A Walk in the Park
Time for a walk with Sally. There had been so much running through Mike’s head lately that he’d not had enough time to think. A walk in the park with his lively golden retriever was just the pause that was called for... fresh air, distraction, a getaway from the sheer necessity of just getting by, day to day.
Sally pulled eagerly forward on her leash towards the park. Mike was happy to let her lead the way. Such a relief allowing another being to make the decisions for a change.
It was just another grey winter’s day. The park was very quiet. Even the ever-present hum of traffic noise seemed to disappear behind the trees.
Sally padded along the path, stopping to sniff and scratch at various tufts of greenery poking through the crumbling tarmac, checking out the doggy telegraph, the clues and signatures of all who had passed by here before. She stopped suddenly — firmly — at the first bench. She dragged Mike out of his reverie of auto-pilot walking as she added her liquid clip to the daily, invisible news.
He noticed three people sitting on the next bench. They sat well apart, not touching. They were all sobbing and sniffling. One was an old man, his cheeks sunken, wrinkled skin screaming an apparent tiredness with life itself. His eyebrows were untended, wild and grey. With hunched shoulders, he grasped a thin hankie with a thin hand mottled with liver spots. Mike cringed as the man volubly blew his nose.
The woman perched beside him had ruddy cheeks. She looked to be one of those tired, overworked forty-somethings. A bit overweight with short, messy hair and she didn’t appear to be wearing any make-up. Her eyes were red rimmed and she used a Kleenex to dab at her tear-stained face.
The third person was a gangly child. A boy wearing a ball cap, his shorts-clad, goosebumped legs swinging awkwardly off the edge of the bench.
Mike looked away, embarrassed to be caught prying into what was obviously a troublesome time for all three. He tugged hard at Sally’s leash, not wanting to get drawn into the trio’s misery.
‘Polo?’ A wrinkled hand reached out towards him, offering a mint.
‘Errr... no... thank you.’ Mike tried to keep moving but his eyes were inexplicably drawn towards the mint that began to disappear into the man’s toothless mouth.
‘Yesterday,’ the old man mumbled.
Mike stared. The man stared back, waiting for an answer.
‘Yesterday. That’s who I am. Nothing but memories. Some good times and some bad.’
‘Right.’ Mike sighed inwardly. Today was not a good day to stumble across a bunch of nutters. Mike pulled back firmly on her leash as Sally caught the smell of mints and moved forward to sniff at the old guy.
‘Don’t mind her. Good girl, ain’t you?’ He leaned down to pat Sally’s head.
‘Sometimes,’ Mike said. ‘But, really, we had best be...’
‘Today,’ announced the woman, looking up over her dabbing Kleenex. ‘I’m Today.’
Mike frowned. ‘So, let me see. You...’ he pointed to the old man... ‘are Yesterday. The lady is Today... so, I guess this is your son, Tomorrow.’
The old man and the woman exchanged bemused glances.
‘See, I told you some of them was smart!’ the man exclaimed.
Sally snuffled around the old guy’s coat, intent on finding the source of the minty smell. Mike firmly tugged her back.
Suddenly, the child began to howl and sob loudly. The woman calmly shook her head.
‘Is he all right?’ Mike asked.
‘No more so than the rest of us, I guess,’ replied the woman. ‘How are you?’
‘Yes. You. You’re all right aren’t you?’
‘Well...’ Mike wanted to answer but wasn’t sure how much he should say to these weirdos. He sighed. ‘I wonder sometimes about how all right I am. And now I’m talking to Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow!’
‘Not many people do talk to us, dear. It’s a shame, really. We don’t mind being talked to... or about,’ the woman replied.
‘Depends, really,’ the old man replied.
‘On what?’ asked Mike
‘Well, there’s some yesterdays that don’t like being remembered, and some are better left unsaid and buried deep, ya know?’
‘Were your yesterdays like that?’ asked the old man, digging into his pocket. Sally salivated and drooled onto the old guy’s coat, hoping for a mint. She sat into her appealing pose, and wagged her tail.
