A Walk in the Park

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“Tell me,” he grunted. It might pass the time, which evidently would not pass in any other way.

She tugged his shirt sleeve until they were at a standstill, then pulled his ear down to her mouth. Her whisper was hot, sharp with hunger: “To escape from those who would misunderstand me!”

But to misunderstand you, he said to himself, is to understand you well. “And who might that be?”

“The police!” she hissed, halving the word into two syllables and dragging out the second.

“The police,” he repeated dully.

She brought her head up, then down into its great nest of jowls. “And would you like to know why I’m carrying this bag?” She held up her sack and gave it a rattle.

“You went shopping at Bloomingdale’s?” he said.

“Yes I did. Three summer sales ago. And I bought a Versace scarf that was marked down to twenty-eight dollars and seventy-five cents. Very lovely. Then I folded the bag and put it in the tinfoil-and-wax-paper drawer. I never took it out until today.” She moved so close and spoke with such emphasis that her breath rippled the light summer fabric of his shirt. “Do you want to know why? Do you want to know what’s in this bag?”

“No, that’s all right.” He stepped back.

“Go ahead,” she urged. “Look in the bag.”

“No thank you,” he said firmly.

“You don’t have to shout!” she said, then mumbled, “ ... first he screams at me, then he asks why the police would misunderstand ... ” She yanked on his arm. “Well are you coming or not? We don’t have all night.”

He took a deep breath, as he often did when angry, and his lungs filled with the first jasmine bloom of the summer. Moving again, however sluggishly, he felt freed, light and large, balloonish, as if floating up amid the bower of oak leaves that were, in late twilight, turning from translucent to opaque.

“Today when I went downstairs with the trash,” the woman began with an air of beginning, “my neighbor, Mrs. The Late Dr. Emanuel J. Buchenholtz, came out from the mailboxes where she’d been waiting to tell someone, anyone her life’s story. Try to get around her and she just steps in your way while changing the subject to the final illness of her late husband, the angel — My Manny. So. At last, when I pushed past her, yelling at the top of my lungs You have a great day now, Mrs. Buchenholtz! you just
have a great day!
and returned to the comfort and security of the apartment where I’ve lived for the past thirty-seven years, do you know what I discovered?”

She stopped dead, raised her heavy eyebrows and dropped each word hard: “There was a man on my sofa. A definite man on my sofa.” She frowned as if scrutinizing that man for the first time. “A Puerto Rican, I think? I didn’t see him ‘til I was halfway across the room. A man, fast asleep on my overstuffed.

“I took my cane” — she raised it backhand over her face — “and I belted him right across the kisser. And I said, ‘Get out of my apartment, young man! You get out of my apartment, you young bastard!’” She brought her cane high with both hands and down, and down, as hard as she could, moving with a speed of which she had earlier seemed incapable. The words came chopping out of her as she flailed the air: “‘You — just — get the — hell — out of my apartment!’”

The man had backed off to the curb — he’d had to — and stood watching the old woman whip herself into her fury. Alone in the deserted joggers’ lane, she finally expended herself, her big chest heaving, the cane held loose-handed across her body and about to slip out of her fingers. A bead of sweat rolled across her collarbone, collecting fellows along the way, and disappeared, viscous and fattened, into her cleavage.



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