Cassindra pt. 2

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?”

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.

Nougat pt 04

There was no way to avoid this man whom I didn’t want to see, on his collision course for my personal space, the smarm of grin and the predatory eyes. He made turning away seem cowardly, and I wouldn’t have him make me do anything.  His grin grew when he saw I wouldn’t be leaving and he showed teeth with the same glisten as the spendy beige car outside, impossible not to be his.  I would have bet they smelled in some way the same.  Though tailored, his clothing bulged here, sagged there, much like the flesh of his face shifted though it should have been handsome.  A thirtyish rich successful man, or a parody.

His gait was so assuredly slow I had time to look around the candy store.  It was spartan, like a fly-by-night operation, but still had the air of sincerity of a passionate person having done their best, and it looked new and I suspected there was more to come.  There were  chocolate and candy bars with ridiculously endearing names I’d not heard in decades, colourful netted bags with gums and candy cheap miniatures toys that had not been spat out by machines making billions, collectible by being difficult to find this one from a comic strip and that one that was on television.  A nostalgia shop, someone’s toyroom and all their collection, with newer confection mixed in to shore up stock .

“Well you’re a bit of a hero, our very own hero amongst us saving damsels from Benita and me at your own expense”, said the jowly man not two inches from my face, making me regard him; Benita had reappeared from the back room and placing inventory on one of the barer shelves, and if paying attention doing a much better job than the magazine man had.

His words got to me anyway.

Nougat pt 03

“Get her out of here.”

The woman behind the counter pointed a stiff finger at the drunk girl who had followed me in.  I half-turned to look at her over my shoulder and found her puzzlingly staring daggers at a man in the corner wearing a fine suit and flipping through a magazine and pretending to ignore the three of us.

“She needs a cab,” I said.  Nothing happened.  “Can I get a cab?”  In another two heartbeats the proprietress lowered her hand and picked up her phone with an exasperated noise.  She turned her back and held a murmured conversation.

“She knows where you’re going?” I asked the drunk girl.

“She knows.” She still stared at the man in the corner and he continued to flip.  I had missed an exchange and was in the middle of something.  When the shop-owner–she clearly was–had finished her call she turned back to us and crossed her arms across her chest, let her eyes flick between us, intruders.  I felt my cheeks heat and eventually looked at the floor and listened to the pages of the magazine turn as the man in the corner didn’t break.

The first I noticed being alone was when I heard the cab pull away and saw the man with the magazine drop it to his side and start to saunter over.

Nougat pt 02

The streets were friendlier than I’d remembered. Trees that I’d recalled as stunted things planted out of some rebeautificational duty had shed their lot and thrived, whispering in their concrete club and growing on their own terms.  If the walking people were still brutish they were softened by their backdrop, and I found myself enjoying this stroll among both kinds of life on the downtown streets.

Arriving at the dentist’s office I was accosted by a young woman’s situation. She sat against the building, directly under a candy-shop window so that her head poked up and obscured some of the displays, but she was bleeding from the arm and her darting looks had tears in them through the drunkeness.

“Do you have the number for the taxi?” she asked me, putting on a little-girl-lost look that despite only being play was very near the truth. “They don’t have the taxi inside.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “But I don’t have one either.  Are you alright?”

“Yes?” The word was swallowed in a sob that bubbled to the surface. “Yes?” As if needing to be told so. “I just fell. It’s been a shitty night and I ended it by falling, there’s a rock in my arm now and my friends won’t…” and the rest got too high and incoherent for me to follow, but seemed to suggest that early-evening friends had tired of her by early morning, and she’d been stranded outside all night.

I remembered this from when I was twenty and it had happened to me and it had happened to everyone I’d known. “I’ll go inside and ask about a taxi for you–”

“They don’t know!”

–”I’ll be right back.”

“They don’t want me in,” she said, rising to follow, “they said I’m drunk and I know I am a bit but I just fell!” She drew herself up to her full, unimpressive height, tottered, took a deft swig from a bottle she’d produced from the recesses of her bag and made disappear again so quickly that I wasn’t sure I hadn’t manufactured the scene in my head.

Nougat pt 01

The shop had opened outside of a dentist’s office.  These sort of coincidences usually have more to them than the accidental, and in this case it might have seemed obvious what that was.  Until you really thought about it, and then it didn’t really make any sense.  Candy for people who have eaten a lot of sweets and in some way or other damaged their teeth?  These people would arguably be tempted to go in to a candy shop, but probably not before or after having to pass it in the first place because their teeth needed drilling.  Candy for people with excellent oral hygiene going in for a checkup or a whitening or just a pat on the back?  They were unlikely to give the shop a look besides a smug one.  But a high-end confectioners had indeed opened it’s doors one October morning outside a booming dental practice, shared these doors–via the hallway–to the downtown street, and could be the first bright colourful thing you’d noticed all morning as you walk past; maybe it was simply chance that this business found itself operating within the realms of an enemy.

But everybody likes candy, really.