[ Home Page | Fiction ]

This is some sort of stream-of-conciousness writing. It isn't entirely plotless, depending on what you mean by "plot".


Observations of Monday

Between two rows of tall, greyish buildings was a patch of thinning grass, in parts dried out by sun and in parts turned to featureless muddy patches by rain. Rusty iron railings separated it from the pavement on one side, and from a car park on the other. Two park benches stood, as if huddled together for warmth, by the concrete wall of a WH Smith store. The place appeared dark and foreboding on an overcast day and little better in good weather; it had throughout the air of neglect, with scraps of litter flitting about in gusts of wind and graffiti on every unpainted surface.

Despite this, it had become the daily haunt of bored office workers, somewhere to consume a hastily-bought sandwich from the normally-overcrowded lunch counter that faced it on the other side of a busy thoroughfare, or for the over-enthusiastic to catch some sun on infrequent summer days. Before the enclosing buildings were constructed, it had been part of a much larger and more pleasant park, and still retained some of its former character.

Monday began with drizzle. Grey clouds loomed menacingly above grey buildings and grey people shuffled about cautiously under brightly-coloured umbrellas. The park was unceremoniously opened to public use three minutes after its allotted opening time by a council official who grumbled that it was pointless going out in the rain to open the gate as no-one would want to go in. A patient observer might have noticed that this particular council official spent a large proportion of his time grumbling.

Contrary to his protestations, someone did want to sit in the park. An old, white-haired man with a straggly beard and unkempt appearance wearing grubby clothes with a half-bottle of whisky in his coat pocket, and apparently paying no attention to the vagaries of the weather, Jonas Fisher was not exactly a vagrant but a man to whom no-one could apply a better description, possibly for lack of trying.

He shuffled slowly over to the benches, and sat down on the one furthest from the street, as he did almost every morning (unbeknownst to the grumbling council worker, however). This seat was his in a very real sense, and no-one challenged his ownership of it.

By ten o'clock, the drizzle had cleared up, although Jonas did not notice this as he was already fast asleep. A street-sweeper wheeling a cart along the pavement and half-heartedly sweeping litter up into it left it on the pavement and wandered through the gate to have a cigarette; regulations forbade him from smoking on the job but also allowed him some specified and unremembered number of rest breaks during the day.

Seemingly rather suspicious of the park's only other occupant, the man leaned against the wall opposite the benches, cigarette in mouth, furtively glancing at his trolley as if concerned that a gang of delinquents would try to take a joy-ride on it. No such youths turned up, however, and the man finished his cigarette in peace and moved on, sweeping as half-heartedly as ever. Jonas, who could not bear the smell of cigarette smoke even when asleep, woke up coughing and left.

The weather brightened up a little; the air even became slightly warmer. Later in the morning small groups of office workers left their offices to grab a snack or some fresh air. As if by some pre-arranged agreement, employees of different companies took their breaks at different times; those people who came into the park at any one time were normally few in number.

At about quarter to eleven a pair of gangly twenty-five year old men, who worked in a building society and in an earlier age might have been called 'clerks' wandered in carrying steaming polystyrene cups of coffee. They sat down on one of the benches, staying as far as possible from Jonas' accustomed seat. A few moments later, a rather stocky woman of similar age, who, from the way she consciously avoided them, must have been a co-worker, and from the way she clutched nervously at a plastic-wrapped sandwich, apparently rather timid, went and sat on a patch of dry ground underneath a pathetic-looking bush.

She sat consuming her sandwich, often looking at her watch as if afraid that the world, or perhaps her tea-break, was soon to end; in between mouthfuls of stale bread and ham, she gazed boredly at her colleagues. They were by this time engaged in energetic chattering and seemed to be deliberately looking at anything but her.

Clearly at the suggestion of his friend, one of the men on the bench called across the grass "Louise!". The woman looked up and replied quietly "Yes?", without much conviction in her voice. The other man yelled at the top of his voice "Bitch! Fucking bitch!"; she rose, walked smartly over to him, slapped him and walked off, hunched up and apparently fearful of some retribution. The two men began laughing loudly, clearly much amused. A mangy-looking dog soon found the abandoned remains of the ham sandwich, which it consumed with more gusto than Louise had been able to muster.

