Cassindra pt. 1

I wrote in Leary Park as it was quite near my place and I didn’t like to wander too far from home yet. It was a twisty park, though not large, almost as if someone took a bunch of tiny parks and dropped them in a greenspace with no regard for symmetry or cohesion, but that made it beautiful to me, and created crannies and clearings that you could walk by and not notice, or ignore as just more lawn and sunlight. The bigger central areas were well maintained and filled with people now, even into late Autumn after the Indian Summer, most bundled, some still denying the year’s heat had left and the metallic smell of frost was in the nostrils. Teens loitered around the fountain in what I guess you’d call the centre of Leary, students played games on the surrounding turf, balls, Frisbees, I walked past and didn’t pay much attention. The odd old man or old couple shuffled along the paths. I walked past.
“One game before you start, Charlie.” He was always there before me no mater what time of day I arrived and always offered the same greeting before I’d even started to push aside the thinning lilac hedge. “One game with lonely old man, eh?” he continued when I’d stepped through.
This was a neglected area and hidden enough that lost property tended to gather here, the balls and Frisbees, a rusted lawn dart that must have been very old, a vintage leather purse, orange, much worse for possibly forty years of exposure. It was a tiny space with a piece of wall at the back marking the edge of Leary, gray stone and part of what once used to surround a whole section of the place; how it escaped deconstruction was a mystery, but I assumed the other side must be as overgrown as the interior. It didn’t even have graffiti marring what was exposed of it between the wild growth of who knew what aborted trees. Twelve-by-ten, cramped, rarely sunny and occupied seriously only by of all things an old and beautiful chess table and an old and bearded Rumanian Jew, taking out fine game-pieces from an old sack that might once have been a royal purple velvet, setting the pewter pieces on my side, the iron ones on his.
“Of course, Peter, one or maybe more.” My usual response. We’d play three or five before he’d get up and gather his bags to wander his park. He knew the park, new every corner and happening.
“Not today I think, Charlie. The park is strange today. Someone new today.” He sounded flat as he continued setting up the pieces. “You’ll want to see.” And he gave me a rare look, his rheumy eye making the knowing gimlet of his other dance like a blue star. Just for a second and he went back to arranging the board.
“Really, Peter? I thought you knew everyone in the park…including me. You know I’ve no interest in the people.”
“You hurt me with that. You have interest in me, and winning a match of chess. There, sit, make your move. Always you open the same, try something different today maybe Charles.”
I sat and made my usual opening and Peter shook his head and moved and we played in silence for over an hour before he was chasing my king around the board. He would have let me do it until we drew, but I tipped it over with a sigh.
“Why didn’t you mate me?”
Peter stood and began packing up the pieces.
“Told you, only one game today. Thought maybe you wouldn’t notice. Was present, of a sort.”
He packed up his duffel, gave my shoulder a squeeze, and headed for the hole in the hedge.
“Were are you going so soon?”
“Today?” he said, pushing through the lilacs and disappearing. “I leave park. Leave city.” I still heard him rustling on the other side straightening his clothing and hitching his bag. “You take care of your mind Charles, I must take care of mine. I’ve grown too small for this place, maybe.”
I was so shocked I felt that the seat was holding me physically. He was gone I knew when I could move again. I’d met him on the day of my release–in this spot, thinking it would be empty–seen him every day, told him my story. He’d listened, nodded, we’d play and always I would lose a set by a game; he went easy on me, I knew, or I didn’t stand a chance, but every day for four months I had seen him and he’d listened. Sometimes he would talk of a daughter in Chicago, how she pressed him to come to the city. Perhaps that was where he was heading. It was a shitty good-bye, if that was the case.
“Too small…”; he was the biggest person I knew in personality, quite hefty physically as well. “Someone new in the park.” I began to realise too late that he had talked heavy today and had been out of sorts.
I guess I mourned. I had no idea of my surroundings for minutes, and when I came out of the fog I found I was staring at my pewter king where I had toppled it on the board, polished and shining in a stray beam of sun from between the branches.

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