My spot by Adrian Paul Fayter
Early-autumn afternoons are the best times here. This warm, copper-coloured sunshine comes straight through the gap in the beech trees and lights up my spot like a halo; then it spreads along the path as the sun moves down to the west. Warm on your face, warming your heart. Good for the rheumatism, too…
Summer can sometimes be as good, but not when the kids are out of school: you can’t commune with your friends with skateboards clattering an inch or two from your toes; it spoils the atmosphere. If you want a quiet seat in mid-summer, the churchyard is your best bet. The fragrance of fresh flowers, close to the cleanest headstones; there are new friends to be made where the turf has recently turned. Where a sympathetic ear can help a lost soul make a new beginning. Summer in the churchyard… But in autumn, the park benches are the best. There’s a row of four just here, so there’s never a problem getting a seat. Even when the park is busy, there’s always space made for me when I come to sit down.
Little Hayley laughs when her mum says I’m going to see my friends in the park. ‘Are you going on the swings today, Nanna?’ she asks me. And then she goes all serious. ‘But how do you know who’s there?’ Her mum indignantly tells her that Nanna’s not gone blind just yet, even if she does carry a white walking stick. I say, ‘I’ll always know my friends, Hayley. No matter what happens, I’ll always hear their voices.’
I make friends easily, I’d say; I always have done. I’ve got the gift for it. But of course you need the time, too. It’s hard for the younger people: life can be so frenetic. Very often they don’t even know their next door neighbours, so how would you expect them to be open to those from further afield? When I lived alone, I had visitors most days, but now I’m staying with the family I don’t lead the same sort of life. I don’t want to cause disruption or inconvenience. I don’t want them to be disturbed even by a knock or two. And I have contact with my friends, right here.
Now, don’t get me wrong; it can be a lonely time here in the park. Sometimes I can sit for ages and nobody comes over, but then other days two or three come at once. We’re not all elderly, though, in our little park bench set. Yes, there’s Doreen, she’d be – what? – almost a hundred by now, you know. But then there’s Carl, who was only born in 1994, if memory serves. (He’s a joker. He tells Doreen she’s wearing well, doesn’t look a day over ninety. ‘And how are you, young man?’ she asks him. ‘Oh, I’m feeling a bit run down.’) Roddy, who always loved this spot, well, he’s my age, I suppose, but we also have Charmian. The youngest. Pretty, too, I imagine all her friends would say. Young and pretty enough that people still bring flowers to the bench for her, on her anniversary.
Yes, early-autumn afternoons are when it is best here. If you time it right, you can sit in the sun for ages, though you may have to move from seat to seat to get out of the shade. If you’ve had a difficult day, you can relax here with whichever friends have managed to get across to find you. Much nicer than sitting in a dull or darkened room. Nicer than holding hands at the table.
I like to stay independent, and to give Hayley and her mum a bit of a break. I’m sure they think I go on a bit, talking about what my friends have said to me or wondering aloud what it must be like for them, where they all have ended up. I hope I can carry on for as long as possible, staying active, getting out and about, hearing those stories from beyond the park. I suppose it won’t be exactly like this forever, but, you know, the most comforting thing of all is that in the space where the autumn sunshine reaches, there is still – just about – room for one more bench. Something nice and new, graffiti-free, and the envy of my park-bench friends. And perhaps in the future, when Hayley’s kids are rushing off to the swings, she’ll be the one who comes to talk to me in that very spot.
Autumn at lunchtime bench by Karen Hill-Green
Autumn at a lunchtime bench
Wind pushes up against me.
It whispers ‘get back to work.’
A minute more.
I close my eyes.
Beauty Helleborus trills
its muffled song
from marbled mounds;
when winter knocks,
the purple stems
and white teardrops
will fade to green.
Scent of faint Rosa Kent
wafts on the breeze;
cinnamon sweet and scarce,
she clings to bark
and nestles underleaf.
Ahead a pigeon,
back and forth and back,
eyes on black alert.
Its white cousins flap
to the burbling dove-cote.
One lands, one flies
over the green-skinned pond
where rings erupt by
leathery lily pads;
the silent promise of life below.
Down the path
silver threads of snails,
to somewhere else
as trees drip drip drip
their dying green.
Zigzagging flies tango
on bench slats,
the tiny backpacking lives
bizz buzzing with purpose.
Snippets of a Cycle by Laura Hyde
On to the path,
Puppy and tree shake snow
Blackened trowel works soil.
And dozing in my lavender
Next door’s cat.
Not my blonde hairs,
Blamed our Labrador,
Christmas Eve, church bells
A drifter hangs wet stockings
From a naked branch.
Dust from my computer screen
In funeral cars
White lilies lie
Who mourns the flowers
When they die?
