The man in the old blue coat was still sitting on the bench when Randy made his next circuit of the park. By Randy’s reckoning, he’d been there all day.
Randy approached, giving his best friendly smile.
“Afternoon, sir. Can I help with anything?” He always used ‘sir’ or ‘miss’—he found it put people at their ease.
The man looked up, his eyes glazed. Not like the junkies or the drunks, but like someone whose mind was elsewhere. Besides, he didn’t stink of alcohol, and he looked too clean to be a vagrant. He hadn’t shaved that morning, but it was a holiday after all.
“Oh, I’m fine. Just waiting.”
“The parade doesn’t pass through here.”
“Aye, I know. Goes up the high street and then onto Lendall Road.” The man tapped the side of his head. “Got the route up here. Make sure we get the best spots. Make it a day our Craig will remember.”
“Our little ‘un. It’s him I’m waiting on. Well, him and his mum.” He shook with a ripple of laughter, as if that should have been obvious to Randy.
“How old’s your son?” That was usually a safe question with parents.
“Just had his second birthday last week. We didn’t get him much, but the look on his face! You never know joy until you see it in a young ‘un. Sheila was near bursting into tears, so she was.” The man beamed, and his eyes shone with moisture. It couldn’t help bringing a smile to Randy’s face, although he thought the man was a tad old to have a child that young.
“Sheila’s your wife?”
“That she is. Just gone to get us ice creams.” He glanced past Randy, eyes darting around. “Part of the ritual, having an ice-cream while you watch the parade.”
Randy thought he was cutting it a bit fine. Things were due to start in about fifteen minutes.
“They gone to the van on the corner?” he asked.
The man waved a hand dismissively. “Special day like this, we don’t want that squishy rubbish. No, has to be proper home-made ice-cream. The real stuff. They do a mean raspberry ripple. But I know the young ‘un will go for chocolate.” His eyes twinkled. “And she’ll get him two scoops, no matter what I say. Probably a flake and sprinkles too.”
Randy glanced behind him. The nearest place that did home-made ice-cream was Shlush, over the other side of town. There had been a place just off the park, Old Denny’s or something, but that closed down years ago, after some kind of accident. Randy couldn’t recall the details. It might have been before he was even born.
Of course, Shlush would be packed by now.
“You seeing the parade yourself?” the man asked.
Randy shook his head. “Got to look after the park. I usually go, though.” It wasn’t much—a few floats and bands, and a load of kids dressed up—but it always made Randy feel like the town was alive. Hopefully he’d hear it from the park.
“Aye, me too. Been almost every year since I were born. ‘Course, we missed it straight after Craig came, what with the complications. Then last year, he was poorly, so we had to give that one a miss, too.”
“That’s a shame.”
“Aye. It were the heat.” He shrugged heavy shoulders. “We thought we had him all covered, but at twelve months…ah, they’re so delicate. Fragile little things.”
That confused Randy. He’d remembered last year as being cold and wet, with doubts that it would even go ahead.
“Still can’t believe how much he’s grown since then. Proper little man now! And then I wonder what he’ll be like when he’s off to school. Doesn’t seem possible.” He looked up. “You got kids?”
Randy shook his head. The old man waved a hand.
“’Course not. Hardly any time since you were a young ‘un yourself. But maybe one day, when you find your Sheila. Then you’ll understand.” He tilted his head. “Changes your whole outlook on life, having a kid. Gives you hope for the future.”
His voice trailed off as he looked past Randy again, scanning the entrance to the park.
“They’ll be back soon,” he said, almost in a whisper.
The park was already emptying as people made their way to the start of the parade. Already, Randy could hear a band practising.
“Well, you enjoy the parade, sir,” Randy said, and walked on, leaving the man to his thoughts.
* * *
“No problems, Randy?” his supervisor asked, as he always did at the end of a shift.
“A few teenagers playing silly buggers, but I calmed them down. More litter than normal, like you’d expect. And some lady fell, bruised her arm. Don’t think it was broken or anything, but I told her to get it seen to, just in case. Paperwork’s all in your pigeon-hole.”
“Good lad.” Geoff put a hand on Randy’s shoulder, almost in a fatherly way.
“Oh, and there was an old man on a bench for the whole day. Probably still there. Harmless, like, but seemed odd.”
Geoff nodded. “Terry, I think his name is. Keep at this job a couple of years, you’ll get used to him.” He pulled a face, like he was in pain. “Sad story. You know about the incident at Old Denny’s, right? Couple of decades ago, year of the heatwave. The place packed with people, all excited for the parade, when that truck smashes right through the front. Must’ve been going about sixty. Ploughs in, right up to the counter.” Geoff shook his head.
“Every year since, come parade day, he’ll be sitting on that bench, morning ‘til night.”
* * *
Randy made a final pass of his park, clearing up the last of the rubbish. It was cool, especially where the dying sun cast long shadows. And the old man was still waiting.
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