Sitting there was uncomfortable now, feeling like I was desecrating a space that was no longer mine. I would usually take out my notebook and write stories about the distant voices in the park, giving some alter-life to a shout or scream or passing conversational snatch from the path ten feet from me as a couple walked by. This was my routine, and from that I’d become absorbed on occasion and a story could flow, and I’d lose myself, much like I had when Peter had said goodbye in his way, but for hours, because it was engrossing and comfortable. But I’d lost that for today. I did take my notebook out and start to write for the very first time about Peter, but I found myself forcing thoughts I hadn’t digested and ended up scratching out words feeling they were phony and that I was cheap. I picked up the king and ran my thumb over it; it was exquisite work. I didn’t know much about these things, but given what I’d gathered from my time with the fellow I thought it from a set passed down in the family, though not too very old. I settled on thinking it was from his father’s set, arbitrarily, and that got my thinking about him missing it when he gave the pieces to his daughter. What was her name? Cassandra? Something like that, a variation on that, “Cassindra” or “Cassinda”. It all got me very depressed and I got up with the intention of going to find him and sitting back down knowing he’d not left it by accident, and anyway, he’d not be in the park still.
This small area began to feel cramped, and I thought I might pace back and forth if the space wasn’t so tiny to make it ridiculous. I took out my notebook for a fifth, sixth time and sketched the king, smudged it, hated it and crumpled the paper, tried to draw Peter sitting across from me, and that was worse. I was no artist. Finally I shoved everything into my bag and burst out through the lilacs onto the path and started walking briskly, not back home but straight through, deeper into the park and it’s blind corners, startling people with my pace and I suppose my expression which must have seemed cruel as I left whispers in my wake about my “problem” and how I wasn’t “a happy guy.”.
It must have been two in the afternoon now by the sun that suddenly cleared the cloudbanks as I came off a dogtrail into what was a perfect-seeming circle of silver birch and found myself walking on cobbling. The sun was angled straight into my eyes and I flung up an arm and knocked my glasses off and stepped on them full-booted in my stride.
“Shit,” said a pretty voice ahead of me, and the sun hid again and the fact of a cold autumn day came home again in brutal fashion, the wind picking up and blowing open my jacket.I couldn’t see the figure in the distance clearly as I looked toward her, ten metres away, sitting cross-legged on a slate island in the middle of a large artificial pond.
“What?” I snapped, because I couldn’t take the whip out of my voice, and I wasn’t trying, squatting down to pick up my ruined eye-glasses from the cobbles, annoyed that someone had stolen my word and that I couldn’t even see whom and baffled as to what they where doing in a pond anyway.
“You would have needed those to see.”
It was one of the insane predicaments of Leary Park, each twist in a path leading to some strange ecosystem of residents, or resident in this case. I’d avoided them; it had only been luck that had led me to Peter’s Alcove as I called it in my head, and once Peter had beckoned me to a game of chess in the exact manner that he had today, I didn’t venture anywhere else unless some loose thought took up too much space in my head for me to mind properly where I was going. It wasn’t fear of the unknown, or at least it hadn’t been, but certain areas were naturally a hotbed of activities meant to be hidden, and stumbling upon them had in the past lead to hostile reactions. I wasn’t to be taken too seriously, apparently, for I got out of them with a stammering apology every time and a willingness to leave whilst giving the impression I’d not noticed anything illicit. But now I was upset, and this tiny woman was strange enough to annoy me, so I stayed, although I examined my ruined glasses instead of engaging her properly.
“I can see straight through your garment. What are you doing here of all places, naked for all purposes, in a pond?”
“My garment is exceedingly suitable; they are baptismal robes. That is why they’re translucent. I was in the pond. I heard there might be a fountain around here, but found it fruitless, because people waste time around it constantly. Some of the people here are impolite and prejudice. Peter suggested the koi pond for it. Is he gone? He said he would leave before you came. Sit down before you fall, there are roots to trip a sighted person here, Charlie.
I wasn’t blind without them, but I missed hem; I could see the “E” and the next line during a test. There were stone benches each side of the opening I’d managed to fall through and I took the one on the left and shielded my eyes to look at the woman just as the stray light fell back behind clouds and trees. She seemed to have stopped paying attention to me and was dabbling her feet in the water and swishing them around, singing a song under her breath that I couldn’t make out.
“Peter was here?” I asked.
“Mmm, oh, he was,” she said. “He’s gone now, huh? He doesn’t stick around, just pops in, huh?” She continued humming and singing, splashing her feet, staring into the water.
I was too curious to leave despite being uncomfortable.
“Do you know where he went?” I asked. “He used to stay for long periods with me in a Southern part of the park. We would play chess.”
She just hummed and splashed.
“He left a king behind,” I said, feeling this out. I dug the pewter figure out of my jacket pocket, which I had been fondling with a nervous energy, held it up.
She paused in her play and looked at me or the figurine, tilted her head and I think she sort of smiled, but it wasn’t in her voice.
“I think he did that on purpose,” she said.
“I think so too,” I said.
“He must have really liked you. Did he tell you about me?”
She continued her game more quietly and her ear was cocked it seemed as if the answer would be important.
“I think he did. He told me that you were in the park,” I said. “But he didn’t say where, only that I should see you. But it was an accident that I did. I was a bit shocked when he said he was leaving, and I was just wandering.”
She startled me with a full laugh, even throwing her head back, looked backwards for a second over her shoulder.
“He’ll do that, it wasn’t an accident,” she said. “Otherwise how do you think you ended up here? He’s sly, he gave me this.” She held up an figurine, black iron, a pawn maybe.
The wind picked up in the copse and blew aside all that was left of summer, blew the silver birch and made a muted sizzle. Nearby were the shouts of the Frisbee-ers in the centre of the park, jovial and falsely annoyed at the breeze.
It was getting dark and that surprised me; it couldn’t be near dusk quite yet. But then time was messing with me today. Clouds were shooting above and making shadows shift. I found myself wondering if she was a beauty or a hag.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Electra,” she said, pinning me with a stare.
“How did you know Peter?” I asked.
“I barely did,” she said. “He drifted, even within the park, he drifted. I tried to get him to stay with me, but he wasn’t interested. Always he had a game with you. Or a pigeon that would be disappointed if he didn’t feed it. So I’d leave.”
“What piece is that that you showed me?”
“A knight,” she said, taking it again from her folds and holding it up. “Moves strangely, the knight.”
I had been trying to see if my glasses were worth salvaging, with a handful of bent frame and one full of broken lense, and I heard a splash and knew she’d went into the koi pond and I threw my handfuls aside and started toward it. At the edge I didn’t see her, but I saw glintings from the bottom of the shallows and then into view drifted a dark mass of clothing, a hand reaching out first, telling the way. I recognised Peter’s clothing. A thin wisp of blood trailed his head as he drifted, so slowly, into view. Electra was on the other side of the slate island, and shouted to me.
“Here are more pieces, I found the bag. Why can’t we move in any direction we want, Charlie?”