This months #blogbattle is to be inspired by the word park. Here’s my attempt…
In her seventeen years on the planet, Stella Progress hadn’t lived up to her name. She middled at school and muddled at home. Friendships tended to be one-sided and aspirations hidden from a sceptical family. But inwardly Stella knew she was destined, if not for greatness, at least to be unique.
Today was another opportunity for her to make her mark. Today she started as the junior apprenticed trainee park warden, under the benign and sympathetic guidance of Peter Outte, the head warden. Peter had reached a venerable forty-seven years in the employment of the parks department, rising less than rapidly from the trainee position himself to be in charge. Retirement loomed large, though it was unlikely to change Peter’s life much. Peter would still sit a lot, cogitate more and smoke continuously, the only difference being the shed at which these well honed activities were undertaken. For now, it was the municipal storage and management facility that housed Peter; in six months it would be his garden. In both cases the housing was a wooden shed about ten by eight.
‘And you’re Peter!’ Stella maintained, despite the vicissitudes of a life barely lived, a positivity that disarmed people on first acquaintance.
‘Ok, Stella. Today you’re going to learn about leaves.’
‘Oh, really? How exciting!’
Peter pulled himself to his feet and extinguished his cigarette. ‘Don’t get your hopes up. Grab that rake and those sacks and follow me.’
Peter led Stella along a series of ever shrinking paths until they emerged between two large oaks at a small gate in a high close boarded fence. He opened it and walked into the clearing beyond. Only ‘clearing’ didn’t really cover the mountains of leaves that were strewn across the ground. Peter swept his arm dramatically in a large arc. ‘This is where the reference to ‘leaves’ is a touch misleading as this little buggers are more stays than leaves. Every year, as autumn morphs into winter the specific microclimate that centres itself on the park causes all the leaves to follow their inexorable path to this spot. We don’t really know why but they do. And it’s our job to try and get them bagged up and burnt sharpish.’
‘Why?’ Stella hadn’t meant to speak, nor to question her new boss on her first day but there was something about the way the leaves undulated and grouped that looked… organised.
‘I wonder the same meself,’ Peter answered in a rather downbeat tone. ‘Thing is this area is used for events: the summer fete, outdoor cinema, pub in the park, music concerts and by the local schools for sports days. So the powers that be mandate that we clear the leaves asap. Which is a bit of a bugger actually.’
‘Why? Sorry, too many questions?’
‘Not at all. You’ll find out. What’ll happen is you’ll sweep up the leaves, put them in bags and leave them for Daft Dennis or Dull Derek to bring the trailer over to take them to the bonfire spot. But by the time one of those two has got here, someone will have undone all your hard work. So you’ll do it again. And again. And you’ll ask yourself why you have to keep going and I’ll tell you have to because that’s what we’ve been told to do. And finally, in early April, whoever has been messing us about will stop and we’ll clear them up for another year.’ He shook his head. ‘We have cameras fitted to try and see who did it. Kids, we assumed but no one. It’s like the cameras are hacked or something. You’re watching and the bags are all there one moment. The next they’re empty, all neatly stacked up waiting for us to refill them. Did anyone tell you there are lots of pointless edicts from the powers that be? That’s the first lesson.’
‘Management are tossers, this place is haunted and you need infinite patience to survive.’ He lit up a cigarette; after a moment he offered one to Stella who declined. Peter looked like he was going to say more but in the end he just wandered away. Then he came back. ‘Give it a couple of hours. If you get bored come and find me and we’ll have a brew.’
Stella watched him go, his shoulders drooping from the effort.
‘He’s right. It’s pointless.’
Stella looked down at her side. A small green faced man with sharply pointed ears, a rather fetching tunic made, it seemed from the self same leaves and a small sharply pointed stick stood next to her. He would have been only slightly eccentric if not for the green complexion and the fact he was barely two foot tall. ‘Who are you?’
‘You’ll not pronounce it. Let’s call me One. You?’
‘Stella. What are you?’
The little man stopped staring after Peter and looked at her. ‘A pixie. You?’
‘Oh. Really? You’re not like the rest.’
‘No. You can see us and hear us. Some of the scraps, the small ones, see us but they haven’t learnt to speak. By the time they’re mobile and can speak they’ve lost the sight. Not you, huh?’
‘Gosh. And you’re really a pixie?’
‘Are there any more pixies?’
‘About thirty. We live here during the off season.’
‘When the leaves are off the trees. When they’re on, we live in the trees. Safer, on many levels. First we can see you and the others that like to try and do for us – some birds, foxes, dogs. Second we do risk getting squished or caught in a lawnmower down here. Third, and most important. It doesn’t smell of compost all the time.’
‘Are the leaves your shelter?’
‘In one, Stella.’
Stella nodded her head, comprehension dawning. ‘You put the leaves back after they’ve been collected.’
‘It’s a right old pain, but yes. If we didn’t we’d freeze.’
‘Unless someone opens the big gates over there, this place is enclosed. No dogs, no foxes only birds to dodge and they’re stupid if we hide under the leaves. You going to collect them, then?’
‘That’s what I’ve been told to do. But if you’re here I can tell them why they keep coming back.’
‘And that will help how exactly?’
‘They’ll not want to disturb a pixie colony.’
‘Oh dear oh dear. Run me through this explanation of yours.’
‘Sorry, I’ll just go to Peter…’
‘The ch…? Oh, yes the smoker. I’ll explain and…’
‘Humour me. You’ll say “Hey Peter I know why the leaves go back. It’s the pixies. And he’ll say…?’
Stella saw immediately. ‘I’m really the only person who’s seen you?’
‘Nah. There are loads but they can’t believe their eyes so tell themselves we’re a trick of the light, or it’s a B12 deficiency or something.. We also move too fast for most.’
‘Why aren’t you moving now?’
‘You’re special. We thought you may be the one to help us. Give us a voice.’
Stella glowed. This was it. This was what she had been waiting for. Her chance to be unique. ‘Really? How can I do that?’
One sniffed and kicked the leaves by his feet. Then he bent it the first sack and held it open. ‘Sorry, love. You can’t. No one will believe you so you may as well fill the sacks and we can go on as before. Easiest around, really.’ One smiled up at her. ‘Don’t look like that. You know you’re unique. It doesn’t take public acclaim for that to be true. Just be yourself.’
‘You think?’ She began to rake the leaves to her. As she did so, other Pixies emerged and watched. She wasn’t sure what to think, but she did feel guilty.
‘You should be grateful you got leaves first up. The last trainee was started on dredging the ponds of weed and algy.’
‘Why was than bad?’
‘You don’t want to go messing about with them water nymphs. One touch as you’ll get the mother of all rashes. At least with us it’s just a bit of itching dust.’
Stella nodded and tried hard to ignore the growing urge to scratch her leg…