A Good View

Jeanette Sparnenn

I arrive, as usual, with my gleaming parcel of tin foil packed tight into my lunchbox, and an old flask discovered quite recently, in the back of a cupboard. I venture into the park every day to eat my lunch, allowing myself a sojourn from my one-bedroomed flat. I pass the curious oriel that sits on the side of the café building and walk down the steps. I miss the warm innards of the park café. A slice of chocolate cake and a strong coffee might bring an impromptu chat with the friendly stranger at the next table. But not at the moment. At the moment, I have only my seat next to the willow tree. I smile when I see it’s empty. I crave company, but company disturbs me. Above me, the willow’s tendrils hang ragged, like a head of freshly washed hair. It’s cold, and when I reach my seat, I wrap my coat around my legs. There is an air of hibernation about the park today, or perhaps that’s everywhere, I’m not sure. I stare at the screen of my mobile. I have exactly one hour before I have to return to the bigger screen that will replace it. In fact, it replaces everything. Shopping, my family, an intimate discussion over a glass of wine. I am so lonely; sometimes it’s hard to carry on.  

My eyes scan the park; I’m struggling to see another human being. The roof of the dovecote that lies within the mock Tudor lych-gate is as usual, stapled with white doves. And behind me, the tennis courts yawn with boredom. I miss the laughter, the energetic grunts, the clunk of the balls hitting the rackets. My only companion is a duck, who lies by the lake, and is a perfect replica of the one on the windowsill in my flat. I unpick the silver foil and it catches the eye of the winter sunshine, flashing with a thousand diamonds. I dig deep and pick out a sandwich. The seat dips unexpectedly. I look up and see that a man has placed himself at the very end. I find myself gauging the distance from my body to his – something I subconsciously do all the time. I sneak a glance. He’s an elderly gentleman. His overcoat seems a little too big for him, and his neck is nowhere to be seen. He has wisps of thin grey hair and an old moustache, and such a bend to his spine that he cannot sit straight-backed on the bench.  He glances at me and I look away, embarrassed.

‘Hello,’ he says.

‘Hello,’ I reply, my sandwich poised at my lips.

‘Lovely day,’ he continues.

‘Yes,’ I say.

‘Do you like this bench?’ he asks.

I manage a nod.

‘I do, too. I’ve been coming here for years. With the wife, of course.’

‘Right,’ I say.

He stares at me, searching for my eyes, and I have no option but to swallow the juices in my mouth and return the sandwich to the foil. 

‘Childhood sweethearts, we were. We came to this park all the time. It was different, then.’

’Was it?’ I find myself asking.

He smiles. ‘Oh, yes. You could go boating on the lake, and there was an outdoor swimming pool. Mind you, you, it was fit to freeze you – but you could swim all day for fourpence, and nobody bothered you. Are you all alone?’ he adds, quickly.

His question takes my breath away. I wonder if there is something in my facial expression, or even my attire, that could bring a total stranger to this rapid conclusion. To my horror, I begin to cry.

‘I know,’ he says. ‘It’s hard, isn’t it?’ He pauses. ‘Have you seen the statue of Mercury?’ He slowly removes his hands from his pockets and points to beyond the lych-gate. 

I wipe my eyes. ‘Of course, loads of times,’ I reply.

‘Yes,’ he says. ‘But looking is different to seeing. You go and have a proper look at Mercury. He looks as if he’s by himself, doesn’t he?’ 

‘Yes,’ I answer. ‘I suppose he does.’

He places his hands on his overcoat. ‘Well, he’s not,’ he replies. ‘And neither are you. The birds will be nesting soon, and the buds will come. This whole place will be filled with daffodils.’ He laughs to himself. ‘I’ve seen so many terrible things in my life, and people said they’d never end – but they did. There’s always a way out…you’re obviously a special young lady,’ he adds.

‘No, I’m not,’ I say.

‘Of course, you are,’ he replies, nodding. ‘And you will find your way out of this.’ He claps his hands. ‘Never give up, that’s my motto.’ He looks to his right, and I look too, but there is nothing.

