catching breath by jadamthwaite

31 Jan

That guy. The one over there in the red shirt. He’s been in here every day this week.”

Graham sighs. He should have known they’d get suspicious after a while. Not that it matters.

He watches his shadow creep across the swings as they fly backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards. The two women are leaning against the flaked blue posts, occasionally pushing their daughters or waving to them as they whiz past in fits of giggles. They aren’t bothering to lower their voices. Perhaps they think he can’t hear them. Perhaps they want him to hear.

“Maybe he’s got kids,” the one with the yellow scarf says doubtfully, scanning the park for parentless children.

“He hasn’t.” The other one says.

They are hemmed in the neat hexagon of the park by a blue metal fence. He watches a heap of small bodies cling to the roundabout as an older brother races round in circles. A little boy chuckles gleefully as the seesaw thumps his feet to the ground and his sister bounces into the air. On a nearby bench, a young woman passes crusts of bread to her son, who throws them nervously at a scrum of pigeons and then retreats to the safe space between her legs.

Graham smiles. He could sit here for hours.

“Maybe we should call the police,” the woman in the pink coat is saying. “You just don’t know what he’s going to do, do you?”

He watches a group of older boys chase between the springy animals, immersed in some kind of game where the blue bits are safe. Their agile limbs tear through the air with boundless energy, their voices colouring the air in bursts.

“How long’s he been here anyway?” She’s lifting her daughter from the swing, zipping her safely into a fleece jacket.

The woman with the yellow scarf shrugs and steals a furtive glance is his direction. One of the boys runs up to her, wipes a glistening slug of snot along his sleeve, and bundles a duffle coat into her arms. He leans forwards on his knees while he catches his breath and then chases after the others, shrieking.

“Never have boys,” the woman tells her friend, shaking her head through the traces of a smile.

The woman in the pink coat laughs. “Well, be careful, alright? Don’t let Niall stay on and play here if you’re leaving, will you?”

The woman who knows football boots and grass-stained knees throws her scarf over her shoulder and looks behind her at Graham huddled in the same red shirt he’s been wearing these past three days.

“I’m not leaving him,” she says firmly.

The pink-coated woman nods and fires a long, bruising stare at Graham. “Well, we’re off then. Take care, alright?”

Graham doesn’t look at them. He watches an older girl swing between the monkey bars, her delicate body fluttering from post to post like a feather.

He focuses, as he always does, on their small limbs and laughing faces.

He tries not to think about the shrieking whiteness of the room in the hospital over the road or the small fragile girl laid out inside it. He tries not to remember the way a lorry looks when its nose is crunched into your passenger doors or the silence of a child caught beneath its bumper. He doesn’t think about his latest conversation with the doctor, the dark stains beneath his wife’s watery blue eyes. He doesn’t think about the tubes and the machines and his daughter’s breathless lungs.

He twirls an empty water bottle between his fingers, remembering how much Katie likes this park, wishing he could catch his breath for her and pour it from the plastic bottle straight into her lungs.

*

Links to This is Just Work

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8 Responses to “catching breath by jadamthwaite”

  1. ingridfnl January 31, 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    This left me breathless. Beautiful. Beautifully crafted.

  2. thatgrrl January 31, 2010 at 10:57 pm #

    It’s not just boys. My sister has two girls who are far more slobbish than her son. A sad story, I was expecting it would be something like that at the end.

    • jadamthwaite February 7, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

      Yes, it’s funny how boys always seem to get the bad reputation, but half the time girls are no better!

  3. phoenix.writing February 21, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    This one really tugged at the heart strings. I liked the fact that the mothers are rightly cautious–can’t be too careful these days–but we get to hear the true story behind Graham’s presence. The details were beautiful.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. this is just work by jadamthwaite « the character project - February 21, 2010

    […] Links to Catching Breath […]

  2. better safe than sorry by jadamthwaite « the character project - March 28, 2010

    […] Links to Catching Breath […]

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