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Early Retirement














Lea Tassie



First published by Oddville Press, Volume 2, Issue 4, February 2015


Shakespir Edition June 2016


Copyright 2015 by Lea Tassie


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Early Retirement



One January morning, I arrived on the Windsong walkway at dawn. In the distance, downtown city towers rose like small black boxes against a pale yellow sky. The brighter yellow street lamps and flashing headlights marked the network of streets. For a change, no breeze blew and the rigging on the boats in the marina was silent. Even the water was smooth and shone slickly gold below the boardwalk where I stood.

Heavy rain the week before washed out a leaning arbutus, which had fallen across the walkway and broken three planks. The new lumber looked raw against the old, weathered, rain-soaked cedar. The arbutus lay in the water, tied with ropes to keep it from floating out into the harbor and fouling seaplanes and boats. The bark was still smooth and red, the leaves still glossy green and I wondered how long it would take the tree to die. It looked odd lying in the water, as though sky and water had flipped and the world was now upside down.

As I walked around a tiny, shallow cove past the big Garry oak tree which spread gnarled grey branches over the water like an enormous umbrella, Cassie came galloping down the hill to meet me. She’s a mutt with brown and black fur and, surprisingly, bright blue eyes. Gayle, her owner, raised a hand in greeting.

“Hey, Beautiful Blue Eyes!” I rubbed the dog’s head and she butted my knee, then danced away, coaxing me to chase her. We’d been playing tag ever since the summer.

A deep male voice spoke behind me. “Beautiful Blue Eyes! What a delightful name! Come, will you play with me, too?” The voice had a slight accent which I couldn’t identify.

I turned to see a large, chunky man and a small, slim, blonde woman. Cassie sniffed them both and gave a tentative wag of her tail. We stood around admiring the dog and making comments about the weather. The couple chatted easily and gave their names as Wendell and Suzanne. Suzanne had an accent, too. European, probably, but I couldn’t pinpoint the country. After a few minutes, Gayle said she had to leave or be late for work. She and the dog loped down the hill and disappeared around the bend.

Wendell and Suzanne walked ahead of me along the narrow, twisting path and stopped at one of my favorite spots, a bench where I sometimes sat and looked at the harbor through the trees clinging to the steep rocky slope below. Suzanne clambered down to the shore and dumped the contents of a plastic shopping bag on a flat granite outcropping.

“That is where she puts meat scraps for the crows,” Wendell said. “If she forgets, the crows follow us for hundreds of yards, scolding.”

I had once watched two crows battle on that rock. One crow lay on its back and, like a cat, used its claws to rake the belly of the second crow. The second crow jabbed the supine crow with its beak. They were vocal and quick, and the fight lasted barely three seconds before they rose into the air, one chasing the other into the trees.

“They do not recognize me,” Wendell said, “only Suzanne, for it is she who gives them food. When I am alone, they do not bother with me.”

Suzanne climbed back up to the path, using tree branches as hand holds, and the three of us watched the noisy crows claim their morning treat. “Come, we must hurry,” she said. “You know I promised to be at work early this morning.”

I fell in behind them. Wendell lumbered like a bear but Suzanne put her feet down soundlessly and with precision, like a stalking cat. They were obviously familiar with the walkway. “I take it you usually come here later in the morning.”

“That is correct,” Wendell said. “I have retired early because of my health, but I take Suzanne part way to work. Then she runs the rest of the way, which I cannot do.”

We had reached Delancey Street, which dead-ends at the walkway, when a voice hailed me. “Hey, Sandy! Coffee’s on.”

It was Hal, my buddy from the cribbage club, standing on his back porch in sock feet. I waved goodbye to Wendell and Suzanne and sat in Hal’s kitchen for an hour, shooting the breeze. When we were through, I decided to go on home rather than walk to town and back.

I caught up to Wendell near the marina. My surprise at seeing him must have shown on my face. He said, “It takes me a long time to finish the walk; I have to often sit down and rest.”

I felt a bit sorry for him. “Have you been doing this walk for a long time?”

“Just the last few months, since I retired. But Suzanne has been walking this waterfront for close to thirty years. She has worked for the government a long time.”

Wendell went on. “I love to travel, but it is becoming difficult because of my health. I have a bad back, and I am one hundred pounds overweight. It is unfortunate that my wife likes so much to work. If she would retire, we could travel and sightsee and it would be easy for me to lose some weight.”

“Have you tried dieting?” I asked.

“When Suzanne is home on the weekends, she makes me exercise and eat properly.” Wendell laughed and waved his hand dismissively. “I tell her I allow her to do this. But I would rather walk around museums and art galleries than cut back on food.”

We were now back at the bench near the Garry oak. Wendell said, “Let’s sit down. I am winded. I weigh three hundred pounds, you know, and I must lose some of that and get back into shape. But I am too fat to exercise, and I cannot stop myself from eating.”

“How do you keep yourself busy now that you’re retired?” I asked.

“I think about my interesting life,” he said. “I would like to write a book about it.”

