“Why are you standing all of the way over there? I know that you’ve come here to talk, young lady, so you might as well come a little closer and sit down.”
After a few looks around to confirm that no one seems to be paying any attention, I walk slowly toward the concrete dais, looking for the driest place on one of the nearby benches. The sky is ominously grey, but so far has only produced a slow, cold drizzle. Somewhat appropriate for this conversation, I think.
Winston groans loudly as he lumbers down, using his walking stick for support. He unbuttons his waistcoat as he sits down next to me, and, with a wink, produces a Romeo y Julieta from an inside pocket.
“Those American tourists who pass by here don’t know what they’re missing,” he says as he lights up.
“Those things aren’t good for you, but I suppose that since you’ve been dead for over forty years, I can forego the lecture in your case.”
“Please do, my dear. Now, what is it that seems to be troubling you? I know that you wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t something terribly unsettling.” He fixes his stern gaze on me, and I find that I feel more comfortable shifting my attention to the grey tendrils of smoke rising from the tip of his cigar, as they mingle into the grey of the sky.
“I’ve been having some difficulty motivating myself these days.”
He raises his eyebrow.
“I haven’t really been able to get out of bed in the morning.”
“Black dogs chasing you again, hmmm?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“Hmmmmm.” The rumbling sound of him pondering, perhaps remembering his own past experiences is comforting to me.
“Those dogs know my name, too. When I felt that they were upon me, I would retreat to Chartwell. Paint. It was a haven away from London, a place to set down burdens and engage in an exercise that required all of my focus and did not allow my mind to stray into…darker territory.” His deep voice resonates as he articulates the last words, looking at me purposefully.
“Not all of us have beautiful country estates to which we can retreat,” I rebut. “Not all of us can paint.”
“No, but I hear that you are a rather talented writer.”
I blush and look away. “I try. Maybe…”
“Bollocks. Pardon my language, I picked it up during my years in the Army, and it’s never left me. But I should not be speaking that way in front of a young lady.”
“I’ve read a lot of stories about you, and none of them ever described you as one to hold back on the foul language.”
“As they say, you can’t believe everything you read, my dear.” He pauses. “What has really brought you here, then? What is the cause of all of this drama?”
“I met a brilliant thinker yesterday, someone inspiring.”
“And I feel as though I’m wasting my life.”
“I’m 35 and I haven’t accomplished anything that I thought I would. I could be a great thinker, a great writer, I could have been, anyway. I’m not getting any younger, you know.”
At this, he laughs a great deep laugh, and bangs his walking stick on the ground.
“What is so funny?”
He waves his cigar at me, and continues to chuckle. “Oh, my dear girl, I don’t mean to belittle you in any way. But you are speaking to a man who didn’t accomplish much of anything until he had reached an age at which most men are dead or retired, although I’m not sure there’s a difference.”
“That is not true. You were the Chancellor of the Exchequer. You wrote prolifically. You…”
“I was kicked out of my own party, a pariah.”
“Is that what they write in the history books these days? That’s not how it felt at the time.”
“The point is that you accomplished more before the Second World War than most people would dream of doing in a lifetime.”
“The point is that for the truly great people of the world, there is always a chance for a second act.” He looks at me with grave sincerity, a man who has seen true adversity and succeeded in spite of it. A great man.
“Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm,” I say, quietly.
He smiles. “I said that, didn’t I?”
“You did.” The clock in the tower of Old City Hall, directly next to us, begins to chime. “I have to go to work now, but thank you for your time.”
He rises stiffly to his feet and extends his hand. “Any time, my dear. It’s a rare treat to have visitors that don’t want to sit at my feet and eat those vile hot dogs they sell on the street over there. Rather unpleasant.”
I smile as I gather up my belongings and walk off into the mist.