They were gradually gathering on their walk. Filing in from terraced houses with cracking bricks and climbing vines; they wander in a loose row with hardened hands touching sides. Glances are thrown to and fro. Silent nods and half smiles warm them up and instil a sense of knowing. This stroll is a comfort.
Now energised, jumping bodies feel nimble and a vaulting commences, a leap of faith over towering fences. Disturbed wood creaks when they come tumbling to the ground and make their way onto the field. Boots brush against cold stalks of grass and socks begin to dampen as they press forwards into the quiet night.
They wait in the middle of the field until someone points out that it is far too wet to consider settling here. Another complains of the wind and a third points to the lone bandstand.
The coveted spot stands abandoned at this witching hour.
As dark at it is, seeing the bandstand empty makes it somehow darker.
Moving again, a few racing, they rush and fumble to huddle together in their new hideaway. No actual band has played here for years and instead it’s known as a cultural symbol. It’s used for reference: “Shall we meet next to the bandstand?”
A rally point.
Legs cross over knees as the smell of salt and vinegar wafts up from foil bags split open. Rustling goes round in a circle as the bag is passed from friend to friend, a picture of communism. Laughter spikes; a cackling from bad jokes, and the slurps of licked fingers; the removal of sticky salt stuck on digits, echo. Cigarette stubs are littered around on the dirty wooden flooring but are brushed away after one figure proudly announces her ownership of a large blanket, ready to be spread.
A couple of leftover stragglers turn up and squeeze themselves into quickly made spaces, and all friends are now settled into their own places.
A great clap ricochets across the night sky, causing huddling bodies to jump and squeal like startled pigs. They tightly clutch each other’s hands as white lightning follows; its crack illuminating the massive trees around the park. They look like giant bunches of broccoli, their tree-ness blacked out and only an outline apparent.
One form is now not sitting but standing, heroically, and begins to move outside the shelter and into the pouring rain. He shouts, “I am Thor, God of Thunder!” and raises his mighty fist to the open-air, yelling undetectable into the ether. He cowers as a rumble roars once again. His friends beckon for him to run to safety, to them. He returns, dripping.
As the sky clears, moods lift. No longer needing to shout across the loud weather, the group simmers. At the appropriate moment, a clink of bottles emerges from a bag for life; these are not passed out sharingly but hoarded by the carrier until money is exchanged. And then, probably too quickly, liquid pours down throats and the group grows louder once again, screeching and screeching.
A moped appears from thin air, following from a slurred conversation and an illicit order. It zigzags on the grass, slipping and sliding as the wetness and tires mixing together creates mudded art. The rider turns in circles, showing off to the gaggle of bodies watching in amazement. A recording takes place, words of awe can be heard in the clip’s background as the zags turn into shapes, distinct in messy dark colour against green.
Slowing to a stop, the rider hops off the bike and goes to the foot of stairs. A party member leaps up to meet him, exchanging papers for plants and scurrying back to the onlooking crowd.
Materials acquired; the rolling of sheets can begin. But at first, they do it wrong and have to start again. One proudly announces that they have done it before, long ago, and so takes the lead, messing up like the others, fingers not quick enough to avoid the escaping contents from drifting dreamlike to the floor.
Click, click and sparks fly. Herbal smoke stuffs itself up noses and a smaller figure splutters as she passes the joint around the circle. They’re sleepier now, laughs deeper and forms languid.
An adoring couple strolls near, her head resting on his shoulder as they walk, giggling and reminiscent. The group longingly watch them, releasing a collective sigh to the sky.
They linger a little too long, the smoke has dispersed, and the air is once again clear and sweet. Morning dew is visible on flowers, and a midnight blue watches from above. Soft voices carry in this morning time and limbs begin to untangle with whispered unease.
Swiftly, bottles are gathered, and rubbish collected. The picnic blanket is folded carefully, and coats are buttoned up tight. Standing silently, as gradually as they begun, they gradually disperse.
The first hops down the stairs, a childlike action at odds with the long form which now bounces. A twizzling turn and awkward bow signal their departure and they walk off alone.
A second leaves more gracefully, floating down from the bandstand with a quick wave of a hand. They too, leave alone.
The third to go makes a show of it, leaping over the stand’s railings and landing with a hardy thud on the concrete ground. They don’t see him walk off; trees offer coverage and create shadow enough to simulate disappearing trickery, and so it is like with magic that he goes into the early light.
The remaining assembly chatter amongst themselves for a while, unwilling to let loose. They move as one and leave the park unlike how they found it; through open gates, maintaining a respectability that suits their age. They too, should say goodbye, but it is far easier to pretend that they will see one another again, and so they don’t.
Originally from Norwich, Suzannah Ball now lives and writes in London. She currently works as a Literary Assistant at a Leading Talent Agency and her writing has been featured on A Younger Theatre and Lucy Writers Platform.
Find her on Twitter @ballsuzannah and Instagram @suzannahball.