In Summer 2020 I was commissioned by Lucy Turnell, a PhD student at the University of Leeds, to write two flash fiction pieces on themes of sustainability. The project was being supervised by Christopher Hassall, and the aim was to find out whether participants were more able to absorb information about sustainability when it was delivered via fiction, than by factual writing.
Here is one of the pieces, titled We Own Where We Live.
We Own Where We Live
“Kevin, come away from there.” Colin was just inside the park gates: his dog was sniffing around a single ladies’ glove on the path, black, and if he didn’t get it away from her, she would try to eat it. “Come away,” he said.
He managed to distract her with a large stick, picked up the glove, put it on top of the fence, where there were already eight single gloves missing their pair.
Colin had lived around here a long time. He’d gone to primary school down the hill, then when he’d left school, he’d worked in the factory at the top. There had been a lot of change in forty years. This park had once been a bit of waste ground covered in broken glass, old mattresses, until volunteers and workers from the council had started planting trees. It was one of many old industrial sites that had been transformed from concrete and chemical to a green space bursting with life across the city, and the people who lived here loved it. There were paths of woodchip, benches, a little play area for the children. It even had a fence made out of thick wooden slats. It felt good. It felt solid. It felt as though it wasn’t going anywhere.
“Good morning, sir.” The lady in the park was here again.
“Morning.” She was here once a week, perched on the picnic bench, wearing a black fleece, and a hat of red green and gold. Long braids ran over her shoulders and back. She looked freezing. “Don’t they give you a flask?”
Yvonne was a local councillor, and she sat here every week, rain or shine. He had never felt sorry for somebody important before. She ought to be sitting inside, he thought, in an office.
“I only live over there.” She pointed to a street on the other side.
Last week, Colin had been finishing his application to go to University, and he’d seen Vera from next door out here, working. Planting a sapling in a hole in the very spot where, for years, there had been a pile of old tyres. Vera had a Yorkshire Terrier, and at times looked so tiny and frail it seemed the dog might overpower her. But out there, shaking the tree’s roots loose, she’d looked a lot stronger than he’d given her credit for.
“What do you think about the transport round here,” Yvonne said. “The buses and cycle paths?”
He let Kevin off the lead, her fur thick and black beneath his hands. She was a cockapoo, supposedly calm, but she liked to chase a squirrel as much as the next dog. When he looked up he saw Yvonne trying to hand him a leaflet. “We need local people like you in the citizen’s assembly.”
The dog plunged headlong into the little pool, then swam around, terrifying the local wildlife. “A cycle path wouldn’t be any use to me. I can’t ride a bike. But, I wouldn’t mind being able to take the dog on the bus. When I start uni I’ll need to take her to my sister’s, but the buses only go once an hour, then I’d need to get another bus from there back to town, so that’d make it a trip of two hours before I’ve even started. It’d cost about £8 a day.”
“What if the buses were cheaper?”
The dog got out, ran over, shook herself all over them both. “Sorry. I’ve only just got her,” he said. “Free would be better. At the most a quid, and they should go every ten minutes, not every half hour, alld day and all night.” The dog had got hold of another glove, a pink one. He took it off her. Sopping wet in his hands. “At the moment if you stay out anywhere after seven, you need to get a taxi, or wait around at the bus stop for ages, which isn’t great in the dark in winter.”
“More and cheaper buses are great for the environment,” she said. “So are shared paths for cycling and walking.”
“I like the sound of that,” he said.
Yvonne gestured at the wooden fence posts, at the flower garden and woodchip paths. In the little playground, two little children in rainbow macs giggled on the see-saw. “You should come along to the citizen’s assembly,” she said.
Kevin, capering madly, had seen something she liked the look of in the new copse of trees. The trees had only been here a week or so, and already there was life in them. Colin saw the flash of a squirrel’s tail as it hopped across the grass. “Yes,” he said. He took the leaflet, and went after the dog. “Yes, I’ll come.”