Sofa in the Park by Chris Castle

He untied the sofa from the van he normally used for work. He looked around, but the park was empty, the car park empty. He dragged the sofa onto the pavement and then dragged it as quickly as he could along the concrete, scu fing it up until he hit the dirt. He pulled it a little ways and then stopped. He saw the pylons, the long row of trees, the benches scattered here and there. He decided on a spot far away from everything. The phone rang in his pocket and he waited until it stilled. Then he began to pull the sofa on its way.

By the time he reached the intended spot, he had broken into a sweat. He positioned the sofa just how he wanted it, just so, and then sat down on it. He pulled the bag o f his shoulder, little more than a satchel and opened it up. He took out the carton of cigarettes, the bottle of water, the bottle of whiskey, the box of matches and the papers, tucked neatly into the plastic file. Then he plucked the water bottle o f the seat and took a long pull.

He sat for a long while watching the sun pull itself up. He remembered as a boy the time she had come to the park with his father. They had played short tennis with wooden bats, sometimes sat on the benches.

Sometimes they drove here in the rain and just sat in the car, listening to the radio, as he read comics, his father the newspaper and the racing form. Those were the happiest days of his life, he knew that now. He knew that then as well, he was pretty sure. He was aware of the feeling, the passing of time in silence when talking wasn’t needed all the time and when it was required, it was valued.

He sipped from the water bottle and saw the gates being opened by the park keeper in the distance. A little while after that he saw a few young women walk in with prams, beginning their day. The phone rang again and he waited. The women in silhouette walking along by the pylons looked beautiful, though she should have been ugly. After a while he drew a cigarette from the carton and smoked it down to the nub. It was the first cigarette he had smoked in nearly nine years. He enjoyed the feeling of light headedness, of being alone. By the time the feeling had passed, the young mothers had all slipped away and the first few kids on their bikes weaved in and out of view.

One or two of them dared to veer towards where he sat, but then turned back round to their waiting group. He waited for them to call out something to him, hurl abuse at him, but instead they just looked at him, maybe the same way you’ d see a fallen tree after a storm; neither hateful nor happy, just curious. Maybe they would tell the park keeper and that would be the end of it. He watched them pull away, gather speed, looping in and out of each other’s paths, and away under the shadows of the pylons. He waited a little while, but no one came. There was a lull where there was no-one to be seen and it was just him and the grass, the trees, the wires.

The third time the phone rang he answered it. He put the phone to his ear and took a breath. On the other end of the line, she did the same. For a while it was just the sound of the two of them breathing, like how it was for them in the beginning, when they were in bed together. Afterwards, they would just look at each other and listen to the sound of each other’s breathing.
“It’s today," she said at last. Her voice was clear and clean and he knew she had put o f her first cigarette,

her co fee, to talk this out. “You have the papers. You need to send them to my solicitor otherwise… otherwise I’ ll have to take everything."

“You can have everything. I have all I want from it."He sipped the water, wishing the voice belonged to another woman and she was still yet to enter his life.

“You have everything? You have nothing!" Her voice cracked as it rose and he imagined her reaching for something to break, to grip. “You still need things, even though you say you don’t. What do you have?"

“The sofa," he said. “I have our sofa." He heard her snort and he wasn’t sure if she was laughing or trying not to cry. It fitted the ways things were.

“You’ re not making any sense. You’ ve got that ratty old sofa? That’s all you want. After everything."He heard her snap the lighter into action, the burst ofcigarette as she drew on it, slightly away from the phone.

“This is nonsense."

“It was ours!" he shouted suddenly. He thought of all the plans they had made on the thing, how he had watched her fall asleep on it. He never allowed himself to fall away before her.

“If you don’t have the papers in by nine, it’s over. I don’t want that. Nine pm, okay? Please. I want you to have something out of… this." He listened to the cigarette being squared away, the tap-tap of ashes. He knew she was smoking it to the filter before putting the phone down.

“We built everything from there," he said, wanting her to understand. When she didn’t answer he wasn’t sure if this meant she understood or not. She began to say goodbye so he brought the phone down, so the last he heard of her was the exhaling of smoke. Then it was over.

He stood up and walked away from the sofa, back to the van. He decided to collect the food from the van. Whatever would happen to the thing while he was away would happen. He walked to the car park, collected the food, and started to walk back. He noticed the car park was beginning to fill, even though he had yet to see too many people. He remembered his grandpa, looking around one day, saying; ' there will be more cars than people.’ Such a simple thing to say, it couldn’t be anything else but the truth.
The sofa came back into view after a little while. He saw an old couple look at it from a distance, as if it was an exhibit or a dead animal and he walked past them and sat back down in his place. The old man shook his head, while the old woman smiled. He smiled back and after a while turned to watch them walk down the path, heads tilted sharing their opinions about it all. They looked back once and he waved, then watched them up the pace, looking for the nearest corner to turn into.

The old man came and stood by him just as he was finishing o f his sandwich. He tucked the rubbish bag underneath the seat and looked up to the old man, who had just begun to fold his arms.

“Good afternoon," he said to the old man, after he had checked his watch. He would not back down. He stared at the old man until he cleared his throat.

“This is not right." The old man said, but even as he said this, he began to loosen his arms, the grip around himself, and begin to eye the whiskey bottle on the empty seat. He looked him over and saw the old man was not like the couple, but instead was low, his suit dirtied up, his shoes marked up. His face was sore and his eyes red.

“Will you sit down?" he asked the old man, patting the seat next to him. The old man sat on the one further over, so there was a seat between them, where the whiskey bottle rested.

