This story is by Nick Muldoon and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As I walk through the park on a beautiful sunny day, the sounds of people getting some well-deserved fresh air play alongside the noises of strained breathing from my pug, Winston. He has stopped smelling a tree and runs up to me panting. He lets out his signature grumble “Hhhhrrrmmmmmppppfff.” I listen to him, but I am still not sure what he means. You learn a lot about the personality of dogs when you spend more time with them. It’s not frustration, of that I am almost certain, but it does seem as if he is telling me I am walking too fast. Maybe I should slow down and take in the trees that he loves to smell.
I listen to his advice and take in the surroundings. The earthly green against the bright blue sky is a welcome change from all the grey that that has a firm grasp on the world lately. Watching parents walk with their kids smiling, ignoring the ominous warning tape that is wrapped around the playground behind them. Friends sit on the grass talking however they seem to sit a little further away from each other and one wears a mask.
Covid 19 will be a word that will scar us for a long time to come. There is no glamour like the struggles of old. Just grey and isolation. Fear of an invisible horror that people still don’t truly understand. Or believe.
Bombarded by fear and so much information it is hard to know what is real, I have taken to tuning out and focusing on the positives. Fear sells newspapers and while it is important to stay informed learning of ‘Horrific Mass Graves’, ‘Covid Hotspots’ and ‘Terror at Hotels’ is just unnecessary energy. I do well to tune out and focus on the green and the blue and just to enjoy the feel of the warm sun on my skin.
Current restrictions state that you are only allowed out for an hour of exercise a day. For many years my constant struggle of trying to motivate myself to go to the gym has paid off and now has been my saviour. Whereas in the past I would use any excuse to not go, now I use any excuse to get out and get some exercise in the park. What I would give for a bench press. I know there is irony here. I can feel it.
I continue to walk in the sun, The sun’s rays power my soul and I feel the grey that hovers over me losing energy. The dark shadow that seems to follow me during the winter has started to lag behind me as I find a quiet spot to do some exercise. My four-legged friend can’t hide his excitement and waddles off to the trees and enjoys some more scents as he leaves me.
It is through this simple routine of getting out, seeing some sun, spending some time with Winston and getting some exercise that I truly feel powerful. The grey tries to hang on as I feel its claws continuously try and latch to my skin. However, the dark mist that has surrounded me seems powerless and releases its poisonous grip on me, I feel it leave and with that I start to do some exercise.
I remember that I used to feel self-conscious doing exercise in a public space as people walk past and notice me. Stepping up onto the park bench then stepping down and repeating. I would have felt silly and I would’ve stopped in the past, but this is my routine. This is my highlight and this is what makes me feel powerful. Their thoughts don’t bother me anymore. I take a moment of their conscious thought and then they just move on with their life. I see that now. They may think something. They are welcome to. Its none of my business really. Even if I look silly stepping up and down on a park bench.
Moving onto the next exercise, i begin some lunges as I am joined again by Winston who sits against a tree, closes his eyes and enjoys the sun. He watches over me from time to time but now he is taking in the warmth and it makes me smile. I can hear him panting over my own deep breaths as I work hard to get the most out of each movement. Legs burning, I focus on keeping my back straight as I lunge forward, slowly lift myself up then repeat.
My arms burn, my legs feel as thick as tree trunks and there is a soft tingle in my core as i now struggle through the final push up. My arms shaking and on fire, i lift my body off the ground for a final time then allow myself to fall to the grass. I roll over and smile as I now smell the trees as the sun’s rays power me. The grey mist has long dissipated into the wind and I feel a powerful happy glow. The mist will find a time to return but for now I am free. Closing my eyes, I listen to the wind as it blows through the grass and rustles the leaves of the giant eucalyptus tree next to me. Winston then sees an opportunity, walks over and sits against me laying on the grass, his panting looks like a smile as he seems to congratulate me.
The park had energised me. The exercise made me feel powerful. Limitless.
I lay on the grass and ask what I can do with this newfound confidence. I think about how a friend of mine always seems to be able to make friends wherever they go. I have seen their work in progress. It’s incredible. I don’t know why the thought comes across my mind. Maybe because I see their confidence and i now feel that same confidence. It is a work of art. Half flirting, half friendly, men, women, old, young. I marvel at their ability to literally talk to anyone and with the feeling of strength that I now have, I quietly make a goal to smile more and try and say hello to someone. It is a weird, dark time so what is a flirty hello to make someone’s day. Nothing creepy just a genuine smile.
I roll over and get up, signalling to Winston that we are leaving and with his signature grumble he starts to follow me. The pitter patter of his paws on the footpath follows behind me. I smile at the sound and then I am shocked as staring straight at me, matching my smile is a very attractive brunette. In a case like this I would normally look away being shy, but I felt my confidence shine even brighter and continued to smile and even nod my head slightly.
My heart then starts to beat faster when she raises her hand and cheekily waves at me. I am shocked. I get nervous for a second but then feeling my energy also wave my hand and cheekily wave back. It is then my heart stops as her smile vanishes almost instantly. Confused I slowly lower my hand that for some reason is still lingering in the air. The brunette’s face stares at me for a slight second then smiles again and says something. I can’t hear the words, but I read their lips as they point “Behind you.”
I turn around and see the source of the brunette’s smile. Their friend also smiling, and dread fills me. “Dammit!” However, something happens. Something that hasn’t happened for a while. Instead of being embarrassed, I laugh, I embrace it. The person who I was eying was actually waving to their friend and I was caught in the waving-smiling crossfire thinking I was the subject of their smiling. I wasn’t before as but I am now as they both laugh. I shake my head, but I am still smiling and wave goodbye cheekily as I continue to walk. That was probably the worst thing that could happen, and you know what, it wasn’t that bad. At least I tried. I stare down at the pug who seems to have seen the whole thing and he grumbles at me.
“I know Winston,” I laugh, “I know, my good deed is done.”