While lock-out laws have cleaned up the Cross, Chris Ryan discovers its playgrounds can still be grubby affairs.

It was dawn in Kings Cross. The sun was yet to burn off the dew that had fallen through the night and homeless people still slept soundly, if damply, on park benches in Fitzroy Gardens.

I put my son down in the children’s playground, where the motionless swings looked forlorn in the grey morning light. Any sense of melancholy was lost on the kid. He giggled as he tottered over to the wide metal slippery dip and laughed when he stumbled while trying to climb it.

He wasn’t worried that he almost stepped on a dead mouse. There was no pretending it was only sleeping. It was really only the back half a dead mouse, trailing its spleen, stomach and a kidney. The hind legs were stretched out, as if it had been cut down in full flight.

Maybe it was thanks to scenes like this that we never saw anyone else at the playground so early.

I was glad the kid was years too young to ask questions about death. It’s something I dwell on enough already. There are times I’ll look around a playground and think, “How are all these parents holding it together? Don’t they realise that we’re racing towards the grave?” Then I see my kid is about eat a cigarette butt and snap out of it.

He wandered away from the slippery dip and the dead mouse, towards another topic of conversation I was in no rush to tackle. An unwrapped but unused condom had been dropped during the night by a would-be romantic. I picked my son up before he could get his mitts on it and decided it was time to quit the playground.

As I reached the low metal fence that separated the playground from the rest of the park, I thought of the next parent who would come here. They would probably have some baby wipes to clean up the mess. Of course, they could be busy on their mobile when their kid blew up the “balloon” they just found. Or they’d be waking up with their first coffee when they spotted their precious firstborn snacking on mouse guts.

I found a scrunched up receipt in my pocket. I used it to carefully pick up the mouse remains and drop them in the bin and then did the same with the condom. After that, I went to the public toilets beneath Kings Cross Police Station to wash my hands.

The door to the self-flushing, self-cleaning toilet slid open and shut with a smooth whoosh that made a promise of high-tech hygienic facilities. Inside, a used syringe sat atop bloodied paper towel that had clogged the toilet and turned the water into the colour of rosé. Holding my kid to my chest with one arm, I waved a hand under a sensor in the sink to start water running and rinsed off any mouse residue.

We headed to Cafe Hernandez, open 24 hours, where my kid smiled at the barista and waved like a happy imbecile at everyone who stopped in. While strangers returned his wave, I drank a coffee in silence, glad that he’s still a few years off asking questions that I still haven’t learned the answer to.