‘I have to go, now,’ he says. ‘She’s here.’

‘Who is?’  I ask.

The old man rises quietly from the seat. Around him, a mist is gathering. It’s approaching quickly, as if its journey has already been planned.  He’s no longer alone; a woman has taken his arm. He seems taller, and his strides out, strong and purposeful. I watch as the mist engulfs them.

I leave my lunchbox and flask on the seat and run over the humpback bridge, through the lych-gate. A couple of doves shuffle around the entrance, and their wings flap nervously as my boots fly past. The statue is in front of me now, and I when I stand on the edge of the stone border and lean precariously over the slice of water, I notice for the first time, that Mercury’s foot rests on the head of another God, whose breath is shooting him skywards. And his arm is held in an upwards position, the finger pointing high into the blue. 

I lift my own arm to emulate this messenger of the Gods. ‘It will end!’ I shout. ‘Tomorrow will be a good day!’ 

To Tennis, at Rowntree Park

 Rosie Cantrell

We’d walk to the park, our rackets in hand

and wander to a sort of wonderland,

between the courts were hyacinths, their scent

rose up amid our rallies and our friends.

Now we sit on green benches, by grey paths

where once we swung and ran mid greenest grass

we think again of matches of mixed pairs

and watching, keen, on angled flaky chairs.

We’d stroll among the goslings in the park

and squeeze through railings, gently in the dark,

devour the suppers made and lit with gas

and barbecues with huddles on the grass.

A cup all tarnished, rubbed would show who won

when once we tennised, happ’ly in the sun.

There’s Light

Estelle Villas

A tide too full for sound and foam

shake Louie taut as a wind-snapped sheet.

Just another sea nymph vying for your attention.

There’s light.

How is that you have become holy to me?

Do not forget me murmurs something

nibbled by fish under the sea.

After our afternoon sun sets,

we are in tune with the cosmos’s

relentless melt.

There’s light.

Now that time is insubstantial,

I wonder how it is

that you are allotted me,

that you give yourself

to the light that’s left

with more reserve

for a better tomorrow.

You shoulder the sun rise.

You hold it up

against the oily shore line

a while longer.

There’s light.

Look! – it is not fleeting.

Such a moment settles.

Bubbles 

Dinks

Sat in the park 

Nature draws me as a magnet

Trees usually beckon but today it’s humans

Families together, connected in the allowed covid bubble 

Have no bubble family at the moment, feel insignificant

Watch the little girl by the pond, fascinated

She had a long tube of bubbles and a magic wand

Blew gently, carefully as a kiss

Then cheeks puff out like a hamster

Innocent fairy bubbles that hypnotised 

All sizes, shapes and rainbow colours

They danced, skipped and floated into the blue 

The bubbles were empty but felt full

They had given so much pleasure 

Especially to the little girl and me

She waved her wand at me as she left

I no longer felt alone, had been part of that bubble today

Rowntree Park 

John Ostyn

As I walk through the park,

Taking in the sights and colours,

Sounds and smells drift over,

To assault my waking senses. 

As I walk through the park, 

Noises from the nearby river mingle

With the young and their skatepark clatter

While older couples sit chatting on the benches. 

As I walk through the park,

People laugh and smile with each other,

relishing the freedom of the spaces

to rekindle fond childhood memories. 

Ain’t Nature Grand?

Joy Myerscough

None of us had been to the park before, on account of it being on the other side of the river. But Petey’s got one of his notions, which is to say he keeps on about it until we agree for the sake of peace and quiet. So now we’re standing on the bridge looking at the lake; Yobbers, me, Petey.  

Petey has a face like an amateur ferret. You can imagine him nibbling bran, or some such, without much of a stretch. He waves his arms about, nearly clobbering a woman passing by. “Breathe in the fresh air, lads,” he says.

Yobbers is wearing his usual: a leather jacket his mam got for him off the market, cargo pants, black combat boots. He pats his pockets, takes out his Pall Malls, shakes the packet. “Right,” he says, lighting a cig and inhaling deeply.

Petey leans on the bridge, sighs. “Ain’t nature grand?”