‘Mine?’ Mike thought for a moment. ‘Actually, my yesterdays were pretty damn good, mostly.’
The old guy snorted loudly into his hankie again. Sally looked up at him with hopeful eyebrows. Any more mints?
‘And what about today?’ asked the woman.
‘Today’s okay, I guess. Could be worse. I’ve got problems; spend a lot of time doing some hard thinking. There’s lots of things I need to do to put things right.’
‘Ah! Sounds like a lot of things are wrong if they need fixing.’ The woman leaned back into the bench and blew discretely into her Kleenex. ‘What did you do that was so wrong?’
‘Me? Oh, I didn’t do anything wrong. Some things I wish I had done yesterday, some things I want to put right today.’
‘See!’ said the old man. ‘It’s always Yesterday’s fault!’
‘You bloody martyr! He did say some things he wanted to put right today. Didn’t you, dearie?’ pouted the woman.
Tomorrow curled up his long legs at the end of the bench and began to bawl louder.
Mike reached out and put his hand on the kid’s shoulder.
‘You all right, sonny? What’s the matter?’
The kid howled louder and pulled his face up tight into the ball of his arms and legs. Mike looked at the grazes on Tomorrow’s knees. He’d been climbing trees, just like Mike had done years ago.
‘Hey, come on sunshine. What’s up?’
The boy’s face peeked up cautiously over his arm and swiped his sleeve across his nose and eyes.
‘You talking to me, mister?’
‘Of course I am. Now, what’s the matter?’
‘Nobody cares about Tomorrow!’ He burst into tears again and disappeared once more behind his arms.
‘Don’t be silly! Everybody cares about tomorrow!’
The sniffling subsided and the kid looked up over his arms again. ‘They do?’
‘Of course they do. Tomorrow is what everyone has to look forward to!’
‘Ha!’ snorted the woman. ‘Look after Today and Tomorrow will look after itself. That’s what my mam always said!’
‘Just bloody old farts and dust. Yesterday’s always forgotten,’ groaned the old man.
Mike stood back and stared intently at the three people on the bench. He couldn’t help it... he felt a speech coming on...
‘Let’s get this straight,’ he said sternly, ‘once and for all.’
‘Oooooh, isn’t he...’ the woman said coyly. The old man opened his mouth as if he was about to reply but no sound came out. The kid stopped snivelling. Even Sally looked up, as if she’d done something wrong.
‘Quiet!’ shouted Mike. In the ensuing silence, he began. ‘You all have a place. A role.’
‘Well I...’ the woman said.
‘Shush, woman! The man’s got more to say,’ chided Yesterday.
‘Yesterday was good. For me at least. Lasting memories, lessons, a rich source of things to draw on. It helps me get through my days.’
The old man beamed.
‘Today... well, it has its trials but it has its beauties, too. It helps me overcome things from my past. It means I can help people I care about, help others, too, if I can. Today brings me the beauty of a flower, a child’s smile... and love.’
‘You can love Yesterday, too, you know?’ the old man chipped in.
‘Yes, you can. But not without loving Today,’ answered Mike.
‘And Tomorrow?’ asked a little hopeful voice.
‘Tomorrow is what we look forward to. Tomorrow makes dreams come true.’
Suddenly, the park bench was empty.
He heard Tomorrow’s young voice from behind him. ‘Easy really, ain’t it?’
Mike turned. There was no one behind him.
Yesterday laughed and said, ‘There’s a mint on the next bench for the good little doggy.’
Mike swiveled. There wasn’t anyone within spitting distance.
‘Holy... I am losing my bloody marbles!’
Sally whined. Mike felt her stand and tug on the lead. In the distance, he caught sight of a young boy skipping across the road near the edge of the park. He looked a bit like Tomorrow. Something to look forward to, that’s what he’d needed. A reminder that dreams can come true. Tomorrow always comes and it’s just a walk in the park.
‘Come on, old girl!’ Mike smiled down at Sally. ‘Let’s go find you a mint or two.’
© Doug Pugh (previously published by Bewildering Stories)
**** **** **** ****
"marche aux saisons" © Doug Pugh