Rosemary sat on the park bench and looked over at the children, playing on the swings and slides. She felt alone, even surrounded by so many other women and children. But none of the children were hers. She wondered why she punished herself like this. As if by being here she could pretend that she had bought Polly to play with her friends. There was a time when she would do that. But not now.
She sighed and decided that enough was enough. It was time to accept that she didn’t belong here. Besides, other mothers were beginning to notice her. She’d been aware of their sly glances, their whispers as they huddled together. And who could blame them? She must have looked completely out of place. These days, she hardly even dressed to look nice, like she once would have. Her clothes were un-ironed, her coat wrinkled and her hair had hardly seen a comb in days.
Perhaps they thought she was a stalker, waiting to see if she could grab one of the smaller children and run off with it – that bothered her. And yet, oh, how she wished she could do just that. If only to fill up the hole in her aching heart that Polly had left behind. She should leave, she knew that. But instead, she looked down at the book perched on her lap and pretended to give it her attention. Even when she felt the bench move slightly she tried to ignore the intrusion. But obviously it would appear that she was being rude, so she shyly glanced up and noticed an older woman perched on the corner of the bench. She turned her attention back to the book but then the woman spoke.
Rosemary gave a hesitant smile but didn’t answer.
“You’re new, aren’t you? I mean, I’ve seen you here before but not around the neighbourhood. Here with your children, are you?”
Rosemary shifted slightly in embarrassment. “No” She said “I don’t have children. I just like to come here to read”.
“Well, I would have thought that was impossible, with the noise the children are making”.
“Oh, I like the noise”. That, at least, was true. In a bid to stop the questions, she turned to study the intruder. Quite a classy older woman really. Well dressed, with neat brown hair swept back in a bun. Rosemary put her at about 50 or even older so hardly one of the mothers. A grandmother perhaps? “Are you here with your grandchildren?” she asked.
“No. I’m Anita and I live just opposite the park – in that block of flats over there” Anita waved absent-mindedly towards a huge building that was casting a shadow over the whole park. “And I’m watching my neighbour’s little boy for a few hours”. She sighed, “I never had children myself. And, to be honest, I’m not even sure what I’m doing here because Tommy’s a bit of a terror and I’m not even sure I know what to do with him. Bringing him here gives us both a bit of peace. What’s your name, by the way?”
“I’m Rosemary. Children can be holy terrors sometimes, can’t they. Polly often drives me round the bend with her incessant questioning”. Suddenly, Rosemary burst into tears as she realised what she had just said. “Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I’d give anything to have Polly asking me all sorts of questions right now.”
Anita’s brow wrinkled then understanding slowly turned to concern. She remembered now where she had seen this woman before. In the newspaper reports that followed that awful tragedy when five young children had drowned in a terrible car accident some weeks before. Anita desperately tried to remember the details. The newspapers had reported that it was late in the evening and the girls were all friends being driven home by the mother of the birthday girl. Anita recalled how sad she had felt when it had first come to light and the circumstances discussed at work. Five young lives snuffed out in an instant. Even the party girl’s mother had drowned, and the level of alcohol in the dead woman’s body at the time of her autopsy was a vital clue as to what caused the accident. No future for these bright young girls now. Such a tragedy.
But these things happen. Anita never expected to come in contact with anybody who had been personally involved in the resultant mess. Ever vigilant, it slowly dawned on her that this would explain just why she had been sent to the park by her super and she sighed with relief. She could report back at the precinct that calls from concerned mothers about a lone prowler spending time watching their children wasn’t anything to be concerned about. This woman wasn’t hoping to run off with one of the children. Right now, the look on the young woman’s face was that of loss and bereavement. It slowly dawned on Anita that all her training on counselling had been well worth it after all. Here was one woman she could help.
“Rosemary. I’d love a cup of coffee. I can see Tommy’s mother has returned to pick him up” Anita waved into the distance and Rosemary wondered just who she was waving at. “She will take over now. Would you like to join me?”