thought of resting in The Willows for a while. When she appeared he brought it up.

“I’d like to accept your offer,” he said. Kate nodded and smiled.

“Glad to hear it, Chris. But you didn’t tell me that you had a family.” Chris looked at the ground and what seemed like a long time passed before he spoke.

“He’s here, isn’t he?”

“Is he your Dad?” Kate responded.

“The photo?” He queried. “The question about whether or not you knew where I was?”

Kate nodded and Chris sighed.

“Poor old bugger; it was only a matter of time,” Chris said as he shook his head and looked into Kate’s face.

“So do you want to explain what’s going on?” Kate said, more than a little confused.

He continued to look into her face, as if he was revisiting a decision that he had already made about whether or not she could be trusted.

“You’ve been good to me, Kate,” Chris responded. “You probably deserve to know what’s going on.” He paused and began slowly. 

“Three and a half years ago I was in a car accident; I was driving. I was arguing with Sarah, my wife. I didn’t see the light turn red and drove through the intersection. We were T-boned on Sarah’s side. I heard the truck’s horn and turned to see it plough into Sarah’s side of the car. The airbag pushed her head into mine and then I blacked out.

“I woke up in the hospital three days later. They told me that Amy, my little girl who’d been in the back seat, didn’t survive.” Chris paused and bit his bottom lip before continuing. “Sarah hadn’t regained consciousness. She never did.” Chris stopped and sighed. 

Kate smiled gently. “Thanks, she said. “I appreciate your trust.”

 “Mum and dad loved Amy and Sarah. My older brother died about ten years ago in a surfing accident – broke his neck and drowned. He was only a few metres off shore with no one around to help him. That’s what they said. Can’t imagine what that would’ve been like, not being able to move to stop the water from flowing into your lungs…” Chris wanted to continue but was interrupted.

“Hello, mate.”  The old man stepped into the courtyard. “You’ve led me on a merry chase.” His voice cracked and he had tears in his eyes as he spoke. 

Chris stared until he managed to eke out, “G’day Dad.”

Kate, surprised, began to explain to the old man how she needed to talk to Chris first, but he stopped her with his raised hand and said, “That’s as it should be. You don’t know me from a bar of soap. I’m glad Chris has found a friend.”

Kate smiled awkwardly, muttering something about leaving them to it. She looked towards Chris as she left. Chris and his Dad stood facing each other until the old man said, “I kept all your letters.”

Chris wrote to his parents once every couple of months. As they sat down together, his father explained that from the postmarks he would try to work out where Chris might be headed.

“I’ve been going country nearly every weekend for a year now. Sometimes your mum would come with me, but now she just reckons I’m nuts. But I’ve found you.” Chris looked down as his father continued. “We wanted to know that you were OK. Letters can lie…or hide the truth.” He paused as if he was finding it hard to speak. “What you did, taking off back then…I understood, but…you didn’t come back…” He shook his head. “You can’t just…”

“Apart from you and Mum,” Chris said gently. “There’s nothing to go back to.’

“But there is. You can get help to start again.”

Chris closed his eyes. “Maybe I am starting again.” 

“You have a family, Chris!” Chris clasped his hands together tightly but tried to stay calm.

“No, Dad. They’ve gone. It’s taken me nearly all this time but I’ve finally come to terms with it. Sarah would’ve wanted me to move on…and Amy…well maybe I haven’t quite come to terms with that yet.”

His father winced at where this was heading, but he didn’t know how to not go there. After a while he spoke quietly.

“Amy’s in school now, Chris.”

Chris shook his head. “Dad, don’t start this again. I can understand why you and mum don’t want to go there; but this is exactly why I can’t come home. I can’t deal with this!”

Kate appeared and put a couple of beers on the table. The men sat in silence opposite each other; Kate felt the tension and thought better of talking about food.

“Thanks Kate,” said Chris. “I’ll be about ten, if that’s OK.”

“Take the night off, Chris; spend some time with your Dad,” she said as she headed back to the bar.

 “I think we’re nearly done.” He looked at his Dad. “We’ve been over this too many times, Dad. It’s the main reason I don’t want to come back.

“I like it here…and Kate’s a good boss. I don’t want to have to move on again just because you won’t leave me alone.” He spoke more slowly and directly. “I really think that you need some help, Dad.” Chris stood up. “Kate’ll organise some dinner for you. I need to tend the bar. Please give my love to Mum; I’ll write again soon.”

Chris’ Dad went straight to his room. Kate came up to Chris at the bar.

“Are you ok?”  Kate put her hand on his shoulder.

“Yeah,” said Chris, looking a bit anxious.

 “It doesn’t look like it’s going to be too big a night; If you want to talk later, I’d be happy to.”

