0015 – Gareth: Love, Part 3

It had been a couple of hours since Gareth and Karl had parted company. Gareth still hadn’t regained his colour. His insides were swimming and churning with nerves, his mind addled and clouded by an agonizing cocktail of emotions.

How dare he ask this of me? How could he?

The day had become decidedly overcast, but that hadn’t stopped Pam from buying an ice cream. The two of them leant on the railings of a small bridge together, their shoulders touching, looking out along the tranquil river. Some of the people walking past them were wearing coats. Pam’s shoulders were bare.

“There’s no surprise, is there?” She asked him. Her tone was amused, more than anything.

He didn’t quite know how to answer. He simply sighed.

“You had to do something here, didn’t you?” She was craning her head forward, trying to look around in front of him and meet his thousand-yard stare. She was fond of eye contact.

“I’m sorry.”

Pam slid her arm around his hunched, thin shoulders. Her other hand held her dripping ice cream. Two scoops, two completely clashing flavours. She had taken deep, hungry licks of them, the grooves worn by her tongue crossing seamlessly from chocolate to bubblegum.

“Let’s feed the swans!” She was trying to cheer him up, cajoling him by tugging on his far shoulder, squashing his body against hers.

Gareth couldn’t help but laugh, his worry-lined face brightening for a moment despite the storm of resentment inside him. “Feed the swans?” He asked her. “Don’t you mean the ducks?”

“No, I mean the swans.” Pam solved the problem of her dribbling ice cream by taking a sizeable bite out its dripping side. She hid the pang of pain from her sensitive teeth quite well. “Nobody ever feeds them. Don’t you think it’s sad?”

“You’re not supposed to!” He’d turned to look at her now. His mouth was smiling, at least. He hugged around her waist. “They’re aggressive.”

“So are ducks,” she commented. “Randy little buggers, ducks are. They’re not nice about it, either!”

The conversation that followed proved more than an ample distraction for Gareth. They walked, arm in arm, from the little old bridge, making for a corner shop. Pam described, in lurid detail, exactly what she had meant about the ducks.

“The opposite way?” His face was a mask of incredulity. “How do they…”

“With considerable difficulty.” She was grinning, popping the truncated tail of the ice cream cone into her mouth, and crunching right through it. She kept on talking with her mouth full, covering her lips with her palm. “That’sh why they alwaysh looksh sho frantic when they-”

The shopkeeper cleared his throat. “Can I help you?” He asked, with impeccable timing.

By the time they had walked back to the bridge with the loaf of sliced bread tucked under Gareth’s arm, he had nearly managed to put Karl’s demand from his mind completely. He was still conscious of it. He had no choice. But for these precious few moments, things could go on as they always had been. Not even Pam’s cancer mattered right now.

They arrived at the little set of narrow stairs leading down from the bridge to the river below. The bank was steep, and the stairway made an apologetic attempt at a zig-zag down to the surface of the water. Three swans were clustered together idly by the bank, with a fourth gliding off towards a teasing child on the opposite side, its wings making the characteristic circle of aggression.

“No cygnets,” Gareth noted with relief. “They’re all grown up by now, thankfully.” This meant the swans wouldn’t be too territorial.

Pam grinned, momentarily holding herself in a cat-like posture, and grabbed the bag of bread from under Gareth’s arm. “My turn first!” She exclaimed. Such childish gestures looked surprisingly natural on her, despite her advanced age. Her upright posture, slim physique, and good mobility did a lot to make her seem like she had a right to be playful.

Gareth looked her in the eye. It was the least he could do. Would his eyes betray him here?

“Go ahead,” he told her. “I’ll follow you down.”

Pam turned her back, putting her right foot forward, ready to tackle the first of the narrow, unguarded steps.

Time seemed to slow down.

Let yourself do it, Gareth told himself. Just do it. Do it. Do it do it do it.

He did it.

He had been expecting a shriek of surprise, or maybe a scream as she fell. But she didn’t make a sound. Pam tumbled forwards onto the steep, hard, unforgiving steps. Her right arm darted out to break her fall, and her wrist made hard, crunching contact with the stone. Her fragile torso collided with the ridges of the stairs with full force. Her body slid forward to the first turn in the path, and her unconscious head collided with the sodden earth of the riverbank, sending her body into a pathetic, crumpled heap that tumbled on awkwardly for a few more steps, sprawling like a corpse halfway down.

He prayed inwardly that she would not fall further, that her sleeping skull would not tumble down and dash her brain out along the ground. People around him were screaming now, but he was rooted to the spot, swaying in the gentle wind atop the stairs. It would only have taken the lightest push to send him right down after her.

Bystanders were already helping to carry Pam back up the stairs, calling for help, running madly. Someone was shaking Gareth by the shoulder, asking him frenzied questions. He couldn’t hear them.

In his mind, Karl smiled. He clenched his fist in hatred. He imagined smashing that fist into Karl’s smug, cruel face, as hard as he could. It did nothing to help.

The rationalisation had already begun inside of him. Karl did this. Not me. This happened because Karl demanded it. Not me.

One day, I’ll make him pay for it.

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