The world is beautiful.The summer light shimmied across the waters of the Lea, as families, lovers, friends, cyclists, joggers, all of London, passed where we sat in Springfield Park, all on their own errands. There were smiles everywhere. I sat on dry grass with cider, weed, companions, and silently watched two tiny young girls, Turkish I thought, running through the park, diving into the grass, screaming with excitement as their parents watched from a safe distance. My heart swelled. A heron slowly beat the air above them on some inscrutable errand downriver. A fat bee buzzed close to Cerise’s head and she screamed as Jerome and I laughed, watching her run round in circles shouting for us to get rid of it. I swigged my cider and smiled.
“You’re just pissing it off, man!” said Jerome, laughing. The bee departed, Cerise slumped to the grass with her cheeks matching her hair, burning red. “Bastards” she said but then burst out laughing, her face split by a grin, dappled in summer light. I caught myself indulging in sexist thoughts of female perfection, pedestal-bound beings that lived in a shady netherworld with dryads, nymphs, Madonnas, Sheila-na-gig, undines, whores, harpies, banshees, gorgons and succubi. Aphrodite did not stand in front of me. I almost had to shake my head to rid myself of these thoughts. I wanted to apologise to someone.
Two nights ago, buoyed by whisky, Cerise and I had shared a bed. No sex. It made me happy, gave me stupid thoughts of what life could be if only...and other such clichés. I felt pathetic, embarrassed at having indulged in such thinking, stamped on the thoughts and feelings that threatened to rust my rationality and denature my good sense. But still. Still.
The two small girls ran close to our semicircle, screaming as they chased each other. Stopped short when they saw us, fascinated and wary of our beer cans, our cigarettes, Jerome’s piercings, my shaven head. Adults from another world. Cerise’s hair fascinated them. I smiled at them. Their parents called them back, I felt a twinge of something inside, indefinable, grub-like as it squirmed inside my gut. I cracked open another can, rolled a cigarette and lit it, inhaling deeply, neglecting the novel I had brought with me. My eyes focused on the sluggish river, as coots darted over its surface, agitated by passing canoeists who cut through the green-brown water, against the backdrop of Walthamstow Marsh. A group of people stood on a dingy houseboat, that bobbed slightly on the water, obscured by wood-smoke as they began a barbecue. Jerome and Cerise were talking of something, laughing, but I did not listen. I let the day carry me. Thoughts of everything worth living for, why I do the things I do, what all my personal politics are really for. A random jumble of images flooded into me: cloud-shrouded at the top of Mount Snowdon aged ten with my younger brother beside, a memory of a photograph that must have been taken by my father. The first time I saw the brontosaurus bones at the National History Museum, sometime in the 1980’s, awe and wonder that such beings ever existed, an awe that never left me. My grandmother’s veined hands as she related tales of The Blitz. Every tiny embrace and gesture of affection I ever shared with another, lovers present and those long gone. Kicking around a football on the Hackney Marshes with Jerome, summers ago. Puking my guts out into a squat toilet in Whitechapel, dancing to retro-ska and rocksteady, the first time punk rock took my breath away and quickened my pulse. So much that meant either the world, or nothing at all, I could never figure it out. Maybe both. The thought was vaguely depressing.
A darkening mood now. I imagined grindylow in the Lea, dragging children under, rending, ripping and tearing. The myth was punctured, a fractured idyll, the sad truth of impossible futures and the clouded past. I idly peeled the sticker from an apple and bit, chewed, swallowed. Jerome now lay on his back looking skyward, searching the heavens. Cerise sat with her knees pressing against her chest, dragging slowly on a cigarette, sipping at cider. She looked at me, smiled gently, leaked smoke. I met her gaze. Things, I thought, can be OK sometimes.
The two young girls had disappeared. The afternoon continued.