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Tamara Jones

Tamara Jones is an ex-languages teacher pleased to be devoting all of her time to writing, a lifelong ambition that now can be fulfilled.  Beats lesson preparation and marking any day.  She lives out the back of beyond, on the edge of a forest and when not writing, spends inordinate amounts of time gardening and watching the wildlife

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          Leila sat down on the wooden park bench, the black feelings she’d hoped to leave at home trailing after her like strings of sticky goose grass, clinging and tangled and unable to be shaken free.  They wrapped themselves inside her head and settled on her mind like the grey winter light settled on the landscape, blurring the edges of things, leaching all colour.  She sighed and looked up suddenly, noticing a movement along the concrete path to her right.


          Oh god there’s that blasted wino again.  Two days in a row now he’d come along and sat on her bench.  Cheeky sod, with his hello missus, mind if I sit down?  Yes, Leila had thought, yes I do mind, go away.  But he’d introduced himself and sat next to her all the same, and here he was again.  Leila turned her head quickly and pretended to be engrossed in observing something beyond the conifers lining the edge of the park. 


          Jack Green obviously had no intention of being ignored.  He sat down heavily next to Leila and bellowed good morning at her, but said nothing more as he settled himself on the damp bench. 


          Leila felt herself growing uncomfortable and debated whether she shouldn’t just get up and go right back home.  Home to her empty house and to the endlessly circling contemplation of the ever present black feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that had accompanied her waking moments throughout this past year.


          ‘I wish the spring would come,’ she said suddenly, surprising herself at the words coming from her mouth.  ‘This has been a black year, and an even blacker winter.’  She stared at the empty ice pocked flower beds, willing there to be some burgeoning shoot, some early sign of spring putting its tentative nose above the soil.  But the scene remained indifferently wintry.  Not even a single snowdrop brave enough to emerge into the icy damp dank grey light of a late February morning.


          ‘Ah,’ said Jack.  ‘Spring.  People spend all winter longing for it, hating the cold and wishing the dark months away, but isn’t there good in the winter too?  The spring needs the winter.’ 


          Leila didn’t respond.  She looked around disconsolately and noted again, as she had done each day that she’d been coming to sit in the park, the grip that winter still held here.  She saw the skeletal leafless trees standing singly and in small groves, rimed with grey ice and surrounded by swathes of frozen green grass, saw the mud and ice spotted evergreens and drooping needled conifers lining the pavement along the street beyond which the traffic continued to rumble without break.  There were half frozen mounds of sodden and rotting leaves piled in heaps against the edges of the lawns and in the lee of the trees, and a uniformly grey sky drained all colour from the land.  The fag end of winter reaching long chilled fingers into spring. 


          It was depressing and dispiriting and she wondered why she continued to come here.

          ‘Waiting for spring,’ said Jack, startling Leila with what seemed a direct response to her unspoken thoughts.


          ‘We all here are waiting for spring,’ he continued.  ‘It’s late this year, and I’m tired.’  Leila looked questioningly at him but he only grinned, exposing remarkably even and white teeth. 


          Leila tentatively returned his smile, wondering obliquely if tramps and winos received free dental care, wondering what life would be like on the road, no home, no belongings, rootless and aimless and, well, free? 


          Jack stood up suddenly and stretched.  ‘Have to go missus.  Nearly lunchtime it is.  And bugger me but isn’t it bloody freezing now!’  He nodded at Leila and strode off down the path away from the bench.  His gait was curiously stiff but nimble at the same time, as if his joints were in all the wrong places, and she noticed that his legs were long.  He seemed much taller and thinner than when he was sitting on the bench, huddled inside his grey overcoat.




          She did not go back to the park for the next two days, but on the third day she came again, walking slowly and bent as if ill, and seated herself carefully on the icy wooden bench so as to keep the backs of her legs dry.  She looked at the empty flower beds and the muddy wet grass and the thin rotten carpets of leaves around the trees.  Still no sign of spring. 


          Suddenly Jack was there sitting heavily down next to her, making the slats of the bench creak. 


          ‘Hello again,’ he said, inclining his head.  Leila nodded but did not look at him.  They sat in silence for some time, the traffic along the road beyond and a lone dog barking the only sounds.  She wished he’d go away again, his presence made her self-conscious and prevented her from sinking back into her own thoughts. 

          ‘When did your dog die?’ he asked suddenly.


          Leila stared at him. 


          ‘You looked sad when that dog barked just then,’ he explained.


          ‘Ah,’ she said, and blinked several times.  ‘Last spring.  Round about now I guess.’  No guess about it, exactly now, she knew exactly when he’d breathed his last sick dying breath, she’d been unable to forget it for one moment during the whole of this black black year. 


          She sensed Jack looking at her and turning towards him, saw kindness and compassion on his face. 


          ‘Mycroft,’ she said suddenly.  ‘His name was Mycroft… that was George’s name for him.’ 


