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 brought 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 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 that would make her look rude, so she shyly glanced up and smiled at the older woman perched on the far corner of the bench. She turned her attention back to the book but then the woman spoke.
Rosemary smiles again but didn’t answer.
“You’re new, aren’t you? I mean, I get the feeling I’ve seen you before but can’t place where. I’m surprised as I pride myself with knowing everybody in this 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 beginning to cast a shadow over the park as the sun slowly lowered into the horizon. “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”. Rosemary gasped and couldn’t stop a few tears from rolling down her cheek as she realised what she had just said. “Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I’d give anything right now to have my Polly nagging me.”
Anita’s brow wrinkled as she fought desperately to recall where she had recently heard that name. Then her willingness to understand what could make a grown woman cry in the middle of a park slowly turned to concern as she suddenly remembered. Polly, one of the five children who had drowned just a few weeks back. Headlines in the newspapers had screamed out ‘murder’ and ‘homicide’, and the accompanying pictures were of grieving family members. But one has caught Anita’s attention especially. A lone woman walking up the steps of the Court Chambers, crouching slightly as if ready to take flight, her eyes wide with shock as she realised she was being photographed. Underneath the words simply said “Rosemary, mother of one of the dead girls”.
The accident had happened late one Friday evening. A young woman, one of the girl’s mothers, had been driving her daughter and four of her friends home after a birthday party jaunt to the local cinema. Anita recalled how sad she had felt when it had first come to light and the circumstances discussed at work. Although not dealt with by CID, they nevertheless would end up having to investigate if anything untoward arose from the initial autopsy. It was actually a relief when the results of the post-mortem exonerated the driver. A thorough examination of the car had also drawn a blank. No need to look for a scape-goat here. No homicide in need of further investigation. Contrary to the many accusations played out on the pages of just about every newspaper in the city, the autopsy could find no cause for the accident. The Coroner’s conclusion was “death by misadventure”. But this did not bring back the fact that five young children’s lives had been snuffed out in an instant. No future for these bright young girls now. Such a tragedy.
But Anita knew, more than most, that these things happen. What she had never expected was to come in close contact with anybody who had been personally involved in the resultant mess. Anita had a sharp mind, which was why she had been sent to join CID. Ever vigilant, it slowly dawned on her now 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 that the 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. All those hours spent pouring over text books in an attempt to train as a counsellor could come in handy right now. 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?”