We don’t get Yobbers’ thoughts on this as there’s a godawful racket coming from the skate park across the way: screeching noises, followed by yelps, followed by more screeching, followed by thumps, followed by silence. 

Yobbers takes no notice. “Time for a swift one,” he says, waving his smoke in the direction of the stuccoed building on our left.

“That’s the reading café,” Petey says.

Yobbers says something under his breath. He’s never been one for reading, apart from the sports pages. Unless you count the football pools. And the only liquid I’ve ever seen him drink comes out of a tap at the Lowther. 

Petey pulls a pair of binoculars from his anorak pocket. He’s swiped them from his grandad, who used them for the horseracing until his gran threatened to leave and go live with her sister in Toronto, unless he stopped coming home soused and broke. Think it could have gone either way, but his grandad’s very fond of his wife’s cooking, her Sunday roast in particular. See him at BetFred once in a while, all the same. 

Petey clutches my arm. “Look! Ducks!” There’s a bunch of them belting up the pond towards us on the off chance one of us might have some Mother’s Pride to hand. We don’t, of course. 

Yobbers says, and I think he’s right— “Geese.”

Petey scratches his neck.  “One day I’m going to have a park.” This is one of his flights of fancy, given that he stacks shelves at the Londis near ours. Two days a week.  “Open to everyone. And it will have…”  He thinks hard, using his Petey thinks hard face. His last name is Scurry. I sometimes think he’d have a chance in life if he just used his full first name. Peter Scurry. Sounds like a best-selling author, or a mountain climber with motivational speaking skills, or a mid-ranking diplomat, at least.  But Petey Scurry? His career highlight will be operating a forklift at the builders’ merch. If he’s lucky. 

He puts the binoculars up to his honker. 

Yobbers says: “You’re looking through the wrong end.” 

Petey turns them about, finishes his earlier thought. “Trees and a lake. And grass.” 

“Why don’t you just stick with this one?” Yobbers asks, pointing at the park with his cig. 

 Petey presses on. “And a statue of Cupid, like the one along there.” We’d passed it on our way in. 

Yobbers snorts. “It’s not Cupid, dimwit. Cupid has a bow and arrow.”  

Petey scrunches up his nose. 

Yobbers fiddles in his pocket, finds his Swan Vestas and taps them on the top of the bridge.  “It’s Mercury. He has a staff. Known as a caduceus.”

Petey gives him another Petey look. Which is to say his eyes bulge a bit and his teeth stick out even more.  

Yobbers takes the binoculars from him. “It’s good to have dreams,” he says, in a voice that means whatever those are.  

An ambulance siren blares across the park, drowning out the ice cream van’s tinkle, which I haven’t had a chance to mention as yet. Come to whisk off the injured skateboarders, I reckon.

“Look at the lawn,” Petey says. “It looks like snow!” 

Yobbers allows that it does. “But it’s daisies,” he says. “On account of it being June.” 

Petey plunges on: “I bet there are dinosaur prints. You know… from the dinosaur age.” 

Neither Yobbers nor me have any thoughts on this. The ambulance siren goes quiet and we’re back to the ice cream van. This time it’s playing the Match of the Day theme tune.

The trees beside the lake blow about. Birds swoop around overhead. Might be gulls. Not pigeons, though. Those I’d know. Uncle Alf had pigeons. His best Racing Homer was called Petey, oddly enough. 

Petey says: “So much nature! There’s bound to be foxes…. and rabbits.”

 “So?” Yobbers says. “You can see a fox any day of the week. Just buy a packet of mints.” I think he might be wrong, but it don’t matter. 

Yobbers lifts the binoculars, peers in.

Petey’s now saying something about the park being a gift to the citizens of York from the Terry family.  I look at Yobbers, expecting him to point out the obvious. 

But Yobbers says nowt; elbows me, gives me the binoculars. I have a squint, see two girls walking alongside the lake in our direction. The taller one has long pale hair, a yellow dress and a denim jacket. The other is wearing a jumper with a short pink skirt and those ugly sandals that they’re all so fond of at the moment. Don’t look so bad on her, though. They’re both carrying books. Students, I reckon. They go up the steps to the reading café.

