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Sitting on a park bench, the sun streaking cold on this early winter’s morn as I gather the hem of my jet black mac around my knees to keep warm. I dip a fingerless gloved hand into one of the deep pockets that contain my life’s possessions – a fistful of coppers, a boiled sweet, two church pamphlets and a tattered cheap day return ticket to Preston, dated November 29.


The piercing screams and laughter of children in the nearby playground wash over me. A lone father stands under the monkey bars, catching angels as they fall. Mothers huddle together and chat whilst keeping one eye on their offspring, occasionally smiling and nodding approval to the chorus of “look at me mummy”. “Don’t go too far” they each shout in turn, eyeing me on the bench, as though I might steal the candy from a laughing baby’s mouth, or worse.


I sit motionless, my head trained to face forward but with eyes fixed to my periphery. From this vantage point I can watch them play. Tiny limbs conquer vast climbing frames, newly painted with primary colours to resurrect them from last year’s labours. Toddlers stumble and fall, only to hoist themselves up onto all fours before dusting the dirt from their palms and carrying on unabated. Girls’ skirts billow in the wind as they swing higher and higher, their heart rates increasing as mine is at once calmed.


I wipe the morning dew from my greying beard. The park was my home last night, this bench my bed. In winter I usually make use of the Sally Army facilities, but felt I ought to wake here today. The café adjacent to the playground is largely empty, but I notice a familiar face behind the counter. The door swings open and Mary walks over with hands full. I’m tasting the smell of toast as the butter runs over it, spotting the steam rising from a cup of tea and dissipating into the cold morning air.


“How much do I owe you love?” I ask, scrambling around in my pocket for the change.


“Keep your money Tully, this one’s on me. You know you’re not supposed to be here though, so you should move on after you’ve had this. Come to the shelter later won’t you? I’m working tonight.”


I smile and offer a conciliatory nod.


Mary walks away and upon re-entering the café picks up a telephone, mounted to the wall behind the counter. Someone else I recognise comes running up to me, unchecked by her mother who is deep in conversation. The girl, around seven or eight years old, fiery red tousled hair, floral print dress, hi-top trainers, alabaster skin and reddened knees, stands motionless a few yards away. Fragile, pure, yet to discover cruelty such as this. She stares at me, catches the scent of my damp clothing and mouldy grey moccasins. The sound of my locomotive breath fills her tiny ears. She snorts loudly, either through derision or perhaps just to clear her nostrils. I smile weakly, reminded of my wife, her pale complexion, her equally untameable copper hair, remaining alive when eyes were dead. I instinctively finger the coins in my pocket, just as a shout comes from afar.

“Olivia, come away from him.” says the panicked voice.


The staff at the shelter talk of redemption, deliverance, repentance, as if asceticism alone is the path to salvation. I wonder aloud whether in fact we are our own saviours. The girl is now safely in the clutches of her mother, an acerbic glare meets my eyes and I turn away, shamed.


‘Oh father high in heaven, smile down upon your son.’ I mouth under my breath. Just a graven image on the wall of the shelter, looking down on me with contempt. He is the god of nothing, if that’s all that you can see. How dare he speak to me about fathers and sons, about sacrifice?


A wasp hovers circuitously over my head, enticed by the remaining crumbs of toast on the plate. I lick my fingers clean and swat away the intruder. Finishing up the dregs of my tea I sit up straight and push the crockery to one side as I survey my surroundings once more. In front of me, the lush green fields where boys play football in all seasons and girls do handstands in the summer. Further ahead, the hedgerows in the distance that separate this garden of eden from the faint sound of industrial units and passing vehicles. To my right, the concrete toilet block I share of a night time with those even less fortunate than I, the ones who seek salvation from the syringe. No longer the captains of their own ships, instead they spin in the slipstream, tideless, unreasoning.


From my purgatorial position I continue to watch the children through the railings as they play, testing the patience and limits of their parents. Seeing how far they can stray from the group, how they can misuse the equipment, breaking rules as though that were the purpose of them. Non-conformist. Rebels. Anarchists. They stop misbehaving when they notice a man and a woman in uniform. The two authority figures smile in a friendly manner at the solemn little faces as they circumvent the wood chips. They aren’t here to check up on the play habits of the children, they’re here for me.


I am the stuff of legend now, tales of my demonic crimes flourish with every passing season. I’ll steal your money, I’ll chase you, I’ll touch you, I’ll kill you if I catch you. Since the advent of the internet, parents who ought to know better help to spread the myths, warning newcomers, holiday-makers or out-of-towners. I don’t come to the park as often now, but today is special. I will always be here on this day, in late November, when the last of the leaves have fallen from the trees surrounding the park. I ignore their warnings of registers or behaviour orders, we all have our cross to bear.


Without a word the uniformed woman sits opposite me on the bench and my eyes take in the shiny silver buttons and immaculate embroidering on her epaulettes, the devil is in the detail. The uniformed man picks up the cup and plate and returns them to a grateful Mary in the café. The two of them converse briefly before he rejoins his partner on the bench, deliberately obstructing my view of the playground. The quiet relief of the parents is palpable, but the children have gone back to their games, unaware.


“Hello Tully, how are you doing?” says the uniformed man politely.


I smile and mumble something to give the impression that I’m ok. I know it’s just the prelude, to let me know they’re on my side. Normally I’d simply exchange pleasantries, get up and walk away from the park. Not today though, I couldn’t, I owe it to her to stay.


“Are you going to head into town today Tully?” asks the woman.


I shake my head firmly, then bow it as if in silent prayer. They repeat the question but my resolve remains. The uniformed man stands up and whispers into his shoulder mounted radio. Seeing my options diminish I turn my head to the woman. “It’s my daughter’s birthday today.”


“Is it Tully?” she says unconvincingly, “That’s nice, how old’s your daughter?”




“Seven,” she repeats, “…and what’s her name?”


“Her name’s Abigail.” I reply, “It means ‘the father’s joy’”


“Oh that’s lovely, I didn’t know you had a daughter, Tully.” she says, a hint of sympathy in her voice. “Is she with her mother now?”


Her prescience catches me off guard and I nod, stifling a tear. She reaches out to loosely grip my exposed fingers with hers. The compassion is short lived, however, as her partner turns around and explains that two more officers will be joining us shortly, to take me down to the station to chat. I understand what that means. I won’t be sleeping in the shelter tonight, thank God. I wave and smile stoically at Mary as I’m led to the waiting police car.


“She’d have been seven today.” I mumble to myself.


  • ISBN: 9781310175978
  • Author: MJ Meads
  • Published: 2015-12-04 17:50:06
  • Words: 1375
Salvation Salvation