Words, Not War

St. Radigunds Park

for ruth

There’s not much else in the world better than that first whisper of spring; the blossom fluttering like snow in the breeze, the warmth of the sun greeting you like an old friend. It had always been her favourite time of year, of course, but this year felt brighter, better, somehow. There was no better place to feel that first kiss than here. 

St Radigund’s Park wasn’t grand by any means, but it had been a lifesaver when she’d first moved to the city. The iron gate made its familiar cry as she pushed it; comforting, rather than run down. Despite the warm sun, the breeze still carried the chill of the past few months, rippling the pages of the books she carried in front of her. The leaves above her shivered as she walked, not quite brave enough to believe in Spring just yet. But, as it swirled around her, she breathed it in deeply. This was home. 

Shifting her load into one arm, she stretched one arm out to her side, letting her fingers brush gently against the meadow flowers that grew untamed here. Flecked blue, and yellow, and magenta, the borders were her favourite part of the garden. She’d walked this path so many times before. It always had new surprises. 

Ahead, a group of children were throwing a frisbee, enjoying the last few hours of daylight before bed, their impassioned squeals colouring the air with joy. Nearby, a group of adults, presumably their parents, sat sprawled on blankets, a tangle of naked legs that belonged to summer, making their hesitant debut. And closer still, stark against the groups that filled the space, a lonely figure sitting amongst the wildflowers, breathing in their beauty. 

She’d come to know the humanity of this park well, over her time here. This was a new face. It was a face weathered by the passing of time, touched by the wisdom of those years. It’s skin was hard and leathery, yet there was a softness around the eyes. Greying whiskers adorned the edges, sticking out like thistles in a hedgerow. The mouth was downturned, but did not carry a sniff of misery with it. Yes, this was a new face.  

She’d spent time on Margaret’s bench every Sunday afternoon for as long as she’d lived here. The first time she ventured down, the park was abuzz with the call of summer, luring out toddlers and teenagers alike. She’d known then that this was no ordinary park. It was a place of magic, the place where she belonged. Sitting down, she had turned to the golden plaque and traced over the name with a podgy finger, as her mother split a jam sandwich cut into squares; half for each of them. She held that memory in front of her for a second, letting it flicker before her. 

Of course, as it always does, that summer came and went. And twelve years later, another summer came and went, and her mother left with it. Eighteen years of memories were all that were left behind. She hadn’t managed to hold on to her mother, but she had those, at least. Margaret’s bench was dear to her heart. It was once where she came with her mother, and now, it was her solitude. It was usually empty. But today, sat a new face. 

Spectacles clattered to the ground. As she approached, he rose, brushed down his trousers and began to move tentatively to pick them up. 

“Allow me,” she said, sweeping deftly to the ground to retrieve them, noticing the small scuff on the left lens before handing them to him. He nodded, briefly touching his chin before bringing his left hand out towards her. His eyes did not make contact, with hers and yet she felt a warmth radiate from him. He folded the glasses and put them into his shirt pocket, before returning his gaze towards the sky. 

As she had always done, she sat at the opposite end of the bench, placing the books down between them. She caught a glimpse of scarlet as she did so, before looking down at her dress. A small smear of blood had soaked into the fibres of her dress, stark against the crisp linen. She had earlier given herself a papercut while rifling through her latest work, and somewhere along her journey from home, managed to pull it open again. Now that she’d seen it, it began to sting; always the way. Though futile, she licked her thumb and began to pick at the stain on her skirt. 

A crisp handkerchief placed gently on top of her book pile, folded and pressed into a neat pocket square. Golden initials were embroidered ornately into one corner. She looked again at her companionate stranger, and his warm eyes lifted as he smiled at her. He nodded once again, settled his flat cap onto what was left of his hair, and stood, smoothing out the wrinkles in his trousers. 

As he moved away towards the entrance to the park, something drew her in further. She gathered her sketchbook and sketched the memory of his face onto a page as crisp as the handkerchief. Underneath, she marked it with the same initials; HG.

The cool breeze picked up again, rippling the pages once more, and crackling the paper on the bouquet that lay at the foot of the bench. It was tightly wrapped in brown paper, and tied with twine. Inside, the brightest dahlias bloomed; pale yellow speckled and candy striped with pink. She picked it up to place back on the bench, before noticing the spidery writing in the card as it fell to one side. Her heart felt full, in a way it never had before.

Margaret,

It has taken me so long to come here. 

Now that I am here, I never want to leave.

Forever yours, 

Harry

A short story a day, throughout the Coronavirus Pandemic. By me, for you.

#wordsnotwars #fictionforfriends #proseforpals

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