For my friend Nik Ratcliffe, one of the best girlfriends I have.
Kitty Ryan's favourite Singer had been Nat King Cole. She was a girl and then a woman who embodied romantic notions of love, so when she had first heard him crooning from the radio, she knew he was the one for her. It was love at first note.
His rendition of Stardust was therefore the song she had chosen to bid her farewell on her exit from this mortal coil. At last she would be reunited with Frank in the cemetery plot that they had purchased together and in which he had been resting for the past twenty odd years.
Maybe not the most appropriate tune for a funeral Walt pondered as he sat in the church listening to Nat's melodic silken tones, but then again, why not? Who had the final word in their own ending if not for the person who had been the major participant in it? Fair play to Kitty, it was after all her day.
It summed up Kitty and all she had stood for in her 87 years on this planet Walt thought. She had always been an eternal optimist always making time for others, listening to their woes and offering a shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear as well as a sweet cup of hot tea. No, no one would dare voice an uncharitable word or cynical eye roll about her musical choice. Quite the opposite in fact, for if they had truly known Kitty, they would be smiling with tears in their eyes.
Walt had met Kitty after he had retired from his life in London to the seaside and moved into the modest little house opposite hers in a quiet back street in Brighton.
All the tiny Victorian cottages were painted in complementary pastel shades that would have looked out of place in any other location other than by the seaside. Walt had liked that, he felt that after all that he had seen, that the tranquil coloured houses were just what he needed. Happy houses he had thought when he had first had laid his eyes upon them.
It was after Walt had just moved in and was finally settled and unpacked, that one sunny afternoon he had first met Kitty. He was tending to the window boxes at the front of the house, when he heard a voice.
“ My Frank always loved flowers. “ it said. Walt turned towards its direction and there was Kitty with her beaming smile.
Walt moved towards her and introduced himself “Walter Hawkins” he said extending his hand out to her. “Please call me Walt.” Kitty took it and said “Katharine Ryan, Kitty, very pleased to meet you Walt.”
She was much older than Walt, mid eighties he thought, but still beautiful and well kept. She had a way about her, a friendly manner that was long gone in so many others these days. It shone out of her like sunshine he thought.
“ I saw that you had moved in, I thought that I would wait until you were more settled before I said hello.” She said “I live just opposite, in the green one.” She indicated with her hand pointing backwards over her right shoulder. “If you need to know anything about the area, who, what or where, just ask.” She continued. “Being a stranger in a new place can often be isolating and we don't want that do we?” She smiled.
“No, indeed we do not.” Said Walt smiling back.
And that was how their friendship had begun, as so many do, with a simple exchange and a smile.
After that day, Walt became more aware of Kitty and her ways. She wasn't a nosy old dear, just a genuine people person. He felt quite protective towards her as their friendship developed and even though she was very independent he would often ask if she needed anything when he was popping out to the shops, or if she needed any help.
“No Walt, I am fine thank you dear.” She would always say.
On bright clear days she would open her front window to “Let the day in and the night out and to cleanse her thoughts.” On those days, Walt would often hear the gentle sounds of Nat King Cole drifting across the road from her house to his. This was always a great comfort to him and would make him smile.
And Kitty wasn't lonely either, as there was always a steady stream of visitors of both family and friends to her home.
One crisp day when Walt was on his way home from from town, Kitty called out through her front window as he was passing and asked him if he'd like to join her for a cup of tea. Why not he thought. Thereafter this became a regular thing between the two of them. Walt soon discovered why Kitty had so many friends. She was a joy and a pleasure, a treasure trove of a human being who was easy to talk to and who never tired of listening. She also had many colourful tales of her own to tell about her life both before and after Frank, that Walt adored hearing. She was a very rare thing, a true human being who made no demands on others and who was very wise. She was a gift.
Walt hadn't really wanted to reveal too much about his life before his move, but in a way it was good to share his history with a friend. Especially one that was as non judgemental as Kitty.
During one afternoon in her garden Kitty asked “Walt, forgive me, but I have to ask. You intrigue me.” Walt frowned, it was the first time he had heard anyone in his fifty years ever describe him in that way. He had always just been Walt, that reliable bloke, dedicated to his job, a good work colleague that could be trusted to do what was expected of him, but never intriguing.
