There is light that freckles the air, where the dew drops that cling to branches catch the sun. You walk along the path that you did four years ago, thinking the same array of painful thoughts. Once, you stopped and sat on that bench with a friend, watching the squirrels dart along the treetop branches. You had only known this friend a few months, but her mother was suddenly dying. She had no clue of what was happening, only that time itself was shifting, the particles that made up her night and day were imploding with new distortions. You could not help her, so you sat beside her and talked about the weather, and how maybe spring would be coming soon.
The park is silent and still, because it is the middle of the day and everybody else is out working. You wonder how you might justify this excursion. The afternoon stretches out in front of you, long and full of longing, promising nothing. There is a way in which you’re not really walking at all; more like floating, your legs feeling light and your head a little dizzy. You miss the days when you were strong and healthy. Ducks are tentatively playing by the pond, waddling and flapping and adding cyan to the scenery with their rain-shined feathers. The water is still partly frozen, glimmering with all its depths and reflections. You have a sense of someone standing beside you. Your cold hands clutch the railings and your fingers feel the rusted flakes of paint, which you fight the urge to peel off. You find yourself shaking.
The sun will not stop coming out, will not stop forcing itself through the thinnish clouds which have left a pale membrane after the rain. The cloud breaks up and drifts away in cotton streams, barely more visible than airplane trails. You feel the sun warming your back, warming you even through your winter coat. It’s almost frightening. You did not expect this. You should have turned back; should have sat in the cafe and waited for the dark to come, so you could go home and eat. But now you don’t want to go home and eat.
You trudge up the path, your chest heaving from the strain of the gradient. A little dog bounds past you, yapping, and the owner is chasing after it. You turn back and for some reason the dog turns back too as it is running, turns back and stares right at you. Something flashes in its yellow eyes and you have to look away. You feel it gape in your stomach. You know that you are missing something.
There is a secret glade behind the evergreen trees at the top of the park. You used to come here in summer and read Laurie Lee while you ate from a bag of cherries and listened to a man nearby plucking at his guitar and singing. And once a stranger had asked you for the time, but it was not yours to give.
You come to the glade because even now – especially now – you crave its safety. In the comfort of the solitude you feel suddenly weary. Your limbs have lost their solidity. You lie down, slowly lowering yourself onto the grass. It is like falling into the arms of a favourite friend, soft and wanting. The smell of the earth passes through you. It is damp and cold after the rain, but the feeling of this does not chill you. Lying down on your front, you turn your face towards the trees where the light is beaming through in selective rays. White light, the fade of the day. That’s when you see them: the crocus shoots. They are white too, pure little things with their waxen petals erect to the sky. And the gaping inside of you subsides, because you realise that maybe spring is coming after all.
(Prompts: photograph of crocuses, wistful)
by Maria Rose Sledmere