As evening fell, Irene sped home; taking the route through the park only because it was quicker, more direct. The relentless drumroll of her heels kept time with the pounding in her head, only faltering when she kicked at stones, swiped at debris on the path. She didn’t hear the shouts of children in the playground, didn’t see the boy pedalling towards her, or the McDonald’s takeaway bag swinging from his handlebar. She barely registered his anguished cry, or the sound of metal scraping on tarmac, didn’t connect it at all with the small pebble she’d viciously struck out of the way.
Irene didn’t turn to see the boy on his knees, desperately trying to reassemble pieces of burger and place them back in their polystyrene trays. It was another person’s kindness that brought the hot embarrassed tears to his eyes as he finally sat back, acknowledging that he’d never be able to brush the dirt and grit from the fries lying scattered across the path.
At the other side of the park, there were crowds of people leaving the cricket ground. Old men shuffled past, trying to bring life and movement back to arthritic legs that had sat still for too long. Irene increased her pace; she didn’t want to get caught up amongst them. As she whirled past she didn’t see the couple trying to move out of her way; the grey-haired lady juggling a picnic blanket and a cushion, the elderly man leaning heavily on a walking-stick. Irene didn’t hear the woman’s sharp intake of breath as her husband’s stick caught in a small pot-hole, didn’t see the panic cross that frail lady’s face at the thought of another fractured hip, more weeks in hospital, slow, painful healing and the struggle to walk again.
It wasn’t Irene who rushed to check if the old man was alright. She didn’t hear his faltering insistence that he was still in one piece, that he should have looked where he was going. She didn’t see the gentle care with which two equally aged men helped him back to his feet, nor the kind arm of reassurance one of them offered to the trembling wife.
As Irene headed away from the centre of town, it became quieter. She came to a place where there were no people, no birds in the trees, only dead leaves and litter blowing along the street. As she neared the house her pace slowed; ahead of her was the one silence she couldn’t control. In the now-empty rooms, only the walls would echo her strident views, and only the mirrors would see her frown.
The key in her hand felt cold and heavy, the door resisted her tired push. Irene sank down on the step. Her storm was spent.