The animal then started to chase a typically round pigeon, always staying as far away as possible from the two benches. This activity was soon curtailed; the pigeon lumbered into the air with a flutter of wings and flew off over the car park. The dog lay down on the grass and stared untrustingly at the inhabitants of the bench opposite.

One of the men fumbled in his pocket and found a small chocolate. He got up and walked towards the dog, which shied away. He followed it until it was standing in a corner, between the iron fence and the wall. He kneeled down and offered it the chocolate but it shied away even more. He thrust his hand forward, holding it palm-up with the chocolate in it. The dog whined quietly then, with uncharacteristic energy, barked loudly and jumped at the man, knocking him over, and began to scratch at him with its rather weak paws.

The animal's erstwhile benefactor turned and got up, walking away with some haste. The dog found and consumed its chocolate while the man complained to his companion about the "bloody animal". The two left, leaving polystyrene cups to add to the urban detritus that already filled the park. The dog shuffled over and took up a place underneath one of the benches. Even it avoided Jonas' place.

Jonas came back just before half past eleven. The whisky bottle in his pocket was now half empty and even a casual observer might have noticed a slight stagger in his step. He sat down, and then sprawled across, his bench and was soon asleep again. The sun beat down on him from a now almost-clear sky.

Shortly after Jonas returned, a tall thin woman with closely-cropped fair hair and a pale complexion walked in and sat down, as far away from him as possible. The dog bolted from its position under her bench and scampered off down the street. The woman pulled a mobile phone from a pocket in the shapeless jacket she wore. She eyed it apprehensively before flipping down the cover, dialling a number and lifting it to her ear. At no point did she let the phone come any closer than half an inch from her ear, as if it carried some infectious disease. After a moment she closed the phone and put it back in her pocket; her call had not been connected.

This gave rise to an expression on her face of some undefined emotion: elements of relief, irritation and anxiety seemed to be blended on it. She sat back on the bench, evidently trying to relax but without any success. Every few moments she eyed her watch, apparently trying to judge a good interval to try the phone again. After three or four minutes, she lifted the phone out of her pocket and gingerly began to dial again.

At that moment a small child, with its mother in tow, came in through the gate. The child was about seven years old, male, with a dirty face and ill-fitting clothes. His mother gave every impression of being on the edge of a nervous breakdown. She sat on the bench next to the woman with the mobile phone while her child planted itself firmly on a wet patch of grass and began to chew on a hamburger given it by its mother out of a brown McDonalds bag. The woman with the mobile phone stopped dialling and put the phone back in her pocket. She shuffled across to the very end of the bench, moving as far as possible from the neurotic-looking parent of the little boy.

The child finished its hamburger and its mother handed it a packet of chips. It began to eat them but soon tired of this innocent pursuit and proceeded to fling them one by one across the grass, sometimes splitting them so that he had more bits to throw. A small group of pigeons soon flew in and the boy began to aim the chips at them, occasionally startling one of them into hurried flight; for the most part the birds merely ate the chips.

The expression of the woman with the telephone turned to one of ill-concealed annoyance. She looked at her watch ever more frequently in between staring at the mother and child with some hostility. The child continued to throw chips and its mother gazed at it in irritation but did not seem to want to disturb it, perhaps thinking that the expenditure of effort would not be worthwhile. Eventually the supply of chips was exhausted and the mother left, almost dragging the child behind her. She mumbled an apology to the woman sitting next to her, who looked startled but did not respond.

She drew the telephone out of her pocket and dialled again, this time undisturbed. She did not get through, however, and so replaced the phone in her pocket and resumed her anxious, irritated, relieved look. She continued to look at her watch at short intervals.

