Saturday, 6 December 2014
Stories to warm the cockles of your heart. Snapshots from the park
There were only a few people left in the park. Just a few families hurrying home to have tea by the Christmas tree and wrap the last presents. A few teenagers wearing reindeer antlers and father Christmas hats gave some welcome cheer to the gloom. Dusk was already falling even though it was early afternoon. Rosalie shivered in her thin silky dress and pulled her woollen shrug round her shoulders. Her blonde hair was swept up to reveal her new diamond earrings ,an early Christmas present from Tom to wear at his office party. Rosalie thought how conspicuous she must look and moved to the railing round the lake, huddling over to keep warm. The ducks were swimming around looking for the last of the crumbs that the children had thrown. Rosalie opened her new silver clutch to see if their was anything there. Sometimes she had a small packet of biscuits, an old habit from when the children were small, but there was nothing, just the modern girls' survival kit of lipstick and concealer. Her phone and money were all in the car along with her keys.
They'd driven up to London in good time to beat the holiday traffic to attend the office party. They'd argued all the way, as they often did now, about the usual unimportant things, like where to go for New Year and if they should invite his mother to stay.
As they'd parked the car in front of the office Tom's phone rang.
Hi Svetlana, we're here, just parking, she's come too, .'
Rosalie turned on her husband , all the anger and fear of the last few weeks bursting out in a fury.
'Who is this Svetlana? Why do you speak to her in such a seductive way? Don't deny it Tom, I know it's wrong but I couldn't help looking at your phone, so many calls and texts from Svetlana, it's me or her. You're never at home and I feel so lonely now the children are at uni. I'm not going to the party.'
Rosalie flung herself out of the car and slammed the door. She didn't see the look of astonishment on Tom's face as she ran towards the park.
She watched the ducks swimming towards her, it calmed her down and her heart stopped racing. She thought the male ducks looked like Tom, all groomed and attractive, she felt like the female ducks, brown and plain..
Rosalie turned to the bench and noticed a well-built unshaven man sitting there and looking at her. He stood up and joined her at the railing.
'We can learn a lot by looking at the ducks. Look at that one, I call her Tonya, and that black one with the white crest, he is Boris, and the beautiful mallard is Karl. They were the names of my brothers and sister, it is like having them here with me.'
He spoke with a heavy accent, Rosalie guessed Eastern European. Close up she could see that beneath his worn overcoat he wasn't well built at all, but thickly padded with newspaper. He smiled at her and she saw the humour and warmth that must have been such a part of him. His face was covered with wrinkles and laughter lines. It was like staring into a rich happy past.
'I was just thinking how funny that nature makes the male more attractive. In humans the man seems to get more attractive as the years go by but women lose their ability to attract as they reach my age.' She sighed and put her hand on her cheek.
'You are a beautiful woman, any man would be lucky to have you, but aren't you getting cold.? Why are you on your own in the park now?
Some instinct told her to trust the man and she found herself pouring out her worries. She told him about the children going to uni, her husband being made director of his company, her job as a teacher in the local primary school and how all romance seemed to have dwindled away from her life. She felt lost and lonely.
'And then in the Summer my father died and this will be the first Christmas without him..'
Rosalie stopped in mid-sentence, her words hanging in the air. She felt so ashamed of herself. Here she was moaning on and on to this poor man who probably hadn't got a home to go to and was going to sleep on this bench. She put out her hand and touched him on the arm, but he just smiled at her and nodded.
'I understand all this, you are still in love with your husband and that is good, that is why you feel this jealousy, and of course you miss your father, that is live, we are always missing the ones we love or hurting them. He coughed and doubled over a look of great pain crossed his face.
'But come we must get you warm, where are you going?'
Rosalie let him lead her across the park to where the car was parked.
'I haven't got the keys though,' she shivered and her teeth started to chatter violently.
There was a flash of silver as he took something from his pocket, it looked like a razor blade, and then the door was open. Rosalie got into the passenger seat and felt for her bag, she took out all the money she had and the box of cough sweets from the glove compartment. She thrust them at the man who tried to back away, 'No no, kindness is free,' but she was too quick for him and buried them deep in his pocket.
She looked up as Tom called to her, he was running towards her .
'Rosalie, where did you go, I couldn't understand a word you said, I had my headset on. What's happened?'
'Nothing Tom, I just said I love you, that's all. I'm so proud of you and I'm looking forward to meeting Svetlana.'
She put her arms around his neck and pulled him towards her. She held his hand tight as they walked into the party.
Rosalie remembered something her father used to say.
'Help and reassurance can appear in the most unexpected ways.'