A Walk in the Park

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Now look in the bag,” she commanded.

The Bloomingdale’s bag sat innocuously at her feet. He walked toward it, bent down, pulled open the twine handles. On a cushion of white tissue paper that billowed up around the edges lay a battered brown wallet and a a .38 Special revolver.

“Don’t touch it!” she spat. “You want to leave fingerprints? What’s the matter with you?”

“What happened to the man in your apartment?” he asked.

“It was a terrible mess.” She shook her head. “I had to put on a whole new outfit. Thank God for slipcovers is all I can say. It’s not the first time they’ve saved my life.” She put both hands on the crook of her cane and leaned unsteadily over them. “Um, I don’t feel so good. I have to sit down.”

Leaving the bag on the road, she hauled herself to the narrow path that led to the exit, and sank down so heavily on a park bench that it creaked. “This is very stressful for me,” she said. “Very stressful, I assure you.”

Placing the Bloomingdale’s bag at her feet, he sat down beside her. “What were you going to do?”

“Just a minute.” She held up a hand. “I’m having palpitations.” She lay the cane across her knees and slapped her chest lightly. Her bosom reverberated. “There. There. What was I going to do? I was going to empty those disgusting things into the reservoir. But it got dark.”

“Yes,” he said. He was staring at the bag.

“Look — we’re just a few steps from the exit. How did that happen?”

He raised his head. The path went through a break in a hedge and opened on 86th Street. The row of streetlights leading to the exit were dark, as if the Park admitted of no clear way out. The traffic light changed, and cars turned from 86th onto Central Park West with a rushing sound like a stiff breeze.

For a moment he could smell the exhaust. He was in a car, a station wagon, lying in the back, watching the telephone wires dip and swoop in the sky, then lift taut at each telephone pole, like disordered measures of sheet music. Another smell mixed in, that of perspiration. It came from the old woman.

He had to get away from her, to get her away from him. “I’ll do something about the bag tonight,” he said. “You go home.”

“Oh, would you do that for me?” she said. “That’s so nice of you.”

“You go home,” he repeated, feeling slightly queasy.

“Let me give you my address,” she said. “Maybe you can help with—”

“No — that’s all right.” He held up a hand.

She caned the ground toward her and pulled herself up with a luxurious sigh. She shrugged, arranging the shoulder pads inside her dress, and sang out as if calling him to dinner: “I’m listed!”

“Don’t tell me your name!” he begged.

“Simpson!” she cried simultaneously. “Initial S. There’s six in the directory. I’m the one on 81st.”

She went off, swaying slightly with each short slow step. For a while her bulk blocked the exit from his sight; then she went through the gap in the hedge and was gone.

The cars came again, their headlights flickering across the path at his feet and illuminating the Bloomingdale’s bag. Then the bag and the path went dark. High above his head, the oak leaves clattered.


Appeared in The Southwest Review, Fall 1999


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