Love In The Third Age


FOR THE LOVE OF ROSIE is a novel about unrequited love and a long life during which Walter could relive some of his old memories. And he had a letter addressed in a very familiar hand. But dared he open it? His heart had been broken once and he couldn't bear the idea of it being broken again…

For more about the development of the main character you could do worse than going here.

What follows is part of a lengthy first chapter.




The sun crawled down the sky casting weak and faltering beams of paling light onto a shadow-encrusted Earth. The old man nodded to himself when random thoughts, given a kind of life of their own by this and that accident of light, touched his mind like they often did these days, a strange poetry crafted from memory and the golden world outside.

In a reverie he dreamed that maybe that sun was an ancient mythic swan, dying maybe, like the day was dying, feathers like shards of sunset light splintering in his dimming eyes, feebly thrashing its slow way beyond the edge of the sky. He could even hear the rhythm of its wings beating against the dawn air, but it was only a fancy. Old Walter often had thoughts and daydreams like that, especially when he sat by his bedroom window (on the ground floor on account of the fact that his legs could no longer manage the stairs) and gazed at the pools of stagnant ochre that glowed dimly on the wet roads and pavements outside. At eighty-something he was less nimble than some of his contemporaries, but it wasn’t his fault. Nothing was ever his fault, he knew that, he’d always been a small cog in a huge machine, subject to the whims of others but rarely subjecting them to his.

When you get old, he thought absently, when you get old and remember when your limbs were strong and you could run and tumble in the copse or down by the sea during summer stays at the coast then you might, sometimes, want to cry at what you’ve lost…I do, and my tears are dry tears these days.

His craggy features formed a little humourless smile.

At what the years have stolen from you…he elaborated.

The letter had put him in the right kind of frame of mind for dark thoughts, for memories that had been locked far too long somewhere inside his head, for uncharacteristic introspection. It wasn’t that he’d actually opened the thing, you don’t open letters if you don’t want to, bills and so on, and other stuff … especially if the whole idea of opening them scares the shit out of you. You think about it, put things in order if you can, prepare yourself for torture. Because however outrageous the unopened letter might look you really know, deep inside your mind, what it has to say.

This particular letter had arrived that very morning, out of the blue, suddenly and unexpectedly like bad news does, though he didn’t know for sure whether it contained news of any hue, good or bad or indifferent, because this was one envelope that contained the unknown. And if it was news then it certainly was old news. The address had been changed and the letter redirected more than once as the thing had worked its way to his letterbox.

He stood up and walked slowly to the sideboard and pulled on the top drawer until it was half open. He looked for the thousandth time at the unopened envelope. And the handwriting underneath the scratching-out and scribbles was still familiar even though his eyes were a great deal weaker than they had been way back when … when he had last seen its like, back when the weary sun that even now was almost gone had been a bright-eyed cygnet. It jogged something lost and deep inside him, set a whole lot of memories jostling around.

He raised the envelope to his nose and sniffed, and sighed. That was it. That was the confirmation. She … sweet Rosie of the fragrant hair and even smile … she had always smelled like this. Even way back, at the beginning of things, in the dizzy teenage days of running and chasing when he had learned to love that one first time. Ah, Rosie, sweet Rosie, the best most blessed love of them all. And so long ago, so painfully long ago…. There can only ever be one first love, special and hopelessly fragile and so easily lost.

He sighed, pushed the envelope, still unopened, back into the drawer safely out of sight, and returned to his chair. Slowly, he sat down. He did everything slowly these days. He had to.

He closed his eyes, pained by the reflection of his inner-self that he perceived in the weakness of the world beneath the sun. It hadn’t always been like this, he told himself. Once, so long ago it was hard to believe the enormity of the tally of years between then and now, he had been a laughing, running, shouting child. Those had been the days! Days of brilliant sunlight, long summers, warm voices, cuddles and whispered goodnights. Days before the long loneliness had begun.

Walter liked to dream. His dreams, orchestrated by his conscious rather than his subconscious mind, were recreations of a past that was all that Father Time had left him to toy with. When your legs fail to obey your least whim, can’t walk properly let alone run and skip and jump, you have to dream. He stood up, wearily and somewhat falteringly, and made his way to the easy chair where he spent the greater part of his life these days. He needed to dream again. He closed his eyes and with a conscious effort banished the present. Custom and practice made it easy.


The scene was bright and clear, untarnished by the years that separated now from then. It must have been the late spring of around 1934 or 1935. Yes: he had been thirteen or fourteen, something like that and still unaware that soon he would be a man with the changed perspectives that maturity bestows on a body. The interior of the house was newly painted in dull but friendly colours, browns like chocolate and greens like emerald marzipan. His room always smelled of roses for there were always roses in a vase on his table. At least that was how he remembered it and had it been any other way he didn’t want to know. Roses went with his boyhood, and that was that: not sissy or anything daft but a fragrance that gave those days a small bit of their texture.

Outside, the garden was learning how to bloom, a vivid collection of shades glistening under the sun, adding new scents to those of the bleach-clean interior of the house. He ran down the crazy path to the street and looked around, seeking adventure.

