“Is this seat taken?”
“It is now, love.” The man’s smile makes her think of the Big Bad Wolf.
“I mean, can I take it?” She inclines her head towards a vacant table, a table without chairs. Laughter bursts from a group of young people over by the lake. They’ve gathered a dozen or more chairs together and are now jostling for position around one small circular table. Fresh shouts and guffaws make her insides curl as she turns back to where her gloved hand is still on the back of the chair she needs and the man is staring at her.
“Thank you,” she murmurs as she makes to drag the chair away with her free hand.
The creepy man, yes, he is definitely creepy, leaps up and takes the tray holding her tea and slice of cake from her.
“Sit here with me,” he says and puts her tray on his table.
“No! Really, I’d rather be alone.”
“Please. I’m sorry. Stupid. First time out, you know, lockdowns, isolating, forgotten how to...you know. I just want to talk, that’s all, just talk,” he says.
She looks at him, her hand clutching the back of the tubular steel chair, her prop, her shield.
More carefree uninhibited laughter surges towards her like a wave; the man’s eyes, harpoons, twist her guts into anxious knots.
“I have to go,” she says. “I can’t do this.”
“Please,” he says. “Don’t go, I…”
She’s not listening. She has to get away. Reaching the gates of the park, she glances back. The young people are still laughing, faces unmasked, mouths stretched wide; the man’s head is bowed over his coffee cup.
Too soon, she thinks; too soon, for me.