‘You won’t find the answer in the bottom of there Sonny.’
Max looked up at the elderly gentlemen then at the half empty bottle in his hand.
The old man’s Jack Russell sat between Max’s legs eager for a fuss.
‘What do you know about it?’ said Max patting the dog’s head.
‘More than you know, Sonny. I’ve been around the block and I know a broken heart when I see one.’
‘That obvious huh?’
The old man smiled as he took a seat on the bench. His piercing aqua-marine eyes seemed to hold an ocean of sympathy and experience. Max felt a sense of peace and a wave of calmness washed over him. He offered the drink to the pensioner who waved his hand and shook his head.
‘No thanks. I gave that up fifty years ago, ten years after my doctor said it would be the death of me.’
Max nodded, then drained the bottle some more.
‘I’ve a lot of catching up to what you’ve probably drank.’
‘All the same you won’t find the answer in there. So what’s the problem? Why did she break it off?’
‘Sarah, my girlfriend, wants me to marry her and she wants a baby.’
‘I’m guessing you don’t?’
‘Yeah but not yet. I mean, I don’t know if I’m ready.’
‘You love her right?’
‘Yeah, of course. We’ve been together since school.’
‘She obviously loves you.’
‘I’m not so sure now she’s broke it off.’
‘She’s playing you, testing you. Believe me Sonny, I’ve been there.’
‘My name’s Max. Stop calling me Sonny. I’ve not seen you or your dog around before, who are you?’
‘I’m Mr. Whittle but you can call me Harry.’
‘So Harry you always walk your dog at two in the morning? There’s a lot of weirdos about at this hour.’
‘Yeah, never had any bother have we Barbara?’ He petted the dog who raised her head and whined in answer.
‘Barbara? Unusual name for a dog.’
‘I named her in memory of my wife who was killed in the war many years ago.’
‘Oh sorry. That’s a nice thing to do though.’
Max thought he saw a solitary tear leave Harry’s eye and run down his cheek.
‘Was she in the forces?’ asked Max.
‘No. She was killed by a German bomb during a raid. They hit the hospital where she was working as a nurse.’
‘Oh I’m sorry.’
‘Killed my unborn child too and our wedding planned for the following spring. Killed my whole life.’
Max was dumbstruck and took another huge gulp of whisky to mask the awkwardness of the situation.
‘What I’m saying Sonny. Sorry Max, life is too short, you never know what’s around the corner. The love of my life she was, taken in the blink of an eye. We didn’t even find her body amongst the rubble to give her a proper funeral.’
‘I’m sorry.’ said Max.
‘Don’t you be sorry, not for me anyway and don’t make the same mistake I did by putting things off. If you love her, marry her, give her that child. Once she is gone there’s no getting her back. I mean that whether something terrible happens to her like my Barbara or if she falls into the arms of another who gives her what she wants. You got to live for the moment, you never know when that moment will end.’
Mr. Whittle stood up with remarkable ease for such an old gent.
‘Well we’d best be off. Remember Max the answer’s not in that bottle, it’s in your head and more importantly it’s in your heart.’
Max sat staring at the label on the bottle for a few moments. He watched Mr. Whittle and Barbara strolling away through the dim light of the street lamps. He noticed a small red box where Mr. Whittle had been sat. He leant over, grabbed it, and flipped it over in his hands.
‘Hey Mr. Whittle,’ he called. ‘You’ve dropped something.’
Mr. Whittle stopped and turned to face him.
‘You keep it Sonny. Do the right thing.’ He waved and Barbara barked as Max watched in astonishment as they simply disappeared.
He opened the velvety red box and was astounded at the white gold wedding band encrusted with diamonds. He examined it in the orangey glow of the lights. An inscription was on the inside of the band.
He read it out aloud.
‘For Sarah. My always and forever. Love Max.’