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Almost every evening that winter, Ethel heard a strange sawing noise. It wasn't loud, but she couldn't quite ignore it.

None of the neighbours seemed to be carrying out big DIY projects; she'd have seen them unloading supplies. Perhaps somebody had begun making jigsaws as a hobby, but would they do that for precisely one hour each night? Ethel got her answer when the days lengthened. The boy across the road was using a rowing machine in his lounge. What a waste of energy.

He seemed sensible in other ways. She'd spotted his washing on the line - much better than getting it creased in a tumble drier. He travelled by bus rather than bothering with a car, which wasn't practical in the heart of the city.

Ethel was sure that some of her neighbours walked so far, to wherever they'd managed to find a parking space, that walking wherever they wanted to go couldn't take much longer.

On an unseasonally warm spring day, he was rowing with his window open.

Ethel went over and called: "What's the point of that? It won't get you far!" "Yes, it will - America!" he'd replied.

IT THAT RIDICULOUS ROWING DOING GOOD "Cheeky boy!" "I'm 37." Ethel stomped off back home.

The next day she visited the library to look up how far it was to America. He was doing the equivalent distance, she supposed, though why he felt that was worthwhile, she had no idea. Even to the nearest bit was over 4,000 miles.

That evening she crossed the road again. "How far do you go each day?" she demanded.

He wiped his hands on a towel and stuck a sweaty arm out the window.

"Good evening. I'm Mark." Ethel shook hands briskly. "Miss Reynolds."

"Nice to meet you, Miss Reynolds. I average about six kilometres."

Ethel wasn't sure how many miles there were in a kilometre, but even so "It will take forever." "I've been doing it a long time. Should get there about a year from now."

Whenever she asked how he was getting on he reported seeing dolphins, submarines or flying fish. So silly!

"Have you gone round the Cape yet?" she asked one evening.

SEEMED "Won't be long now!" Ethel admitted she didn't know what it meant. "Just something I heard on TV."

WAS HER " "Dangerous stretch of water."

"You be careful, then!" How odd; she was joining in his daft game. It would seem she liked him.

The next evening she suggested he exercised outside in the fresh air.

"I row with the window open." "That's not the same. Anyway, shut in there you don't meet people."

"I've met you, Mrs R." "It's Miss Reynolds, but you may as well call me Ethel."

So, they were on first name terms. Friends, almost. A bit like Lucy at the library who helped Ethel look up the creatures and places Mark mentioned. Lucy also suggested books Ethel might like to borrow, so she'd joined the library and the book group.

Her trips across the road to question Mark had got her talking to her neighbours, too. She'd even started baking, now the cakes would be eaten before they went stale. It seemed that ridiculous rowing was doing her good - even if it wasn't doing anything for him.

"Why don't you use your energy doing something useful?" she asked Mark, over a slice of lemon drizzle.

"Like cutting your grass, Ethel?" "Now you mention it" "Tell you what, I'll cut your grass when I'm here and when I'm away you can water my hanging baskets. Deal?" "Deal." He'd never gone away as far as she could recall, but she'd be happy to do the watering; even look after the house.

Months later he came round with his keys and told her he'd left a watering can by the water butt.

"Oh! Right. Where are you going?" "I keep telling you!" "America?" "Yes. My rowing machine is set up with a dynamo, so I power the house lights and a few other things. I've saved the money and booked a holiday."

Ethel gasped, unsure whether to laugh or cry. She'd miss him, but after all, she had plenty of other interests now. And he'd "row" back before she knew it.

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Publication:Evening Express (Aberdeen,Scotland)
Date:Aug 3, 2019

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