A Barrage of Salt Water
AKA Not Alone in the Park
Patrick could not be happier. It was a beautiful day and he was strolling through the park, holding hands with a beautiful woman. They had just had a rather charming picnic, and were now whiling their time away, without a care in the world. His string of misfortunes had ended, and in just eight months, his life had changed. He was now engaged to a former Miss Austria, his income was steady again, and he rarely found himself uninterested or bored.
Life was improving
, and there wasn’t anything else he could possibly want right now. Beatrice had been a blessing. Sure, she was abrasive and demanding at times, but she was the one who had pushed, shoved and dragged him straight out of his depression and out into the beautiful world. She had been his motivation to go out and grab life by the hair and take what he wanted.
While he pondered these thoughts and smiled to himself, he happened to glance upon an old lady on a bench. She was knitting something. He turned his head to get a better look, not that he was intrigued, but because she was something to look at that was not a cloud or a tree. It was only a short span, but he noticed what she was knitting was a red sweater. It looked to be in its last stages, and was a very small garment, probably for a baby. Thoughts faded through into memories, and he caught his breath. He could feel the tears well up in his eyes, but he was too distracted to check them before they fell. Slow at first, he burst quietly like a beaver’s dam, a quiet stream of tears falling down his face.
Beatrice wasn’t happy, but she wasn’t angry either – placated might be the word. The picnic had improved her mood – it wasn’t often that she could let go and enjoy the serenity of the world. She was more used to flashing lights and loud electronica. She was used to pageantry and busybody paparazzi. Her time in the Miss Austria competition had certainly been enlightening. It had taught her how to put on fake smiles and bat her eyelids to get what she wants. It had also made her a bitter person. Beatrice was not shallow by any means. She knew who she was and what she wanted to do with her life. But the pageant had forced her into a mould of a shallow person, and she hated that, but she didn’t let it show. Instead, she had learnt to make the best of it as very few people could. She smiled and fawned and talked people into giving her whatever she needed. It sickened her soul, but it nourished her body, her lifestyle and her ego. And then she met Patrick. He was a good man, but her experiences had erected barriers around her. While her persona shone to the outer world to keep them busy, she herself sat inside the castle of her barriers, in the darkness. She would brood and make herself unhappy, and with the surrounding darkness, she would allow herself to be engulfed in it. But Patrick was different. Something about him made him shine – maybe his vulnerability at the time. His shine was bright enough to pierce through the darkness, not enough to dispel it, but enough to make her look up and take notice of this glowing man outside her castle.
And so they began dating. Everything progressed as could be best expected. She had begun moulding Patrick into a different man. She shaped him, made him stand up straight and push his chest out, and speak his intentions loud and clear to the world, but not to her though. She always had control over him.
Now she was strolling with him, hand in hand. Her right hand held an ice-cream cone, which she was relishing. It wasn’t anything exotic – just a double scoop of chocolate, and it was all hers. Patrick would be playful and try to get a lick of it, and she would shove him away. This ice cream cone was not for sharing, she decided. She bought it from a cart-vendor just when they had started walking – Patrick carrying the picnic basket in his left hand and playing with the fingers of her left hand with his right – and dove into that cone the moment she got it, leaving poor Patrick to balance his loads and pay the vendor. She didn’t care – all she cared about at this point was her ice cream, as they walked down the inner pavement of the park. That’s when Patrick started crying.
Adhering to the stereotype, Raveena enjoyed knitting. It was calming. She didn’t want to be defined by it, but it was one of the few activities that her body could manage at her age. At 80, she had long survived her husband Jakob. She loved thinking about him, of how he had swept her off her feet, and had brought her to this land she had learnt to love. Never having had any children, she had been all alone in Austria. For some reason, she never felt the urge to go back to India, her birthplace. She engaged herself by joining an old ladies’ club, and the friends she made there adopted her as she did adopt them. They were her everything now, and she didn’t feel a lack of family, though she did miss her Jakob and how he’d bring her two roses every Wednesday – sometimes more. He loved Wednesdays that man, joking about how it was the day he met her, and how he’d celebrate every Wednesday that he got to spend with her. He joked about it every Wednesday, as he gave her the two roses. Sometimes he’d shock her by slipping her jewellery – the first time had been the biggest surprise. It was a silver necklace, with an amethyst pendant. It was her most cherished possession. She remembered how she had blurted her question of the need for this gift, and he had simply joked again of how he loved Wednesdays.
