It had been a day of both physical and social suffocation. I decided to go out and take a walk around the park, try to get some fresh air. I only asked out of politeness, but surprisingly, no-one else wanted to go with me. It was ‘far too cold’. Something of the same feeling must have been experienced by the larger majority of Barking, because when I ventured out, there was no-one to be seen. Snug inside my fake fur-lined Parka and black gloves, I thought to myself surely it wasn’t that cold?
In fact, I quite liked the slight touch of ice in the air and the way it stoked my breath into a plumed serpent. I watched this magical creature of the breath and mind dance before me as I paced around the block. It would extend itself and then disappear into the clouds, only to be born again and again, like a phoenix, never touching the ground, never speaking a word. Beginning as nothing and finally merging with infinity.
There was no ice on the ground and I was almost home in about thirty minutes, so the walk had been far too short. I decided to take a detour into the park.
There were in fact a few folks in the park. There was one guy walking a dog and then quite a few groups of Tamil families without children. They were all walking along the water which had also drawn me. It was covered in a sheet of ice. How strange it looked, this ice. It had fissures in it and resembled molten steel, or hand-made glass. It did not look a product of the frozen, but of the horribly heated. It put me in the mind of the waves of heat that float over the desert and, when breathed in too freely, conjure up strange mirages. I crouched down next to the water and put my foot, encased in a hiking boot, through the skin of it easily into the water. There was a sharp crack – like the breaking of a heart – and the Tamil family near me – two men and a woman with frizzy curls and acne scars – turned around sharply to stare at me and then gawp at the ice. I pulled my foot out and stood up sombrely. I immediately began to wonder why I had broken the ice. Why I hadn’t just let it be. Was there something uncomfortable about it?
It wasn’t just me that thought so. Although one goose braved the frozen sheet for his bread, the birds must have felt something of my feeling because they had carved an island of flowing water in the middle of the snowy desert. They were all camped out there.
I walked away from the place. I noticed that whereas before there had been a ledge in the water that one could walk upon, this had been fenced off with a black cast iron railing, one window wide, which stood at the entrance to the ledge. I looked down and someone had hammered away the beginning of the walk-way to the manless world of the water. One fine summer’s day, I had taken my eldest nephew out here very carefully, to talk to a splendid goose. He had enjoyed it very much and wouldn’t leave the ledge and his bird friend when I tried to pull him back onto the shore. It was sad how the world changed and yet our memories stayed the same.
I walked past a clump of trees to the side of the water and noticed a bright red envelope on the ground. It looked very strange against the black earth, behind it the unfriendly place with the floating island of the water amidst the snow desert. The red envelope on this Christmas day reminded me of the Scarlet Letter, of a red letter day. It bled into the ground silently, silently, vivid against the earth. Everyone had disappeared. Everyone was gone. The grey squirrels hid in the trees. I didn’t dare to stoop down and pick up the red envelope to look inside