The hospital pond was busy. Smokers gathered, away from the entrance. A woman stood close to John, twisting her mouth to avoid blowing smoke in his face. She wore a necklace with the name ‘Claire’ spelled out in golden slanted letters. He walked further round the pond and sat at the empty bench. He pulled on his cigarette, blew out the smoke and looked at it burning in his unfamiliar hand.
Cigarette, he thought. Cigarette. It did not sound right.
Ducks swam in the pond, waiting for the occasional toss of bread. Before Claire had gone back to work, they took the baby to the local park to feed the ducks. It was more ornate than the hospital pond. The memory shone the gold of an early autumn evening. The dull concrete hospital pond, grey. Concrete.
He watched the ducks swim, numbers floating above their heads. Numbers matching the key he had once read in a book. Number 26 was a Mallard. Number 39 was a Tufted duck. Number 4 was a Muscovy duck. They did not mind the cigarettes and concrete. So many cigarettes. Butts littered the concrete around the pond.
Doctors stood amongst the patients, the administrators, the canteen workers, the gift shop attendants. Doctors went to the pond to smoke. He saw them every day, sometimes in white coats, with their name badges. Dr Stone. Dr Yan. Dr Diaz. Dr Crow. Dr Concrete. He never noticed their faces. He only saw, ‘Dr...’
He dropped his cigarette, extinguishing it between his foot and the concrete.
A duck, number 26 Mallard, walked out of the pond towards where he was sitting. It waddled on the concrete, stopping to eat discarded pieces of bread. It shat, green and white, on the concrete.
Claire sat next to him.
‘Concrete,’ he said. He felt the strange warmth of her hand resting on his head.
‘Concrete,’ she said.