by Gill James
Veronica's heart sank as she turned into the park. Greg was already sitting at one of the cafe tables. Samson was peacefully lying at his feet. This didn't make sense. Samson was such a healthy looking King Charles yet he couldn't be getting enough exercise with Greg. Greg could hardly walk twenty metres without breaking out in sweat and getting out of breath. Whereas Bella, supposedly a working dog, a Labrador, was really overweight even though Veronica walked her at least twice a day, two miles minimum at a time. Somebody had once told her that it was because she was chocolate brown. "They're prone to being overweight, the brown ones," the woman at the bus stop had said. That had sounded daft but it was all Veronica could think of now.
And then she was reminded of why that might be. Two young lads were sitting at another table. They were eating donuts and drinking something fizzy and bright green. Bella charged towards them almost dragging Veronica over.
"Sorry," she said to the lads. "She likes her food this one. She thinks everything's for her. Come on you."
The lads just giggled.
She pulled at Bella's lead and, as slowly as she dared, made her way over to where Greg was sitting.
"I thought I was late," she said. That had been the intention. Get there after everybody else so that there was no chance of her and Greg being alone together. Had everybody else had the same thought?
"How's my girl today, then?" asked Greg.
Veronica wasn't sure wasn't whether he meant her or Bella. "After everybody's food, as usual," she replied, just to be completely clear.
Greg lent forward and tickled Bella's head. "There sweetheart. You can have a bit of my carrot cake when it comes."
He'd been ordering carrot cake? Really? He ought to know better. "You've ordered already?
"Just mine. I told Norman you'd all be along soon. He said he'd come back out in ten minutes."
Veronica was relieved to see a figure with spiky blond hair appear at the bottom gate. Mo. Thank goodness. And typical. There she was racing Barney, her miniature Cockapoo, up the slope. They certainly proved that owners looked like their dogs. Barney was just as energetic as his mistress and the hair stuck up on his head the same way that hers did.
"Hi folks," she called out as she carried on jogging on the spot. She took a ball out of her pocket and threw it across the grass. "Go, boy." She turned to look at Bella. "Not going to join in, old gal?" She poked Greg in the ribs. "Or you? It would do you good, mate."
That was one of the things that Veronica liked about Mo; she was always willing to say what was on her mind.
At that precise moment Norman appeared with a large mug of latte and a slice of carrot cake.
"You ought to have asked for four forks with that, mate," said Mo.
"Yeah, but you know. They do good cakes here."
"So, the usual?" asked Norman.
"Yes, please," said Mo. She nodded towards the top gate. "And here comes Sue. So yeah, one white coffee, one black and a pot of Earl Grey."
"Any more cakes?"
Veronica and Mo shook their heads.
Mo looked thoughtfully at the grass where Barney was playing. "You know, they still won't let us run the Tai Chi classes inside. Not until after the next announcement, at least. But I reckon we could do it out here. The gurus always say anyway you should do Tai Chi in nature. What do you think?"
"Won't people feel daft with everybody looking at them?" said Greg.
"So that just shows what you know about Tai Chi." Mo poked him in the ribs again. "You really should give it a go."
"You've exhausted him, poor little mite," said Greg. "You've got to remember, he's only got little legs." He bent down to fuss the little dog. "How are you then, my little sausage?"
"I know," said Sue. I've been rushing round today. I went in and paid my electric bill and then I checked my bank account." She grinned. "I'm really pleased how much I've managed to save during this lockdown.
Mo rolled her eyes. "Why don't you do direct debits and use online banking like everybody else? Go on. Live a little. Look at young Greg here. Carrot cake and all."
Sue sniffed. "I just like to know what's what, thank you."
"You mum isn't half a worrier, isn't she?" Mo bent down to tickle Charlie's head. "Go on. Let him off his lead and he can play with Barney.
Sue frowned and tutted. "Alright then. But don't get them too excited. They could get exhausted with this heat."
Sue let Charlie off his lead and Mo lobbed the ball across the grass again. "Go on you chaps. See who gets it first." The Cockapoo and the Dachshund charged after the ball.
What a funny lot they all were. Mo wasn't half bossy. But she had a point; Sue did worry too much. She was right about Greg, too. He really ought to try to lose some weight. She knew she wasn't perfect either. Scared all the time. Not worried like Sue. Scared of being alone. Thank goodness Mo couldn't see that.
