Evans sat there on the park bench in his trench coat, with the morning paper in one hand and a smart phone in the other. He bore the signs of impending middle age, wrinkles around the eyes, receding grizzled hair. Those early signs of aging may have been prevented had it not been for a run of bad luck: a recent job loss and the death of his father.
Under a warm cloudless sky Evans watched as a groundsman traversed the field on a sit-on-lawnmower. It was early spring.
As the mower passed, the scent of freshly cut grass wafted into his nostrils. The odour called up nostalgic memories of youth and at once he was transported back to his primary school days…...
It’s break time. A bunch of kids are gambolling on the school field where a newly painted running track had been marked ready for sports day. Clumps of cut grass intermingled with decapitated daisy heads pepper the field. He’s in school uniform. Grey shorts, white shirt and a green stripe tie, loose around his neck.
He’s playing football with a group of boys on a concrete playground beside the field. Two teams are hastily formed and jumpers put down for goalposts. The football is made from a bunch of old grey school socks rolled into a ball. They’re quite happy running around chasing a ball made from old socks. An exuberant kick from an over zealous kid sends the ball high over a concrete wall landing in the main road that runs past. Nobody ventures over the wall to retrieve it. Even at that young age, they know it would be dangerous to do so. The game is effectively over at this point until one of the boys produces a new ball, which sends a ripple of excitement across the playground.
They carry on their game till a teacher’s whistle announces the end of break time.......
‘Lovely day isn’t it?’
Evans was jolted from his reverie.
The sit on mower had come to a stop and the groundsman was transferring a sack of grass cuttings onto the rear of a truck.
He looked over to his right, where the voice had come from. An old lady was sat on a nearby bench looking expectantly at Evans through her round wire rimmed glasses. She had a kind face and a warm smile.
‘Huh, oh, yeah. A beautiful spring day,’ he said.
‘I love the smell of freshly cut grass. Takes me back,’ she said, inhaling deeply.
‘I know what you mean.’
‘Reminds me of front lawns being mowed where I lived as a child.’
She then paused and stared into space for several moments.
‘Are you from round here?’ she said after snapping back to the present time.
‘Yes. Well not far from here. What about you?’
‘Oh, I’ve lived here most of my adult life.’
‘Yes. I was a teacher at a local school.’
‘Oh. Which one was that?’
She had a glint in her eye and there was something familiar about her. He knew he had seen her face before but couldn’t think where. Her gnarled hands rested on the knob of a walking stick, the blue veins prominent through her translucent skin. She had on a green walker’s jacket and looked reminiscent of the queen. A family of four were walking their dog around the park. As they got closer one of the children called to her mother. ‘Mum look, there’s Mrs Carter’ and pointed in the direction of the old lady on the bench. The name was familiar to Evans but he hadn’t heard it in a long while.
‘Oh. Hello,’ said the old lady.
‘Hello,’ the group said in unison.
They waved and made pleasantries while their dog made a fuss over the old lady.
‘They’re neighbours of mine,’ she said when they had gone, ‘live two doors away. I sometimes make them soup.’
‘Nice. Having friendly neighbours is important,’ he said
‘Anyway, I must be going, got an appointment to go to. Nice talking to you.’
‘Yes. And you. Take care.’
She took what seemed like an age to get to her feet, gathered her stick and walked off taking in the view as she went.
A week passed and Evans was in the local store looking at the papers. The headline on one of the local newspapers caught his eye, ‘Former school teacher Helen Carter found dead by a field.’
Wide eyed he stared at the paper and grabbed it from the stand.
He read the story. ‘Former primary school teacher and popular resident of Fairfield, was found dead on Tuesday afternoon after walking in the local park.’
I pang of horror shot through him. Tuesday was the day he had met her. He could have been one of the last people to see her alive.
On his way back home he went via the park. Already people had lay bunches of flowers at the spot where she was found. He paused and looked at the impressive floral array. Then he carried on to the bench where he had spoken to her and sat. He looked out across the field at the expanse of green and took in a deep breath. He could still sense that odour of grass in the breeze. He remembered her name, which triggered memories of school....
There was a teacher stood on the edge of the playground wearing a lime green jumper holding a whistle in her hand. He could see her poised to blow it while looking at her watch waiting for break time to end. Her hair was wavy and dark, just shy of her shoulders. That was Mrs Carter, his schoolteacher.
He didn’t feel like being nostalgic anymore and snapped himself out of it. He left his primary school thoughts at the park and ambled home through the suburban streets passing houses with manicured front lawns. The neighbourhood reverberated with the sound of lawn mower engines making the most of the warm spring weather.