There were only a couple of stragglers left when they finally sat together. Chris was tired and Kate noticed that he still seemed on edge, with his back to the wall, occasionally scanning the bar and looking past to the stairs up to the accommodation.

“He’s really done a number on you, hasn’t he?” Kate commented.

“I wish what he was saying was true,” Chris said softly. “But it’s taken me years to start functioning again. I can’t talk to him…it’s too hard.”

“He seems like a nice enough old bloke; what’s he saying that’s so terrible?”

“That they’re still alive, that Amy’s started school…” Chris started weeping; Kate held his hand as he quickly pulled himself together.

“Sorry Kate,” he sniffled. “ You were right; he’s done a number on me.” He chuckled as he wiped his eyes. “The crazy thing is that this…being here…is the happiest I’ve been in years.” He looked up into her eyes as the last two customers walked up to the bar. Kate looked away.

“Wanna fix up your tab boys?” She grabbed the opportunity. As she bustled to the bar she felt strange. She hadn’t allowed herself to feel anything for anyone else for a long time; but Chris was different; in the six weeks he’d been there he’d shown nothing but integrity and care for her and the customers. 

After the men left she stood for a moment with her hands on the cash register and her back to the room. Chris got up and bolted the front doors. When he turned back Kate walked up and put her arms around him. He held her in return.

“You’ve had a big day, mate,” she said as she patted him on the back with her head on his chest but facing away. “Things’ll be different tomorrow. Let’s have another talk when the dust settles.” With that she straightened, patted him on the chest, smiled and turned for the door.

Sunday was sleep-in day and the pub didn’t open until midday. Kate was in the office at 9.30 when Chris’ Dad dropped his key in. Knowing what she knew made her uncomfortable when he walked in.

“I’m sorry for any disruption…I’ve been looking for him for a long time. He hasn’t been the same since Jeremy, his brother, died.”

“Chris told me about that; I’m so sorry.” Kate replied.

“He blamed himself for years. They were supposed to be going surfing together but one of Chris’ mates rang up with a spare ticket to the football.

“Then when the car accident happened and he was driving…it wasn’t even his fault, but he made it his fault.”

Kate spoke up. “Chris said he drove through a red light.”

 “There weren’t any lights. The truck went through a stop sign. It could’ve been so much worse.”

Kate smiled and nodded. The father half expected her response and took out his phone.

“I understand that you don’t believe me but let me show you something.” He turned the screen towards Kate. “This is Amy at her first day of school with her Mum. You can see the scar just above Sarah’s brow from the accident. That’s the only leftover, except…except for Chris.”

Kate stared at the picture, confused.

“But why…he must have seen them…alive,” Kate asked incredulous. The father nodded.

 “In the hospital, every time Sarah and Amy came into the room he screamed uncontrollably, as if he was in a nightmare. Then as soon as they’d leave everything went back to normal as if he’d never seen them. It became too much, especially for little Amy.

The doctors said that it would eventually settle down, but we could never convince Chris, even after weeks. Then one day, he’d just gone.”

“What about the doctors; couldn’t they do anything?”

“Short of committing him to an institution, not really…they said he was suffering paranoid delusions from the head trauma but by the time we were deciding what to do, he’d shot through.”

There was silence for a moment; Kate was processing this new information as Chris’ Dad picked up his bag.

“Chris is a good bloke…one of the best; he won’t let you down. He just needs some help…but I don’t know how to get it to him. He seems to create his own stories and fuses them into actual memory somehow. Now that I know where he is, maybe I’ll explore what we can do legally to help.” He turned and left. Kate followed him out; she handed him a business card.

“Could you send me that picture?”  The old man nodded with gratitude.

“Say goodbye to Chris for me.” From above, Chris watched the exchange from his room.

By the time Kate had finished in the office, Chris was in the kitchen drinking coffee. He was guarded as Kate walked in.

“Good morning,” she said. She was about to ask how he was feeling but thought better of it.

“Morning,” said Chris. “I see that Dad got away.”

Kate decided to be upfront. “Your father showed me a picture before he left. It was of Amy’s first day at school.” Chris sipped his coffee coolly.

“It could’ve been any kid.”

“She was with your wife….I saw the scar…it was the same woman as in the picture with you Chris.” Chris sat impassively. “And it was the same little girl, just older, bigger…her hair was shorter.” Still Chris wouldn’t respond. “Doesn’t it bother you that she is growing up without you? 

“Even if you could just write to her, Chris. Let her know that her Dad loves her. A little girl desperately needs that.”

“I’ve written to her heaps of times to tell her how sorry I was. Told her how much I miss her. How she left too soon…then I’d put them into the campfire and watch the smoke go up into the sky and hope that somewhere she’d be hearing my words… feeling my love.”

Kate watched Chris as he spoke. He seemed completely absorbed in the truth of what he was saying. She’d known liars over the years and Chris wasn’t one of them. She decided to take a different tack.

