‘We’re going to be late,’ Richard said. He checked his watch again and lit a cigarette.
‘It’ll be fine. Sit down. The show doesn’t start till three. I just want to stop here for a few minutes.’ Carly sat on the bench and looked down over the city from the east side of Memorial Park.
It was a city she knew well, where she was born and where she and Richard had now settled. But it was a changed city in much the same way she was the same girl who grew up in it. Spring had always enchanted her with its promise of rebirth. The winter had been warm, some flowers had become confused by it and bloomed early and she wondered if they would survive now the temperature had dropped.
‘You said you’d give up for new year,’ Carly reminded him and waved the smoke away.
She never liked Richard’s smoking and although she tolerated it because she loved him, she could never endure the taste of it when they kissed.
‘We all need something to keep us going.’ Richard shrugged, smiled and took another drag.
‘Am I not enough?’ Carly nudged Richard in the arm and some ash fell on his knee.
‘Oh, you’re too much sometimes.’ Richard winked and looked at his watch again.
Carly pulled one end of her scarf and drew the knot tighter around her neck. Her mother had knitted the orange and cerise scarf for her before she left home for university and it was frayed at the edges now. Richard hated it and said it looked ugly.
‘We really should be going. Do you want to see him first?’ Richard said. He extinguished the cigarette and put his arms around Carly.
‘Yes.’ Carly smelled the tobacco smoke on Richard’s clothes and watched as the city below continued to move with life. ‘It was a spring day when we buried him. But warm. I didn’t really understand how to feel about it back then.’
A woman walked past with a labrador and greeted them with a smile. The dog reminded her of Stanley — of when he came back. That was a spring day too. They thought he’d gone missing but he turned up one Saturday morning. They’d just finished breakfast when they heard his familiar bark outside. Her father washed him and they took him for a walk together. That was before her father got sick.
‘I really wish you wouldn’t smoke.’
‘I’m trying to cut down,’ Richard checked his remaining cigarettes in the packet.
‘They said his heart was because of cigarettes. I remember when they wheeled him into surgery. He held onto my hand and cried. That was the first time I remember seeing him cry. It was a hot summer. We went to Cornwall. I remember seeing that big, red scar on his chest. It stretched from his throat to his abdomen and had these little red pits where the stitches had been.’ Carly turned to Richard and laughed. ‘He looked like Frankenstein’s monster on the beach with his shorts. I’ve got a picture somewhere.’
Richard lit another cigarette and swapped sides so the smoke didn’t blow onto Carly.
‘But he continued to smoke and kept saying the same things you say about how it kept him going. But, the ironic thing is, it didn’t.’ Carly’s tears felt cold in the wind. ‘I was devastated. Absolutely devastated.’
Richard took a handkerchief and dried Carly’s tears but smoke drifted into her eyes.
‘They said it was an overdose. Mom had found him. That he got depressed. We thought it was because he found it difficult to find work after the surgery. But Mom said later that he always struggled with his mood and that’s why he smoked. She said it helped him. Then it kind of made sense. Sometimes he used to sit there and say nothing. Just stare. And sometimes he’d disappear. Mom used to tell us he was away on business. I guess she was protecting us. I found out later he’d been in a psychiatric hospital.’
‘I’m sorry honey. But he loved you, a lot. That’s the important thing.’
‘It doesn’t help the fact he’s gone.’
‘I know. Come on. We should get going,’ said Richard as the smoke drifted between them. ‘Don’t keep thinking about it. Memories are bad for your health.’
‘But there’s another reason I want you to stop smoking.’
‘Come on Carly. Not the money thing again.’ Richard stood up and stamped his feet against the cold.
‘It’s not the money,’ Carly said. ‘I’m pregnant.’
‘I found out this morning. You’re not upset?’
‘No! How can I be? Oh! That’s wonderful.’ Richard extinguished the cigarette and hugged her.
‘So you’ll quit smoking now?’ They kissed and Carly tasted tobacco smoke again.
‘Yes! Definitely,’ said Richard.
As they walked through the park towards the cemetery, Carly noticed some of the trees had started to blossom despite the frost. She smiled at the thought that the world would soon be bathed in the promise of beauty again. A change was in the air — she could smell it.