He sat alone on the bench, watching the sunrise over the distant chimneys of the factory and noted the shadow lines creep towards his feet, bathing the cemetery in winter sun. His breath, like momentary white ghosts, became highlighted in the wan, late autumn light.
He had been there, contemplating, for two hours or, ignoring the chill and watching the day unfold. How he hated this Sunday each year, hated the march of veterans, but was drawn in some morbid fascination annually. Each year, he observed the file of crippled soldiers, long since passed their usefulness to a society, doing it's best to forget for the other three hundred and sixty four days, except in the glorified films of heroic deeds with John Wayne, or another popular actor, leading a squad of crack troopers into an impossible confrontation, overwhelming odds, somehow beaten at the loss of one or two, good men. The silver screen could not convey the disease, shit, fear and boredom of warfare.
He had watched the ruins of buildings rebuilt, almost in unseemly haste, as if to purge the lingering scars of destruction from sight, from memory. Mental scars could not be expunged from the mind so easily. Time is the only healer, and that, not very successful.
Every year, the ever dwindling numbers of ex-service men, filed along the Mall, a proud march, to lay wreaths of poppies at the Cenotaph and pay their respects. Each had a story of the last world war, holding memories of fallen comrades and friends; Small and large victories; amusing anecdotes and tales to enthral young children, or bore the elder, young men. Not all of the war had been about blood and guts, mud, hard rations or killing the Germans and the Japanese. Some of it had lighter moments, but not much.
Every year he stood apart away from the massed crowds and watched. He watched alone, and then left when it was done. Back to his little flat in Chelsea, back to his loneliness and the memories of his lost love, dead these past forty-nine years, dead and saved from the possibility of execution, dead by his own hand. Each year, the pangs of loss were more acute and all he had left was to wait, wait until they were reunited in death. He would not hurry the event. Not that he was afraid of dying. He had been dying, piece-by-piece, bit-by-bit since he had lost her.
He got up from the bench and made his annual pilgrimage. Catching tube and bus to Trafalgar Square; the place that immortalised another great warrior, Admiral Nelson, long since dead, but, forever remembered, immortalised in bronze on his pedestal, overlooking London and the Thames. The walk to the Cenotaph was always the hardest part, barging and pushing his way through the crowds, until he reached his favoured spot giving him a good vantage point, but kept him away from the worst of the spectator throng.
Military bands played familiar marches from another time. He knew the tunes, but could not enjoy the implied sentiment. He marched to a different tune, one that, although slower, was no less exorable in its insistence.
It started to drizzle, a light misty wetness that soaked through clothing and straight to the skin with little resistance, it lowered the chill factor of the northerly wind by a degree or two. He cinched his heavy overcoat tightly to his chin and pulled his hat down further, hoping that the brim would deflect the worst of it.