Love in the park by Lucy Marsh
Love is the old man offering his arm
to his wife of 60 years
as she stumbles on the gravel path.
He balances on his rubber-tipped stick,
still neat in his collar and tie
as she smiles up at him.
Love is the young mother
with dark eyes creased from broken nights,
giving her last sandwich to her two-year-old son
so he can feed the ducks quacking on the pond.
She grabs his hood as he teeters on the edge.
Love is the teenager lying on the grass
texting her boyfriend in the sun.
She plucks a blade of grass
with her idle hand,
sending him a 🙂 xx.
Love is the golden Labrador
bounding after his tennis ball.
Leaping into the afternoon air,
he snatches it with eager teeth
so he can race back to his owner.
Love is this bench
with its brass plaque
engraved for the one
who often sat and gazed
here – and loved this park.
Park by Laura Alexandra Munteanu
They say behind some bush some story creeps,
High in each tree hides, some well crafted verse
Deep in each flow, some small magic sleeps
For our imagination to rehearse.
The winter-time, a stark and naked frame
In the springtime, her gay costume is spread
In summertime she spreads her fingers wide
In autumn she wears yellow, gold and red.
How did this escape the factory’s breath,
The advance of industry’s bold dreaming?
The car-park’s necessity, tar-mac death
Where no birds sing, but wake each day screaming.
The wall that was built, that kept the grass green
Kept safe this space, so that dreamers yet dream.
Nothing stays the same in time’s rich jig
We make both rich gains and count heavy losses,
Be we stalk a fine marshland winter pig
Or we raise carved stone Holy crosses.
Spite the battles fought, the flooded river
The cannon ball scream, the wall that withstood
The martyrs hope the Queen would forgive her
The citizens dead, in a river of blood.
The stories written, the children play here
The ships that sail the broad pond with the ducks
The bowling green’s grass and the rockery’s cheer
The rich-grey mud, whose embrace our feet sucks.
Every moment that ever made this place
Let us learn, how so special is this space.
Who knows then what secrets might yet sleep still
Beneath the green sward , tree, building and road
Beneath these trees, might we find time to kill,
So that a secret truth might yet be told.
Should we be here to hear and capture it
Though the words we cannot their meaning catch
The secret tongue of nature’s savage wit
Whose likeness, we cannot yet truly match.
Change is inevitable, they tell me
But I say all change is what we make it
It could be better for all, green, and free
Or we could forever, for all time break it.
Not concentrating by Ben Warden
I’m sat here, not concentrating. The park is a good place to do it; to drift away in your thoughts. I’ve walked from the house, or rather I walked out of the house. I never pictured storming out of our home. We were so proud when we moved in. We’d lived with her parents for months and worked two jobs each to save for it. But recently we’ve been getting under each other’s feet. I’m having a bad time at work. Three of us built the company from the ground up but lately I’m always feeling on the bottom rung. She’s struggling to balance work and our daughter, who’s being awkward. They say it’s the terrible twos. She’s worried we’re not spending enough time with her. I know I should help out more but, if the business fails, that home won’t be ours much longer. The long nights away are for them except she can’t see it. Not this week anyway. I know I shouldn’t storm out. I know it just gives her more cause to feel abandoned, but I need the space. The last month or two I do keep leaving and I do keep coming here. It’s funny how I have a routine. I always want to sit at this bench, just because it’s the one I sat at first. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m sitting here, not concentrating. Thinking about her cursing me; about my little girl wailing; about how ten minutes in the fresh air is all I need. Probably all she needs too.
I start to wonder about myself. The only reason I want to sit here is because I’ve sat here before, and that experience wasn’t disappointing. I could sit on another bench but there’s a chance that wouldn’t go so well. Maybe I’d end up near a bin, or in a busier part of the park. So I come straight here, every time. Is that sad? Does it just highlight what a sad little man I am? I never take any risks. Is it worrying that I just walked out and that this isn’t the first time? It’s the lack of risk taking that’s causing me trouble at work. I’ve always been the one that kept things anchored. If it wasn’t for me, god only knows how it would have gone for them. Maybe I should take more chances.
Then he sits next to me. Just some old guy. It snaps me back for a moment and I see the grass and the trees, but only long enough to budge along the bench politely. I’m really just taking back some space. He smiles and sits quietly enough, at least at first.
‘Makes you consider life and death, doesn’t it?’
‘Great.’ I think. ‘A nut.’ But still I politely ask the question. ‘What, sorry?’
‘The park, it does me anyway. I come sit on this bench every day. Haven’t seen you around before, but you’ve been here a few times this week. I thought I’d join you. I hope you don’t mind.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt. I can move if you’d like?’ I don’t really want to, but it’s polite to offer.
‘No, no. Just another one of those things. I saw you here and I thought, gosh I sit there every day. How set in my ways! You know, it’s a trait of old age.’