          She laughed brightly.  ‘George was a big Sherlock Holmes fan, he named everything after Holmes’ characters, even the goldfish.’  She paused for a long time.  ‘Then everything seemed to die at once.  Myrcroft’s brother Moriarty, congenital something or another that Jack Russells are prone to, and something got at the goldfish in the pond, maybe a mink?’  She paused again.  ‘George died too.’  Leila stared unseeing at the winter landscape before them.


           ‘I’m just waiting to die too,’ she announced suddenly, appalled at her own words.  Beside her Jack remained sitting perfectly still and silent.  ‘No family, no children, no husband, and now no dog,’ she continued.  ‘Just me and old age and an empty house.  Feels like I’m frozen in winter forever, no spring thaw for me.  I thought I coped pretty well with it all, all those losses, but losing Mycroft seems to have finally done me in.’ She stopped and took a deep breath, fell silent.


           Jack stirred and looked away, then turned towards Leila. 


          ‘Think about this,’ he began.  ‘No matter how long the winter lasts nor how thick the ice nor how barren the soil, spring always arrives.  The sun will always shine again.’  Leila didn’t speak. 


           Jack continued, leaning in more closely towards Leila, ‘Maybe you won’t always see the sun shine, but it won’t always be winter in your soul.’


           Leila glanced up and found him looking intently at her.  She felt a rush of tears clog her throat and sting her eyes.  But in the next instant she felt like shouting at him.  What a load of clichéd garbage!  Well what did she expect, he was a wino for god’s sake.  A derro, a tramp, what would he care about her life, her losses.  He was probably only talking to her in a bid to get cash out of her anyway.  She rose abruptly and with a curt nod stalked away from the bench, leaving Jack sitting alone. 


           He didn’t move for a long time.  She glanced back just before she turned the corner and saw him still sitting there, looking impassively ahead.




          When she came the following day he was already sitting on the bench.  Had he waited there all day and night, staking a claim on her space?  Had he not moved at all?  Had he been turned to stone, or frozen to death overnight?  She wondered where he lived, where he slept, what his life was like. 


          ‘Hello,’ she said, obscurely pleased that he was there, and sat down without bothering about her legs getting wet against the damp edge of the bench.


           Jack turned to her and smiled, and she saw kindliness again in his face.


           ‘Been watching for spring,’ he said, turning back to contemplating the ground in front of them.


           Leila looked too, but could see nothing.  No spring bulbs, no new growth.  Less ice, more mud maybe, but the air as cold and dank, the sky as leaden and sunless, the flower beds as barren as ever.


           ‘It’s all dead,’ she said.  ‘I can’t see anything, no sign of spring at all.’


           ‘Ah,’ said Jack Green.  ‘Look and you’ll see!  There’s growth and life and hope everywhere, even in the most unlooked for places, even when the eye cannot see it.’


           He smiled at her broadly and Leila felt herself smiling just as broadly back.  Then he stood up and began tightening the belt on his grey coat.  He looked suddenly tired, running his long thin hands over his pale face and rocking stiffly from one foot to the other.


           He was preparing to go, she realized with dismay.  It felt as if he was saying goodbye, and that she wouldn’t see him again, and the thought pained her.  Jack Green reached out and touched her softly on the shoulder, then with a nod he walked away.  Leila did not speak and she did not watch him go.  She settled further back onto the bench, into her grief, into the familiar feeling of loss, seeing in front of her again the muddy grass, the sodden piles of leaves, the grey leafless trees.


           And suddenly she gave a start.  Could it be?  She stood up and moved towards the nearest flower bed.  My god, she thought, it really is!  There, nosing its way up through the half frozen soil was the green tip of a snowdrop, its white smudge of a flower showing clearly.  But wait, there was another, and over there another.  And suddenly Leila saw dozens of them, where before there was nothing.  How could she have missed them?  She had been looking at this very bed just a few minutes ago.  Leila stood stunned.  And turned to call out to Jack, look Jack come and see, spring has come after all.  But Jack was no longer visible.  Leila frowned.  Where was he?  It had only been a minute or two since he left.  She looked all around her, but could see no sign of him anywhere.  She’d so wanted to show the snowdrops to him, to prove him right, Jack Green the harbinger of spring.  She stopped suddenly and grew thoughtful, then laughed and shook her head. 


           She sat down again and looked at the countless snowdrops she could now see.  She felt light, so light, as if a great weight had slipped unseen from her shoulders.  She found her thoughts full suddenly with ideas and plans and hopes for the future, a future she never thought to have again. 


          She stood up and started walking home, her mind alight with images of the things she realized she wanted to do, places she might want to go, people she might meet. 


          As she walked away engrossed in her new plans, she barely noticed the young man passing her from the opposite direction, his face sad, his shoulders bowed, his walk slow like that of an old or ill man.  Leila turned the corner and glanced briefly back. 


          She saw the young man sit down on her bench, in precisely her spot.  She saw a thick set man with a ruddy face and a dark green overcoat approach the bench from the other direction, and heard him say ‘Hello mate, mind if I sit down?’ 


          She stared thoughtfully at the two strangers for a moment, then she turned away smiling and didn’t look back again.


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