"Near the School's Playground"by Joseph Durickas
Near the school’s playground, the park table at which she had sat was a checker/chessboard with opposing chairs. Making a pair of miniature snowpeople commanding an arrangement of twigs and stones in and about the squares made for some play for a time, she was sad to have to go. But Pauline got up and, turning back to the table, left her tableau with a last glance of hers. The glance was Hope and the day was Thursday: Perhaps to inspire the young anthropologists of tomorrow, tomorrow, she thought. For in a point-of-sale wisdom/advice book she once read: Leave a quarter where a child will find it, finding the notion egregious and contrary to a policy of respect and love. Firstly: a smaller child could choke and die, and secondly: to leave something in the eyes of a child is to leave something in the future. With the sternest of eyes and greatest of hearts Pauline walked though the snow with her strongest of loves continuous in all of time.
The snowy park’s strip of walkway became the wet street’s sidewalk. From along it she could see illuminated signs of stores and those same signs blurred in the salted streets below, as well. Pairs of headlights of passing cars twice. The night was reflective and double, and in this weather the sounds of passing cars are those of sheets of papers torn into twos. At a bus stop, a gathering of cigarette butts. Nearby, a funeral home: a gathering of cigarette butts, as well. She stopped to look at both and a couple passed her, arm in arm.
Pauline stood there, looking down and over, over and back. One gathering here and another gathering there. Standing over the funeral parlor’s gathering, it did not take her long to see what she was looking at, and when she saw she felt her jaw slightly slacken. The entirety of the parlor’s gathering— psychically speaking— pointed in the same direction: when they had burned, the thought on the other side of each spent cigarette came and went to and from the same point, they added up to a gathering of cigarette butts in some unknown memoriam. Pauline looked upwards at nothing. The immensity of the historicality of this collection of recently extinguished and anonymous things offered to her for contemplation took her and held her mildly awestruck. However, now was not the time for contemplation. She certainly would later, as one doesn’t forget such things as this. Instead, she moved by some effort, removing herself as one does a photograph between a magnet and freezer door.
When she moved, she started quickly and in the direction of with whom she was staying, it was a ways off. She did not look up anymore but down at the salty sidewalks until she turned onto one not well-shoveled. It was somewhat icy. She walked more carefully, a little more slowly. Still looking down, in the night with snow pushed to both sides of the sidewalk. It was soon discovered she strode behind the two lovers, and she slowed more. She noted their arm in arm had evolved to a clasp of hips, and to herself Pauline deduced They’re closer to home.
Then looking at the high peaks of the snowbanks. The banks were formidable in size, and passing the couple would be a tight squeeze. This pace made her colder. In the slow-moving current of lovers between mountains: glacier tracks, via which she didn’t presently feel like traveling.
Pauline stopped and turned around. She started walking in that direction.
She looked down for her footprints but, walking on mostly ice, there were none. She saw a parking lot to cut through to go back. When within it, ahead of her lay a frozen puddle looking astonishingly like Florida. From somewhere in the Atlantic she ran to Miami and slid clean the length of it. This left her standing in the ghost of Georgia. Georgia: Georgia was when age eight and in summer, she lay looking down from the boardwalks into the water for alligators, only finding her reflection and algae for dimples. Once, an odd cloud reflected from the sky chanced to place itself over her head to look nearly exactly like a halo. Also Georgia: Pauline tore a page from the cube of her uncle’s desk calendar to reveal: a comic on how birds see the world, people below with targets for heads. The humor started light and playful, until: as light as it was, it bestowed upon her the revelation of the possibility of other systems by which the manner of things working and happening came to be decided upon. To her, the comic— seeming only to cause her uncle to laugh— was a most profound of truths. For her, it marked an utter turning point in how things would hence be looked at. It was a good summer, very far away now.
Pauline looked down at the ice. Something near Tallahassee caught her eye: walking over and bending down, Lincoln’s eternally dead and forward gaze in copper coming up through the ice like a woolly mammoth in profile. The President gazed back to the direction of the park and with a nod she agreed on heading that way. To see what she could see, why not. The park was still very close.
In the park, another two people in love occupied a bench. As they talked or didn’t, she eyed their boots gliding back and forth on the ice below. As she walked by them, under the lamps of the park, she could see her work intact at the table far off. Under other lamps of the park out of the view of the lovers, she collapsed of her own volition into the snow.
On her back she emulated exaggeratingly the movements of the legs of the two on the bench in all her limbs. In other weathers this might seem unquestionably strange: but here she was to leave a snow angel. She got up to see what she had just done, and with satisfaction tiptoed carefully from her sculpted depression in the same steps by which she came. Happier, she resumed the walkway and she— at the thought of the double bubbles of the lamps guiding her way as viewed with crossed and defocused gray eyes— giggled softly into the otherwise dark.
Joseph Durickas lives in New York.