The bench on the hill has a name upon it, etched onto a small plaque.
It tells the passing walker how someone loved this place, capturing the love and displaying it forever.
The bench sits empty, the marshes and the pasture stretched out in front of it, ready to help someone fall in love all over again. The unusual warmth of the Autumn sun battles with the last frowning grey of dawn. A kestrel hovers above, looking down, seeing all and enjoying the breeze which carries news of a turning tide.
Patrick walked out towards the sea wall, eyes screwed up against the watery light of the new day. He had spent the night with a woman whose name he had forgotten already. In fact, he was struggling to recall most of the night. He assumed that he had enjoyed himself at the time; nights like that seemed to blur into one.
The bench seemed unusually welcome. His legs felt weary and a nagging sense of unease irritated him. He should have felt happy or content or proud. Instead, he was filled with a sense of loss. What he mourned, he could not identify. Instead, he just had a feeling that he was missing something he had never possessed.
His heavy tread took him up the rise to the solitary bench. Before he allowed his legs to lower him onto the bench, he read the plaque. Looking at the hard seat, overlooking the unremarkable green marshes, Patrick wondered why somebody loved it here. He would have understood somewhere with a hot, sandy beach or someone loving a bar that stretched on forever, stocked with drinks that were free. But this place?
He lowered himself with a thump and let the gentle view wash over him.
A glimmer of peace had just shone a little, somewhere deep inside him, when the sound of footsteps on gravel snuffed it out. The footsteps were an intrusion.
The young woman was dressed for the outdoors, from a knitted pink hat down to her boots. Although Patrick could not see her fully, there did not seem to be anything remarkable about her. He returned his attention to the view as the walker carried on past him. His attention turned to a flock of sheep galloping across their field towards a man on a quad bike.
“It’s a lovely view, isn’t it?”
He liked the sound of the voice, a gentle cadence disguising an unexpected strength.
“Very nice,” he replied.
“The bench says someone loved it here,” she said. “I like the idea that someone felt like that. I love it here too.”
When Patrick turned to nod his agreement, she smiled. That was the moment that the sun came out fully. The water in the dykes began to sparkle. A bird erupted in tinkling song. The river began to swell with the new tide.
As he returned her smile, Patrick realised that he loved it here too.
If you enjoyed this story, you can read more of my short-form fiction in my latest anthology.
It is available for Kindle or in paperback here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Long-Walks-Short-Paths-Anthology/dp/B0BHN2XY8T/ref=sr_1_1?crid=11P2OMSF4VGEU&keywords=stephen+leatherdale&qid=1667052699&qu=eyJxc2MiOiIxLjAwIiwicXNhIjoiMS4wMCIsInFzcCI6IjAuOTIifQ%3D%3D&sprefix=%2Caps%2C243&sr=8-1