They walked under the railway tunnel that lost its original purpose long ago, along a path beside the new dual carriageway.
“At least the foot bridge is the same. Watch this.”
He ran across the bridge taking bigger and bigger steps as he went.
“Didn’t you see the bounce? No. Try it. Come on.”
“I can’t run. Someone might see.”
Simon looked at the traffic zooming underfoot.
“I can’t see anyone.”
Kate laughed, “You’re mad.”
Simon bowed, “Yes m’lady.”
“What the heck.”
“We have to run in time to get the bounce.”
“Oh my God.”
Kate collapsed into the rail and Simon held her up.
“It’s resonance. Get the right frequency and the bridge bounces. Get it wrong and it slaps you.”
“I thought you were going to drop your dad on a lorry.”
Simon laughed, “What a way to go. Ashes spread all the way to Bristol.”
“I’m heading back.”
“Okay. See you in about an hour.”
They kissed. A lorry honked and simultaneously their middle fingers gave the driver clearer directions than any Sat Nav.
Last time he’d been up Hope Hill was decades ago. He’d taken his girlfriend up to walk off mum’s Sunday dinner. There was no kissing gate then. Pity, it would have been fun.
Simon turned back in time to see Kate wave from the railway tunnel. He blew her a kiss and started the ascent.
The hill seemed smaller and in minutes he’d reached the cabbage patch – the steepest and muddiest field. The last cabbage had been planted years ago and only the name bore witness to better days.
Within three strides his boots had doubled in size and tripled in weight. The first rain dropped. His rain glazed glasses blocked his view but without them the landscape would still be a blur.
With effort he sucked his boot from the mud and trudged on. He soon entered the bull field where he could scrape mud without fear of its return.
No bulls today. No bulls any day apart from that once. Mum was in front carrying the picnic. Simon followed with arms full of paper aeroplanes. Dad behind and empty handed as usual. Mum stopped. Simon went to pass but she held him back. Twenty paces in front was a mountain of meat, skewering them to the spot. Dad charged past, arms waving, for once shouting for mum rather than at her. The bull retreated from the angry man. Mum kissed him. Her hero.
Simon took the diagonal to lessen the slope. In front was the pimple. A small mound that looked man-made. He had to go around the back to find the path through the brambles.
There was no trig point. The hill was too low to merit one, but it provided such a good view over Gloucester that the path was well-trodden and clear. The brambles were loaded with fruit and thorns. The old apple tree was still old and still produced masses of misshapen fruit.
After wiping his glasses he was able to trace his path and see his red car in the far distance, but he wasn’t sure which house was his childhood home. The home that dad sold as soon as he’d dumped mum in the home that wasn’t a home.
A new bench sat on their picnic spot – new to Simon but clearly weathered by many winters.
The engraved name hit him.
In memory of Mary Macleod, a beloved wife and mother
Simon collapsed onto the bench.
It must have been dad. Yes, Simon could clearly see his hand at work in the build and the lettering. Simon wondered if he’d carried the thing up here himself. That would be like him. Get a few of his followers to help him. He’d probably direct rather than actually carry.
The rain stopped and the city of Gloucester slowly emerged from the mist. The cathedral tower forlornly hoped for a ray of sunshine.
What would mum think? She never blamed dad. She couldn’t see how much he put her down. She only saw the small kindnesses. Wooden plates, stools, picture frames, spoons, their bed, all the stuff he crafted that stood in for love.
She’d have loved this. She’d tell everyone how he’d made it. How he’d carried it all the way up here. Just so she could rest after picking blackberries and enjoy the fine view.
Simon took the ashes and poured them under the bench.
“Maybe you loved her in your own peculiar way.”
He picked three apples and one leaf. The leaf wiped the ice-cream tub clean enough for apples to share space with blackberries. It’s what mum would have done. Her love came as crumble.
Kate popped open the car boot.
Simon yanked at his laces. Another broke. He twisted it loosely around his finger and tied a bow. Without rising from his knees he took hold of Kate’s hand and held out the ring of broken lace.
“Will you marry me?”
Kate laughed, “Who are you? And what have you done with Simon?”
“But you’ve never wanted to.”
“I’ve been afraid it’ll go wrong. But…well. Will you?”
“You sure you want this?”