“Why?” he said.
“ Well, my Frank used to say A man alone is a mystery to me and he was right. I see a man and he is on his own and that is a mystery to me because I cannot for the life of me understand why Walt?”
Walt returned her gaze as Kitty took his hand in hers “ We are friends and forgive me, but I just don't understand why you are alone. When you first arrived here, I thought to myself Oh I wonder when his wife and children will arrive? but they never did”.
“ Oh, I see, that.” Walt replied a little uncomfortable. “ Well, there is no mystery Kitty, I just never found the right woman, some of us weren't as lucky as you and Frank.”
Kitty squeezed his hand “ Weren't? Why are you speaking in the past tense? You're still a young man, handsome, caring and you like flowers.” She laughed “ Why if I was twenty-five years younger!” And they both laughed. But Walt felt the need to explain.
“I was always so busy at work, I never really had the opportunity to meet the right person.” He offered. “ I joined the police as a young lad and spent my entire career focusing on my work. I kept thinking I would meet someone, then one day I realised how much time had passed me by without even knowing it and I was shocked, so when the option to retire came up, I decided I had done enough and just wanted some time to reflect.”
Kitty raised her eyebrows and nodded her head and gave him her please continue look.
“ Well, I saw so much during my career, things I cannot even begin to talk about Kitty, so I found it hard to let anyone in. So many ugly things and situation, who else would have understood all of that? Being soft just wasn't an option. It never seemed fair to burden another person with the life I chose. In the end, I felt that I had given my all and I was so tired of it all, but now I see that it was at a cost, as I wish had found someone. Maybe I underestimated the empathy that another person could have been capable of? Maybe now is a good time to think about my Options?”
Kitty nodded and held his gaze, but Walt removed his hand from hers to give himself some space, as he suddenly felt very self conscious. He covered his action by drinking some of his tea. He felt exposed discussing personal things. He was so tired of the discomfort he felt. But is was true. Now he had retired and moved away from his previous life, his loneliness appeared to be amplified. If he hadn't made friends with Kitty, he might have gone on thinking it was okay. But now more than at any other time in his life, he didn't so much feel lonely, but just craved the companionship of another human being. God bless her caring enough to notice. Now that had he vocalised it, it sadden him, but it was also a relief.
How he wanted to break out, to be free to find a compass to guide his way forward from this point. Where was he? Adrift in a vast ocean of loneliness that's where. The only tangible thing he had was Kitty.
He was suddenly overwhelmed by this revelation and he began to cry as he mourned for all the time he had lived without that connection to another human being.
“Let it all out Walt.” Kitty soothed, “ Better out than in.” She offered up with all the knowing of someone who had also dealt their loss in the same way.
She moved closer and stroked his back and there they sat in the peace of her garden for as long as it took to dismantle the past.
Walt looked around the church. It was full to the brim. So many people, this was the measure of someone’s life he thought, the people who came for whatever reason, to celebrate the fact that you had once been here. His eyes rested on Kitty's family. Her children Nathan and Annie, their respective spouses and their children. All here because Kitty had once been. Walt felt a sudden tinge of jealousy and then ashamed to be thinking of himself on such a day.
After the funeral, Nathan and Annie had arranged a gathering at the church hall. Walt had never really spoken to them although he had often seen them when they had visited Kitty. He entered the hall and was pleased to see them welcoming the mourners at the door. He approached and introduced himself to them both.
Both Annie and Nathan gave him the same warm welcome that their mother always had.
“ I am so sorry.” Walt said extending his had towards Nathan “ She was a true inspiration, a lovely woman. I will miss her.” Nathan shook Walt's hand and placed the other on his shoulder “ Thank you mate.” Nathan replied. “ She mentioned you often and enjoyed your company and we were glad that you were there, just opposite her if she needed anything, although knowing Mum, she probably never did, but all the same.”
“The street won't be the same without her.” Said Walt. “No.” Said Nathan.
When he arrived home Walt looked out of his window towards Kitty's house. There was no music now and he wondered if there would ever be again. He blew a kiss in the direction of her house “I will miss you Kitty.”