‘That’s not true.’ I say, thinking how strange it is that his thoughts are the same. ‘It’s human nature. You come back to what you know.’
‘True, true. So what brings you back here?’
‘Ha. I know that, too well.’
I smile at him. He’s been where I am. He’s one of those guys who’s old enough to know most things. I think he could probably relate to anyone. No matter if you’re an adrenaline-fuelled, extreme sport junky, or just a man on a bench.
‘So what brings you out here every day?’ I ask.
‘Just this,’ he says, simply, waving his hand out in front of him; taking in the whole park. ‘It keeps me current. Let’s me think about what’s important.’
I don’t answer; I’m not sure how. I want to say something old and wise. I want to be on his level but all I can think about is my lovely wife at home, alone. After a while he fills the silence for me.
‘Did you know Namibia became one of the world’s first nations to write environmental protection into their constitution?’
Now I know he’s seen it all.
‘1990, I think it was,’ he continues. ‘It’s taken us some time to catch up. But some of the early philanthropists had it right. They knew the importance of a place to think.’
‘Well, it does help.’
‘Apparently, Joseph Rowntree used to walk on Scarborough Beach. That was his place to be away from life and work.’
He’s losing me now. I don’t want a history lesson. I just want to sit in peace.
‘It makes me consider life and death.’ He says again. ‘You get to see the important things first hand.’ He pauses for a moment. ‘You see the little girl over there?’
I stare past the tip of his finger. She can only be six or seven; on her hands and knees, peering into the grass. She looks like my Jenny. Little black wellies sticking out from an autumn-red duffle coat; one that will fit her better in a few months.
‘I don’t know her name, I can’t hear too well these days, but she looks after bugs. A proper little conservationist. Rehabilitating orphaned and injured wildlife on a daily basis.’
I watch her foraging in the grass.
‘And a good job she seems to make of it too. She operates a catch and release policy, of which I am most in favour.’ He says it with a smile. ‘She came with a young man once.’ He pauses again. ‘He didn’t do so well. He just pulled a wing off a daddy longlegs so they had something to nurse. Boys! They have no patience. She was very upset.’
I pull at my tie and shift my weight.
‘I just like sitting here,’ he says, still answering my earlier question. ‘The lush grass, the bare trees; bugs, birds, children, the OAPs like me.’ He chuckles and pulls himself to his feet. ‘The place is full of striking contradictions. It can keep a man steady.’
With that, he tips his hat with his leather glove and sets off down the path. I watch him leave. Then I get up and make the journey home, as quickly as I can.
In 1943 I used to drink tea by Christopher Brunt
He proposed to me the day before he left England. He told me all his friends were doing it, and so he thought it would look strange if he failed to perform some sort of romantic gesture. George has always been a romantic. I said yes and left it at that. I knew quite rightly that he wasn’t the type who subscribed to needless sentimentality. I didn’t need him to fall to one knee and recite poetry. I know he loves me, and he knows that I am his.
He left England to join the army. Back then, they were all joining.
“Better to volunteer than get the call.” He’d explained, threading his fingers through mine, glancing towards the families picnicking, all of them smiling and laughing in the grass, on what was a wonderfully sunny August afternoon.
“I don’t want you to leave.” I mentioned, turning with him to stare out at our favourite spot in the Rowntree Park, the flush trees standing behind us, swaying rhythmically against a coaxing breeze.
We sat on our bench every Sunday afternoon, only for an hour or so. Sometimes just to get out of the house. We never bothered to bring a picnic with us, not that I minded, I would have done anything George wanted us to do. He told me he felt exposed sitting on the grass eating sandwiches in the open, and so we always ate in the privacy of our home.
“I hate the thought of people watching me.” He’d told me, forever self-conscious. He wouldn’t like me saying that but it was true. He always felt nervous around other people, so in defiance we would sit on our bench and watch them while they ate their sandwiches, making them feel uncomfortable.
He turned and looked at me. He was about to say something, but didn’t speak. Earlier that morning he’d proposed while we ate breakfast at the flat, we’d been renting for the past year. I could tell it had taken a lot out of him, he was never comfortable expressing his feelings like that. We used to joke that I expressed enough feeling for the two of us.
The people living in our building assumed we were already married. I knew better than to correct them and so went along with it, sometimes lying and being forced to weave elaborate stories about our imaginary lives together as husband and wife. George would have died if he knew people were talking about us. I didn’t mention it to him.
“You know I hate it when you cry.” He finally said, squeezing my hand, his eyes darting around at the picnickers.
“Do you have to join the army?” I asked him, pulling his hand towards me, anchoring myself to him.
He gave me one of those disapproving looks of his and turned back to the picnickers, reclaiming his hand and reaching inside his jacket for his tobacco tin.
