Drought' by Oliver Barton

The park clears my head. Today the trees are moulting, the grass is brown, the stream a mere trickle.
By the pond, now a muddy patch even the ducks have deserted, there is my bench. Someone has usurped it. An old man, thick coat, collar drawn up. It’s the middle of summer for heaven’s sake. I sit down, as far from him as possible because he’s probably unsavoury.

He turns his head slowly, looks at me with sad rheumy eyes, and he nods, like a heavy bough bending in the breeze. He understands, it seems to me.

I find that I’m talking, spilling it out. The leaves have been flushed from the end of the gutter and the pent-up rainwater, the dross of my life, flows unimpeded. In this parched park.

‘She told me she was leaving so damned sweetly. How could I scream and yell? And he’s my boss. If I punched him, I’d lose my job. I try to be civilised. These things happen, I know, I know. But why me? I didn’t even think they’d met, let alone... And then he made me redundant. He said it wasn’t his decision, times are hard, rationalising the workforce, blah blah blah. Of course it was him. I was his guilty conscience staring him in the face.’

The old man, my confessor, nodded. He did understand. He’d seen it all; the mud of life had stuck to him, you could tell, but he’d survived.

‘But who wants to employ someone my age?’ I went on. ‘Never mind that I’m quite fit, I’m intelligent, I can actually write reasonable English, for God’s sake, which is more than most of the stuff these so-called universities chuck out these days, flash gowns and hoods, mummy and daddy taking snaps, tea at the Ritz. And I can count, add up. Even manage the computer except when it’s got it in for me.’

He nodded. Oh, my heart went out to the old chap. Here he was, smelly, ghastly… but even so, a Samaritan for the depressed.

I rabbited on, spilling it out, the whole sorry saga. I knew some of it was my fault, I told him, taking for granted, not making the effort, all that. But even so, I deserved none of it. None of it.

At that moment, a young girl, twenties, I’d say, came by. A bit of stuff my dad would have called her. We watched her. After she passed, the old man turned slowly back to me. And winked. Then he rose laboriously and shuffled off after her with indecent haste.

It was at that moment a light rain began to fall, soft, steady. Maybe there would be ducks on the pond again. In time.

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