I wrote this short story for a Creative Writing course I did at University. Unfortunately I was only given the time to write 2 stories for the entire module as we spent alot of time editing each other’s work, to learn how to benefit from editing our own. I still had a lot of fun though and one day I aim to write a book of short stories (once I’ve managed the art of editing to perfection).
If you’re expecting a story about eternal happiness, this isn’t it. If you’re expecting a story about blissful love and idyllic joy, this isn’t it either. This is about real life, real people, and real situations.
It started on a regular Wednesday morning. When I woke up it had felt like any other day. It was bitter cold, the frost had devoured everything in its path over night, strangling and smothering plants. I could see my breath in the air. It was the end of autumn; leaves were falling off trees, twisting and turning in the air, landing in hopeful children’s chubby fists. Colours of red; brown, gold and green were all over the pavement, forming a kaleidoscope of colour.
“It’s a cold day today.” The old man sitting next to me interrupts my train of thought.
“Yes.” I respond awkwardly. “It is”. I don’t know what to say to him. So I just sit and think about that Wednesday morning.
I went to work, said good morning to the dim witted receptionist and went to my cubicle, my box of an office. The phone rang. It was my boss, he wanted to see me. His office was five times as big as my cubicle and had glass doors, so when talking to you the whole department watched you like neighbours prying over a fence. They were doing that then. They watched me. And out the corner of my eye, I watched them.
I left the building where I spent the last ten years of my life at, with a box of my stuff. I stepped into the revolving door and let it push me to the outside world, to become an outsider. My box before me didn’t consist of much just: a picture of my family in a photo frame, a blue stapler, a squished Mars Bar, some pens and a mug I’ve never used with a caption on saying, “Turn that frown upside down”. People passed me on their way to work and looked at me and my box and gave me these pitying looks and thanked God it wasn’t them. I dumped my box in the nearest bin. What do I do now? I had thought to myself. Where should I go? Who do I turn to? I didn’t want to call Sarah and tell her I had let her down. Mr. Dependable had become Mr. Un dependable. I walked aimlessly. My eyes glazed over and my head emptied of thoughts. I ended up at a betting shop. I walked in and glanced at the familiar screens. I began to look around the shop, eyeing up the hopeful faces that had spent their dole, their rent, their pension, on luck. I walked up to the counter and placed a fiver on a horse called Lucky Day. I could change my luck around, I had thought to myself. Today could be a good day. It wasn’t.
I begin a new routine. I go to a local restaurant every day. I watch mothers come in after their school runs, breathless and cheery, savouring a quiet moment to enjoy coffee and cake, reminiscing about their childhoods and their dress sizes. I watch alcoholics gurgling on their already third pint of their day, nosily having arguments with other alcoholics about football scores and politics.
The ladies who lunch arrive in their cream coloured clothes. They nibble on rabbit food self consciously and natter on about PTA meetings and other ladies that lunch. I watch business meetings commence: phone calls, datasheets and fake laughter. Mouthfuls of food hurriedly thrust into their fast moving mouths with swigs of brandy in between. I watch college students come in with bright scarves and bloodshot eyes ordering pints and complaining of hangovers and amounts of studying they have. I watch couples come in and curl up in a close embrace. They mutter sweet nothings into each other’s ears and share secret jokes.
I then will head to the park and sit on my spot on my bench and watch people attempt to exercise. Runners jog around the park, plugged into their music, unable to hear their own gasps for air, their faces red and puffy, screwed up in concentration. I watch dog walkers trying to keep up with their companions, a battle between each end of the leash. I watch elderly people sit in silence and feed the birds, tossing crumbs of bread from a plastic bag they’ve brought from home with them.
Until today, after my daily one cup of coffee, I go to the park and I see someone else sitting in my spot, on my bench. Territorial anger begins to rise up within me but I suppress it and think of how to rectify the situation. I calmly walk over to my bench and sit on the other end of it.
Silence spreads out in front of this old man like an empty abyss. It surrounds us. The laughter of small children not so far away is heard and I turn my head to see where their laughter is coming from.
“Do you have some of your own?”
