By Judi Walsh

It was one thing when Simon took over the running of the farm, but when she stayed behind in the big house with him, it was quite another. Seeing Bernard demoted to the little cottage down the lane, the other villagers could not understand why he wanted to stay working on the farm in such close proximity to them. Losing a wife to the man promoted above him would have made most men want to crawl away, embarrassed, at least to the next village. But poor, brave Bernard was different. He was such a nice man. Gentle hands, you see; green fingers.

Just after they separated, Bernard wrote a note. He wanted it there in black and white: no hard feelings. Holding the envelope out in front of him, he trudged up the familiar drive towards the once comforting glow of the porch light, scuffing gravel as he went. He hesitated outside the door, digging a small hole with the tip of his boot. Finally, he posted his note through the letterbox. It was a great big heavy contraption, and it made too much noise.

For a moment they were in silhouette: Flora holding the door open, Simon holding the note, and Bernard looking awkwardly at the floor. The tableau went on for too long, but Bernard waited, rooted to the step. At last she said he should come in. They could talk about it as adults couldn't they? Simon rolled his eyes, and Bernard protested, but then he was there, at the kitchen table, mug in hand. He told them that he understood, that he just wanted to get on with the farming, and they treated him with the patronising air that they were all still friends when they were anything but. As he left, wearing his old body-warmer with worn shoulder patches, she and Simon shared a knowing smile. Poor, dear, pathetic Bernard, hanging round them like a scolded puppy. Did he have no self-respect?

As the season passed, being around them seemed to get more comfortable for Bernard. He sent appropriate cards with friendly, submissive notes. He studied the cards they sent in return, looking carefully at the two signatures side by side. He worked hard to show them that he was a good employee, that he bore no ill will, despite what they had done. He dropped by the house to ask this, deliver that, remind them of the other. Irritated, Simon tried to avoid him, but Bernard was persistent, as if he had all the time in the world to wait for the door to open.

Simon told Flora she should have a word. Bernard was bloody spineless, why couldn't he get angry like a normal chap and have nothing to do with them? At least then they could get on with their lives without him wafting around like a bad smell. She berated Simon for being so heartless. Yes, Bernard was spineless, and pathetic, and a bit of a pain, but how could they not accept his offer of friendship, after what they'd done?

When Christmas came, Bernard delivered gifts, hand-made especially for them. Flora asked him to stay for dinner, and he declined and muttered polite excuses about being in the way until she insisted. Before long, she and Bernard were laughing and reminiscing, and Simon was glowering and drinking brandy. Clearing up, Bernard threw the last of the paper hats onto the fire, and Simon looked on as the embers caught light. Later, Simon slammed doors and threw accusations. Don't be ridiculous, she told him, you're acting like a spoilt child. At least Bernard is grown up enough to let bygones be bygones.

By spring, Flora and Simon were arguing just enough for their separation to be plausible. There was even a note, complete with signature. And when Simon left, Bernard was there, a solid pair of hands, to pick up the pieces. Running a farm is difficult at the best of times, but especially difficult when you are a man down. Bernard toiled all hours to make it work. He worked in the morning, tinkering in the machine sheds. He worked in the evening, checking the manure heaps. He even worked late into the night to help out, muck-spreading by floodlight with a very special organic blend, which nurtured the new shoots beautifully.

Judi Walsh lives in the UK and writes flash fiction and short stories. Her work has been published on the web at Paragraph Planet. She was a runner up in the 2012 Salt Prize for Flash Fiction. You can follow her on twitter @judi_walsh.

Copyright 2013 Judi Walsh. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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