“If I didn’t join now what would they think, what would they say about me?” He blinked. “It’d look like cowardice…”
He left the next day. A letter arrived months later saying he’d been killed.
I’ve cried once or twice since then, though not at the funeral, or at the reception. He wouldn’t have approved of me ‘wailing’ in public. I did cry that afternoon when I returned to the privacy of what was meant to be our home. Afterwards I felt ashamed and just sat there alone, my hands folded inside my black dress, staring distastefully at the teapot in front of me on the table, realising I’d never need to boil an entire pot again. I never really liked tea anyway, it was George who insisted upon it.
“Everyone drinks tea.” Is what he told me.
I still wear the engagement ring. I like the way it looks on my hand. I doubt I’ll ever take it off. It wouldn’t be right, not fair to George. I sometimes think if I learn to become the woman he wanted me to be, behave properly, then he’ll reward me and come back.
He had such high standards.
“This is our special bench.” He’d said, gracing me with one of those big smiles of his, the one that always made my hands shake and my knees quiver like a giddy schoolgirl, both excited and terrified…I shouldn’t have said that. Forget I mentioned it. It’s not lady-like.
“A lady shouldn’t tell tales about her emotions.”
Well, I can’t take it back now, it’s too late. No doubt you’ve formed an opinion of me already.
I can still hear his voice, domineering as ever, frightening at times, but forever musical.
“I want you to marry me.”
As we sat on the bench I let him take hold of my arm. The fingers of my free hand curled around the frame of the wooden bench, clenching and contracting, digging in, clawing and piercing the twine, splinters slowly sliding underneath my nails.
That was the last time we sat together on this bench. I still recall his expression as he saw my eyes watering. According to George, I – like most girls – was ready to cry at a moment’s notice. It was true. I couldn’t help it. I’ve since learnt to behave correctly, when in public. George would be proud of me. Back then I was always embarrassing him, sometimes without even knowing it. He would inform me when we came back to the quiet of our flat. He wouldn’t have dreamt of making a scene by saying something in the park.
“While I’m away,” he said, patting me, “I want you to come here every day. Sit right there.” He instructed. “That’s your place.” He pointed a finger at my position on the bench. “I promise I’ll come back to you. I won’t be gone long, so don’t get yourself into any mischief. I always keep my promises, don’t I?”
I nodded. It’s true he always did keep his promises.
“While I’m away you will come here and I’ll be right here with you.” He smiled at me in that wonderful way of his. “I want you to remember something, Edith.” My face was bright red as he stared at me, his expression formed in that peculiar way, as it usually did when he wanted me to listen carefully.
“You will visit this bench every day. You will sit right there in your spot and I’ll sit over here, besides you. I’ll always find my way back to you, back to this bench.”
His eyes scrutinised me, conveying more in one glance than most people could with a thousand words.
“Promise me you’ll keep it company.” He said. “Every day.”
I do come here every day, to our bench. I’m an old lady now but I still miss him. Each day I look out at the trees. They are old, older than I am, but to me they’re the same as they always were. I’ve changed and they have stayed the same. From my seat I still watch those picnicking and laughing faces, eating their sandwiches, kicking their balls, flying their kites.
I still feel like crying. I know I shouldn’t, yet I can’t help it. Pressure swells at my cheeks, they don’t turn bright red as they once did and now they’re covered with lines and wrinkles. I have to breathe in to hold it all back. Whenever I feel like crying I always manage to stop myself just in time, right before it becomes unbearable. I try to behave as George would have wanted me to.
I sit to one side of the bench while he remains on the other side, resting his elbow on the wooden frame, the weight of his head leant against his chin, staring across the park, looking at everyone. Occasionally he’ll glance at me and my knees will begin to shiver in excitement as they once did, though my hands no longer shake. I know he isn’t really there. You mustn’t misunderstand me; I realise he isn’t really there.
When I sit here I like to pretend George is with me. No one can tell when I do it, they might see me but they don’t know what I’m thinking; me on my side of the bench, him on the other.
A woman and her child passed by and saw me while I was giggling to myself – I couldn’t help it. Her face was so cross with me, so disapproving. They’re all so very disapproving. I’m sure she must have thought me mad, even though she hadn’t the slightest idea what I was thinking. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.
“You’re a silly woman.” She would have said to me, if she’d been alone. It’s not done to speak rudely of strangers in front of a child.
I’ve done more than enough to embarrass myself in George’s absence; it’s been a long time. It’s too late to redeem myself. No doubt talking like this hasn’t helped the situation. What must you think of me… Though I do enjoy speaking to such lovely people. I don’t mind by the way, you might think that I would, but really it’s fine, I understand, please do sit down, take a minute to relax. Enjoy the park. Why not have a seat?
It would be better if you sat on my side of the bench though. Not George’s. He wouldn’t approve of that.