This story was written in response to this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge on the theme of age and changing perspectives at the Daily Post on WordPress
People said a paved walkway would spoil the natural beauty.
Others said too many people would walk along the river if they opened the banks up with a path.
As if they owned it, and would not tolerate trespassers.
Shaunie Mac had fished the river as a boy, darting effortlessly through hedges, clambering over banks without a thought.
But as he aged, hedges became barbed defences and banks were treacherous mud piles where no boot could find a grip. There were days he wondered if he had ever run along the river’s edge at all, with eyes peeled for the spotted back of a brown trout motionless in the gentle flow.
The doctor was talking to him but Shaunie’s mind had wandered. His daughter’s tears told him all he needed to know. He could live without the details.
‘Did they ever finish that river path that all the fuss was about?’ he asked her.
The doctor cleared his throat. Shaunie’s daughter – so like her late mother – held his hand.
‘Daddy, did you understand the doctor?’ she asked.
‘Och, never mind that. I’m going to die, but sure that’s hardly news, is it?’ he said. ‘Now tell me, did they finish the path?’
The doctor wasn’t happy, but that evening Shaunie’s daughter wheeled him along the new path. It was mild and he could have done without the blanket tucked around his legs but it was a concession that made his daughter feel better about taking him from the hospital.
The few other walkers all seemed to know him, saying things like ‘Hello Shaunie, how’re ya keepin? Isn’t a grand evening?’
He didn’t know many names but their faces told him who their parents were, or maybe their grandparents.
They rounded a corner and came upon a man who was bent low, staring into the river. Shaunie smiled.
‘A wee brownie, is it?’ he asked.
‘I’m sorry, I do not understand,’ the man replied. ‘My English is poor.’
‘Fish,’ Shaunie said, nodding towards the river.
The man smiled and pointed. Shaunie’s daughter pushed the wheelchair closer. Shaunie knew he hadn’t a hope of distinguishing the fish in the brown water but the light in the other man’s eyes told him it was there. It was enough.
As his daughter pushed him further along the path more and more memories flooded back, as if the river had been keeping them safe while waiting for his return.
‘You should teach that boy of yours to fish,’ he told his daughter.
‘He’s a man these days, Daddy,’ she said. ‘We’ll not find till he has boys of his own.’
‘All the more reason to make sure he learns,’ said Shaunie. ‘All the more reason.’
© Siobhán McNamara