Yobbers straightens up. “Well now,” he says. “Ain’t nature grand?” 

He pulls a comb from his back pocket, runs it over his noggin. Sets off towards the caff, whistling.

Fox In a Park

Nate Reason, age 16

Unfortunately the fox in Rowntree Park can not write. You see, their paws are too big for a keyboard and too furry to hold a pencil. So when the fox met me I came up with the idea that I should write it all down for them. So we set a date for last week and I brought fish fingers and the fox brought me a slightly slobbery note pad and pen. So that’s enough from me, the human, I will let the fox introduce themself.

I was born in London. Where there was always enough food to go round, but small fights led to food shortages. Fortunately for me, my mother was always quick to smuggle food away under the noses of the other foxes. Tragically, when I was a young cub, she disappeared while hunting in Kensington Gardens. A young fox in this position would have no clue what to do and maybe wouldn’t survive even just a week. I remember those first five days when she didn’t come back. It rained every single one of them. On the sixth though I remember so clearly I was jumping over a wall when a human cub was pressed up against a window staring at me, drool all over the glass. She intrigued me greatly and almost looked the same age as me too. I cocked my head to the side and stared back at the delighted child. I think she started calling because soon two much bigger adults came in and started talking to the young human. Opening the door a crack, a hand reached out and placed a bowl on the ground and quickly withdrew. I waited for them to leave, of course my mum always said that humans were intensely frightened of even the smallest of foxes. I approached the bowl greedly, my stomach thinking instead of my head. I came back there every single day. Some nights I would even sleep in the garden. The small girl would always be there watching. One day though, the door was left open and the daughter was sat by the bowl, beckoning me. Not threatened, only slightly surprised, I trod over and started eating the scraps of meat. The girl looked at me wide eyed in wonder. A small pudgy hand outstretched and started stroking my fur. I hadn’t had another living thing touch me in so long. To my own surprise, I liked it.

I think the adults weren’t the best of parents. Letting a fox sleep in a human child’s room doesn’t seem  like a completely sane decision. The family was very energetic, especially for humans who I normally see driving around in cars and not using their two legs. The daughter I liked the most by far, she was like a fox herself in a human body. Three years later and I loved her, she cared for me every day but snuck away to movies and school all the time. I could tell the parents weren’t happy  together. The girl took me away to her room mostly so I couldn’t hear them. She would talk to me and stroke my head so I couldn’t hear it.

I went in a car with the daughter and one of the parents. No one talked the whole time. I curled up on the little girl’s lap and tried to fall asleep. We ended up at a different house. I think it was the parents’ mother who greeted us because like an old fox she was creaky and grey. I went out a lot more here. There were less tall buildings and more trees to run around in. I never saw the other parent, maybe they went off to have more cubs. Eventually I found a big open space with a pond and some small buildings, and when the daughter was out I went there and explored every part of it. Another year passed and I learned that this place was York,  and the open space with the pond was Rowntree Park. One day, neither the daughter or the parent came back to the house. One night I came back and the flap in the door was also gone. So I made my home in the park. Going back to the wild is such a change for a fox. Most foxes in the wild only live for 1 to 3 years. It was very hard at the start. Soon I managed to organise everything and my only real threat was dog walkers coming too close. I wish to see the girl again. I hope one day she will walk through the park too. I have decided that I will stay here until she does.

Weeds

Sally Mitchum

The merest chink 

Unseen between the bricks

Is all the first tendril needs

It pushes in

Tenacious.

Slowly, inexorably, grows stronger

Stealing nutrients from fertile soil

Fresh shoots loop

And spiral though older growth

Tangling and strangling

What should be treasured.

The experienced gardener

Would rip it out 

At first sight.

Slash and burn.

But I did not recognise the danger

And allowed the roots to grow strong.

I clip and trim, clip and trim

Paring back where I can.

Too hesitant to rip it out

For fear of what else I will destroy.

Or for fear that, Hydra-like, 

It will take greater hold. 

Sally Mitchum