A Park Bench Love Story

Gavin Lewis

‘I remember when this were all trees’ said the man, his grey whiskered face set in a look that said he was busy remembering some distant past.

‘It still is all trees’ said the woman next to him on the bench, without looking up from her newspaper. 

‘Yes, but I remember when it was… more tree-ish’ he nodded to himself, happy that he had navigated a tricky observation from his wife.  She was good at those.  Good at them and good at knowing when he was avoiding doing the chores he had been designated custodian of.  As he sat basking in the freezing cold winter that York occasionally gave into, he relished the fact that normally at this time he would be elbow deep in peeling spuds, carrots and parsnips, but quick thinking and a small win on the lottery had made him suggest Sunday lunch out, with a stop off at the park on the way.

‘You’ll find that Rowntree Park was created in 1921 and since that time, has largely stayed the same’ she said.  When he least expected it, she would know these types of things.

‘Well, I don’t think they had skate parks or basketball courts in 1921’ he guffawed, as only someone born pre-1960 could.  Anyone born after this time laughed sarcastically.

‘Of course, they were a later addition, dear’ It puzzled him that he wasn’t allowed to get away with tricky observations himself, that there seemed to be an unwritten rule that his wife was the pre-eminent holder of tricky observations in their marriage, whilst he was seconded to the role of a subordinate lackey. Ok, there were occasional instances when he was allowed to have free reign over decisions, as was right and proper for a man in a relationship where he was number two breadwinner, and second in line to the throne of matriarch (though lately he suspected that should the throne be contested, his eldest daughter would unfairly claim top spot on the technical point of being a woman).

Right here and now though, he was master of his own domain, king of the park bench, this quiet corner of a properly ordered garden, with the sounds of the gentle if chilly wind blowing through the trees (which he was sure there were more of when he was younger), and the odd snippet of overheard conversation as fellow people wandered around for a constitutional.

He wondered for a moment what a constitutional actually was, but deeming it pretentious at best to use in actual conversation, discarded it as unnecessary to know.

A squirrel, one of them grey buggers that he’d been told had invaded Britain to the detriment of the reds, came loping over the grass, bold as brass towards them. 

‘Look at him, plucky little fella.’ The squirrel dodged closer past unseen possible swipes and stamps, until he was sniffing the toe of his shoe. ‘Are they supposed to be out at this time of year?’ he said quietly.

‘I don’t know dear’

‘Hmmm.  I thought they hibernated or something.  Like bears.’  He thought, staring into the unblinking eyes of the squirrel that seemed to have frozen to the ground. ‘And dormice.’ He saw her nod out of the corner of his eye.  He was on safe ground; she really didn’t know what creatures hibernated. ‘And of course, your turtles.  Little known fact that.’  Victory.  He was pretty sure he’d read once that a type of turtle hibernated, or seen it on an Attenborough documentary.

‘Turtles?’ She asked.

‘Yep, turtles’ A victory for husband kind.

The squirrel was still there.  He gently rummaged around in his pocket and pulled out the handful of nuts he brought with him every time they came to the park, just in case one of the squirrels, just like this one, was hungry. 

‘I don’t think you are supposed to feed them, dear’ she said without looking up.

‘Hang on’ he looked around, ‘nope, the park police aren’t around so I think we’re safe this time’.  He scattered some nuts on the ground and the squirrel moved like lightning to start picking them up, oblivious to his tutting wife.

‘Do you reckon they are happier than us?’ he said.  He didn’t know where that thought had come from, as it didn’t sound like something he would say, and that was himself thinking that.

She had looked up from her paper, a sign that what had just been said had been of serious enough concern for her marital radar to warrant the raising of the Wifely Periscope. ‘Are you happy, dear?’

‘Yes, yes, I didn’t mean I weren’t unhappy.’ He pulled out his best “everything-is-just-fine” smile and went back to watching the squirrel.  She hadn’t gone back to looking at the paper, which meant another question was on the way.  He needed to appease her so he could get on with observing the squirrel in peace.

‘You’d tell me if you were unhappy, wouldn’t you dear?’

‘Oh yes.  I’m always happy though so no need to worry.’  He could feel her regarding him for a moment longer before the periscope of worry went back down into reading the paper.

The squirrel meanwhile had gathered all of the nuts in a mad toing and froing from base of bench to some safe nut house in the trees, and was busily checking the ground for any it had missed.  Amazing creatures really, so busy and living in the, now he looked around him, quite a few trees that inhabited Rowntree Park.  All in all, it was a wonderful place to pass some time on a lazy Sunday, even in winter.

He caught sight of the Spartan helmet statue.  What on earth was that all about?

The paper rustled beside him as his wife folded it away.

‘Ready for a spot of lunch?’ He asked.

‘Oh yes.  I might even have a g&t’ she smiled at him.  God, she looked good, even after all these years.  The squirrels and their busyness, and random Spartan helmets would all be here next Sunday, and the Sunday after that, and all the Sundays he could want to foresee, but here and now was the best Sunday, as they got up from their bench and slowly their chatting voices faded as they walked out through the trees.

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