From the age of eleven to my mid-twenties, I jogged almost every day, and often in parks. When I was younger my mum used to follow me on a ten-speed bike. As I grew older, I would run on my own. Running was my biggest solace, and my way of staying sane. I was lucky to live near a creek and parklands, and in these surrounds, each step was meditative.
Girls should feel safe in parks. Girls have the right to be in parks without being in fear of their life. As I teenager I had fear, but I refused to let it beat me. I deserved to be there; I didn’t want to alter my behaviour. I’m so angry this week, that I should just shut up and let my fiction do the talking.
Here’s an excerpt from my work in progress, The Gaps.
Chloe ran with Arnold up Renfrew Street, past the mini-mart, the servo, the medical clinic, the tattoo parlor and the new age shop where she worked on the weekends. Most places were preparing to close at 6. The owner of The Crystal Circle, Angie, knelt in the front window with a feather duster. She waved it at the familiar sight of Chloe being dragged along by the terrier. Chloe waved back but didn’t stop; she never went into the shop when she wasn’t working.
By the time they reached the park, Chloe’s tracksuit pants were heavy with condensation. She used to take Arnold on walks still wearing her school uniform. That was until she figured out that Arnold had one speed: full tilt. So even though Chloe was ideologically opposed to exercise, and aesthetically opposed to exercise wear, she grew used to changing into her PE sneakers and oldest pair of tracky daks and letting Arnold go wild.
Sam was supposed to help with the walking, but he didn’t. Chloe didn’t mind so much. Arnold was good company – he was happy to be in her presence but he didn’t need to make conversation. There weren’t many people you could say that about.
When they reached the park it was quieter than usual. Chloe had done her homework before coming out with Arnold and it was probably a mistake. The light was falling and the grass was wet with dew. At the entrance Chloe almost collided with another jogger – a guy her age, wearing high-tech leggings and earphones. He was out most evenings at the same time. Chloe used to run with earphones in, but not any more.
`Hey,’ said the jogger, not bothered at all by their near-collision. `Evening!’
Chloe grimaced back, confused by how friendly his smile was. Cute. Not her type at all – too sporty – but cute. Once she was sure he’d have crossed the road, she turned and looked back, checking out his springy stride, and the way the leggings divided his legs into defined muscle groups. He hadn’t been puffing at all.
Chloe took her usual route along the train path, down the hill and across the creek, thinking all the while how the jogger was too sporty and Brandon Miller was too emaciated and wastoid, and the Grammar boys on the tram way too clean-cut. Maybe she didn’t even have a type. That was a depressing thought.
Arnold galloped and heavy-breathed as usual; he didn’t mind the way the trees crowded thickly on either side of the path, creating cubbies and shadows a person could hide in. Chloe sped up down the dip and over the creek, where the shrubbery was thickest. The bridge was seething underneath and clanged as they thumped over it. Chloe squinted into the distance. There was a figure up ahead, on the crest of the hill near where the path drew level with the train lines. It was too far away to tell if it was a man or a woman.
Normally the park brought peace, even though it was pretty shitty as far as parks went. The trains ran the length of it at the top of a high embankment, and to the right was a lumpy series of paddocks criss-crossed with paths and the creek. Determined planting couldn’t hide the fact that the park had been built over the top of a waste site: rusted barrels and broken concrete blocks still poked through the green. Some of the blocks looked like grey french fries scattered among the ti-trees.
Chloe considered turning back, but stubbornness kept her placing her feet in front of each other. There was a view she liked at the top of the hill. If she let herself get scared, then it meant another victory for the evil people of the world. `Don’t be a wuss, Chloe,’ she told herself under her breath.
As they drew closer together Chloe could see that it was a man, wearing a suit. He was probably walking home from the train station, on his way home from work. The suit was a good sign. Men that wore suits were respectable, they had professional jobs and most importantly, sat at a desk all day and were probably weedy and physically ineffectual. Not many men wore suits around here.
Fifty metres away, Chloe drew herself up to her full height and lifted her feet, making sure she looked carefree, like she could run at this pace for hours. She considered spitting on the ground as an off-putting act. Out of nowhere, Arnold growled. He never growled.
The man looked at Chloe, looked her up and down below the neck, but he never met her eyes. They passed each other. Chloe continued up the hill, he continued down. The moment passed. Even Arnold relaxed.
At the top of the hill, Chloe paused to breath clouds and look across the valley. Past the vacant lots and teeming highway to mysterious lit-up blocks, some topped with cranes. You couldn’t tell from here if they were apartments or offices. The building boom was happening in other parts of the city, not Morrison Heights.
Arnold lifted a leg to pee and then scratch in the gravel.
Chloe thought of all the ways you could be clever in trapping someone in a park. You could use people’s kindness by pretending to be hurt, setting it up to look like you’d fallen off your bike. You could blend into the environment, and dress up as one of the council rangers or gardeners or rail workers. Or you could carry a tricycle or a children’s backpack, pretending you were a dad. Fathers looked more trustworthy than childless men. Having patchy contact with her father at best, Chloe had no idea if looks played out in reality.
At her back, there was a rumble and a rush of wind, then a train screamed by. A streak of light in the dusk, people flashing by, all of them strangers.