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The Park


Jack Windsor

The old man wiped the perspiration from his brow. It was too hot and he was feeling breathless despite walking so slowly. The briefest of smiles tugged at his lips as he recalled how years ago he would have stepped out so briskly up the little hill toward the town. Now it became more of an effort with each year that passed and there had been little pleasure in the walk since his beloved Amy died.

The thought of Amy reminded him how they both loved to wander through the small park situated at the top of the hill and he found himself passing through its gates and moving along the gravel perimeter path. He needed a rest anyway; perhaps he would stay awhile and regain his breath.

Seeing their bench was unoccupied he nodded with satisfaction and, almost imperceptibly, his pace quickened to ensure that he would arrive at the bench before anyone else sat there. Not that there was really much chance of that for there appeared to be only one other person in the park, a woman walking her dog. He tried to identify the breed of the animal but it did not appear to be one that he recognised, not a mongrel he thought but not one of the more common breeds either.

They had always liked the seat for from it one had such a good view of the park and all that went on there. It was not the largest park in town, indeed it could claim to be one of the smallest, but it was always attractive and usually peaceful; they found it easy to relax. Besides, it was on their route to the shops.

Beyond the gravel path on a gentle slope lay the central grass area, a favourite spot for families to have picnics in the summertime. Perhaps the place could become a wee bit noisy then but it was not overbearing as sometimes occurred in the larger, more popular parks in the town. Now it was springtime and the grass had filled out and covered the few bare patches that had appeared during the winter months.

On the other side of the green sward was the smooth tarmac pathway that ran right across the park from one gate to the other. This was the route favoured by mothers with pushchairs and by those people who needed wheelchairs for their mobility. In any event it was the more popular of the two paths as part of it lay right next to the small lake. Children and adults too loved to stand at the water's edge and watch the carp swimming lazily in its dark waters and to feed the ducks and swans that occasionally visited.

There were no ducks there now but two swans had taken up residence and from the way the cob was swimming around protecting his mate, it was obvious they were a breeding pair. The man could see no sign of a nest although no doubt they had hidden it away on the island in the middle of the lake. From where he sat, it did not look like an island at all, more like a promontory of the opposite bank as the trees and shrubs had blended in so well that one had to physically walk round the lake to see that the water extended right the way around.

A waterfall at the edge of the island constantly replenished the contents of the lake. Although manmade, the fall had the appearance of being created by nature. A tumbling cascade of rocks and stones covered in algae and weed caused the water to twist and turn in its journey downwards. Splashing here and there it created a moving, transparent sheet over the rocks that sparkled and glinted in the light of the sun. Yet it was not a great roaring intrusive sound, more of a gentle, relaxing murmur totally in keeping with the character of the park.

A movement to his right caused him to look in the direction of the gate. A young couple strolled hand in hand across the grass, oblivious to him, the lake, the birdsong and everything else. It was a sight that he had seen a million or more times in his life and as always it brought the memories of his early days with Amy flooding back. They filled his mind with swirling pools of pleasure that ebbed and flowed with images of laughter, love and contentment.


He opened his eyes with a start. 'Silly old man,' he thought, 'I must have drifted off.'

There were more people in the park now. The two lovers had found a spot on the grass and lay, each on one side propped by an elbow, facing each other, laughing, caressing, and dreaming. The old man watched them half-envious, half-sad from the knowledge of the rude shocks that lie waiting for the time when they will shatter the dreams and ambitions of the young. Feeling like a voyeur, he looked away. Let them enjoy it while they may, for the days of dreams would turn all too soon into the dusty memories of old age and even those eventually would dim.

Another couple lay on the grass, away to his left and higher up the grassy slope than the place that the young people had selected. The magic of love however did not exude from the second pair. They were two men, down and outs, their worldly possessions crammed into the carrier bags beside them. With bearded faces brown from the sun and lack of hygiene, they lay there in their stinking, thick ragged coats, which, despite the warmth of the day, were pulled close around them and tied at the waist by string. Between them on the grass stood a bottle, presumably containing cheap wine.

