The sign must be for people who love the park but she wonders if anyone loves it that much – Trees? Butterflies? Pond Dipping for Adults? And then she sees it, right down at the end, handwritten, as if tacked on as an afterthought: Moths for Beginners. She laughs aloud, suddenly and inappropriately so it sounds like a cross between a bark and a drunken snort. This alarms a child on the ground nearby, counting stones. Sorry, she says, but the child runs screaming to its mother whose glare is venomous above his tousled head.
She tries to explain, I was just… reading about the courses. One of them’s called…Her voice tails off.
This is what happens, she thinks, when you’re older and alone. You talk to strangers and they think you’re mad. She backs away. The afternoon is still liquid. She walks under trees dimpled with age and thinks about moths. Was there really so much to learn? Small, white, annoying…end of story. An old couple walk by hand in hand. The woman is slightly stooped. She looks up at her husband with leathered face and there is love there, and history. A sudden twist of pain. …
She plunges between rhododendrons. It’s cooler in there and dark. She’s breathing hard and there are prickles of sweat on her lip. For some reason she’s thinking of Candice Morgan who took up all kinds of weird hobbies when her husband died. Like abseiling. She kneels down in circles of shade and peers through branches into sunshine. She hopes her knees are not dirty and is reminded of her OCD – checking the oven, the plugs, waiting for “Thank you for shopping at Sainsbury’s” before she can walk away. She sees – the old couple, teenagers, the stones’ child with his mother. A dog noses close. A bird calls. The world spins on, merciless. If there is a god, she thinks, and on balance, there probably isn’t, given things like sudden death and painting by numbers, I would like him to make something happen…The thought becomes a whisper. Do something! Her vision blurs before she realises her cheeks are wet. Fists ball eye-lids like a child.
When all is calm she emerges, treading like a trespasser into frills of shade. The woodland is emptying, the families going, distant voices bounce between quiet trees. At the gate there is a group dressed in rain macs. At first she hardly sees them – grey haired, invisible – until with a burst of clarity she realises she’s just like them.
Charlotte! How are you? The woman lurching towards her is holding a clipboard and a torch. A strange feeling prickles at the base of her neck.
Gosh! It’s been years! Heard about your loss. Are you coping? We’re just off for a walk aren’t we Gerald? Come with? Candice Morgan has kind eyes despite a kind of plummy cheerfulness reminiscent of their school cloakroom. Not on your life, she thinks, eyeing the rather motley assortment before her. Too many head-scarves and walking sticks. One of them is wearing a tea cosy. She laughs suddenly and inappropriately, and says with false heartiness, A walk? Oh, that’s alright! I thought you might be Moths for Beginners or something!
Candice’s smile does not falter, We are! she says. Ears flush with shame. To her horror she can feel the eyes filling again. Gerald rattles his bag. She has a glimpse of Merlot and a wedge of cheese. Somewhere there is the clink of glasses. We don’t do it for the moths, he says.
She looks at the group and notices something – an expectation, an easiness.
“Come with us?”
There is a beat in which she declines and walks away, unlocks her bike, heads home. But, rewinding this decision, she has a revelation.
Moths might, after all, have more to offer than previously thought…