That had been a while ago, and here she was, sitting on a park bench. It was a beautiful day, and she was knitting a red sweater. Her group celebrated everyone’s grandchildren as their own, and her friend Jackie’s daughter was expecting soon. Raveena wanted to gift her child this sweater, and she poured love into her knitting.
Nearby, a little girl was playing with a red balloon. Raveena noticed a young couple looking on from a bit afar. She surmised they were the girl’s parents. Raveena stopped knitting to enjoy the pure happiness on the girl’s face. She smiled.
That was when she heard low, sharp breaths of sobbing to the left. She turned her head to see a grown man nearby, his head hung and shoulders hunched, crying, his tears being soaked up by the earth.
The ice cream was good, but the taste wasn’t anything she hadn’t had before. But it was valued because of its unattachment. It wasn’t a dietary recommendation from unpleasant doctors. It was free from rude critics obsessing over her weight. It wasn’t a gift from a sleazy rich guy trying to get into her skirt. It hadn’t been Patrick’s choice. No, the ice-cream was indeed the first thing in a long, long time that Beatrice had a relationship with and that had nothing to do with other people. The sweet, cold taste untethered her from all the strings on her arms and body. She felt independent for the first time in her life. She thought it was abnormal to enjoy a simple thing so much, and wondered if anybody else felt such intense feelings about a similar object.
Beatrice was taken aback. Patrick’s breakdown was out of the blue. What could have happened that the man she had strengthened and built up washed away all his progress in one barrage of salt water? He looked as vulnerable and broken as the day she first met him. She didn’t know what to do, just that she wanted to help him.
Raveena softened when she saw the man crying. She felt like a sentimental old fool. At 80 years, she had never felt old in her life. There’s something about a crying person that washes away all pretense. It strips away years from the shoulders of some, and adds them to the eyes of others. Raveena didn’t mind that she did not have children, but looking at the crying young man, she imagined her grandson would be something like him. She felt tightness in her bones, as she put aside her knitting and tried to stand to go help him. She was surprised at that – her body felt more aged than it had done just five minutes ago. A cold breeze passed through her hair, and she sat back down.
She wondered what the woman next to the man was doing, just standing there. Raveena frowned but turned her attention back to the man, and saw the little girl approach him.
Patrick didn’t know what came over him. Or maybe he did. Seeing the old lady knitting a child’s sweater reminded him of his medical exam the previous week. The doctor had been telling him about how his general health had improved, his blood pressure was normal and how all his levels were good. He remarked about the recent improvement and was very happy to tell him, except that he followed it up with terrible news. Patrick’s sexual health had declined, and he could no longer father children.
Patrick had never really thought about having kids. Up until a few months ago, he hadn’t even thought of living a life long enough to raise children. But now that he was engaged to Beatrice, he had fancied himself a father. He had thought of some small plans of how he would raise his children, nothing concrete – just envisioning the kind of people he would want them to be. But now all of that was gone.
He tried to stop the tears, and wipe them away, but they wouldn’t stop. He couldn’t deal with one more round of trouble. His depression had lasted three years, and he couldn’t and wouldn’t believe that just eight months was his reward, before another phase started.
Franziska loved her red balloon. It was so red and bright and shiny. She loved playing with it. She kept it tied to her hand so it wouldn’t fly away. She wore her red tee today to go with her balloon. She pulled it one way and then the other, and then all the way around so that she turned too.
Then she saw the man crying. It was funny to see an adult crying, but she didn’t like to see people crying or sad, so she thought she would run over to cheer him up.
“Hey mister, are you okay?” said this little girl, holding a red balloon. She stared up at him with her stark eyes, with genuine confusion in them.
Patrick lifted his head and tried to muster a smile. He couldn’t. His head fell again, but his nose met something mushy. He followed the length of the nose and up till Beatrice’s face. She was looking at him, offering him her ice-cream.
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