This week’s story is a reminder that Spring will come.
My lower back starts to cramp. Why do mechanics have to move the seat just to do a test drive? You’d think they were driving cross country and had to have the seat just right. Now it going to take me a dozen tries to get the tilt and height to where my back doesn’t ache and my right leg won’t go numb. Mikey doesn’t worry about sciatica—my grandson, in the back seat. Everything works the way it’s supposed to for him. Today we’ll be going to the park.
We pass a farm field—black, harrowed velvet, rolling with the undulating curves of a woman’s back. Fecund. Waiting for spring rain to green. It pushes right up to the edge of the road, into my space—insistent.
We stop at the grocery store, Mikey and me. By the apples, I gawp at a young woman for more than the reflex neck-snap when a fire engine flashes by. I catch myself. Close my mouth. Look away. What’s got into me? Maybe it’s just the first technicolor day after a monochrome spring—the surprise of naked shoulders and budding pink toes, the first glimpse of summer bare legs flashing between the folds of a clingy skirt.
“Can I have it, grandpa?” Mikey intrudes, waving a candy bar in my face.
Later, I munch on the remains of the candy in a beam of late-morning sun by the rocket-ship slide. It’s not my favorite—Butterfingers. Apparently not Mikey’s either.
A woman smiles vaguely, watching her boy climb and slide, climb and slide. She’s trying out summer too. Her shy bare legs turn in slightly, huddled against the harsh light, as if emerging from a long night under the covers. She clutches her arms across her chest. Well, at least she has the time to spend with her son. Melanie has to work; needs me to watch Mikey.
“It’s nice to get them out of the house, eh?” she remarks.
“Yeah, first nice day in a long time,” I answer.
She lights a cigarette. Snaps a drag. “I don’t know if I could have stood it much longer—stuck in the house with him.” She shakes her head, dragon smoke fumes from her nostrils.
She nods. Stamps out the cigarette. “Sometimes I just can’t handle him. He needs a firm hand.”
She cuts a sidelong appraisal. I wonder if she thinks I’m Mikey’s dad. I stand straighter. Mikey runs to me, holding a blue robin egg. “Hey Grandpa, look what I found!” Blows my cover.
The woman calls her son. “Time to go, Sean.” I follow her rolling stroll past the swings all the way to the parking lot, sigh, and slump down on the nearest bench. A woman my own age sits at the other end reading a book.
“Watching kids is overrated,” she remarks without looking up.
I’m startled. It’s as if the bench had spoken. I study her for a moment—mostly gray hair, jeans, worn running shoes. There’s an intelligent cant to her head. I jut my chin towards Mikey. “I don’t know. He’s always got something new to show me. Sees something…” I pause. Did she mean what I think she did? A knowing smile curls at the corner of her mouth as she continues to read. Was that a shot? Have I been had? I don’t even know the woman but I want to get back at her. I glance at the cover of her paperback. Pretty colors. Shell Seekers. “Reading about life, at one remove, is overrated too.”
She shrugs. “We all have our fantasies.” She looks at me out of the corner of her eyes. Eyebrows raised.
“So, do you come to the park to catch dirty-old-men ogling young mothers?”
She drops a yellow-tasseled bookmark in place. Closes the book. Places it on the bench. “I’m watching my granddaughter,” she says, waving at a youngster on the swings. “I still say its overrated.”
“What is? Watching young women or young kids?”
The woman squares around, levels her warm hazel eyes on me. “Kids. What made you think I was talking about women?”
“Hmmm,” I mutter.
“I was sitting here thinking about how children don’t remember what we do for them—not the first few years, anyway,” she says.
I watch a wren pecking bits of gravel. “Young women need to be watched too. Even if they forget, once they’re grown.”
Now it’s her turn to stare off into the distance. “I’ve never heard a more specious argument for voyeuristic leering.”
I shrug. “Hey, we all need an audience—or the hope of one.”
“Ha!” She barks a sarcastic laugh. Smiles.
I like her. “Maybe we have more to share than freshness when we get older.”
She stares at me for a long moment. “I have to go.” she says. “Leah!” she calls, scaring the wren into flight.
After a few steps, she stops, turns. “We don’t forget.”