Playing Stories — Chapter 8: Parklife

Chapter 8: Parklife
from the 1994 album “Parklife” by Blur
posted 09:28, 29 January 2019

Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as parklife

It was a sunny day in Sandford Park, and the man who called himself Timothy Brown was hating every moment of it.

It wasn’t because of the children, shouting and screaming on the other side of the pond. (Their cries were definitely piercing, but Timothy couldn’t hear anything in his left ear, so it wasn’t a problem for him.) Nor was it because of the noise of the traffic, thundering past and driving home the headache he’d had since God knows when. Not even the unusually warm and sticky April weather was bothering Timothy, who only loosened his collar and cleared his throat.

No, it was simply that this day was so damn cheerful. The children were laughing as if they’d never been out to play before. Their parents were sitting in a circle, laughing and chatting with each other; far-off couples were holding hands and lying together and reading books and doing a thousand different activities that Timothy couldn’t bear to see. The birds were singing and the sun was shining brightly down on him — a little too warm, yes, but then again complaining about that would be like complaining that the air was too breathable. But all of it felt wrong to Timothy. All of it seemed fake, as if somebody had painted an idyllic picture and thrust him into it without asking if he wanted to be part of it. After everything that had happened the previous night, nobody deserved to be this cheerful today. It just didn’t feel right, Timothy thought. Where were the clouds, the snarling faces, the dead homeless guy slumped on the bench?

He checked the newspaper, just to make sure that nobody had noticed the break-in last night. Nothing. Not a single mention of how he’d managed to slip past two guards and stolen a huge amount of jewellery and notes from the vault of one of the most secure banks in the world. He couldn’t wrinkling his nose a little on the silence. An eight-million-dollar heist and nobody had noticed? Did nobody think that that amount of money was a big deal?

Still, it meant that he could put off the escape for another day or two. Flipping through the rest of the paper, he came across an item tucked within the international pages. International agents breaking into state-of-the-art laboratory in Vienna, two guards killed. Suspect last seen near Sandford. Police were combing the area for suspects. Timothy felt a chill, and sipped his coffee, trying to calm his nerves. What if he was discovered? What if his crime had been reported after all, and they were keeping mum just to catch him? The police here couldn’t be that smart… could they? Or what if he was simply arrested for this Austrian crim, and they discovered all his old stuff? What if they connected the dots?

Calm down, he told himself. Nobody’s accusing you of anything.

He sat back and sipped from the paper cup. Bought at the corner store, so bad that there were still clumps of coffee powder sticking to the sides. The man at the counter had widened his eyes when he had asked for a coffee. He turned around in a flash, his legs muscles tensed in an instant, but only a queue of citizens stood behind him. Certainly no faces that looked like they wanted him dead. He stopped to think what he would have done if the police had actually been behind him, or if the shop assistant had recognized him and cried for help. He had never hurt anybody on purpose. Those people whose heads he’d slammed into oblivion or choked a little too long: all victims of misfortune. If he had to run away, how far away would he get?

He took a larger gulp. God, the coffee was bad. He chuckled just once, a loud emotionless chuckle that he forced out of himself. This was the world he knew: rough, uncultured, always something round to spoil your day. None of this cheerful, Disneyfied landscape of perfection. He poured the rest of the coffee onto the grass.

Maybe he had been wondering too much. Maybe this just wasn’t the job for him. His partner, when he was dying, had told him that he’d only survive for another three years if he kept on rushing himself like that. Timothy had said yes at the time, but he couldn’t stop now. Not when things were just beginning to settle down for him. For the first time, he had enough to last himself a year. He could usually parse that out, go to live in somewhere he didn’t find all that disgusting. But sooner or later, people would begin to talk, and he would have to disappear from their lives, go off to find another place that didn’t care what he did or whether he lived or died. It was just how his life worked, no ifs or buts.

A fly landed on his hand. He continued to stare at the children while it crawled on his skin. They seemed happy. Timothy merely sighed and stared at the skies beyond. A ball rolled beneath his feet. He made no attempt to pick it up or roll it back towards the children. They’d come by soon enough and pick it up themselves.

The sun burst through and shone on his face. He felt slightly hot under the collar. Perhaps he could stay for a while, take a nap on the bench. If they found him here, he would simply tell the truth: that he’d been up for 36 hours. He would say that he was dead tired, and that he would go home. Maybe even sprinkle a few grumblings about how unfair they all were — that was always a nice touch. He decided that he’d shut his eyes. Just for a moment, to catch his wheezing breath back.

As Timothy Brown got comfortable on the bench, knocking his empty cup over, he felt a warm mist enveloping him. The last thing he felt was a general nausea, a thought that he was being lowered against his will into an oblivious state. He tried to fight it, claw his way out — but by then he had finally closed his eyes. His body slowly slid forward, and his head hitting the wood of the bench with a deadening thump.

“Hey mister! Excuse me… EXCUSE ME!”

Two children walked towards the corpse of Timothy Brown. The girl reached out and prodded him in the shoulder. They’d watched the only man turning red till he was ripe as a tomato.

“OhmygoshViolet,” said the younger boy. “Should we tell someone?” He tugged at the girl’s sleeve. What if bad people came along and found them looking at a killed person? He could hear police cars. Big, loud police cars, rushing towards them. Many people shouting. What if they were taken by the police?

“I don’t think so,” said his sister. Violet looked at the inert body, fascinated by this old, weary husk of a man. “He’s only sleeping.” She looked at the paper cup lying on the ground next to the ball, its contents leeching into the plants. In time, they would die silently, a death that would only be noticed by forensics two weeks after the poisoning and lead to the arrest of the Ausdavian agents in a farmhouse five miles from the centre of Sandford Town.

But all that was to come. Now Violet was staring at the stranger’s face, now crisscrossed by a network of faintly purple veins. He looked so peaceful and lonely, spit dribbling down his chin, his hair looking as if it had been caught in a windstorm. And as the police vehicles rushed by, headed towards the other end of the park, she picked up the ball from under the feet of the corpse and gently led her brother away. “He’s going to wake up any moment now.”

— Quentin, if I want discussions on my family life, I’ll tell you about it, okay? You’ve got to stop asking me every time we meet. I’ve got enough to deal with as it is, what with the lighthouse stuff and the story deal. I’d break it off if it wasn’t the only thing I had to keep me sane back here.

I’ll come over on Thursday. — E

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