A winter dusk is settling in, all crisp shadows since the rain dried. Alf drives the bike hard, weaving through the evening traffic, practising the words ‘Teddy’s fine’ to make sure they’ll be at the top of his mind when he arrives.
‘Alf! Lovely! Wasn’t expecting you.’ Raine gazes up the road from the front step. ‘Teddy’s not home yet. Running late.’
Alf, hat and gloves in hand, rumples his hair. ‘That’s what I’ve come about–’
Raine steps back, eyes wide. ‘Teddy?’
Damn. All his practice.
‘Teddy’s fine.’ He ushers Raine into the house. ‘It’s Mr G. Had a heart attack–’
‘He’s in the Royal, in surgery. I’ve come to tell you Teddy’ll stay with his mum and Maggie until the hospital calls.’
‘Uncle Alf!’ Stevie roars down the hall and throws himself at Alf, who lifts him with a grunt.
He pretends to stagger, sets Stevie on the bare boards. ‘You grow too quick! Much too heavy for me to lift! Mummy feeding you iron weights?’
Stevie giggles. ‘Course not, silly.’
Raine squats, takes hold of Stevie’s hands. ‘I need you to go into the lounge and keep an eye on Jenny, please. I need to talk to Uncle Alf.’
Alf tells what he knows. Raine leaves him to watch the kids while she goes to the phone box on the corner to ring the Greenes’ house. Maggie answered, Raine reports to Alf. They’re still waiting. Raine talked to Teddy, passed on her kindest sympathies to Mrs Greene.
She crosses her arms across her chest. ‘I pray, pray, pray he pulls through.’
They sit at the kitchen table, Alf eating the sausages, mashed potatoes and peas Raine had prepared for Teddy. The kids ate earlier, have been put to bed and read to by Alf. When Raine came to kiss them good night, she explained that Daddy is staying with Nana Greene tonight because Papa Greene isn’t well, and she and Maggie need Daddy’s help.
Stevie was curious. ‘Aunt Maggie’s a nurse. What does she need Daddy for? He’s useless when we’re sick.’
Raine squeezed his pyjama-clad shoulder. ‘They’re worried, like we’re worried when you or Jenny are ill, and he wants to be there to make them less worried.’
‘Hmm.’ Stevie tucked teddy under the blankets and received his kiss without further question.
In the kitchen, Raine rests her elbows either side of her unfinished dinner and cups her chin in her hands. ‘A lovely man, always kind to me, stuck up for me when … well, you were there, Alf.’ Her lips quiver. ‘He can’t die.’
‘He won’t die.’
‘No, he won’t, and I’ll have to get over my dislike of hospitals all over again, visit him, take the kids to cheer him up.’
She stares above Alf’s head to a spot on the wall, doubtless remembering visits to her father in the same hospital. And the last visit, the day of the Christmas Pageant. Alf never met Raine’s father. Neither did Teddy.
‘I miss Pop every day.’ Raine returns her gaze to the living. ‘If Mr G comes through, he won’t be able to work for months. How will Mrs Greene cope?’
‘She has Maggie, they’ll manage. Besides, there’ll be money from the Housing Trust, don’t worry.’ He sighs. ‘Means Maggie and Arthur’s wedding will have to wait, again.’
‘Poor Maggie.’ Raine runs with the change of subject. ‘She’s waited so long already, and all because of this house obsession Arthur has.’
Alf plans to add to his ‘Mmm’, except Raine, elbows still on the table, presses her palms together and peers at him. ‘Arthur’s right.’
‘Right? About his house obsession?’ Alf is confused.
‘No. About you going some place else, restart your batteries.’ The corners of her mouth curve up. ‘Not that I’d compare you to an old car, Alf, only …’ She breathes out, catches and holds his gaze, which he’s trying to keep neutral despite the urge to protest. ‘You’re in danger of wasting your life away here. And now … well, with Mr G not able to work, hopefully not forever … it’s the perfect time.’
‘What makes you think I’m wasting my life?’ Her words hurt, because Alf has a deep sense they might be true. ‘Not everyone has to marry, have kids, buy an old house at the beach to do up.’ He’s on the defensive and if it wasn’t Raine, he’d raise his voice.
‘True.’ Raine reaches across to stroke Alf’s hand lying on the table, the same way she touched Stevie’s shoulder earlier. ‘You should have someone, Alf, you deserve happiness too. And that someone might need to be found elsewhere.’
Alf squirms, his skin tingling at Raine’s touch and the way his thoughts jump to Nurse June.
‘I’m happy enough.’ What he means is, he’s more or less content. Or he was, until first Arthur, then Raine, started on him.
Raine raises her eyebrows. ‘Enough?’
Get Walking in the Rain here!