“If you’ d like a drink, then help yourself." He said, smiling. He tapped the glass once, and then pointed to the plastic cups by the side. He poured himself water from the bottle, then unscrewed the whiskey and poured a healthy dash into another one of the cups. He held it out. “Really, it’s going to waste otherwise." He shook the cup a little, so it sloshed around the sides. The man took it, nodded instead of saying thank you and sipped on it.

“Cheers," he said to the old man and lifted his cup. The old man said the same, tilting the cup ever so slightly by his lips. They sat in silence for a while, both of them watching the other people go about their lives.

“Why are you doing this?" the old man asked. He looked over, his eyes racing.

“It’s a one shot deal. Today. You understand? It’s a one shot deal. Then, it’s over." He nodded to the old man, not feeling like he had to say anything else. He poured more water for himself but didn’t pick up the bottle for him. If he wanted it, he could pour the measures himself, he decided.

The afternoon passed by quickly enough. The old man drifted away, other stared without saying more than a word or two. Once or twice he refilled his water bottle from the nearby fountain, and then found his place. He watched in the distance as the park keeper locked the gates. His van would have a ticket now, not that it mattered. The sun began to change and soon enough, the teenagers began to climb over the gate and into the park, one going over and then catching the bag full of booze, before the next one sprung over. They went and sat in the other corners, one group with a stereo, another with a tent, the makings of a fire. It was only the two girls, who entered by themselves and didn’t seem to be with any of the groups, who walked over to where he sat.

“Hey," one of the girls said. She was tall, wore dark clothes, charcoal black around the eyes.

“Hey yourself," he said back, nodding. It was not quite dark yet, but getting there. The other girl was shorter, the same clothes, but not with the same force. She stood a little behind the other girl, waiting to be led.

“My brother told me about you, about the crazy guy in the park on the sofa. We wanted to check it out for ourselves." Her voice was low, as if she’ d just finished coughing.

“Here I am, sitting on my sofa. I’ m not crazy though. Not yet." He smiled, but he knew it was nearly the truth. He watched as the lead girl sat on the far sofa arm, the other girl sitting where the old man had gone before.

“Mister, can we have the drink?" the short one said suddenly. She looked back to the other girl, half for approval, half apologising. The other girl kept staring right on at him, not blinking, nearly fearless.

“You girls old enough to drink? I guess all come here for that after dark, right? Have a couple ofcups, sure.

But no more than that. I won’t be responsible for you after that much." He unscrewed the bottle, poured two small shots into cups, poured a little water in with both. He was surprised how much the old man had sunk in the day time, the bottle nearly spilled from his hand, it was so light.

“So you’ re not crazy but you sit here all day, huh? You must be something, though," the girl said, still staring at him. “You must be sad, I guess. Or desperate."¿

The two girls sipped their drinks, looking to each other and smirking, trying not to wince. He took a swig form his water bottle and lit a cigarette.

“These are for me, I’ m afraid," he said, looking at the packet, seeing there were only two left. Had he smoked that many today? “Maybe I am those things, you said, I’ m not really sure."

“We’ re in love," the lead girl said, making a point of finishing her drink after she said it. “Our parents don’t like it, but we are. We’ re going to move away together at Christmas." She nodded to him, then to the other girl, then once more, almost to herself. “We’ re in love."

“That’s good. To be in love,"he said, re-filling both their cups, less in both, more water in. “Being in love is good." He pointed down to the paper file between them. “I’ m in love. Until nine o’ clock tonight."He raised his glass, waved it to them both. He watched as the short girl picked up the papers, looked them over, handed them to the other girl.

“I guess you are sad then," the girl said. Her voice lost something, the hardness, and she sounded just like anyone else. Maybe that was what hit him harder than anything else. He smiled.

“It’s okay. You two are in love and that’s good. It gives you the chance to do everything, be everything. It gives you a chance." He looked at both of them. Then he reached over and took the file from the girl. He looked at it, almost like for the first time.

“They used to call us the dreamers," he said, as if reading it o f the sheet. “That’s what they used to call us."

He watched the girls walk away from him. They linked arms and looked back once to wave. They were weaving and he guessed the pair ofthem had never touched whiskey in their lives. He watched them walk by the gangs who shouted abuse at them and heard them give it back, throw gestures with their hands. Then they made their way to the gates and were gone, just as the night kicked and darkness fell. He looked at his watch. It had just gone past nine.

He stood up, patted himself down. He stretched a little, feeling the sti fness in his legs. Then he put the file down on the grass; put the cigarettes, the lighter, on top of it. He unscrewed the last of the whiskey and poured it along the length of the sofa, listening to the splashing noises in the darkness. He took the file and put it on the middle seat. He drew the cigarette from the carton and lit it. He stood looking at the sofa, making the outlines of it out in the darkness, the small flickering light of the cigarette. He tried to see outlines of them when they were young, moving along the seats, making their plans, building their dreams, set to prove everyone wrong. Then he flicked the cigarette onto the sofa and watched it as it ignited, sending flames into the night.

He watched it for a little while, then turned and walked away. He saw the groups of teenagers start to run towards the fire, and turned sharply so he avoided all the commotion. He wondered if any of them would ring the fire brigade or just watch it burn. It didn’t matter. He kept walking, once in a while turning round, watching the fire cut across the night sky. It was beautiful and it was terrible. Then he turned and reached the locked gates. He climbed them dropping onto the concrete on the other side. In front of him were streets, houses, and the nearby restaurant. All the small parts that made up the town. The phone rang in his pocket. He stood still and did not move until it was silent again. Then he began walking, past the houses, the restaurant, all the things he knew. He kept walking, only wanting to follow the night and the stars that had begun to appear in the sky. He kept walking.


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