This is a work of fiction. A short story of 1500 words.
Stan switched off the TV after the weather forecast. Set fair for tomorrow, which was good news to him. That meant a day at the park, the one thing he liked best. Living in a tiny flat with no outdoor space might have seemed awful to many people, but the park was just across the road, and offered so much more than any garden ever could have.
He had played in that same park as a youngster.
He had watched out for the grumpy park-keeper, always telling them off for something.
Walked hand in hand there with Valerie, when they were courting.
Sailed toy boats with Tim on the lake.
Pushed Emma in the swings, and spun her on the roundabout.
Family picnics on hot days, buying ice-creams from the van in the car park.
Years later, he had walked Bonnie there, always careful to keep her on a lead.
But it had changed since his schooldays.
No more park keepers, just an occasional van patrol.
And Valerie had been gone almost eleven years now.
Tim had been lost in the Falklands. His photo and medal displayed on the wall.
Emma was in Australia, with the two grandchildren he had never seen, except in photos.
Nobody had real picnics anymore; just fast food, wrappers discarded on the grass.
Bonnie was no more either, and Stan hadn’t the heart for another dog.
The house had gone next. Too big for one now, and it gave him some savings.
Winters were long and dull. Park benches too wet to sit on, and nobody to watch as he sat in his usual spot. Summer was Stan’s time. He could move around the large space; watch the football games, the kids splashing in the lake, and the older ones on the tennis courts, inspired by Wimbledon on the telly. Teenagers cuddling on blankets, loners sitting reading, joggers and serious runners pounding past, toddlers trying to learn to ride bikes with stabilisers. The whole world was there for the watching.
If he had some old bread, he would wander over to feed the ducks. On a good day, a brave squirrel might take nuts from his hand. The pigeons always fluttered around when he ate his sandwich. They had got used to him at the same spot, and seemed to sense his arrival, as he reached into the old duffel bag for his lunch. The park closed at dusk, so that varied throughout the year. Not long ago, Stan would have been there until closing, spotting the van arrive, with the man getting ready to padlock the gates. But he couldn’t stay so long now, not since they closed the toilets. Local gossip was that men used them to fiddle with each other. But Stan used them all the time for calls of nature, and he had never seen anyone fiddling with anyone else in them. So now when he needed to go, he had to go home.
He was up early, pleased that the sun was out, and the sky blue. Some time was spent on polishing his shoes. His old Dad always told him that clean shoes were the mark of a man, and Stan had never forgotten that. It took a while to adjust his hearing-aid. No point going out if he couldn’t hear anything. After making his sandwich, and pouring some tea in his flask, he put the things in his bag, and checked himself in the hallway mirror. Tie done up, trousers pressed, and hair combed. He was ready to face the world.
Walking through the distinctive iron gates, he felt right at home, ready to spend another day in his park. He always thought of it as his park, and the others that used it were just passing through, as far as he was concerned. Making his way through the rose garden, he stopped to admire some blooms. The soil looked dry, and Stan thought they could do with a good watering. His first stop was a good bench on the main path. This gave him views over at least a third of the park, and was close enough to some trees to get the shade too. Despite the weather, there were not many people around. But he would bide his time. It was the school holidays after all, so Mums would soon be out with their kids, and the ice cream van would be as busy as ever.
He sat for a long time, thinking about Valerie, and those grandchildren he might never see. But when nobody appeared nearby, he moved over to the fenced-off sports area. He would have his lunch on the bench nearby, see if anyone was playing football or basketball in there. Halfway through his sandwich, some older kids arrived, and went through the gate to play basketball. Stan had never played basketball. In his day, it had been football and cricket. But he had seen it on telly, The Harlem Globetrotters. These boys and girls were good, especially one tall girl. She seemed to float across the tarmac, and never missed the basket. He put his sandwich down to clap her fourth success, but they didn’t look round. Didn’t even seem to notice he was there.
Lunch over, and tea finished, Stan moved again. A long wander down to the play area, where there were sure to be people around the sandpit. It was different to when he had played in the sand there. Now there were things to climb on placed on the sand, and nobody seemed to bring buckets or shovels anymore. He wondered why they bothered to even have sand in it, other than to break the falls of the kids. The Mums didn’t bother to show them how to build sand castles, or half-bury them in the sand, like his Mum used to. They sat on the concrete wall surrounding it instead, mostly looking at their phones, or gossiping as they smoked cigarettes. They weren’t supposed to smoke there, but there was no park keeper to tell them off anymore.
After an hour or so near the sandpit, Stan needed to pee. He thought he had better get started for home, knowing exactly how long it would take him to walk from there to his flat. He had never had an accident yet, and he wasn’t about to start now. It was the water tablets of course. The tea went through him a lot faster these days. He retraced his steps past the ball court, and turned right onto the main path. He could see the gate in the distance, so was sure it would be fine. Before he got to the gate, Stan was surprised to be stopped by some men in uniform. He respected uniforms and authority, so stood still, when asked to do so.
One of them identified himself as a police officer. “I am constable Warren, Sir, and I need to ask you some questions. This is the park warden, and he is concerned about your behaviour”. Stan was confused. Why was he being stopped? And why was a policeman here? The policeman continued, “Can I take your name and address please, Sir?” Stanley was a law-abiding citizen, and replied immediately.
“Stanley McFarland, 116, Park View.” The officer wrote the details on his notebook, then asked with a stern look. “Do you know why I am stopping you, Stanley” Stan was still confused.”No I don’t officer, and I have to tell you, I need to pee. My flat’s just there, opposite the pedestrian crossing. I really need to go”. The officer ignored his reply, and continued. “Stanley, you have been seen watching teenagers at the basketball court. Then you went to watch small children playing at the sandpit. Does that sound about right?” His tone was unmistakable, slightly aggressive, and no-nonsense.
Stanley shrugged. “I am here every day, officer. I just sit in the park, and watch what goes on. It gives me something to do.” The park warden smiled, and turned to the officer. “See, I told you, most days, without fail. Watching the little ones, and staring.” Officer Warren turned back to Stan. “Look, if I were you, Stanley, I would find something else to occupy my time, OK?” We don’t need any old men walking around watching small kids and teenagers, do we?” The park warden leered at Stan. “Leave them alone, old man. We don’t need people like you in this park, do we?” Officer Warren was kinder. “Look, on your way now. Find somewhere else to hang around, and don’t let me get called back to you in future, alright?”
As Stan nodded, he felt the flow of the warm urine enter his underwear, soaking into his trousers. The park warden chuckled, “If I was you, I would change my trousers when I got in, old man”. As Stan pressed the button of the pedestrian crossing, he could no longer control the tears that flowed freely down his cheeks.