Now.....I want to explain how to gauge this chapter with the same amount of emotion that was felt when it was written down so you can feel his heart and all the things that made this chapter so special. First...have two glasses of good wine, not the cheap stuff, good stuff! If you are not old enough to have wine then have a flytox (see previous chapters for meaning of this) or cordial instead. Then shower, put your pyjamas on and sit back in bed, on the sofa, back into the couch or even at the kitchen table. There are several songs that will evoke the same feelings and I will point them out when it is time to start listening to them.
Ok...let’s begin shall we?)
It was just before the tiny, little, annoying plastic alarm clock set about waking up its owner that Ben’s eyes fluttered and his hand closed and opened in the emptiness on his wife’s side of the bed.
She wasn’t there.
She wasn’t going to have breakfast with him either.
Zara wasn’t going to giggle and goo until she was either picked up, and placed in the warm comfort zone of her parent’s bed or taken and put on the change table to have her backside changed.
Ben’s eyes were open and filling with tears. He missed his family more than words could tell. His bedroom was warm from the fire and the condensation on the windows was running down the glass window pane in much the same way the tears were running from his eyes down the cheeks of his face. Emptiness mesmerized his entire being. All the spirit company he now had at Amazing and Graceful would not be able to fulfil the anguish he felt.
Ben was repeating himself by doing even the most simplest of things.
He was checking and rechecking the wood in the bucket.
Ben was walking from one side of the mattress to the other making sure the family bed was made and even by army standards, it was perfect. Ben also removed an Australian 20 cent piece and then dropped it from a small height and the coin bounced over on itself because of the sheets being so taught.
Again, Ben checked the wood in his room then went to the bathroom to brush his teeth. It was in every dip into the water to rinse away the bubbles in his mouth that Ben caught momentary glimpses of his own reflection in the bathroom mirror. It was in the last rinse that he was able to stand up and look at himself for a time before leaving the bathroom. He looked at his facial features contemplating his movements for the day and trying to understand how his heart was truly feeling. The hardest part of looking at his face was to look into his own eyes. The windows to his soul blinked the tears down his eye lashes and into the bathroom sink. Surely such pain would not last. This was a temporary feeling and one that would pass with activity.
Ben walked down the stairs and waved casually to the house guests that were having breakfast in the dining room then made his way into the kitchen to make himself some breakfast. It will be a quick and modest meal that is prepared in the kitchen because Ben is in no mood to obstruct his purpose around the hotel and out of Amazing and Graceful into the fresh air. Folded cling wrap compressed three cheesed white bread sandwiches and Agnes poured boiling hot water into a thermos for Ben. She also tapped into the thermos three good heaped tablespoons of fresh coffee grounds then she sealed the lid.
Ben took his food from the kitchen bench and said a mumbled goodbye to Agnes, who replied with......‘you goo an doo what you have to do Ben to feel better lad. I’ll hold the fort, away with ya noo.’
Ben stopped at the kitchen door and smiled back to Agnes. He did not linger to hear any more talk he just walked toward the cupboard with his fishing rods in it and grabbed one pole and his tackle box then headed for the front doors. Upon reaching for the brass door knob Hambone dashed over to his side because he knew he was going out in the boat. ‘Not this time friend, I need some time alone. Be back soon and look after Lamb Shanks for me could you?’
Hambone dropped his head and turned back toward the fire dejectedly and slumped down next to his cousin. The Dunmours all waved and said goodbye to Ben and Raphael lifted one of his vines up and shaped it into a hand then began waving at Ben. The door closed and Ben stared into the eyes of Zara who was standing next to Lamb Shanks kennel.
‘Will you be okay Ben?’ she asked in all sincerity.
‘Yes thank you Zara, I just need some alone time for a bit....but thank you for asking.’
Ben walked down to the boats and untied his favourite little boat. He put the food and thermos under the bow of the boat and stepped in and away from the stone steps. There was not much wind today so the little wooden boat rocked gently as Ben settled in to begin rowing away from Amazing and Graceful. His strong hands pulled against the smooth oars in the water while the muscles in his shoulders and arms came to life with the first heave and wrench against the weight of the boat. Zara watched from the side of Lamb Shanks kennel as the little boat propelled itself down the Loch and away from sight. Zara floated back inside Amazing and Graceful taking up residence in the mirror next to her father.
‘Dad I am worried about Ben, he seems so hurt and distant.’
‘I know child I have felt that me self. Maybe as he says, he does need some time alone.’
‘Perhaps I should send Hambone out just make sure he doesn’t come to any mischief?’
‘That sounds like a good idea Zara darling.’
Zara floated out of the mirror and got down on her knees in front of both dogs and whispered into Hambone’s ear. At once the dog was alert and panting in excitement. Zara once again told her wonderful dog to stay a good distance away from Ben so as not to attract any attention of his presence to Ben. Zara had only just blinked and Hambone was out the door and gone.
