The old lady stayed beneath the vast shadow of the ancient oak melting onto wood except for a blaze of red silk. The autumn leaves waltzed gracefully round the park and the trees sung dryly with the breeze. Winter’s overture; Joyce could feel it on the sway of the season pursuing the witches and bonfires with a slumbering kiss and she knew that time was short. From her discreet hiding place she watched impatiently as a young couple displayed on her bench, unaware of nature’s sad regression and the heavy blanket of time.
The girl’s hair swirled moodily in a fan of raven black while the boy’s hood billowed, in flashes of orange lining, with the busy breeze. They chewed on each other like toffee, lost in love’s sparkling charade, oblivious to the sun’s farthing candle paling in the opaque sky. So Joyce waited pulling her holdall tight to her body and leaning against the age-old oak for support and comfort until the school bell sounded. The couple, duty-bound, straighten themselves into children dashing from the bench in a hasty jog of trainers and thick-soled shoes. Their urgency churned the soft earth emitting a dank smell that reminded Joyce of old books and new graves. When they had disappeared into the maze of trees she made her way towards the bench.
Sitting down she could smell a mix of strong aftershave and light body spray owning the air in a statement of youth. Around her large oaks, warm copper beeches, birches and many more bartered despairingly with this plundering season, casting a rich carpet at her feet, a blanket for the weary soil.
Joyce made herself comfortable and then occupied herself pulling out a flask of tea and two neatly wrapped parcels of food. She poured herself a drink and toasted the late afternoon. The warm smell of tea and flask stirred nostalgic sentiment that drifted in her mind like the steaming vapour spiralling to the sky. She was reminded of Scarborough’s prevalent coast when she had lived on a warm smile and a twinkle in her eye, of mellow nights and salty air, lights dancing in the water to a tune on the radio, of reckless shoes, brisk in absent thought, labouring in youth’s better glories. She sighed and smiled then began to remove her gloves revealing creased vellum hands sprinkled with age.
She carefully opened the folded bundles of food placing one on the far end of the bench the other on her lap. “Arthur”, she whispered softly so as not to disturb the light that was caught in the tangled branches above. “Arthur?”
Again she waited, still, for fear of losing this day, for she knew that winter crept with its long shadow to take the light. She would not come again, for a while, not until spring’s first blush. No, the nights were drawing in and winter had a way of making one feel old. Maybe she was too late? Maybe he’d forgotten….
Suddenly, from above, there was flash of glossy cinnamon followed by an elegant flick of feathered russet. Branches bowed and arched with a hush of dry leaves and faint steps shimmied down a weathered trunk in a wave of copper. With a twitching muzzle and bright ebony eyes the squirrel came to rest on the bench. With its large pointed ears alert it explored the feast, Joyce had prepared, picking out a slice of banana. Falling on its haunches, nibbling at the fruit, it chattered with a rasping, jaunty, voice that spoke of character and truth in a world that was losing both. Then, after a while, they both sat there in silence, the squirrel and the old lady, watching the tide of time wash the apricot hue out of a water coloured sky.
Copyright RMC Oct 2000