“Children? Yes I have two.”
“Little rascals aren’t they?”
“At times, yes.”
“I like to think so.”
“No. You are lucky.”
“I guess I am. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank yourself.”
“How about you? Do you have a wife? Or Grandkids?”
“Ah. Now that would be telling wouldn’t it?”
I’m puzzled by his answer. Does that mean I should drop the subject? Not ask questions? I sit in a silence of awkwardness and look out in front of me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the invader of my terrain. He is an old man, with a chequered flat cap on his head, a twisted brown wooden stick in between his knees, and his eyes look vacuously straight ahead. An empty stare. His hands are weathered and wrinkled. Crossroads of veins and streets of bones. His face is pale and has a sickly yellow shade to it. He has bags under his eyes that droop low onto his face. He doesn’t look well. In fact, he definitely isn’t well. I pity him, pity old age. How old age restrains and represses you, how slowly, one by one, you are left alone. Left alone to face the next chapter of your life. Death. I sit there and begin to think of my children, my wife. Of growing old with her, clasping our hands into each others, watching birds together. I think of my children, and how they, one day, will have children themselves, and I begin to contemplate the washing machine cycle of life.
“I know this is none of my business. But why are you sitting here on such a cold day, in this park, on this bench?”
“I could ask you the same question.” I reply. I’m sick of his mysterious ways and don’t want to be baring all to a stranger.
“I used to come to this park. With my wife. And so I thought I’d visit it. See what’s it like. See if anything has changed.”
“And has it?”
“Oh yes. But you can never stop change. Sometimes change is good, sometimes bad. But you must always accept it.”
“What was your wife like?”
“She wasn’t the brightest or the prettiest girl I ever knew or dated, but she was the one I always knew I wanted to spend my life with.”
“She died last year. Cancer. The doctors said they couldn’t do anything.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Ah don’t worry. Shit happens. That’s life isn’t it? Now, you haven’t answered my question. How come you’re here?”
“I..erm..I.. lost my job.”
“No. Quite a while ago actually.”
“Well I don’t know what do now. But…yes. That’s it.”
“You’re telling me you’re sitting here away from your charming wife and kids in the cold, with an old fart like me because you haven’t got the balls to change your situation?”
“Now that’s just ridiculous! You get your ass into gear man, it’s just a job. Pick yourself up and move on. Find another one. It’s easily done.”
“You say that but it’s hard at this time, with the recession and everything.”
“Excuses, Excuses! I don’t want to hear the rubbish that’s coming out your mouth. Have you tried to look for another job?”
“Have you told your wife and kids?”
“Your best friend?”
“No. It’s just… I’m embarrassed. And ashamed.”
“You’re embarrassed? I shat myself on the bus the other day in front of fifteen other people. Now that’s embarrassment.”
I let out a splutter and begin to laugh and he laughs with me. I laugh and I feel like the last couple of weeks were just an insignificant blur, a blip. I laugh and I feel my heart swell and I feel… happy. A true happiness. Something I haven’t felt in a while. In too long.
I think back to the last couple of weeks. Everyday I’ve watched my children spoon soggy weetabix into their mouths; I watched my wife spreading swirls of peanut butter on white bread for their sandwiches. I’ve kissed my wife on the cheek and I’ve let her wish me a good day at work. I don’t want to lie to her anymore. I don’t want to pretend. Today will be different.
“What’s your name by the way?”
“I’m Derek. Pleasure to meet you.”
“You too. Now Derek, bugger off and go home to your wife and kids.”
“Yes I should tell them the truth.”
“You definitely should. They deserve that.”
“But what if she…”
“No what ifs. Don’t live your life on what could have happened but what did happen, what will happen. Life can be hard at times but you just have to man up.”
“ You’re right. Are you going to be okay?”
“Me? I’ll be fine. Just fine.”
“Well thank you Mr. Turner.”
“Thank yourself Derek!”
I get up to leave and walk away from the bench with a comforting thought that losing my job isn’t the best thing to happen to me, but neither is it the worst. I turn around to get one last glimpse of this funny old man I met on my bench, but I can’t see him. Strange.