“What about your wife? Sarah, isn’t it?”

“I’m happy here, Kate. You’ve accepted me just as I am.” He shook his head. “It’s taken me years to leave that life behind. As well-meaning as he might be, don’t let the Old Man dredge it all up again.”

Kate thought about the levels of meaning in what Chris said; she decided to leave it alone for a while.

“Well,” she chirped up. “All this deep and meaningful isn’t going to keep the pub running!” She paused. “I’m glad to have you here, Chris. Anything I can do, as a friend…you know.”

Instantly Chris seemed to relax; he smiled.

“Thanks Kate…thanks.”

Chris headed down to the cellar while Kate went back to the office. She stared at the picture that had arrived in her messages

”Why doesn’t he want to be with you?” She said to herself.

Chris was back to his old self quickly; but Kate kept pondering his situation. She couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t even consider that his wife and daughter were alive, that he wouldn’t even look at a picture. She felt that there had to be more to it than a “hit on the head”.

A week or so after Chris’ Dad had left, Kate received a phone call. 

“This is Sarah Douglas. I’m Chris Douglas’ wife.” Kate was taken aback.

“Sarah…hi. I…er…how can I help?”

Almost immediately Sarah began to cry. Between her sobs she apologised. Kate tried to put her at ease.

“It’s OK, Sarah…I’m…I’m glad you rang. I want to help in any way I can, but…other than being a friend to Chris…I don’t know how.”

Sarah had gathered herself and began with what sounded like a long-rehearsed address.

“When Graeme, Chris’ father, told me that he had found Chris, I was scared. Amy and I have been on a long journey over the last three years. So has Chris. I…think that he might be unwell…” Sarah paused. “ But I’m not sure; I know that’s what his parents think.”

“What do you think, Sarah?” Kate asked. There was a long silence.

“I think,” she began. “I think that he’s running away from me.” She sighed as if she had begun something that she regretted but knew she couldn’t stop. “You see, I’ve had a lot of time to think.

“After Amy was born I had post-natal depression. Chris picked up the slack; in fact as I thought about it, he was amazing. He was going to work, getting up through the night for the baby, shopping, cooking, cleaning…all for me and Amy.” She paused as her voice cracked. “But I was an absolute bitch. I pushed him away.”

Kate began to wonder if this was just about Sarah assuaging her guilt.

“But Sarah,” said Kate. “You were unwell.”

“Maybe,” sniffed Sarah. “But even after I got better, all I could see was what he wasn’t doing, what we didn’t have…” She stopped to clear her throat and continued more calmly. “I’ve grown up a lot in the last few years.”

There was a knock at the office door and Chris came in. 

“Excuse me just a moment,” Kate said as she looked up, surprised.

“Sorry,” said Chris. “There’s a delivery – a couple of cases of some ale I haven’t heard of.”

“Oh…yeah…no that’s fine. We’re just giving it a try. It’s a new local one.” 

“Everything OK?” He asked, seeing Kate’s expression.

“Yeah,” she covered the mouthpiece. “Just a friend who’s having a bit of a rough time,” she mouthed in a loud whisper.

Chris nodded and left. Kate waited until he was well away before she continued.

“I’m sorry, Sarah.”

“Was that Chris?” she asked.

“Yes…yes, it was.”

“I’m sorry for dumping on you like this, Kate. I must sound like a mad woman.”

“No, you sound like someone who’s been through a lot and you don’t know what to do. I get that.” 

“The problem is, I know exactly what to do but I don’t know how to do it.

“I actually just wanted to make contact with you…and I don’t mean to put you in an awkward position.” Kate smiled to herself wryly. “I know I have to apologise to Chris, but…I know it has to be so real that it’ll wake him up…make him realise that we’re alive…for him.”

There was silence for a few moments until Kate said, “I don’t know what’ll wake him up, Sarah, if that’s what needs to happen; but I’m here…Chris is a good man.”

Kate sat in the office for a long time after the call. She thought of the irony of her concern: whether or not the person who is supposedly in her right mind is being honest.

Giselle, the cook, was sitting at the kitchen bench looking at how she could make the dinner menus a little more exciting. Kate put the kettle on and sat down with a sigh. At that moment Chris walked in with an invoice from the delivery.

“How’s your friend?” He asked Kate. Kate looked blank before she caught on.

“Oh…I think she’ll be OK…she has to apologise for something but she doesn’t know how.”

“Tell her to just do it,” Chris said. “Life’s too short.” Kate smiled again as Chris continued through to the office.

She wondered how it got this strange for her and how she was going to help get Chris to “wake up”, as Sarah called it. 

“I feel like a bloody psycho-matchmaker,” she said quietly to herself. “With no previous experience.” Giselle looked at her askance.