At about five minutes past twelve, a party of chattering schoolchildren carrying clipboards and pens and evidently engaged in some kind of project work came into the park, shepherded by two teachers: one thin, tall and balding, and another short frumpy looking woman. Both were dressed in similar shades of brown and their clothes were baggy, unstylish and clearly past their best. The children were all aged about fifteen and dressed in nondescript casual attire: jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts, an occasional anorak. One or two were wearing school uniform, clearly having got the wrong idea.

The children split up into groups on the grass, eating packed lunches; many of the children discarded the bits they didn't like - normally the sandwiches and fruit and engaged themselves in bartering whatever food they did not wish to eat. They spoke among themselves, normally loudly and frequently ungrammatically, on a range of subjects, some evidently concerned with the work they were undertaking but more often with the foibles and weaknesses of their companions. The two teachers stood apparently as far away from the group as they could without totally dissociating themselves from it; the pattern of their conversation, or, more accurately, bickering, seemed to indicate that they were a married couple.

One child, a tall and well-built individual with an aggressive expression, had a small radio and switched it on. Tinny, but loud, music blared from it, punctuated by occasional crackles. The poorness of the reception did not deter him and he lay back in the grass. The park was filled with the noise of some undistinguished song.

The short, frumpy teacher called across half-heartedly for the child to switch the radio off but this only caused him to turn the volume up. She turned to her husband, obviously seeking assistance, but he provided none. The teachers did not give any strong impression of control.

A middle-aged man and a woman who might have been his secretary but who was clearly not his wife paused outside the gate, arm-in-arm, and looked in; spying the hordes of schoolchildren, they departed, still arm-in-arm and wandered slowly down the street. Another man came in and sat down, and hurriedly ate a sandwich; he left as soon as he was able, looking at the other inhabitants of the park as little as he could.

The woman with the mobile phone drew it from her pocket again and dialled; she apparently got through and began speaking. The sound from the radio grew more crackly until the music could not be heard at all; its owner turned it off and looked around; upon seeing the woman talking into her mobile phone he proceeded to glare at her unpleasantly.

She spoke intently into the phone for short periods at quite long intervals; apparently the recipient of her call was doing most of the talking. Her face creased into a frown as she spoke, looking less and less content the longer the call went on. Her free hand covered her free ear: she seemed to have difficulty hearing the telephone above the noise of the schoolchildren. The child with the radio switched it on again but still got just crackling noises. He glared at her even more unpleasantly.

The woman continued to talk, and continued to look less and less happy. She was now mumbling into the phone, rather than talking, and that only occasionally. The child with the radio switched it on and carried the device which was crackling like an angry frying pan over to the bench. He stood in front of the woman, staring down at her and waving the radio; the loud crackling noise must have made it difficult for her to continue her conversation.

He suddenly loudly interrupted her, telling her that he was trying to listen to the radio and that her telephone was stopping him from doing so, though not in quite those terms. She stared at him with contempt; he continued his angry tirade and she shifted anxiously in her seat. She continued to mumble into the phone possibly explaining the interruption though whether the person she was speaking to could hear her was doubtful.

The loud-mouthed child began to shout at her: she should "Shut the fuck up with that fucking telephone" before he "kicked the shit out of you fucking cow." The woman's expression of contempt was now mixed with some fear but she continued speaking. The two teachers looked anxiously at him and began to marshal the other children to leave; the radio crackled ever more loudly.

Jonas woke up and sat up, staring at the woman and the child in front of him. The child put the radio down and grabbed the woman's mobile phone. The two teachers stared at him with an expression of total horror on their faces. The taller one began to walk across towards him but only very hesitantly.

The woman stood up and tried to grab her phone back, but her assailant pushed her back into her seat. Jonas stood up, shakily, and pulled his bottle of whisky from his pocket. He took a swig and then hit the adolescent over the head with it; the bottle smashed and the child collapsed, drenched in whisky. The teacher stopped in his tracks, observing that the situation was now totally out of his control a fact reflected in his face.

