“Uhm, interesting” Susan thought as she watched the man from behind her net curtains. She saw aspects of familiar training in the new walker. He was clearly new to the park, which was like the arena in a Big Top, encircled by large family homes now converted to flats or houses of multiple occupancy. Their occupants mainly provided the park joggers. Beyond the first row, in tiered layers were smaller terraced houses with families and children; the source of the dog walkers. Her bedroom window overlooked the tree-lined, circular park and she spent several hours a week, drinking coffee and simply observing the activities. There was a regular ensemble of walkers, joggers and amblers; the latter their hands enclosed in plastic liners, were invariably trailing a dog.
It’d been 2 years since Jonathan had returned to his wife. He’d kept his promise. She kept the flat. The generous financial settlement he’d made, supplemented her income as a freelance journalist. The price – discretion. None of those factors, however, dealt with her growing loneliness.
Susan had maintained absolute integrity since Jonathan had gone back to the merchant bank in the USA. It had not been easy, she missed him dreadfully; his laughter, energy, excitement and particularly the embrace of his arms, yet knew it was over and she could either stay as a slowly decaying spinster or find solace elsewhere.
She picked up the binoculars from her bedside table and focused them on the man. He was different. No dog, no ambler, not jogging, but definitely walking in a brisk, military manner. Memories of her childhood in a garrison town came flooding back; watching her father walk onto the parade ground, the slow hush as he gathered himself, before that stentorian bellow and hundreds of feet moving as one. The fast moving Light Infantry.
He looked early 40’s, slim, tanned, and clearly from the pace and duration of his walking, reasonably fit. Susan felt instinctively attracted to him. “This is quite daft,” she thought whilst continuing to observe him. The binoculars gave her an insight into his overall appearance yet she felt challenged to get even closer in a surreptitious manner. Caution was in order.
After watching him for several days, Susan realised he was, as one would expect from a military man, on time, regular and reliable. You could set your watch on his entry and exit from the park and his pace round it. She also noticed that on several occasions whilst he did not have a dog, if one of the myriads of species using the park approached, the man would hesitate briefly, show it attention and even pat it, before acknowledging the owner and moving on.
She did not want to reveal her interest too quickly, so next morning Susan went to the local charity shop and bought two coats and hats. They were suitable for much older, larger women and in normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have been seen dead in them, but they offered a disguise, and the opportunity to get closer to her target.
Susan carefully selected a bench that had some shelter from the often prevailing winds. From there, she could see when he entered the park from the opposite gate and carefully prepare herself. She took one of her late father’s books with her “The Might Of The Military – Fact Or Fiction”, and placed it carefully on her lap, ready.
Through her tinted glasses, she knew immediately he was on his way. His pace was precise and metronomic so she counted one hundred and twenty before picking up the book, ensuring the distinct cover was visible before sensing his eyes on her as he swept past on his inexorable daily ten laps. No wedding ring visible. Good.
Susan maintained her presence for three more laps before jogging to her adjacent flat, picking up the binoculars and watching his response when he returned to the place she’d been sitting. She sensed a distinct disappointment in his demeanour, as he glanced briefly at the empty bench before continuing his walk. It’s promising Susan thought, before realising that whilst focusing intently on her father’s book and the man’s fingers, she’d forgotten to look at his face.
The next day she wore the other coat and hat and positioned herself on a different bench, with a book titled boldly “The Folly Of The Falklands”. That should attract some interest she thought opening the book just as she heard his footsteps approaching her bench and looking up. She was sure he actually nodded at her after glancing at the book.
“My, he is handsome” Susan thought, noticing that his nose appeared to have a slight Romanesque appearance, with pronounced dark eyebrows above his very tanned face. His cheek bore what appeared to be a scar. He was wearing shorts and an athletic vest, and she saw immediately that he was both muscular and lithe. As he moved on towards his next circuit, a large Alsatian dog came bounding up to him. He stopped and briefly touched it’s muzzle in a friendly manner, before resuming his walk.
