The trees were dead. The sky was blank. Only Charleston knew the way. An old man was feeding pigeons, as if it mattered. Afterwards, he played staccato on a violin, despite the birds. Charleston held the bow for him, as if that mattered. A young man and woman were having a heated argument involving lips and tongues and hands. Charleston handed them a piece of sheet music and sent them on their way. They would have recognized the staccato, although they didn’t feed the pigeons. They didn’t even see the pigeons. They were too busy reading the music and finding their way out of the park.
All the leaves had fallen to the ground and it didn’t rain. People in yellow jumpsuits were raking them frantically into piles, Charleston among them. He was the only one who admitted that a strong wind kept twirling the leaves all over the park. Everyone else believed in piles. A truck came to pick up the piles of leaves that didn’t exist. The old man was still playing the violin, even though Charleston was too busy directing the truck through the traffic of pedestrians to hold the bow. The pigeons didn’t care.
A boy from a nearby school drew some clouds into the sky, a precautious little girl a weak sun. Charleston arranged the clouds into neat patterns and made sure they didn’t rain. Then he pulled the sun across the sky to make the day go by. The little girl laughed, gleefully. Her teacher gave her an A. The boy didn’t want to get a mark. The clouds were too important for him. He knew all about that already, like Charleston. Charleston went back to the futility of raking leaves, to the futility of holding the old man’s bow. He was that kind of a man.
In the afternoon, it almost began to rain. The old man’s staccato was getting more and more frantic. Even the young couple came back, and the truck. It would have been a disaster, had not an older boy come by with an eraser, just in time. A few heavy drops had already started to fall. Charleston breathed a sigh of relief, even though it had nothing to do with him and the truck would have been back on its own. Sometimes a good mark could do wonders to a budding young mind. Sometimes a rain shower prevented just in time could be as inspiring as a pile of leaves not existing. The pigeons were already getting hungry again. Charleston herded them back over to the old man and held his bow.
When it stopped almost beginning to rain, a mounted policeman came riding into the park to restore an order that had always been there already. He wasn’t perturbed by the paradox, or by the pigeons. He had other things to worry about. Charleston directed him through the traffic of pedestrians. A mother with a baby in a stroller almost tripped over his feet. She was holding an ice cream cone in one hand. Strawberry twist. The old man was practically drooling when the cone floated past his eyes. He almost stopped playing his staccato, but Charleston never let go of the bow. The policeman rode by in silence, unconcerned.
A young man on a bicycle rode along one of the paths, holding an ice cream cone in one hand. He stopped at a bench where a young woman was playing an accompaniment to the staccato on her own violin. Charleston didn’t think he needed to hold her bow. The couple with the heated argument sat down on the bench next to them. The young man offered the young woman some of his ice cream. She never missed a note. The wind died down and the leaves started to pile up again. The truck picked up all the piles and drove them out of the park. Nobody knew where, except for Charleston, and he wouldn’t say.
He walked alongside the woman with the stroller for a while to make sure she was safe. She didn’t offer him any of her ice cream. He went in a different direction when the baby started screaming, from hunger or from boredom or just because, he couldn’t tell. The young woman with the violin played louder and louder. The baby screamed louder and louder. The policeman rode his horse out of the park. He seemed to have better things to do. Nobody knew what, except, of course, for Charleston, who wouldn’t tell. He was busy holding the old man’s bow again.
The pigeons were getting more and more impatient. They started pecking at each other even though there wasn’t any food for them to fight over, much like the couple with the argument, or the woman with the ice cream cone. The sky probably had something to do with that, since all the clouds had been erased and only the weak sun remained. The little girl ran straight home from school and told her mother about drawing the sun in the sky and getting an A. The little boy walked home by himself, knowing exactly what he had done.
Charleston cleaned up the park, wiped the paint from the sky, and led everybody out through the gate. He didn’t know why, even though he knew everything else. Some afternoons just were like that, especially when the trees were dead and the sky was blank. At other times, not so much.
Peter Baltensperger is a Canadian writer of Swiss origin and the author of ten books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His latest book, Inside from the Outside: A Journey in Sudden Fiction, is being published by iUniverse Publishing in 2013. His work has appeared in print and on-line in several hundred publications around the world. Most recently, he has been published in such publications as The Big Book of Bizarro, Danse Macabre, The Medulla Review, Apocrypha and Abstractions, and Black Heart Magazine, among others. He makes his home in London, Canada with his wife Viki and their three cats.