The woman kneeled down and retrieved her phone, wiping the mud off it with a handkerchief. She turned to face Jonas, who had gone red in the face and was obviously deeply embarrassed; unable to think of anything to say in thanks, she pressed some money into his hand and said something about buying himself a drink. He returned the money, without saying a word, and walked off.

A few moments later, she followed him out of the gate, leaving in her wake the school party; the teachers had managed to establish some semblance of control over their charges and the youth who had been struck by Jonas' whisky bottle had managed to get on his feet again. By twenty-five to one, they too were gone and the park was deserted, with only some fragments of broken glass and a strong smell of whisky in one corner to mark their passing.

Ray's Sandwich Bar opposite was beginning to fill with hungry customers. It was on a single floor, with a stainless steel and glass counter running almost from the pavement to the back of the shop. A few tables and chairs were strewn half-heartedly around the rest of the shop but 'Ray's' was primarily a take-away eatery. An ultraviolet light sat on the wall zapping flies; below it sat a cheery-looking, fat woman operating a cash register. Emily was Ray's husband. Ray himself had achieved his obesity and ruddy complexion only through eating out the general opinion was that Ray's Sandwiches weren't much good but he gave a welcome impression of warmth and enthusiasm standing behind the counter preparing slices of bread and scooping mainly nondescript fillings onto them.

Ray tried to maintain a good relationship with his customers. On the whole this amounted to greeting the regulars by name; he occasionally asked how business was but normally could not inquire with sufficient conviction to make this worthwhile. However, his friendliness seemed to reflect onto the customers themselves and normally 'Ray's' was abuzz with chatter.

In the sunshine, the queue spilled out onto the pavement; those waiting for food mingled with those emerging, sandwiches in hand. A group of middle-aged men in similar grey suits stood talking and eating outside, evidently waiting for someone who had yet to be served. Another man in a grey suit came out onto the pavement and joined them; the whole group them crossed the street and went into the park. They were followed by a small party of youngish women, all carrying similar handbags in slightly different shades of black leather.

In the park, a small crowd had already accumulated, mainly sitting on the grass and all avoiding the scene of the recent fracas, which was covered in fragments of glass and a thin pool of whisky. Most of them were eating sandwiches or bread rolls; one or two were listening to 'walkman's and some were making cursory efforts towards sunbathing.

Pigeons waddled around among the office folk, pausing to eat crumbs and discarded food and occasionally scattering in response to any sudden movement. From time to time more people would come in, frequently carrying some of Ray's wares; the queue outside his shop began to shorten. By quarter past one there was hardly any space left on the grass although some of the occupants those who had early lunch breaks had moved on, allowing others to get in.

Some time into the lunch hour a pair of earnest-looking thirty year old men came in, carrying bundles of leaflets; they began to distribute them to those on the grass, disturbing them from their various states of repose to hand them a pamphlet and occasionally tripping over some reclining body. Few of those who took the leaflets gave them more than a glance and the two pamphleteers, evidently having run out of copies of their circular, held a short and animated conference in Jonas' corner, apparently without noticing the pool of whisky they were standing in.

After their meeting, one of the two called out in a squeaky and hesitant voice, "Could those of you who have taken leaflets please give them back to us when you've finished with them." and thanked them profusely for co-operating, prematurely as it turned out because no-one did hand their leaflet back. Some people waved their leaflets half-heartedly in the air but that was all. The two men then proceeded to repeat their circuit of the park, retrieving the unread leaflets and again interrupting those who were talking or reading. They left in their trail a series of grumbling men and women and soon left. The grumbling quickly died away, as if evaporating in the sunshine.

Half past one came and went, and the park gradually emptied, except for the ever-present pigeons which got rich pickings from the remains of lunch which had accumulated. A breeze blew up, scattering those leaflets which had not been retrieved by their distributors and causing those people who remained to don discarded items of clothing. The street-sweeper returned at about two o'clock, and swept up some of the litter but scrupulously avoided the rapidly shrinking pool of whisky with its attendant shards of glass. In doing so he dislodged the one or two people remaining from lunch and when he left the park was, apart from the pigeons, deserted. They were soon joined by the dog who had earlier chased one of them with some gusto but he now just reoccupied his place under a bench.