The old man looked at them with compassion in his fading eyes. It was impossible to tell their ages but he thought maybe they were in their forties or fifties. He wondered what great tragedy of life had brought such men to that sad situation. Maybe they too were once in love and had the hopes and dreams of youth? Now they were nothing more than flotsam drifting at the whim of the currents and storms of life, rejected by the community that allowed them to be cast adrift.

Beyond the men, near the bottom of the slope a family had brought a picnic. They sat laughing and chatting around a chequered cloth spread on the ground. There were three adults and a child. A young woman, presumably the mother, was unsuccessfully trying to persuade the child to sit still and eat something, but he was more interested in playing ball on the large expanse of grass that stretched out before him. An older couple, perhaps the child's grandparents, looked on indulgently.

From his vantage point on the bench, the old man was able to watch all that went on before him. Each of the little groups of people so close to the others in the compact park, yet so far away they were almost unaware of their existence. Beyond them the water tumbling over the rocks provided gentle background music to the scene. His eyes went from one group to another watching them almost without seeing as he remembered his dear Amy.

A shout from the child brought him back to the present. The boy had run down to the water's edge and was calling to the swans, offering them part of his sandwich. The male bird, perceiving the shouts as a threat, moved between his mate and the boy. Partly raising his wings and fluffing them up, he increased his size in an attempt to intimidate the child, but the young lad only became further excited and shouted all the more. The swan moved closer to the shore until an urgent summons from the child's mother caused the boy to run back to his family.

The down and outs had watched the event unfold with interest but the young couple did not even look up from their wooing.

Now the child was playing with the ball, kicking it here and there then running after it to kick it again. He ran from one side of the grass area to the other and then back. The old man watched him going to and fro and remembered how in his own childhood he had similar fun with a football. A feeling of sadness enveloped him for a moment as he recalled that he and Amy had so wanted children; but it was not to be.

Becoming more adventurous, the boy let out a great shout and kicked the ball as hard as he could. The accuracy he had previously maintained deserted him and the ball bounced across the grass and influenced by the gentle slope rolled in between the lovers. The young man looked up, an expression of irritation clear upon his face. He reached out to grab the ball but his girl friend caught it first and held it up for the boy. Smiling, she asked his name and gently handed the toy back to the child.

'My name's Harry and I gave my sandwich to the swans.' He paused a moment then added, 'But Mummy said I mustn't do it 'cos I need to eat all my food to get big and strong.' The girl laughed and ruffled the child's hair and her companion's heart melted as he saw the love and compassion in his girl's eyes; then he too laughed and gave the boy a playful pat.

Once again the child kicked the ball and this time it travelled up the slope bouncing across the grass until, slowed by the gravel surface of the perimeter path, it stopped not far from where the old man sat. He stretched out his right leg and gave the ball a gentle tap with his foot causing it to roll back toward the boy.

Harry laughed and running as fast as he was able punted the ball into the air then watched it careen away down the slope again. Chasing after it and whooping with joy he continued his game. It was not long before one of his erratic kicks sent the ball spinning in the direction of the two men still sharing the contents of their bottle. As it was passing some feet away from them, one of the men, with surprising agility, dived at full stretch and just stopped the ball with his fingertips. It was a perfect goalkeeper's save. The young man and his girl spontaneously clapped their hands at the skilful save.

The old man on the bench chuckled to himself as he watched the child breaking down the barriers between the groups of people in the park. He felt unusually tired and yawned. He stared at the waterfall. Had it stopped? He could no longer hear the sound of the water splashing over the rocks and it seemed further away now so that he had difficulty in focusing on it.

Then he heard a voice calling his name. He looked around, but could see no one. The voice called again, closer now, 'James... James...'

He stared along the path but it was empty. The call came again and he knew the voice.

'Amy, is that you?'

'James, James, it is time.'

'I am ready,' he sighed and slowly, gently closed his eyes.


The ball rolled across the gravel path again and stopped near the bench. Harry looked expectantly at the seated figure. 'Kick the ball Mister.'

But the old man did not hear.

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