The Woman in the Park

May 19, 2010 at 12:15 am | Posted in Philosophy, Writing and Life | Leave a comment
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An exercise in observation and characterisation

It’s hard to tell how old she is. The extra weight she carries blurs her freckled features. Her long blonde hair, tied tightly back in a ponytail, could belong to anyone between twelve and fifty but I’d say she’s in her late thirties. Her backside fills up the large, three-quarter length fawn cotton pants, but they hang loosely over her legs. A filmy over-blouse of indeterminate colour and pattern leaves half her back and her shoulders bare. It’s not a good look. Rolls of fat overhang her bra at the back, and when she turns around, I can see three distinct rings of loose flesh, at bosom, midriff and above her thighs. Green rubber thongs on chubby feet complete the picture.

She’s been cooking sausages on the park’s barbecue, and the smoke and smell from their burning waft to me in the breeze. Fortunately, I’ve not long eaten, so they don’t stimulate my gastric juices. She takes the cooked meat to the nearby picnic table and makes a sandwich. Sitting on the bench, she leans forward, elbows on thighs, and takes large bites, seeming to be completely focussed on her meal.

Several children come and go from the table, helping themselves to sausages, bread and drinks, but she doesn’t acknowledge them. She’s facing the toilet block, rather than the slope down to the glittering blue water, so she doesn’t see the shining white sails on the lake, or the distant forested shore. This may as well be a token park in the city, surrounded by high-rises. An occasional glance across the park is simply a perfunctory check-up on where the kids are. There’s no obvious appreciation of her surroundings. The shrill cries of the rosellas and rainbow lorikeets make no impression. The intermittent passage of vehicles on the road behind us is ignored. The voices of other family groups, and the squeals of playing children do not appear to impinge upon her consciousness.

The sausage sandwich devoured, she licks her chubby, red-nailed fingers, then wipes them on her pants. Three young girls now sit chatting at the table. All three are slender, two with fair hair. One resembles her; probably her daughter. She hasn’t inherited her mother’s obesity – not yet anyway. The woman has a friend there too; a chunky woman with an auburn ponytail. I hadn’t seen her behind the tree. They haven’t interacted much; a brief remark now, and a snort. They’ve probably known each other for a long time.

Her daughter wants something. The woman stands and rummages in her bag, an unlit cigarette hanging from her lips. A boy of about seven wanders over. The voice that asks why his shoes are all wet sounds like it doesn’t very often utter gentle words. One of the girls says something and they all laugh. It’s the first time the woman’s face has relaxed its severe look, and I see that she’s not unattractive. How often a smile allows the softer side of a personality to shine through! Her nose, above a wide mouth, catches my attention. It is rather long and narrow, her sharpest feature, and it stands out from her chubby face in more than just a physical way. As she leaves the table, chin raised, her nose seems to point the way towards the parking lot, cleaving the air before her – I can almost see the bow wave.

I wonder when she lost the slim figure she must once have had. Did the birth of her children start the slide towards obesity? Or was it, as it is so often, a life of unfulfilled expectations, disappointed hopes and shattered dreams? Perhaps a breakdown in her relationship with the father of her children. Where was he/ What had he once seen in her? Had his dreams of a perfect marriage and family died before or after hers?

Whatever the cause of it, her whole bearing, as well as her severe expression and taciturn utterances, speak of an abiding unhappiness, as if life has defeated her. How sad that the warmth of the sun, the blueness of the sky and the water, and the softness of the breeze cannot awaken in her the joy of simply being alive.

© Linda Visman

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