Neither Love Nor Purpose
Adam Carlisle sat on a marble bench – designed more for grinding skateboards than anything else – and watched the green opposite.
Two large, square patches of stubblegrass. A long green rectangle with a gray concrete path bisecting it. Incongruous walls bordered the rectangle on each long side, broken by the path. At either end the green was dominated by the exposed faces of tall buildings.
It knew neither love nor purpose. Years ago it had been a grand old department store, resting tired and benign at the arse-end of Southerton centre. For a decade the old gray store had been disused and due for destruction.
One curious feature of the building had been a corridor that ran through the middle of it, a cut-through from the neighbouring park onto the plaza where Carlisle now sat. When the big yellow diggers moved in and boards went up, Carlisle had been hired to investigate the disappearance of a group of young people there some years before.
One moment they had been walking through the cut-through; the next they were gone. The investigation was long-dead when Carlisle was hired by one of their parents, upset by the sudden bursting to life of long dormant council plans for the space.
Carlisle never found any sign of them, but he always suspected that wasn’t the point of hiring him. He believed he’d been employed as an agent of closure; one final display of tribute before saying goodbye.
It was the most depressing case he’d ever had. It haunted him.
The idea that somebody could vanish into thin air. That the place where you were last seen could then be wiped from the earth. If the last place you were known to exist ceased to exist, he felt that must mean something profound. Like the fact of that place anchored your memory here somehow, and without it you’d float away.
Carlisle knew that he always got maudlin when he sat here and meditated on the green, but it was too close to his office and it was easy to linger here. Visiting the site of past frustrations was like picking a scab for him, and he found himself sitting here for a few minutes most days.
Sometimes he wondered how he must look, sitting here where nobody ever sat by choice, staring at a green that nobody else seemed to register. Behind him, Southerton Civic Centre stood proud. On the other side of the green the city parks stretched out, well kept and busy.
By contrast even pigeons declined to land on the dull grass as he watched. People used the path to cross at busy times, but right now there was nobody around and nothing to be seen. Green, gray, green, and not a scrap of litter to decorate it.
He realised that he’d been sitting here a while longer than usual. The city clock-tower protruded from the council buildings behind him, so Carlisle half-turned and craned his neck to check the time, slumped back around. Five more minutes and he should get back to the office.
A pair of boots stood in the middle of the leftmost patch of grass, breaking the monotony. Well, not that effectively, he supposed. They were still green. They were just a darker shade than the washed out flatness around them.
Carlisle didn’t understand how clothes ended up divorced from their owners in such public places. Spotting a child’s trainer or an adult’s pair of tracksuit bottoms in the wild seemed a weekly occurrence in a city like this, which baffled Carlisle who had always been one of those people who liked to keep track of his clothes at all times.
Worse, it always reminded him a little too much of the charred remains he had seen in photos of victims of spontaneous human combustion. For a few years during his childhood Carlisle had been terrified that the instant he was unobserved by another person he would burst into sudden consuming flames.
But seeing discarded shoes wasn’t rare.
Still, those boots unsettled him, and not knowing why that might be perturbed him.
He looked around, and couldn’t see anyone heading away from the green who might have left them. And now he couldn’t remember whether they’d been there before. He certainly hadn’t noticed them before checking the time, but that didn’t mean much. It was not impossible, considering how he felt about this place, that he might have missed them.
“It’s just a pair of boots, you idiot.” He snapped, in a huff with himself, and stood up abruptly, ready to leave this empty place.
An instant later he was startled by a loud scrape close behind him as a kid ground his skateboard across the spine of the bench.
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