T he man says, “It’s amazing how they can fall and just get back up again.”
The woman says, “If you look at them they cry. If you look away, if you pretend it never happened, they don’t make a sound.” The man pulls a cigarette out of an open pack.
He says, “You mind?” She looks at the cigarette, eyes open, eyes wide, blue eyes with flecks of green here and there, her son has her eyes. She moves her lips in a familiar way.
She says, “Just until the children come over. I don’t mind when there aren’t children around.” She smiles at him. She’s young. He lights his cigarette.
“I try to quit,” he says. He shakes out the match with a quick twist of his wrist. An ancient motion. The inside of his index finger and middle finger are nicotine orange. The cigarette goes there and sends smoke signals into the heavens.
She says, “I did quit. But that was when I had Robbie. I had to quit. You cannot feel good about yourself when you have a child in your womb and are inhaling toxic chemicals.”
He says, “Toxic chemicals. Well, I guess that is not going too far. They are. And I love every last one of them.” He laughs. When he smiles smoke flickers out of his mouth. “And I aint got a womb so I don’t know what’s gonna stop me.” He laughs some more, a giddy kind of he-he, that sheds one hundred pounds off his sweaty bulk.
“What is your child’s name again?” she questions. He removes the cigarette from his mouth and points at his daughter with it.
“That one,” he says, “is April.” He brings the cigarette back toward his face and, just before it touches his lips, says, “she’s my favorite.” The woman looks horrified.
She says, “How many children do you have?” The man inhales some smoke.
He says, “That one. Just that one. Just one.” And smiles.
She says, “Me too. Me too. Just one too. Just one for now.” She envy’s him his cigarette. She envy’s him his male organs. She envy’s her sons male organs every time she bathes him. He won’t ever give birth.
The children are playing together. Little Robbie. Little April. They’re just off beside the swing set, in the heavy sand there. Ancient railroad ties uprooted and recycled here boarder the area. Both children, old enough to walk, old enough to talk, wear diapers beneath their pants. They laugh at one another. Their faces sometimes pretend to be older than they are. Then they do not. They never hesitate. They grab what they want to grab. Their little hands get dirty touching the railroad ties. Their little faces are red from the sun.
She calls out, “Don’t touch that, now.”
She says, “They always want to touch what you tell them not too.”
He says, “There’s three ways to get things done, do it yourself, hire someone to do it or tell your children not to do it.” He holds that not a long time, smiling to himself. Sunlight flickers like it does, beaming through leaves to show the veins.
She calls out, “Robbie, stay in the area, now. Don’t get outside the area.” She looks to him for support. He takes his cigarette out of his mouth and says, “You too now, April. Don’t get out of that area.” There are no dangers outside the area. Grass, a couple of trees, a single hole mini-putt golf course, just the one hole, just the one with the fish bowl. The difficult corner. There’s gravel on the walk-way and discarded beer bottles beneath a bush. City things.
She screams, “Robbie! Don’t push her now. You know that’s not nice.”
He says, “I don’t think he was pushing her. I think he was tripping and he used her to remain upright.”
“Well, that’s not nice,” she says.
“It happens. We use one another now and then to hold ourselves up.”
“Children must learn certain things when they are young or they will never learn these things. Polite things. Civil things. Unselfish things.”
“We can only do so much.”
“Where is your wife?”
“She’s at home. I let her rest some days.” ‘Does he work?’ she wonders. ‘Is he unemployed? Has he done a poor job somewhere and been let go? Is he a drug addict? What do I know of this man? This man in the park. We sit some days and talk while our children throw sand at one another. What is safe?’
“There isn’t one.”
“We all make mistakes. Sometimes we turn these mistakes around. Sometimes something beautiful happens when you least expect it. Sometimes.”
“Yes. You are right.”
“Sometimes people leave. Sometimes they just go. Sometimes life works out and sometimes…”
April falls. Robbie goes to grab her, some inherent human reaction. Robbie gets her arm and tips back, something going through his head. April makes a little chirp; she meant to fall. She meant to fall because falling is fun. Falling makes you dizzy. Falling feels good when you land in the nice sand. Robbie’s hand slips and he falls too, seeing the fun in it. Seeing the joy in April’s eyes. He throws his arms in the air and falls hard onto his diapered bum, his arms coming down hard, his legs coming down hard, his shoes filling with sand. Something pricks. Something hurts. Something feels bad. He begins to cry.
“You just don’t get along together so you separate. So you separate for the good of the child now, rather than acting the fool in later years and staying together for the child. Who…”
“Do you think he’s okay?”
“Don’t look,” she says in a half giggle, shielding her face. “Just don’t look for a second and we’ll see if he stops right away. You can’t give them as much attention as they think they need. They’ll be too clingy. They’ll need you too much. They’ll not have their independence.”
“Mamas boys, no?” He looks away. He looks at her, still smiling.
“Yes, Mamas boys. Bullies after them all the time. Relationship problems because they can’t get the idea of being mothered out of their head. Just the idea of it though nothing…”
“He’s still crying.”
She calls out, “Robbie, are you okay, sweetheart?” He looks at her with her eyes. Blue speckled green. He rolls over and tries to stand up but falls back down.
She says, “There’s something wrong.” She gets up and is over the railway tie in a second. She grabs him up in her arms and something moves against her. Something seems to be there, near his leg, below his diaper, it changes shape. He’s crying and crying and…
She screams, “Oh my God. There’s a needle in him.” The man is by her side. She pulls the needle out. A liquid drips from the tip of it. Robbie keeps on crying. April begins to cry. The man picks April up and smoothes her hair with a slow hand. He pulls her tight to him, flicking his cigarette away toward the gravel road-way.
She says, “This doesn’t happen. How does this happen?” The man arches his eyebrows.
She says, “What could have been in it?” The man shakes his head in incomprehension. Sand, needles. She throws the needle to the ground.
She says, “What am I supposed to do?”
He says, “We should go to the hospital. Now. Now we should leave. I have my car here.”
She says, “I think I pushed it in more. When I got him. God, I think I injected it into him and…” But what was left to be done? The child crying.
He says, “No ones fault.” A beautiful summer day. Sounds coming in from everywhere. Airplanes cutting white tracks overhead. A pair of joggers slowing as they passed to examine the moment. A handful of sand dropping from the child’s shoe and his big eyes growing bigger until they become a part of the sounds, a part of the children around the park, a part of the park itself, a hovering blue upon which airplanes write their mystical I’s, upon which lovers stare, upon which satellites roam, beyond which those who have faith see heaven. The boys eyes grow big, sealing eternal unemployment, becoming memories, unnervingly far away, but why?
The man says, “Druggies.” She begins to run. But why? Now. Why? Tell me a story, son, because this one doesn’t help me at all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeffrey Ross has been published most recently in Pindeldyboz
, Algonquin Roundtable Review, B&A New Fiction, Canadian Content
, Tyro's Pen, and the poetry anthology Time of Trial
. He is a professor of English at Algonquin College in Ottawa, Canada, and co-coordinator of the Subterran Reading Series