Lots of people say that. None of them seem to get beyond just saying it. I count myself lucky that I’ve always liked to work with my hands, to build things.

“It is very hard to get old,” he said. “I am sixty now and unable to do many things that I used to do.”

“I’m older than you are.” By six years, in fact.

He looked startled, then gave me a petulant glance. I doubted he would ever write his book or do anything about his weight either. Like my mother just before she died, he felt sorry for himself and blamed the rest of the world for his problems.

Wendell looked down at the outcropping where Suzanne had left meat for the crows. The rock was clean, the crows gone. “I think she is silly to feed those birds,” he said. “Some of that meat could have gone in a stew for me.”

“Let’s walk on,” I said. “It’s too cold to sit for long.”

“With all this fat on me, I don’t feel the cold.” He heaved himself to his feet. “I have three herniated disks. When I went to the doctor, all he did was give me Tylenol. I ate it like candy and then suffered a bleeding stomach and much pain. The pills didn’t do anything for my back.”

“Didn’t you try another doctor?” I asked.

“I insisted on seeing a physiotherapist, and she fixed me in one moment.”

I wondered why he wasn’t still seeing a physiotherapist. Perhaps he preferred complaining.

Wendell was panting. “You walk too fast.”

I walked even faster and said over my shoulder, “I’ll freeze to death if I don’t keep moving.” Which was true enough; the temperature was still below zero and a biting wind had come up. Also, I don’t have an insulating layer of fat on my bones.

As I drove home, I decided I’d been rude. I could have excused my rush to get away from him by saying I had an appointment.

Next time I saw the couple, I did that. I used the excuse too much, in fact, because about the fifth time, Wendell said, “For someone who is retired, you lead a very busy life.” I mumbled about massage appointments and friends who needed carpentry work done. After that I often took a different route back to the parking lot, annoyed that Wendell’s recitation of his woes had interfered with my early morning rambles.

Then, one Friday morning in March, after being away for a week, I was shocked to see yellow police tape around the bench and winding through the trees down to the sea. I stood staring at the yellow rectangle, wondering what could have happened since I’d been here the week before.

“Hi, Sandy.” Gayle and Cassie were coming back from their walk. Gayle led the dog around behind the bench to avoid crossing the ribbon and stopped beside me. Beautiful Blue Eyes shoved her head under my hand for a pat.

“What’s going on, do you know?”

“There was a cop here first thing,” Gayle said. “He told me there’d been an accident, that a man fell down on those rocks and hit his head. He was dead when they found him.”

The thought of someone dying on this beautiful path gave me the creeps. “Did he say when it happened?”

“Yesterday morning. He wouldn’t give me a name but he said the man had a shopping bag of meat scraps with him so I think it must have been Wendell.”

“But Wendell doesn’t feed the crows,” I said. “He told me it’s always Suzanne who takes the meat down to the shore.”

“Maybe she was late for work and asked him to do it.”

Cassie butted me with her head, wanting to play. I hushed her. “I can’t see Wendell trying to climb down that rock bluff. Maybe he had a heart attack.” I hoped so. It would have been a quick death, not like the arbutus tied to the dock.

“That wouldn’t surprise me. He was way overweight.”

Another possibility occurred to me and I shoved it to the back of my mind. I didn’t want to think about it, let alone voice it.

I threw a stick for Cassie a few times. When she sat down, out of breath, I said goodbye and went back to the yellow tape. There was nobody down at the shore or around the rocks. The cops must be satisfied that they knew the whole story.

I carried on to the far end of the walk, trying to shake the feeling of tragedy. At least Wendell’s body had been taken away, and the yellow ribbon would be gone in a day or two. The dying arbutus might still be tied to the dock months from now.

A few weeks later, I saw Suzanne again. She was climbing up the rocks to the path, and I could see the crows already attacking her contribution of food.

“I was sorry to hear about Wendell,” I said.

“Thank you. It has been a difficult time for me. I am lucky to have my job, even luckier to be so busy just now.”

“I’ll walk you as far as the blue bridge if you like.”

She smiled. “Not unless you are willing to run. I always run from here to the office.” She sprinted away, moving easily. Her lithe movements spoke of a body glad to be free, glad to be on the wing.



Also by Lea Tassie



Tour Into Danger


Cat Humor:

Cats in Clover

Siamese Summers

Cat Under Cover

Cats & Crayons



A Clear Eye

Double Image

Deception Bay


Science Fiction:

Green Blood Rising

Red Blood Falling



Short Stories

Harvest (collection)

Too Blue

Ra’s Revenge

A Proposal of Marriage

Grand Champion


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Early Retirement

Sandy, a retiree who is happily busy with projects, walks along a hilly waterfront every morning. When he can't avoid it, he puts up with the complaints of Wendell, another retiree who walks his wife to work along the same path. One morning, Sandy learns that Wendell was found dead on the rocks at the foot of a steep hill. The cops have written it off to a heart attack. But was it that? Or something else?

  • ISBN: 9781928006251
  • Author: Lea Tassie
  • Published: 2016-06-01 03:50:07
  • Words: 2184
Early Retirement Early Retirement