She watched as Mo and Sue moved forward and Charlie or Barney rushed back to them with the ball. The owner of whichever dog had the prize would throw the ball across the grass and the two dogs would pound after it again. The two women were clearly talking about something, maybe even arguing - that would be normal for those two- but she couldn't hear what they were saying now.
Greg nudged her. "Stop daydreaming, you," he said. "They are a pair, in't they? Now what about this for an idea. Why don't you and me come here in the afternoons? We can have a nice chat and a bit of cake and a brew without having to put up with them two gasbags. What do you say?"
"Oh, I don't know, Greg. I've got other commitments most afternoons." That was a lie. But what else could she do?
"Come on. Surely not every afternoon? You know Bella needs a bit more exercise." He rubbed his tummy. "So do I. Go on, give it a go."
Was he asking her on a date? Oh heck. Now, she didn't want to be alone, but she didn't really want to be with Greg. She certainly didn't want to be alone with him.
Why wouldn't Norman hurry up with the drinks? Why didn't Mo and Sue come back to the table?
She felt a weight literally move from her chest as she saw Sue nod and the two women and the now tired dogs made their way back to the cafe.
"Go on drink up," said Mo to Greg. "You don't want to let it get cold. And you enjoy that slice of cake. Don't let the flies get on it. Now, where's Norman with our brew?"
Greg went to say something but then it suddenly sounded as if a lot of people were shouting. Veronica and her friends looked alternately to both entrances to the park but they couldn't see who was making the noise. Bella and Samson got up on to their feet. Bella whined softly and Samson gave a gruff little bark. Barney perked his ears upwards. Charlie growled quietly. The lads with the donuts and fizzy drinks sat with their mouths open.
The men who were operating the remote control boats stopped what they were doing and the boats floated idly in the middle of the lake.
Norman stood in the doorway of the cafe, a tray of hot drinks in his hands.
All the other customers had now stopped drinking and talking and were looking at the sky.
It wasn't a group of rowdy humans invading the park. It was a flock of geese flying over them.
Veronica counted fifteen. They were honking and occasionally flapping their wings but mainly concentrating on flying in the well-known V formation. What was all that noise about? What did it mean? Were they discussing whether this was a good place to rest? Were they working out the tactics for how they were going to land?
She'd read somewhere that if one of the geese becomes ill when they're travelling, two others would stop with them it until they could fly again. And also that one goose leads the others but that when it gets tired it will drop back and another will take over. How would they decide which one? But however it happened, this was a spectacular sight.
"Just like an aeroplane," whispered Mo.
The honking now became more furious.
The lead goose spurted forward and flew up a little higher. The others followed. The sound diminished as they now flew away from the lake. Then it grew louder as they approached it again. They came in quite close this time but then the lead goose surged forwards and upwards again, but this time not quite as high as the last time.
"Aborted landing," said Greg. "Third time lucky?"
They cleared the lake again, this time honking even more furiously. Whatever were they talking about?
And then they started descending rapidly.
Smoothly and quietly, they landed on the lake. Veronica remembered to breathe again. All four dogs were up on their feet, wagging their tails and barking quietly as if they were congratulating the geese on landing well and choosing a favourable spot. The other customers in the cafe resumed their eating, drinking and chatting. Norman was now making his way over to them with their drinks.
"What a sight. They don't need to worry about anything, do they? It always works out all right for them doesn't it?" said Sue
"They're so well organised, aren't they?" said Mo. "And nobody has to boss them about. They just get on with it."
Norman was now at their table. "I hope these will be all right. Only I got distracted by them geese. Give us a shout if they're too cold and I'll bring you some more."
"Don't worry, Norman," said Veronica. "Most of the time we've got so much to say that the drinks are cold by the time we get round to drinking them anyway. They were beautiful, weren't they?"
"Do you think you could bring us three more forks so that my good friends here can share my cake?" said Greg.
Norman bowed slightly. "At your service, sir."
Veronica gazed again at the geese, now feeding contentedly in the lake. She was no longer afraid of being alone.
About the author
Gill James is published by, amongst others, Tabby Cat Press,
The Red Telephone, Butterfly, The Professional and Higher Partnership and
Continuum. She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Salford University.She edits CafeLit.She has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative
and Critical Writing