“How do I get a bloody beer ‘round here?” The call came from the bar. Kate stepped out of the kitchen and literally bumped into Chris. It sent her off balance and he threw his arm around her to stop her from falling. For the briefest moment they looked into each other’s faces.

“Sorry,” said Chris as he continued to the bar.

“Me too,” said Kate. She looked across at Jacko, the old regular who stood at the bar. “How’s your health, Jacko?” Kate asked as she straightened herself.

“Slowly declining thank you, Kate my sweet!” He responded with a laugh as Chris handed a beer over. 

A few days later Kate received an email from Sarah. She began by apologising for the earlier phone call and how she felt she’d presumed upon Kate and put her in a difficult position.

She said that she had worked out what she wanted to say to Chris and wanted to know when was the best time to come. Kate responded and immediately felt as if she had betrayed Chris.

Sarah arrived the following Sunday morning. Kate let her in to the office and fetched her a cup of tea. Chris was sitting in the courtyard enjoying the morning sun when Kate called.

“Chris! Got a minute in the office?”

As Chris walked in, he froze.  Sarah was standing nervously by the desk. Kate was behind the desk but stood to leave.

“I should leave you both to it, I guess,” she said.

“I’d feel more comfortable if you stayed,” Sarah responded. Kate looked at Chris. He seemed to be completely present. There was nothing of the fear or anger that his father had spoken of. She wondered what that was about.

“I have nothing to say,” said Chris.

“That’s OK,” Sarah spoke up. “I’m the one responsible for this.” Kate sat as Sarah gathered herself and looked at Chris. Chris stood motionless and impassive.

“It’s good to see you, Chris,” she began. “I didn’t know if I would ever see you again.” Chris showed no emotion like a store mannequin waiting for someone to move him. “But I didn’t come just to see you…or to bring you back. 

“I realised that for so much of our lives together I pushed you away.” She began to tear up and sobs began to interrupt her words. “I said things to you that were horrible; I put you down when all you wanted to do was love us and look after us.” She was weeping and Kate handed her a tissue. Kate looked at Chris; his face was hard and he was staring at the wall behind Sarah. But Kate thought that she saw a tear in his eye. Sarah cleared her throat and continued.

“I have so many things that I want to apologise for. We made vows to one another when we were married and you were the only one who kept them. All the time I was making it harder and harder for you.” She looked into his face. “Chris, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

The tear had run down Chris’ cheek but still his face was hard. When he spoke, his voice was calm.

“I’ve spent three years trying to forget the things that you said to me; and I’ve pretty well managed it, but the thing that stays with me is what you said that morning of the accident. You said, ‘You’re useless! I’ve had enough! Our marriage is over!’”

Sarah went to speak but Chris held up his hand. He continued calmly.

“That was when I snapped,” he said. “I don’t know what happened exactly. I just thought to myself, ‘I’ll show you what the fuck over is!’ Then I saw an opportunity with the truck.”

“What are you talking about?” Said Sarah. “The truck went through a stop sign! It wasn’t your fault!”

“I saw it,” said Chris. “I had plenty of time to avoid it, but what was the point? Instead I accelerated into its path.” Sarah was stunned. “The stupid bastard braked. If he hadn’t,” he looked into Sarah’s face. “Then it would have been over.” Sarah was speechless as Chris continued. “After three years, that’s what stays with me; I couldn’t even get that right.”

“You were trying to kill us?” Sarah was aghast as she fumbled for her keys and backed towards the door. “Oh God…oh God…” she repeated as she stumbled out the door.

The room was silent as Kate watched Chris carefully, shocked by the sudden revelation. Chris turned back to her.

“Well,” he said after looking at her for a moment. “Standing around won’t get the field ploughed.” And he smiled as he turned to start the day’s chores.

Kate sat in the office pondering what had happened in the year since that strange morning. Sarah had been hysterical and went straight to the Police Station. Kev, the sergeant on duty, was a regular at the pub and knew Chris; but he also knew his duty and sat Sarah down while he went to talk to Chris. 

Kate fully expected to be brought into it as a witness but that wasn’t required, as Chris didn’t deny anything. He was charged with attempted murder then, after an uncontested argument of temporary insanity all charges were dropped. He was committed to a psychiatric hospital where, by all reports, he was a model patient. After a few months he was allowed visits from Amy and Sarah. Sarah chose not to visit but allowed Amy to go with her grandparents. Amy had no memory of the time before Chris left and grew to like her Dad and his stories of walking the countryside and sleeping under the stars.

Kate missed Chris, even though he had only been at the pub for two months. He was a good worker and a decent bloke; she liked him. She wondered what might’ve been if Sarah had just stayed away. 

In her visits she could see that Chris was progressing well and she wasn’t in a hurry. There’d be a place for the bird with the broken wing in good time.

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