A FRIEND NAMED GEORGE
Six year old Danny Jordan was staring hard with one eye at his outstretched right foot. He was trying to line it up with the large orange bottomed bumble bee that had been buzzing loudly around his park bench for the best part of an hour. Secretly he'd made himself a promise. If he could cover the noisy creature with his big toe long enough to count up to ten . . . then everything would be alright.
But the highest he'd managed to get to was seven and even then he'd been counting quickly. It was almost as though the bee itself was against him. Why not, he thought. Everything else was.
So engrossed was he in his pastime that he didnít notice the tall, young man who'd sat down next to him on his blind side. When the man spoke Danny's heart started loudly.
"Good morning," he said pleasantly. "And how are you today?"
Instantly, Danny forgot his game, tensed and faced the man. Somewhere at the back of his mind he recalled the warnings his mother had given him about talking to strangers when he was by himself.
"Remember me?" the man smiled. "The swings about six months ago? You fell off and grazed your knee. I put a plaster on it for you and we both had an ice cream while we waited for your mum."
The child visibly relaxed. His face broke into a toothy grin as he recalled the day. "I remember," he said, then, bending his right knee. "Look, you can still see the scar."
The man examined Danny's knee with exaggerated interest. "My, my!" he said shaking his head. "You'll have that for the rest of your life. Even when you're old like me."
"Didn't hurt," said Danny bravely. "Well, not much anyway."
"What's your sock off for?" the man asked.
"Oh, I was playin' a game," Danny blushed as he hurriedly put it and his shoe back on.
"What was it called?"
"Didn't have a name," he said. "Anyway it wasn't a very good one."
The man watched interestedly as the boy tied his laces. He smiled quietly to himself as he saw the two carefully formed loops knotted. It was funny how all children did it that way.
"How's your Mum?" the man asked.
"Alright," Danny shrugged. "She's meeting me here after work . . . " His eyes lit up. " . . . and she said that if I'd been good she'd have a surprise for me."
"And were you?"
"Not what, pardon?"
"Have you been good?
"Well," he began thoughtfully. "Sort of."
"What happened?" the man sighed.
"I got told off by the park keeper for walkin' on the grass."
"What were you doing that for?"
"I was chasing a bumble bee," Danny said, as though it explained everything.
"I see," the man nodded without understanding.
"Mum was talkin' about you last night," said Danny suddenly. "She was sayin' what a kind person you were."
The man's face flushed slightly and he coughed awkwardly. "That . . . " he began. " . . . that was very nice of her."
"I wish I had a Dad," said Danny sadly. "Like I used to."
"Your Dad died, didn't he?" the man asked softly.
"Yeh," said Danny. "He got killed in a car crash . . ." then excitedly, " . . . I'm the only boy in my class without a Dad!"
The man listened quietly, waiting for his young companion to continue.
"But I'd rather have him here with us," he concluded.
The man's heart gladdened at this revelation.
"Are we friends Danny?" he asked suddenly.
Danny eyed him suspiciously, his dark eyes frowning. A lock of unruly hair hung low on his forehead and traces of an egg sandwich outlined his cherubic mouth.
"Why?" he asked.
"Well," said the man, filling his pipe. "It's just that, if we are, I thought you might like to call me George." He glanced quickly at Danny noting his blank stare.
"Mr. George?" the boy queried.
"No, just George," he said. "George Smith actually. Not a very exciting name is it?"
"But I've never called a grown‑up by their first name before," said Danny. "All Mum's friends I have to call Auntie or Uncle, even though they're not proper ones."
"Well then?" George puffed into his pipe. "What's it to be then? George, Uncle George or Mr. Smith?"
"George!" said Danny reddening then looked back at his feet.
"What d'you suppose this surprise is that your Mum's got for you?" he asked.
"Dunno," said Danny excitedly. "It might be a new game for my computer or an ice cream or even a trip to the seaside . . . only . . . only . . ." he faltered.
"Only what?" asked George.
" . . . only I think it's something more important than that," he said reflectively.
"Well," Danny huffed as though the explanation might take some telling. "When she told me this morning, before she went to work, she was sort of excited too."
"Her eyes were all watery. Like she wanted to cry."
"P'raps she was unhappy."
"No, no!" the boy was adamant. She was ever so happy. I could tell. It was as though . . ."
" . . . as though . . . " his voice trailed.
"It sounds silly."
"I won't laugh," George promised.
"Well," Danny resumed. "It was like she was going to enjoy the surprise even more than me." He looked at the man for some sort of clarification. But none came. George remained silent, thoughtfully chewing his pipe, staring into space at mental pictures only he could see.
For several moments they sat there, the two of them. Enjoying the fine summer weather, the man's long legs stretched right out crossed and at the ankles, Danny's reaching only half way to the ground.
"George?" The name was pronounced slowly and with obvious embarrassment.
"Yes?" the man answered without appearing to notice anything untoward.
