Strange Heart Beating

By Luke

I can’t work any longer. I find myself at the entrance to the park. It’s the same park in which she died. The children are all at school and the weather is bad and the only people around are one or two desperate parents walking babies and a homeless man who sits with his body underneath a swing and his chin on the seat. Leda and I spent our first few walks in this park pointing at things, at birds and flowers, as if they’d been put there for us. However, we trod the same paths so often that I stopped finding it interesting. The smell of semen drifts up from the shrubbery, the specific stink of a species of flora that I’ve never got round to finding out the name of. It is, I realise, my first time entering the park since her death. I never understood the pleasures of walking the way that she did. I’m lazy. She wanted to get a dog, something loping and elegant, as generously limbed as she was, to keep her company. I refused because I don’t like to volunteer to pick up actual shit with my hands three times a day. I can see now what the appeal had been for her though. I need something to do while I’m here – I can’t amble along purposelessly. I feel paranoid and the skin under my shirt collar chafes every time I turn my head. Anyway I suppose it would have been Leda who would have picked up the shit. It’s dull to have regrets. I’m just a person who has made the mistake of staying alive too long.

I sometimes accused Leda of being morbid because of the frequency with which she spoke of death, but she had been born into a family obsessed with mortality. If her lineage had been that of circus freaks then she would have been doomed to grow a beard or take up tightrope walking instead. The truth was that death was such an abstract proposition to me that the subject did bore me. Of course my parents died and I grieved in the usual fashion. I remember their funerals with some clarity. But the grief I had experienced was different, somehow, unreal. What luxury! A grief that allows buffet breaks.

I pause for a moment to look at the map. I know where I am but not where I’m going. The sun filters in a sickly way through the clouds as it tends to do in this country. Like a light bulb in a glass of milk. I clench my hands in and out of damp fists in my pockets. Anxiety has started to creep up over my neck and my chest like something spilled, scalding me. I can hear a couple only a few metres behind me and of course they’re laughing – aren’t couples always laughing? The laughter is loud, obnoxious. They want to prove how free they are, how unhindered by grim reality. I stare at a sign pinned to the map that is meaningless now thanks to rain blurring the ink that once formed words (some plea for a missing dog or a ban on barbecues, something that was once so important that someone felt it needed to be printed out and taken to the park and pinned to the map, but is now just an ephemeral blue-green presence, signifying nothing). Then I start to walk with great long strides down the left fork of the path and through the dark huddle of some overgrown trees away from the couple and I walk past a kicked-over bin and a bench and up the little hill and I’m there all of a sudden. In front of it. The lake.

*

I look up and then look away immediately. The policewoman has taken a seat beside me on the bench. She sighs and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. She’s come down to my level to make me feel comfortable. She’s good at her job. She looks up at the park warden and smiles thinly and I can see the warden shaking her head. The warden points at me.

‘He’s a lunatic.’

‘I’m dreadfully sorry,’ I say.

‘He fucking isn’t.’

‘All right, well, let’s not get upset.’ The policewoman makes a gesture to the park warden. The warden is swearing too much and the police don’t like it when people swear. I see a fat-bottomed coot plunging head first into the grey water in the distance.

‘Do they belong to the Queen?’ I ask.

‘What?’

‘The swans. Do they belong to the Queen? Is that the trouble?’

‘They belong to me! They belong to the park, I mean,’ the warden corrects herself, looking to the policewoman for reassurance.

‘Actually I think the Crown still retains all rights to mute swans,’ the policewoman says, thoughtfully. She taps her pencil against her front teeth twice. ‘Look, I do need to take down some information. Are you feeling okay? Are you on any medication?’

‘No. Yes. I’m feeling all right.’

‘And what about this lady’s claim? Were you attempting to injure or kill the swan?’

‘I don’t know, really. I just—’

‘He was throttling it!’

‘Something overcame me.’

‘Did you take the swan by the neck?’

‘No. It was too quick. I sort of grabbed it. I think I got its neck in my hand but then it just got away.’

‘I see. And why were you grabbing the swan?’

‘There was this couple laughing behind me. I never meant to come this way.’

‘He’s a lunatic, Christ.’

‘Seb?’

I turn my head. There are a few people standing nearby trying to see what the fuss is about. Among the gawping faces I recognise one peering down, and she says again, ‘Seb? What’s happening?’

‘Anne?’

*

The phone rang often in the days following Leda’s death but I had mostly ignored it. For some reason on this occasion I felt compelled to answer. Moved is the more precise word. My hand was moved by some force to pick up the receiver. I heard myself saying ‘Hello,’ that terrible sound. …read more

Source:: Strange Heart Beating

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