Bench Mark by Jennifer Patsalidou

Defeat, it’s there hovering, waiting to join them. That’s how it always feels in her presence. She doesn’t want to be here, sat there like she’s in the doctor's office, waiting for bad news. They need to talk about their son but she’s twitchy, her new husband in the car park, and he imagines the impatient drumming of a business man’s hands on the leather steering wheel, a smell of lemon from the freshly valeted interior. 

He looks down the hill and remembers jogging up here last week, past the prone figure on this very bench. 

It’s what’s left from his recovery, the ability to run miles and miles with the steady beat that keeps him focused, waiting for the hormonal burst of wellness to pop in his brain, feel good endorphins released as his lungs open up. 

He enjoys the feeling of running away, from his army days, the youthful enthusiasm exchanged for survivors guilt, the drink. 

Army training was brutal but still didn’t prepare him for roadside bombs and body bags. And after.. sold his soul to the oil companies based in the Middle East, ignored the politics of it and spent his money on becoming an alcoholic. 

He barely remembers his son being born but remembers meeting the stranger sat next to him, loving her instantly. Failed the three of them. 

The last he knew, their son was studying sport science but that’s not the skin and bones of the young man he found on this bench last week, long legs curled up protectively, wrapped up in several layers of unclean. 

He learns the story now, an emergency meeting organised by the salesman in the car park. Their son’s addiction to prescription painkillers after a sports injury. A busy doctor telling him no more pain killers, that a student studying sport science should be able to sort the problem. So he did, he found an online source of the drug, smoked more weed to wean himself off the painkiller. He failed his exams, couldn’t get a job, had been sofa surfing since his mum kicked him out for maxing her credit card and stealing her jewellery. 

The man waiting in the car believes in tough love. 

The man sitting next to her has listened silently to the story of their son, different to his but familiar in essence, the concrete slab of his heart breaking into tiny pieces. The boy has not failed, he has failed his son and will now step up and do all he can to set things right. 

Published in Issue #9

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