It’s a small city park, built to meet the requirement of the city’s quota of greenspace in an area that used to be filled with warehouses and train tracks. I look down on the scene from my condo terrace four floors above it, not from the fourteen floors I couldn’t afford, but okay, especially on this day, where blue skies, white clouds, fill the air above the surrounding hills instead of the smoke-gray fog we have dealt with for two weeks. It’s safe to breathe, these clouds signal.
So, I do, over a glass of dry Riesling celebrating an avoidance of a $200 charge to replace the toilet paper holder in my bathroom. My back aches, my mind frizzled by the conquering of an Allen wrench one more time. At eighty- two, that’s about all I can conquer these days.
Below me is the three-acre park; a green oval snuggles in its middle, a playground blooms with racing children at one edge. At the other end of the oval, an empty dog park waits for customers. I’ve looked down on many community festivals rollicking for a few days on that green grass–lively colored tents drawing people in to taste homemade cider, local barbecue, yoga moves, a smiling summer parade of pleasure seekers.
This afternoon, sipping my award-wine, the scene below me is quiet. Fifteen or so small active bodies, a cluster of parents and au pairs, one grandparent, keep watch as their thrill-seeking children ascend and descend the play structure’s chains and slides or spill shovels of sand on each other. The kids laugh, chase. The adults talk or look down at their phones.
An oval path wraps the park, a running-walking kind of concrete trail, 1/8th of a mile– just the right length for older folks to use in exercise routines. Dog owners walk it, too, their four-legged friends enjoying and using the grass at its edge. The empty dog park is enclosed by a fence that separates the big dogs from the little ones, for some reason.
I lean over my terrace’s railing and watch an electric wheel chair roll up to the gated entry to the children’s playground. A German Shepherd leashed to the chair barks twice. A child, a girl by the colors of her blouse, jumps off the back of the chair and runs to the locked gate and turns the lever. The gate opens, and she moves through it, pushing aside a two-year-old hoping to break out.
She closes the gate behind her. The dog, rigid, alert, barks. Once. Loud. A warning. The girl heads toward the chains. Another bark, this time high-pitched, almost frantic. She pauses, looks at the play structure. The dog brushes against the gate, watching.
The girl turns, goes back through the gate and climbs onto the blanketed mound in the chair. She wraps her arms around it, whispers something. She returns to the playground. The dog, motionless, stands guard.
I am distracted by the non-moving chair-person, the anxious dog, and when I look back toward the play structure, I have lost the girl in the colored blouse. I cannot locate her on the chains, the slide, the sand or the benches. I sip my wine, wait. Five minutes. I still cannot find her. The dog and the chair remain at the gate. I remain at my railing. Are we all searching?
The sun is obscured by a cloud. In a gray shadow, I wonder has the girl escaped from a bad situation? Has someone captured her and taken her away? Why is her dog worried? Has the person in the chair fallen asleep and does not know she is missing? Dead? Should I do something, hovering four stories above them?
The person in the chair does not move. The dog ignores those going through the gate, his tail still.
Then a ray of sunlight cuts through a meandering cloud and the park lightens and becomes the harmless place it is supposed to be. A girl in a flowered blouse emerges laughing from a bush tunnel. She runs through the gate, hugs the hump in the chair, and climbs onto the passenger step behind the hump. The dog rises, stretches the leather leash as he leads the two of them onto the oval path. They disappear into the dog park.
I almost had a book in this scene. I think it’s still churning.