"Are you married?"
"Not any more," he replied.
"But you were once?"
"Did your wife die?"
For a second, just one second, the man felt resentment at the child's question. He half turned, the pipe bowl crushed between the whitened finger and thumb of his left hand . . . then remembered, and saw the innocence on Danny's face.
He forced a smile and swallowed hard.
"Yes Danny," he said softly. "And my son Timothy. That was a car accident too."
"They shouldn't make cars," Danny said wisely.
George nodded wistfully.
Another bout of silence enveloped the pair as the sun disappeared temporarily behind a solitary cloud. But Danny was not a boy to remain quiet for long.
"If it is a trip to the seaside," he said. "Could you come too?"
"That would depend on Ang . . . your Mother," he said.
"Oh, it'd be alright," assured Danny. "She always says I can take a friend with me, and you're my friend. You said so."
George burst out laughing, instinctively put his arm around Danny and cuddled the boy to him.
"You're a real character," he said affectionately. "I bet you and your Dad were great pals."
"Yes," agreed Danny, comfortable against the man's jacket. He sniffed at the tweed. "He used to smoke a pipe too."
"I tell you what Danny," said George. "I'll be honest with you. I don't think that's going to be the surprise."
"Oh," said Danny disappointedly.
"But," he continued. "If you like, we can all go to the beach next weekend . . . providing your Mum agrees."
"Great!" said the boy excitedly, pulling away from the jacket.
"We can go fishing as well if you want."
"Yes. I've got a boat so we'll be able to get out where the big ones are."
"Wow!" said Danny in awe, his young eyes wide and staring. "But I haven't got a fishing rod."
"Oh I expect I can get hold of one for you," said George. "And your Mum too of course."
"That'd be smashing!" said Danny, then shyly, picking at his fingers. "I wish I had a Dad. A Dad like you."
George felt the tightening of a lump in his throat, bit hard onto the stem of his pipe and tried to think of something else.
So engrossed were the man and boy in their conversation that they were unaware of the attractive woman approaching them.
"Hello Danny," she said as she reached his side and bent down to kiss his grubby face.
"Mum!" her son cried enthusiastically pulling away. "George says we can all go to the seaside, and he's got a boat and we can go fishing and . . . "
"Hey now wait a minute and calm down!" his Mother laughed. "One thing at a time." She looked closely at him. "And someone needs to wash the lunch off their face donít they?"
Danny's right sleeve rubbed guiltily across his mouth.
"Danny!" she scolded.
"George says . . . " he began.
"Mr. Smith," she corrected.
"George!" Danny insisted.
The man looked into her eyes and smiled pleasantly. He stood up and shrugged. "George," he affirmed.
"George says . . . " Danny continued. " . . . that if you don't mind, we can . . . " and repeated their conversation of a few minutes before. " . . . George is the man who bandaged my knee," he added as an afterthought. "You remember? He bought us an ice‑cream then came home for a cup of tea."
"I remember," his Mother smiled.
Danny gazed up into her eyes awaiting her answer. In his excitement her promise of a surprise had been pushed out of his mind . . . for the time being anyway.
"I'll tell you what," she said thoughtfully. "If you'd like to run on home and put the kettle on, George can come back and have another cup of tea with us and then we can talk about it."
"Then we can go?"
"Possibly," she wavered.
"Smashing!" grinned Danny then ran over and hugged her as she crouched down to his level.
The young widow felt her son's soft face next to hers and his warm breath on her cheek as he whispered into her ear.
"George hasn't got a wife Mum," he said earnestly. "I asked him. So why don't you marry him? I think he likes you . . . well . . . a little bit anyway."
She felt the urge to giggle but managed to stifle it. Quickly she stood up and patted the seat of his short trousers.
"Go on, off with you," she chided. "And leave those tea‑cakes alone. I know exactly how many there are."
Obediently the boy ran off towards the distant block of flats as fast as his six year old legs would carry him.
The couple watched him Ďtil he turned right behind the bushes and disappeared from their sight.
Simultaneously they looked at each other and smiled. Then as if by telepathy they began to walk, tracing the steps of the now departed youngster.
"George!" she scolded.
"Why not?" he defended reaching down for her hand. "Would you prefer Uncle George?"
"That sounds worse," she laughed. "Positively improper."
She squeezed his hand then released it. Gently he slipped his arm around her shoulders while her own half circled his waist.
"How did you get on?" she asked apprehensively.
"Like a house on fire."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. You saw for yourself," he said gently.
"That's a relief," she sighed happily. "I was afraid of the reaction I might get when I told him."
"Well when you do," he said affectionately. "One thing's for certain."
"It won't be much of a surprise any more," he laughed.
Snuggling closely together the young couple strolled across the park, while in the kitchen of a ground floor flat, a young boy patiently waited for a kettle to boil and day‑dreamed of the seaside, the future and of a new friend called George.