As the afternoon wore on, the park was bathed in the shadow of the building next to it and it cooled down. A couple of shoppers carrying bulging carrier bags paused for a rest at about three o'clock but soon continued on their way.

Later, with the sun dipping below the buildings in the west and the whole street in fading light, a series of trucks of various sizes arrived, all marked with the logo of the BBC. A film crew disembarked and started to reel out cables, stretching all over the street between the park and Ray's; the latter institution received a welcome boost of custom from those elements of the film crew who were momentarily unoccupied. Shortly afterwards a man who displayed some self-importance in his behaviour arrived, accompanied by a police officer. He proceeded to give numerous instructions to those around him.

Presently, a number of flood-lamps had been set up and the park was illuminated by a harsh white light which cast impenetrable black shadows. The director and the police officer surveyed the scene and began to talk animatedly, still ordering those around him to do this-and-that.

A man wearing a leather jacket and jeans with a mean-looking, unshaven face emerged from what was clearly the make-up van. He was followed by a frail elderly looking woman who carried a plastic bag and an umbrella. A light drizzle was falling, but the woman did not open the umbrella. The two actors began to chat amicably until interrupted by the director who began to excitedly give instructions.

He then called the police officer over, and the group engaged in some kind of creative discussion; this appeared to interest the director rather more than it did his colleagues. The actors' faces' displayed fixed smiles while the police officer looked totally bored. Once the pep-talk was over, the director started to talk at a youngish man in a grey suit and wearing a hideous tie. The man then proceeded to stand in front of a camera while staring woodenly at an auto-cue machine.

A clapper-board clapped, and the man began reading from the script. "What you are about to see," he related to the camera, was a reconstruction of a recent crime (referred to, in fact, as an 'incident'), which had taken place in the park. The police officer looked on dejectedly while the director frowned. After the presenter had finished reading the voice-over, the director explained that he was dissatisfied with his performance. He began again, this time with more success. All concerned adjourned for a tea-break.

It was now raining more heavily, so most of the technicians those who were not directly involved in operating cameras or lights huddled together in the support vehicles over steaming mugs of tea. The police officer sat in the director's car, drinking from a silver hip flask, apparently seeking relief from what he regarded as mindless tedium as well as from the weather.

After about twenty-five minutes, work resumed. The little old lady took up a position on the side of the illuminated area, and began to walk across it with the cameras rolling. She looked faintly ridiculous, carrying her umbrella which she had not opened, despite the heavy rain. When she had travelled a few yards, the disreputable-looking man leapt menacingly from behind a bush and waved a knife at her. She proceeded to club him round the head with her umbrella, at which he collapsed unconvincingly on the ground. The old lady gasped, lifted up her skirt and ran off surprisingly quickly, considering her supposedly advanced age.

Perhaps understandably, the director was dissatisfied with the first attempt. "No! No!" he yelled, "You've got to hit him harder. Make like you're really hurting him. Okay, let's try that again."

An assistant called out "Take two!" and the performance began again. The old lady walked across the set and was threatened by the mugger. She clouted him round the head once, and then, for good measure, hit him again. The point of her umbrella caught him in one eye; the man clutched at the damaged organ which was spurting entirely genuine blood and screamed. The little old lady collapsed in a dead faint. The director started yelling that this was "not in the script" until he realised what had actually happened, at which point he went pale and looked sick.

The police officer pulled out his radio and summoned an ambulance. Then, for good measure, he took another gulp from his hip flask, before beginning to administer first aid. This mostly consisted of telling the injured party that he was going to be all right, sentiments which largely failed to convince.

Shortly, an ambulance arrived with siren wailing. Paramedics leaped out and put the man on a stretcher, while cleaning up the wound with some kind of cotton wool. The ambulance screamed off into the night, and the film crew began clearing up their equipment. Opposite, Ray's was closing for the night.


Copyright (c) 1995 Chris Lightfoot. All Rights Reserved.