A few weeks later, early one morning, Walt became aware of the all noise and activity across the street at Kitty's house. He looked out of the window and saw Nathan with Annie overseeing the grim task of removing items from Kitty's house. He felt for them, the thought of having to sort through someone else’s items, couldn't be a pleasant. He left them to it with a tear in his eye and a pain in his heart.
Later there was a knock at his door and Walt was pleased to see that it was Nathan.
“Hello mate, how are you?”
“ Oh, could be better. We are sorting through Mum's stuff and I found these and I wanted to give them to you in person while I was here.” Nathan handed Walt a letter addressed to him and a small flat wrapped item. Walt took both and looked at the letter. “Thank you.” He said “I will read this later.”
“Also, are you busy, can I ask you a favour?”
“Of course.” Said Walt “Please come in.”
After Walt had made Nathan a cup of tea and they had settled in the living room, Walt said “So, what can I do for you?”
“Well.” Said Nathan “ Mum said that you had been in The Police, is that right?” “Yes, thirty years service.” Replied Walt “ What do you need? ”
“Annie and I have decided to sell Mum's house, she wanted us to, but it needs a bit of work doing on it and as we aren't close by and seeing as you are and well because you knew Mum and because of what you did, we just wanted to know if you could keep an eye on the house. Please say no if you can't, we will understand.”
“I would be delighted” Walt replied “ It is the least I can do as she never allowed me to do anything for her in the, well in the past, look it will be a pleasure Nathan.”
“Thanks Walt, but only if you are sure? We can leave you a set of keys and exchange numbers? That way, I can let you know when someone is coming to quote on the work, is that okay?”
“Absolutely Nathan, my pleasure.”
Later after Nathan had gone, Walt hung Kitty's keys on a hook in the kitchen. He then picked up the letter and the package that he had also given him and went in to the garden. He sat down and placed the small flat shaped item on the garden table and then turned his attention to the letter.
I am so glad that we had the opportunity to become friends.
Our time together meant the world to me.
I have left you one of my most treasured items.
Listen in good health, especially the third song.
And please remember Walt, never say never.
All my love,
Walt placed the letter on the table and picked up the item. He unwrapped it and saw that it was a CD, a Nat King Cole CD. He turned it over and looked at the track listings. Track number three was When I fall in Love. He immediately walked back into the house and slipped it into the CD player and selected the track and pressed play. He then walked to the window and opened it as wide as he could and smiled.
When Nathan called Walt later that week to say that a man called Bill Masters, a local builder, would be calling in on him to collect the keys later that day, he asked him if he wouldn't mind showing him around. Walt, said it was fine and he would.
At just after seven, a van pulled up outside Walt's house and a young man in his late twenties got out. He looked at Kitty's house across the road and then at a piece of paper he held in his hand, before turning on his heels and heading for Walt's front door.
Walt grabbed the keys to Kitty's house on the way to answer the knock at the door. Bill Masters held out his hand “Hi, Walt? I am Bill from Master Builders, I understand that you have the keys to number 46?”
Walt shook Bill's hand. “Yes, I am and I do. Nice to meet you Bill. Shall we go?”
As they crossed over the road to Kitty's house Bill Said “Nice road, nice house, I understand that you were a friend of the lady that lived here?”
“That's right. “ said Walt “She was a lovely lady, I miss her very much. It is a great house, I am sure is won't be on the market long before someone puts an offer in, but I doubt they will be able to replace Kitty.”
Walt opened the door and Bill followed him in and closed the door behind him. It felt odd and intrusive to be entering Kitty's house without her being there to invite them in. It was the first time he had been there without her ever being there. He suddenly realised that it had been emptied and now all that was left was the house itself and that just felt hollow.
Bill's voice suddenly filled the void. “Shall I have a quick look round? Nathan said he thought it needed a bit of work, but to be honest, and you won't hear this from that many builders, but it looks to be in pretty good nick to me. Great house, nice original features and I bet there is a solid wood floor under the carpet crying out to be seen.”
“Yes do” Said Walt and Bill disappeared up the stairs to see the rest of the house. Walt remained downstairs and slowly walked around, he could hear Bill above him knocking on walls and opening and closing doors and windows.