Ah! There was David down there. David, too, was about fourteen, his blood brother and best ever friend. They had sworn secretly and with many terrible oaths that they would stick together through thick and thin, whatever thick and thin might be. The ceremony in which they had pricked their fingers and allowed their reluctant blood to merge in a crimson blob on a scruffy corner of a sheet of blotting paper had been the most sober of sober affairs. And when it was all over and their mixed blood was a brown stain on the paper and the last echoes of their oaths had died away, they had smiled secret smiles at each other and run outside to play, their new union a thing of such enormous permanence it made them feel one with the old oak tree that grew down the lane.

“David! Dave!” he shouted and the other boy turned and saw him.

They ran to each other and made that most secret sign, one that nobody else knew anything about.

“What’s up?” asked David.

“Nothin’. What we goin’ t’ do?”

“Can’t. Got t’ go out. It’s me cousin’s birthday.”

“Oh.” Walter felt a knot tighten inside him. One day he would recognize the feeling and give it its proper name: jealousy. But as it was he just felt a kind of hurtful disappointment. Today was a bright and sunny and he wanted to play with David more than he wanted to do anything. David was fun and the things they did together were special.

David looked at him ruefully, his eyes almost guilty. “It’s Annie. She’s ten,” he explained.


“Yeah. I gotta go. It’s a swine, ain’t it?”

“I thought we’d go t’ the copse.”

“That’d be great. But….”

“The stream’s swollen from last night’s rain. I bet I c’n hardly jump it any more.”

“Me neither.”

“I thought … mebbe t’morrow?”

David shook his head. “Don’t get back ‘til day after. Annie don’t live near ‘ere. We’re goin’ by train an’ stayin’ at her place for a couple o’ nights.”

“By train?”

David nodded.

“That’ll be fun for y’, then.”

“See y’ in a couple o’ days, though.”

“S’pose so.”

“Gotta go straight away.”

That statement was a knife turning in his guts. Walter felt his eyes begin to prick with the threat of tears and knew it would let him down if he didn’t do something about it. So he put on his best grin and shrugged his shoulders.

“Can’t be helped,” he said, trying to sound casual.

Then they heard David’s mum calling him, her voice shrill and torn like an autumn wind.

“Comin’, Ma,” his friend shouted back. Then he shook his head, made that most secret sign again and ran off.

Then Walter was alone. The day seemed darker, somehow, and that prickle behind his eyes was getting moist. He stared at the back of his friend as he disappeared from sight and then walked slowly off.

It wasn’t far to the copse. The trees that grew in an area no larger than half a dozen back-gardens put together were straggly at best and the stream wasn’t really very much. But there was a wonderful wild magic about it, one that was forged from the scents and sounds of the place, and memories of bold deeds that he and David had imagined doing there. Stories were made in that timeless place, thought Walter, adventures dreamed and even battles fought.

He stood by the stream and gazed at it as it lethargically made its way over pebbles and stones and vanished into a pipe that took it under the lane where it was set free again to start its journey across a meadow. Every time its water hit a larger stone or boulder or an unseen obstacle it leaped into the air, suddenly and momentarily awake, catching the sunlight in its own special way, it cast flickering cascades of diamond light at the boy.

Then he went to their tree and climbed into its feeble heart, careful to avoid those branches he knew were too frail to support his weight.

David and he had spent a lot of time in that tree. They had spoken secret and almost powerful words whilst perched between its threadbare branches. They had promised each other wild and wonderful things, and then hatched plans and schemes that one day, when they were bigger, they would put into action and through which they would rule the neighbourhood before taking over the world itself. That was the sort of tree it was. It encouraged dastardly plans and was the most appropriate of all backdrops for outrageous schemes.

But David wasn’t there. Walter looked around, and sniffed. There was nobody in sight, and no sound on the summer air, and there were tears in his eyes. You can’t decide important things with tears in your eyes and without a soul to talk to. He jammed his fists into his eyes and the tears were staunched.

After a while he decided to climb down. It was no good. There was no fun being in a den, even a high one like this, when there’s nobody to whisper plans and schemes to.

It was just as he made the first move that he saw the strangers. On the verge of jumping down, he froze, hugging a frail branch and becoming still as a statue. He didn’t like strangers visiting the copse, and he knew David didn’t either. The copse was meant for them and them alone, it was a law of nature like the sky being blue and the grass green.

They were two girls, of all things, roughly his age by the look of them. So far as he was concerned, girls were the worst kind of strangers of all. Both he and David despised them, swearing to each other that they would never, ever waste so much as a moment of their time thinking about them. And they would never do that most unmanly of things and get married when they were grown up. Not ever. Marriage meant girls, and that was definitely, most definitely, out.

But now there were girls in the copse! They were standing by the stream and talking. Walter strained his ears and caught most of their words. He knew it went against his pact with David to actually listen to the creatures, but told himself that he really ought to know what they were up to. He might have asked them, of course, but that would only give them a chance to tell lies. Girls always told lies: everyone knew that.

“I’ll bet you can’t jump over that,” said one of the girls.

“Easy,” boasted the other.

“Without getting your feet wet?”

“Of course.”

“I don’t think I could. It’s fair swollen.”

“I’ll show you if you like.”

“Go on, then.”

The girl who had boasted stood back and gazed at the stream as if measuring it with her eyes down to the last tenth of an inch. Then she took a small run and leapt, arms and legs flailing. She landed on her bottom and her bottom was in the water.

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