Ben rowed until he could not see Amazing and Graceful no matter what direction he looked. All he could see and hear was the wind in his ears and seabirds fighting over an old fish that had died and come to rest on the Loch banks closest to his little boat. That seemed to be a good spot to stop and have a walk to clear the cobwebs. Ben tied the small boat to an old tree that had come to rest in pretty much the same spot he had, grabbed his food and pack and headed off up the hill to see what he could see. With every step he could hear the blood pounding in his ears and the grass give way under his feet. Ben was distancing himself from all that he had known, albeit for a short time, to fix the sadness in his heart.
His little boat now tilted to one side as the tide slipped away and left it beached on the small rocks. The seabirds had made quick work of the old fish stripping its flesh to the bone and then making a hasty retreat as a small woodland fox came out of nowhere to see what he could scrounge. Ben continued up to the top of the hillside that encased the Loch and found a rocky outcrop with which to sit and have some food. From this height he could oversee miles of the Loch ...right before his eyes. The wild grasses heaved to and fro in the wind and from this height it looked like a huge green mattress that was alive in so many different places, bowing and curtsying to the squall.
Ben sat down on what looked like a very old moss covered rock and then he lifted his knee up and rested his elbow on it, supporting his head whilst catching his breath. His eyes cast down toward the pack that held his food and hot coffee. Almost instantly his mouth began to salivate at the thought of the tasty cheese and fresh bread being chomped on then swilled down with hot fresh coffee. High above Ben’s head a majestic Kite flew on the thermals created below him and he sounded his cry around the hills, perhaps to attract a mate or to pine for a long lost companion. Ben looked up and threw out some bread that was caught by the wind and landed some distance from him but was enough to bring the bird down to the ground to feed. Ben and the bird looked at each other in respect. Ben had the feeling that he was looking into the eyes of a kindred spirit. The bird ate the bread then he spread his wings and let the wind lift him up into the air.
(Now my friends it is time to play the first song. A song that I feel best befits this moment in time. The song was originally written by Stevie Wonder but some years ago a wondrous guitarist took the song and gave it new wings. Please play it as you read, Jeff Beck’s version of Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers.............now.)
The wind filled the wings of the bird and he soared close enough to Ben so he could see the yellow coloured skin that circled around a jet black eye that looked directly into Ben’s heart. The bird called to the valley and the Loch and the sounds travelled through Ben’s soul. Ben lowered his hands to the thermos and filled the lid with steaming coffee. He held the cup and felt the heat from the coffee transfer its way into his hands. Ben lifted the cup to his lips and sipped the brew. It felt good. It was warm and he felt it travel down into his body, filling his heart with a heat that since he had been rowing the little boat had been non-existent. It was good to stop.
The view from the top of the hill made him feel small in comparison to the hills and valleys that had been around since before time and proper records had been kept. Ben sipped his coffee and blew air out his nose over the hot brew, that in turn returned warm coffee flavoured steam into his face. The coffee was just what he needed. As Ben gazed at the grass dancing around in the wind he was reminded of Aubrey’s long hair doing the same thing when she came for walks on land around Dunmour’s Cottage.
Ben started to think about his mother at the cottage. It had been a while since he had dropped in on her and had tea with conversation and pikelets, jam and cream. As Ben reached for the first cheese sandwich he told himself to drop in on her and check up on her wood and grocery supply. He bit into his sandwich and washed it down with gentle sips of coffee. Little Zara’s face, cheeks bursting with porridge and honey, made him smile and hold his sandwich on his knee between bites. Closing his eyes filled him with images, sounds and sensations that he held so close to his heart that was part of his relationship with Aubrey. Being a Husband and Father were such special certainties, being a friend to Peebles and Lord Broderick Bannock’s clan also bought him closer again to feelings that for years in Australia had been dormant. He sipped his coffee.
The tide was out and his little boat was just a speck in his field of vision. It was leaning to one side on the rocky beach and Ben drew on the analogy that he too was leaning a bit. Some of the wind had come out of his sails in such a way as to render his body devoid and sadly lacking enthusiasm for even the smallest of tasks. Walking up the hill set his body in motion again regenerating his spirit in the wind. It felt good to be active and moving. The food he bought filled his appetite sufficiently to make him ask himself how fast he could run down the hill back to boat. Ben grinned at the prospect.
He hadn’t done anything like that since he was a little boy, sitting on an old cardboard box hurtling down a grassy slope flat stick, coming to a horrendous pile of laughter, limbs and a pummelled Corn Flakes box. This could be a good thing. Ben packed away his lunch into his pack and made sure it was secured tightly on his shoulders then he pulled on the straps of his pack and settled himself at the top of the hill. His little row boat seemed so far away but reachable. Ben ventured off at a small running pace down the hill feeling his body jolt on every stride, the wind in his ears increased in volume till he felt the uneven rocks under his feet and he came to a stop next to his little wooden boat. He looked across the Loch at the hills as they disappear behind rain clouds and he hung his head down and thought of Aubrey, Zara and what they would be doing at that exact moment.
Ben threw his pack into the boat and began to drag it back into the water to row home. The Kite sounded across the Loch as Ben pushed his oar into the cold water and the journey home had begun in earnest.