Walt went into the garden and waited for Bill. After a short while he heard him coming back down the stairs. Moments later, Bill was standing next to him. “ Well, are you going to call Nathan and give him a quote for the work?” Walt asked “I think I am going to do more than that, I think I am actually going to put in an offer for the place.”
“Really?” Walt responded “For yourself or to sell on? Sorry, it isn't really any of my business.”
“No, no, not for me, for my Mum actually, Julia, she asked me to keep a look out for any properties for her to buy. Long story, which I won't go into, but she would love this house. I shall take a few photos if that is okay to show her and then, if she likes it, great, if not I will call Nathan and give him a quote for the work.”
“ Sounds like a plan, yes work away I am sure Nathan won't mind and I am sure knowing Kitty, she wouldn't have either.”
“Great.” Said Bill and “I will try not to keep you too much longer I am sure your family must be wondering if you have been abducted by now?”
“Sadly not, as I don't have one.” Said Walt “Oh, sorry mate, I didn't mean to. I mean I just assumed.” “Like you said Bill, long story. Photos?” Walt reminded him. “Yep, on it, I won't be long.” And with that Bill was off again, visiting each room to take photos to show his Mum.
Walt walked Bill back to his car, said goodbye and returned to his house.
The following morning Nathan called him. “Hi Walt, I just wanted to say thank you for showing Bill Masters around Mum's house last night.”
“My pleasure Nathan, he seemed very keen on the house.”
“Yes he was very keen, so much so, that he has put an offer in, which Annie and I are considering. Listen do you mind keeping hold of the keys for a bit longer?”
“No, not at all, just let me know if you need me to do anything else.”
“Will do. Thanks again mate, bye.”
Walt replaced the handset and thought about what Kitty would think and decided that she would have liked Bill Masters.
A few days later, Walt was returning home when he saw Bill's van parked outside Kitty's house with Bill sitting in it. As he drew closer, both doors of the van opened and Bill got out of one side, while a woman got out of the other.
Bill turned and waved at Walt and Walt waved back. The lady also turned and smiled at Walt.
“Walt, this is my Mum Julia. Mum this is Walt.”
“Please to meet you Walt.” Said Julia.
“Please to meet you too.” Said Walt.
“Are you here to look at the house?” Walt asked “ Mum came down from London today, out of the blue after I had told her about it, I know it wasn't planned, but do you think it would be okay?” Asked Bill. “Let me just call Nathan” Said Walt “Great” Said Bill.
Nathan said it was fine, he also told Walt that they had decided to accept Bill's offer and said that he would call Bill in a while to tell him. In the meantime, he asked Walt to let them into the house before he called them with the news.
Walt did as he was asked and left Bill and Julia alone in the house while he returned to his own to make some lunch.
While he prepared it, he decided a bit of Nat King Cole was needed, so he went into the living room, placed the CD kitty had left him into the CD player and opened his front window and pressed play.
Just before track three started to play, there was a knock at the front door. When Walt answered it he was surprised to see Julia there. “Bill said that you were the key holder, well for now at least, so I am just returning them.” She smiled and handed them back to Walt. “Thanks.” He said “ What do you think of the house?” “It's just perfect.” Beamed Julia “And they have accepted the offer, so hopefully it won't be too long before we are neighbours.” “That's great.” Said Walt smiling back at her surprised by his own openness towards someone he had just met.
Julia smiled “ It isn't isn't it?”
“Yes” Said Walt.
“That's Nat King Cole isn't it?”
“Yes it is”
“I just adore him and this is one of my favourite songs, that's a good omen as well isn't it?” Said Julia.
“Yes” Said Walt “I believe it is.”
- Holly Searle
- London, United Kingdom
- Holly Searle is a writer who was born in Westminster in the middle of London. She shares her birthday with Jarvis Cocker and David Seaman and like Jarvis Cocker she wears glasses but has nothing whatsoever in common with David Seaman. She is fascinated by words, people and their stories, and regularly spends hours fantasising about being offered a weekly column. She has a degree in Film and Television which she gained from Brunel University in 1997. She has been blessed with two quite remarkable children whom she adores. She enjoys the company of her friends and the circus that is life. Long Walk to Forever by Kurt Vonnegut is her favourite short story. She is the author of the published children's tale The Story of Balan Singh, and is currently working on her first book.