A Walk in the Park

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Appeared in The Southwest Review, Fall 1999



From the start — which is to say before night fell, before he walked like an old man, before he got involved in a Class A Felony, before he lost hope — he could see the exit. It hove in plain sight perhaps two blocks away, though in Central Park distance was measured not in blocks but in strides, as time was measured not in hours but in the slant of sunlight through the leaves. This afternoon’s walk in the park had marked his first departure in months from the path of office-subway-apartment-subway-office, from a range of possibilities written in steel rail. Today he had wandered from place to place like a boy exploring the rooms of a castle, from paths with the herbal smell of daisies to meadows with the spicy scent of cut grass to misty glades where the air was heavy, old, still, like that in a cedar closet, and where branches divided by shafts of shadow leaf-tinted green sunlight that picked out fallen leaves like flecks of gold glitter; today he had seen an elderly woman leave a Cadbury bar at Strawberry Field as an offering to John Lennon, had been run into by a bald black boy who was trying to stomp pigeons, had watched from the lawn behind the Metropolitan Museum’s Temple of Dendar as a young woman holding hands with a gray-haired businessman clamped her eyes shut and tossed into the Temple’s reflecting
pool coin after coin after coin: today he had awakened to the city as a natural phenomenon, to the place he had in it, to the infinite possibilities in it, which, being infinite, included meeting a woman in Central Park, a woman who — the possibilities being infinite — was beautiful, fell in bed with him, fell in love with him… Now he could see the exit, and should he have been allowed to proceed at his own pace, would have reached it in no more than three minutes.

“Excuse me, sir,” said a voice from behind him. He turned to it.

The woman who called him sir was twice his age. She was squat, with features that were bold and outstanding, as if drawn with a felt-tipped marker. Not all the hair pinned up on her large broad head had gone gray, and not all of it had stayed pinned up. Her rayon crepe floral print dress was enormous, and fit. The closely spaced buttons running from neckline to waist were misbuttoned below her bosom. She wore no jewelry, and her only makeup was two quick smears of liver-colored lipstick. She had no purse,
but carried a rough brown Bloomingdale’s sack that said BIG BROWN BAG and a heavy curve-handled wooden cane that was raised straight up into the air like an enormous index finger.

“Do you know if that’s the 86th Street exit?” she asked.

“I have no idea.”

“Well it is!” The woman let the scuffed rubber tip of her cane bounce to the ground. “I’ve only taken it a thousand times at least.”

“Then you’d better do it again,” he said. “It’s getting dark.”

“You make it sound so easy.” There issued from her a sigh that was more than a sigh, more than a wheeze, more even than a moan, but less than a wail; it was a wail that mumbled, mumbled not because it didn’t want to be heard, but because it wanted to be heard not wanting to be heard. “Just a little thing like walking is very difficult for me.” She raised her voice. “Very difficult, I assure you.”



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