Brian had forgotten how to laugh. And to cry. He lingered, a lonely figure with hunched shoulders, framed by the cottage entrance. Flo watched him disappear as her husband accelerated down the lane. Flo waved from the window until they turned the corner. Then she drew her arm back in and twisted back to watch the road.
‘He’s no better. He smiles, but I tell you, his eyes give him away.’
‘What do you expect me to do Flo. Every week we visit and you come out with the same thing. Mum’s gone. He’s got to come to terms with it.’
‘I know, we’ll have a family picnic. I’ll get the kids to come.’
It took Flo three phone calls and, some blackmail, to persuade Brian to join the picnic.
That day he sat quietly on the rug, picking at his food. Flo gave her eldest son, Charlie, the look and, although he looked up at the sky, he jumped up and began organising a cricket match.
Brian was nominated bowler, though his eyesight was failing. The ball went straight, surprising everyone and connecting with Charlie’s bat, making a loud crack. The ball skipped along the ground towards Jamie at the left. Jamie chased, his eyes on the ball, but in doing so didn’t see the tree root obstructing his path. He fell onto his front and, as Flo described later, he slid down the river bank like Superman, with hands out front trying to grab the errant ball. He followed that ball into the river with a head-first plop and a fountain of water.
As his feet disappeared from view, Brian fell to the ground. Flo didn’t know where to run; to save Jamie, floating towards the mouth of the river, or attend to Brian.
‘I’m okay’, Jamie yelled, catching hold of a branch.
Brian was on his back, legs in the air and arms clutched across his stomach; crippled with laughter that dissolved into a torrent of tears.