The animal sanctuary was very helpful. Apparently, they were always looking for short-term foster homes for dogs, and subject to a quick home inspection, felt sure they could offer Susan a canine companion on a loan basis, whilst the relevant owner was incapacitated. This was no time for disguises, so Susan gave the coats and hats back to the charity shop, and went shopping for something athletic, waterproof and suitable for a dog owner. True to their word, the sanctuary subsequently provided an extending dog lead with Fang, a three-year-old excitable Staffordshire terrier on the end.
Whether it was the enjoyment of the park with fresh smells and sounds, or the man reaching down and genuinely showing interest, Fang bounded up dragging Susan behind. The man began to stride away just as Fang making another attempt at friendship, bounded after and then round him, entrapping his ankles with the lead, which Susan then deliberately tugged. He tumbled to the ground with Susan seemingly mortified.
She could see there was a long graze on one knee, and a cut on the other shin-bone. As the man sat up and tried to entangle the lead from his ankles, Fang took the opportunity to vigorously lick the man’s face. Susan leant down and pushed Fang away.
‘Look I’m terribly sorry. It was entirely my fault. Fang’s new, and I hadn’t realised how strong he was. Oh dear, you’ve cut your leg badly, and it’s bleeding……I’m so sorry.’
‘That’s OK. I’ve had worse.’ he replied in a distinct Aussie accent.
“I bet you have,” thought Susan, as she saw vivid white scar tissue on his cheek. He sat still for a moment before trying to get up off the ground. As he did so, a rivulet of blood slowly trickled down his leg and towards his sock. She instinctively knelt down, pulled a tissue from her anorak pocket and began to dab at the wound. She wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.
‘Look, it’s entirely my fault, and I’ve ruined your walk.’ Susan paused ‘My flat is just across the road. Please let me clean you up properly. It’s quite nasty, especially when you’ve fallen down on pavements which dogs regularly poo on. Need to get it sorted pronto.’ He looked directly at her for a few moments before smiling and holding out his hand. Susan found his accent fascinating.
‘OK, Sheila. I’m Brett. Show me the way.’
‘I’m not Sheila, I’m a Susan.’ she said. Brett began laughing and she felt an immediate rapport with him.
‘Where I come from, all women are Sheila’s until proven otherwise, which I guess in your case won’t take long. Here let me take the dog; it needs a bit of training, so we might as well start now.’
“What did he mean we/” Susan thought. “Perhaps a slip of the tongue or another ‘Aussieism’?” They crossed the road, with Fang meekly walking alongside a limping Brett. Susan opened the front door and gestured the pair in. ‘Please go into the kitchen, straight ahead, whilst I get my first aid kit from the bathroom.’ She ran upstairs, applied a fresh coat of lipstick, brushed her hair and activated a quick squirt of scent before returning.
As she entered the kitchen, Brett was sat with both legs resting on an adjacent chair. The excitable Fang sat quietly at his feet. Brett was browsing through one of the books that had been sitting on an adjacent dresser.
‘What did you think of the Falklands campaign then?’ he asked quizzically. ‘Didn’t think that such writing would appeal to you, especially that other one about the military.’ nodding at the dresser. Susan took a deep breath.
‘Why cos I’m a Sheila?’ Brett nodded respectfully then smiled.
‘Anyway they’re not mine, they belong to my aunt.’ Brett smiled.
‘I think I saw her in the park last week. You’re both quite similar. Even wear the same sort of distinct yellow trainers’
Susan could feel herself blushing.
‘Can I ask you two questions?’ said Brett. She paused, then nodded.
‘Are you single, and when is your aunt due home again?’
‘Answer your own question first,’ said Susan. Brett paused.
‘What? Am I single? Yeah. Anyway who’d want a burnt out Afghan Aussie? Now, Susan, it’s your turn to answer.’
Brett’s words permeated her senses. “This can’t be happening,” she thought, turning her head away, before looking directly back at him.
‘How about yes to the first, and a maybe to the second.’ Hope he’s not too “burnt out” she thought and smiled as she heard his immediate response.
‘That’ll do me.’ Brett laughed. ‘Now how about fixing these legs.’
‘My pleasure.’ she said opening her First Aid kit.