The Park Keeper
by Joy-Amy Wigman.
Joy-Amy is a mature student who has just finished her first year of the Creative Writing Degree. She is an award winning slam poet and runs a monthly comedy night in Cheltenham called Lemon Rocket for which she often MCs.
The Park Keeper
I stared at the polar bear and the polar bear stared back at me.
“You are not wrong Gerald,” I said to him.
The mess had started three weeks previous. It must have been about then because I remember I wanted to get home in time for the Bake Off final. “The Missus” has a thing for that Noel Feilding and there’s no chance she’d wait for me to get home before she tucked in. I was doing my last sweep of the park, grabbing the usual bits of detritus with my litter picker (it’s a Streetmaster Pro – the council don’t mess about when it comes to park maintenance). I tend to leave the really nasty stuff to the end of my shift. The half-chewed hotdogs and used condoms you can do with the Streetmaster, but dog poo must be done with a glove and a well-toned gag reflex. I had just dropped a luminous yellow Durex in to the bin bag when this yappy little twat of a dog ran out in front of me, looked me right in the eye and dropped a ginormous turd right by my boot. It was steaming like my Nan’s apple crumple. I almost punted the git across the grass but before I could do anything this bloody great portal appeared. You know what I mean? Stargate, Rick and Morty, Adele’s gob when she starts singing? A proper, snot green, sci-fi portal. And if that weren’t enough, this massive, white claw came out of it, snatched the dog and pulled it through. Well bugger me with a fish fork if I didn’t laugh myself stupid.
Even missed the start of the Bake-Off. Letty only had eyes for Noel by the time I got home and didn’t want to hear about any dog snatching portals. Now you may think the sight of a portal in my park might be enough to give a man like me pause to contemplate. Not me though. I’ve seen Derren Brown live.
It was the next day that things began to escalate. I normally get to work at about 7.30am, make myself a cuppa in the maintenance shed and write myself a to do list. I like a list, it brings a bit of satisfaction to a task. Cut the grass (Tick!), check the bushes for needles (Tick!), call the school about the kids playing hooky by the picnic tables (Tick!). When I got to the park that morning though, I knew I was going to have a problem with my first task. Mainly because it’s hard to cut grass when you can’t actually see it. What should have been slightly overgrown clumps of May greenery was covered in a dense layer of snow. I had walked to work in the late spring sunshine and arrived to work in Santa’s bloody grotto. The kids didn’t seem to mind though, snowball fights and icy penis sculptures kept them amused until the deputy head showed up to march them back to school.
The snow showed no sign of pissing off any time soon either. Eventually people just got used to the idea that the park was full of snow and went back to walking their dogs and riding their bikes (though I’ll admit there were fewer used condoms to deal with).
I’ve been in this job for donkeys’ years. I have seen people walking all kinds of animals in that park over time. We’ve had cats on leads, micropigs in little welly boots (I blame veganism) and we even had a parrot once (perched on some bloke’s shoulder like a bloody pirate it was). The penguins, however, were a bit of a shock. They were huddled together by the Dorothy Barnes Memorial fountain. It’s hard to describe the noise that penguins make. I suppose it’s sort of a “meep” sound. There was a lot of “meeping” going on and one of my jobs is to make sure that pets are not left unattended (not since the incident with the Mastiff-Chihuahua cross). So over I went to investigate.
I was about two meters away when one of them turned his raisin eyes to me and said,
“Excuse me dear chap but do you know whether this fountain is salt-water or fresh?”
Well you could’ve blown down with a feather.
“Erm…Did you just speak English?” I asked.
“Indeed, I did.”
I scratched my head. “Penguins don’t normally speak English on the telly,” I said.
The penguins laughed.
“Why would we old boy? Not many people speak English in the Antarctic.”
He was right of course. I told him that the fountain was fresh-water but I had some bags of salt in the shed from when we had the last snow and I could chuck that in for them. They seemed happy enough with that. They even gave me a tip. I mean, it was a fish but it’s the thought the counts and it was lovely with a side of mushy peas.
On the Wednesday is was Leopard Seals. Friday it was an Albatross called Indira. The animals kept coming. Arctic and Antarctic alike. On Saturday it was these weird badger things with massive teeth that said they were wolverines but didn’t look a bit like Hugh Jackman.
I think that’s when people started avoiding the park altogether. It was lovely. No crisp packets to pick up, no dog poo (the new residents seemed very good at cleaning up after themselves) and the thing with the pointy horn that was now living in the lake made up extremely amusing haikus.
You really have no concept of just how large a polar bear is until it interrupts you taking a piss behind a shed. (He apologised but it was like having Idris Elba apologise to you and what you want to say is “Not at all Mr Elba sir, can I get you anything sir, please don’t hurt me”). The polar bear introduced himself and asked if I was in charge here. I said that I supposed I was and hastily zipped up my overalls.
“We are taking this park,” he said. “We have become increasingly concerned by watching our homes shrink and melt and we are almost certain that your species is to blame.”
I didn’t argue with him because his teeth are bigger than mine. He let out a deep sigh.
“Life is hard, Park Man. Even bears need a holiday from time to time.”
stared at the polar bear and the polar bear stared back at me.
“You are not wrong Gerald,” I said to him. “My park is your park mate.”
Gerald extended a paw for me to shake and as I did, I asked if he’d be so kind as to not eat the penguins as they are excellent tippers. He said he could manage that. Although he was looking forward to sampling some more of the yappy little snacks I sent him.