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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Beagle Covid-19 Lockdown writing competition: Owen Reid

"Here, hold my beer will you". 

It's still quite dark, even with the candles sparsley placed on the ground. I feel the cold can and wrap my hand around it. 

Bill fumbles in his pockets eventually finding his cigarettes and Bic lighter. It snaps on, the light temporarily blinding me as it shakes in front of my eyes, somehow finding the end of Bill's smoke then disappearing. 

I sit there as my eyes readjust, Bill smoking quietly. The smell annoys me but I don't say anything. Wouldn't matter anyway, Bill isn't one to care too much. 

Its not that he's inconsiderate, far from it, he's just at that age where opening his eyes simply means he has to fill his day, and smoking is about his only pleasure. 

His bony hand remembers his beer and he reaches for it in the darkness. I'm surprised at how warm his hand is. There is still a strength I can feel. 

"Best time of the day" he states, to anyone listening, "I'm up every day, earlier than this". 

Another puff. 

More silence. 

A couple join us on the street. I recognise the McIntyres from 5 houses down. It's a good feeling to have others come out in the early morning. 

There's 8 of us now, all spaced apart. 

A "joining with distance". 

I'd tried to get Bill to move his seat but he wouldn't. 

"Stuff it", he'd said, "infecting me would be merciful!" and he uttered a raspy laugh that let me know it wasn't up for discussion. 

"Besides, I'm hardly likely to infect you, I don't go out anywhere and the Meals On Wheels people don't come inside". 

He smoked.

More silence.

I saw a couple of people looking at us sitting there in our chairs. 

Bill never wore his medals, as appreciative as he was at being awarded them he'd told me the loss he'd suffered couldn't be soothed by some bits of metal. 

I'd rarely asked him much about his war years, even though we'd sat and chatted about life, politics and day to day issues many times, more now since his wife's passing. 

I figured if Bill wanted to tell me he would.

It had been 6 years since Elizabeth had left the earth, leaving our family a not spoken about "adopted Grandfather" over our fence. 

My kids loved him.

My curiously fattening Labrador loved him.

My wife adored him until she too left suddenly.

Goddam cancer. 

He belched softly, the air suddenly tainted with the beer/ciggie odour. 

"Sorry mate" said Bill and I was immediately disappointed at my annoyance at him burping, figuring somehow I'd allowed it to show on my face. 

"I don't normally drink this time of the morning but with all these restrictions in place and no real Anzac Day I got to thinking a morning toast facing the sunrise was the least I could do for them". 

Somehow it DID seem the right thing and I told Bill I'd be back in a minute. 

Not long after I plunked down in my chair, ripping a can open. 

"Cheers Bill" I said clinking my beer against his "here's to you and all your mates, thank you". 

Bill spoke softly "I think there's a few heads turned! ". 

"Who cares mate" I said "you bloody well earned it" 

"Absolutely, but I don't want them thinking I'm a pisshead, they might start talking about me!" 

Our muffled laughter earned a few more looks so we took a swig of beer to shut ourselves up. 

The light was beginning to increase quickly now. 

"Whats the time boy?"

(It was always "boy" even though I'm 56.) 

I flicked my phone on. 

"About a minute to go". 

"Here, help me outta this damn chair, my hips playing up a bit, must be some rain coming".  

I eased my arm under Bill's, his frail frame slowly straightening as he got himself erect. 

"Pass my hat will you". 

I handed Bill his prized possession. 

A slouch hat he'd kept all those years. 

The only piece of war he reckoned joined him to all his mates, alive or dead. 

He turned to face the sun and I could see his rheumy eyes stare hauntingly towards the east. 

I could almost hear the guns in Bill's head. The roar of battle. The horror of the trenches. The screams of the dying. 

The blood and mud. 

He staggered slightly and I reached out quickly to support him but he brushed my hand away. 

"Stop fussing boy" he gently chided "its like having Lizzie here!" 

Bill reached up to his hat, moving it slightly on his head. In the pale light I could easily see the pride.Hat raked at an angle, cockily perched, the strap snugged against his frail chin. 

For a moment, as I looked, I could see the young Bill.

Tall and straight backed.

Keen and sure.

A boy really.

A boy with a sureness that he was headed off to save his country from invasion. A boy with a sureness that his contribution was critical to the worlds betterment. 

And for that moment as Bill stood, it seemed that from deep within he found the strength and determination to stand his ground once more. 

I never meant to cry, but it was impossible to halt the tears, the haunting sound of the lone bugler ringing out through the neighbourhood. 

I sneaked a look at Bill, his cheeks wet as well, his lips quivering. 

He saluted to nobody, yet to all.

The images racing through his mind as he honoured those memories. We stood there in total silence. Shoulder to shoulder.

It felt good.

All too soon it ended. 

An awkward moment settled on us. People thanked Bill, obviously wanting to shake his hand or hug him. 

The forced distance serving to rob Bill of the only real contact he had with the neighbourhood these days.

"Anybody says they've never been affected by war doesn't have a damn clue what freedom is" he mused "come on, grab those chairs and you can make me an egg on toast".  

We ambled slowly down my driveway. 

"You got any Scotch?" he  enquired. 

"Easy mate" I said. 

"I had to ask" Bill chuckled….


NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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