The scene is set. Laid out before you is a carpet of lush grass. It is early summer. The sun is piercing like shards of glass reflecting through the gaps of the tall trees of birch, pine, larch and oak. The singing of the chirping birds are muted by the happy cries of children playing, skipping and cycling. Spread out on the grass are little groups of families picnicking, the occasional solitary figure reading, entwined lovers, people sitting on the park benches. Ribbons of kites are fluttering in the air, and their bright colours catching your eye as the stream by. People walking on the well marked paths politely nodding to others as they pass.
Taking an overhead view we glimpse lots of winding grey paths leading us to the Tennis courts, the bowling green, the pond, the children’s corner and up, and up to the top. Circling the hill like a crown are the trees with their many hues of green, with a sprinkling of gold and edging the crown is the colour of beetroot, it is the copper beech. On pushing aside the copper beech that has been allowed to expand and stretch. We discover a gate. On opening the gate following a seedy path we find a sunken garden. Carefully stepping down the six stairs we see that only one bench has escaped the vandals.
The concrete walls are looking their age and the raggedly plants still clinging to its surface only add to its dejection. Stumps of trees and overhanging branches form a shadowy ceiling. Where once flowerbeds were neatly set out; a few roses and fuchsias flourish, it is as if they are saying, “Here we are and here we will stay”
It is the most unlikely of meeting places since her mother died five years before; Janice Abbot has come here every Saturday morning. A sort of memorial, to happier days, because she brought her mother here when the garden was sunnier and the local council spent time and money on this hidden part of the park.
We notice that Janice’s face lights up on the approach of an elderly gentleman. This place too holds special memories for him as he used to come with his wife Elsie, who died a few months before Mrs. Abbot. His name is Hughie Walsh. He is a kind man in his sixties, and is only too aware of Janice’s shy nature. It took him a year to get more than the perfunctory greeting out of Janice, and another two years before he could persuade her to go with him for a cup of tea.
“So have you have come then?”
Hughie sitting down on the bench was silent for a moment he was drawing his breath. Turning to Janice and holding her two hands in his he said, “I don’t think we should meet here anymore.”
Janice her face drooping and her shoulders were heaving and collapsing. She was thinking, “It is not until this moment, did I realise how much he means to me.”
“Janice, you have not been listening. Did you hear a word that I have been saying?”
The reply was a glazy look, as Janice was fighting hard not to cry.
“I was saying Janice, we have to look forward. No more looking back. You’ll be retiring in a few weeks time have you given any thought to your future?”
Her future? No, she hadn’t. Hughie’s voice was in the misty background and instead she was hearing her mother’s whining voice, “Janice Abbot I worry about you. How will you mange when I’m gone. Girl, you lack any sort of initiative and drive.” With these cruel words taunting her. She could feel her newfound confidence evaporating like mist. It was this wonderful kind gentleman who had given her so much, friendship, self esteem and too late she realised love. Now she was going to loose everything. She was coming out of her stupor and catching the words, “impetuous” and “honour.” She saw Hughie’s anxious face and said, “What?” Nudging her finger she felt something soft and looking down she saw a little green velvet box.
Wiping away her tears Hughie spoke tenderly, “Lass I’m asking you to marry me.”
Leaving them there we shall quietly tip toe up the steps along the path and gently push back the copper beech shielding its secrets.
Roberta McLennan 5/11/00