Icy mid-November winds sliced, coldly salty, over the smoothly rounded beach pebbles and up beneath the main promenade deck in front of the genteelly faded hotels of the Brighton promenade, situated in that town on the bleak winter English Channel coast.
The sadly grandiose, age-worn striped canvas awnings protecting worn hotels and sad bed-and-breakfast doorways were almost as diluted as the winter sun which now faded myopically behind the rolling Sussex Downs looming -- silently chalky -- behind them.
It had been an hot summer, but that was now long gone, and the recent bitter north eastern winds had, with supreme confidence, easily dragged out the shawls and overcoats of the few late strollers brave enough to present themselves upon that venerable stretch of English Coastal Society.
Sir Archibald paused for a moment and slowly turned the wheelchair towards the expanse of water that was still reflecting the last cold grey rays of a vanquished sun.
He looked down at the silver hair of the lady seated in the wheelchair below him, and his eyes immediately misted with tears.
It could all have been so different, he mused silently, as he placed one arthritic hand upon his wife's shoulder. They could have had children to carry forward her beauty and tranquility for generations eternal. They could have enjoyed holidays together, cruising in the Mediterranean or languishing luxuriantly, cocktail in hand, beneath a palm tree in far-off Barbados. They could have sat before crackling fires on long autumnal evenings, saying little, but reveling in their closeness.
But it was not to have been.
The accident and the court case had put paid to any such life for which they had hoped.
Sir Archibald released his wife's shoulder and reached into the breast pocket of his shooting jacket, withdrawing the silver cigarette case. As he opened it, his eyes misted again.
There was the now blurred but familiar inscription. "A.S.D." His initials: Archibald StClair Devreaux.
His wife Camilla had told him, upon the day when she had secretly presented it to him at the top of the grand stairs in her husband's Hampshire estate, that the real meaning was "Archie, you Sexy Devil".
Sir Archibald lit a cigarette and carefully replaced the silver case in his breast pocket, patting his jacket to ensure that it was securely housed. He would never lose it.
It had been almost forty years since he had received it.
He dropped his hand gently back upon her shoulder, and felt the familiar tingle of pleasure as she turned and elevated her slimly elegant neck to look up at him. Her eyes were still the most perfect azure blue, despite the intervening years and the smiling wrinkles that had invaded their surrounds since the times that he was remembering.
"You are smoking again, Archie ..." she mocked him gently. "... you know what Sir Devon warned you about that !"
Devonshire Tredgold had been at school with Archie at Eton so very many years ago -- in the same boarding house, even -- but, secretly, Archibald did not believe that the nasty little shit had improved at all in the intervening years before he had died.
"Devon always meant well, my dear."
Sir Archibald would never openly have admitted it, but he had never lost much sleep after the burglar had shot Devonshire Tredgold, who should never have been permitted to marry Camilla, anyway.
Sir Archibald gently stroked his wife's hair, as Camilla continued.
"But you never did listen to his advice, did you ?"
"Not always, my dear."
She looked back out over the steely misty English Channel again as she placed her good hand gently over his, on the wheelchair grip. "I wish you would, darling. Who would push me if you were not here ?"
There was a long silence as the braver tears began to force their way between the now squeezed lids of Sir Archibald's eyes.
As he blinked them back, the end of the South Pier seemed to be sinking; slowly sinking into the soulless grey ocean which now looked even more blurred from behind his frameless spectacles.
"My darling ..." the croaking of his voice shocked him "... I love you so much, and always have ..."
"I know, darling." She raised her good arm over her shoulder to clasp his hand again, but once more he did not grasp it.
The bank manager had been becoming increasingly strident with regards to the overdraft, and Sir Archibald had been compelled -- against all his better instincts -- to consider the possible benefits of the insurance policy.
Slowly he wiped the tears from his eyes, fondly ruffled her silky white hair one last time, then released the handbrake and gently nudged the wheelchair into the cold dark ocean.
Above the gentle shushing of surf on cold pebbles, Sir Archibald could have sworn that he heard his wife's voice one last time, but there was no anger or malice in it.
"Archie, I always knew that you would."
Article © KK Brown. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-06-20