Ellie squirmed and pulled away. It was no use. Today, her mother was determined that the children would be dressed in their best, hair brushed, faces washed and shoes polished to a bright gleam.
“Don’t get any dirt on that dress before you get back here - and keep yer eye on Robert,” she yelled as Ellie and her little brother clattered down the stairs. “No climbing the trees or playing in the bushes. Not till after!”
Mr. Menzies, the blacksmith, was already in the park. Ellie watched him run his hands over the smooth black paint of the supports, then push a swing to and fro to check its movement. She smothered a giggle, picturing that roly poly man in his dark suit - swinging up and down, stretching his legs as he went higher and higher and then she blushed when he looked at her and she realised he knew exactly what she was thinking. But he only smiled.
“I wish I could, lassie,” he said. “I wish I could.”
Other people were streaming through the park gates. Not just children, but mothers too, drawn by the prospect of getting their picture in the newspaper. Soon they were all lined up, with Mr. Menzies in the middle, while the man from the paper adjusted his camera to get the best view.
It was hard to keep still on this bright spring morning, with the sun shining in their eyes, but they did their best not to fidget until at last the camera shutter clicked and they were released into freedom. While the photographer packed up his equipment, the children gathered in a circle, each one eager for a turn on the swings. Ellie sighed. She wasn’t allowed on the swings, not until she had changed into her old skirt and jumper.
But first, she went to visit one of her favourite places in the park. Taking hold of Robert’s hand, she led him across the grass to the little wood that ran alongside one of the walls, all the way from the gate at the top of the hill down to the bigger gate at the bottom. The wood was tiny, but it felt like a place filled with endless possibilities.
It was quiet and peaceful beneath the trees, now that all the other children were busy elsewhere.
“This is an oak,” she said to Robert, recognising its raggedy-edged leaves.
She laid her hand against its trunk, thinking about the life inside the tree, slowly waking from its winter sleep and rising up towards the sun.
“And this one is a hawthorn. Don’t touch!” she added quickly as her brother reached out towards the fresh green leaves that hid the sharp thorns from sight. “It’ll bite you!”
There were other trees she didn’t know. But the trees knew her, just as they knew all the children who came to this park to play. They felt the children’s arms wrapped around their branches, felt the quiver in the air as voices called out to each other and the tremor in the ground from the thud of running feet. The trees were old and they remembered it all.
Even now, at twilight, when the shadows lengthen and the last of the children straggle homewards, when spider webs glitter in the moonlight and the sea breeze sets the leaves rustling, the trees release their memories sending shadow shapes drifting out from the woodland to fill the park with their ghostly presence.
And in the daytime, if you listen very carefully, you might hear what the trees are saying to each other.
‘In Cuthill Park, the children play, some by night and some by day’.
This story was specially written by Annemarie Allan, to mark the official opening of the Woodland Learning Zone in Cuthill Park on Saturday 22 April 2017.