The Park on Country LaneS. Robert McCaffrey
IN THE SPRING at the little park on Country Lane, a small boy sits on the swings underneath the green, budding branches of the tall shade tree. The sun is shining and the high-pitched laughs and squeaks of children playing fill the air. The boy watches them over in the sandbox, on the slide, running to catch a seat on the red and blue merry-go-round whose chrome handles glisten in the sun.
The harder the boy swings his feet, kicking outward while leaning back against the will of the chains in his hands, the higher he climbs. On the swings, the chase isn't important and the sand doesn't get inside your shoes. Alone under the eaves of the tall shade tree, he is in motion, safe from the darkness, the other children, even the screams of his parents as their distance from each other grows.
IN THE SUMMER, at the little park on Country lane, a young man struggles awkwardly within a group of friends on the basketball court---flat, gray cement---near the fences which separate the park from the manicured lawns and sculpted hedges of neighboring suburban homes.
The young man ducks, pivots, looks for the ball, and dodges back to the three-point line drawn in chalk an hour before the game. He barely notices the unwelcome sweat on his brow and under his shirt, and the heavy feeling in his chest---he hasn't played basketball since his parents' divorce.
A short, thin teenager, a natural, ducks gracefully under the outstretched arms of the other players with an agility that continues to surprise everyone. His path to the basket blocked, he fires the ball with its tan and orange rubber over his shoulder---not to the players inside the key, but to the young man, quiet and patient, who stands on the three point line. Two points would tie the game; three would win.
The young man catches the ball, cradles it, leaps into the air and pushes the ball toward to hoop, rolling it off his fingertips amid grunts and arms and hands and frantic bodies. It circles the rim then drops off the side. Someone near the court calls "Time!" and the other team huddles to congratulate themselves.
His teammates look at each other, anxious to redeem their loss, but the young man has left the game already, his eyes concentrated on a lonely figure on the swings. The tall shade tree above has given her shelter from the glare of the late afternoon sun, leaving her concealed in cool shadows. He grins sheepishly as he approaches her, taking pleasure in her smile and the playful wink from her eye. "Nice shootin', Tex," she teases warmly in a false Southern drawl.
The young man sits down on the swing next to hers. She receives his outstretched hand with hers and together they sit in the peace of the advancing evening, swinging and watching the sun turn the sky to a fiery expanse of crimson and magenta as it hastens for slumber under the distant horizon.
IN THE AUTUMN, at the little park on Country Lane, a father rocks on the swings, back and forth, back and forth, though gently in deference to his age. In the sandbox, his two children, six and eight, dig a moat around a waxing pile of sand they've been pushing and shaping for an hour now. He watches them intently, curiously, as their giggles take to the air.
The children's faces, diminutive images of their mother's---gone a year now---are rosy from the cool air. How long has it been since their mother had sat with him here on the swings, he thinks pensively? A wanton breeze from the South sings its solemn lullaby of warmer days past. It nips and tugs and taunts the thinning gold and auburn leaves of the resilient shade tree of his youth. The leaves clutch their branches and twigs with uncertainty and desperation as destiny threatens.
The once shiny slide, covered with the smiles and tears of a thousand summer days reflects the flicker of a black and white television that struggles through the curtained window of a dignified, stately house. The mighty harvest moon watches the man intently as it slips between windblown clouds. The children, too, turn briefly toward their father, wave, then return to the mountains they have created, to the sandbox kingdoms where they are gods.
IN THE WINTER, at the little park on Country Lane, an old man sits on a motionless swing, arms akimbo, watching his labored breaths hang in the air. The park is otherwise deserted in the evening's dusky glow. Inverted pyramids of fragrant smoke rise slowly from the stone chimneys of nearby homes.
The crooked basketball hoop rises staunchly into the crisp evening sky, bent from the weight of missed slam-dunks and forgotten ambitions. It looks abused. Abandoned. There are no chalk marks on the court, no signs of recent use.
The old man turns his gaze toward the slide. The metal has lost its shine and the wooden rails and ladders have faded and warped. The merry-go-round is gone, replaced by two picnic tables and a dented, overturned garbage can missing its lid.
The sandbox remains, however, brimming with sand as always. The old man slowly pulls himself up from the swings where his tired, stiff legs have been resting. Tentatively, he makes his way to the sandbox. Night is quickly overtaking the last rays of the frozen sun. In the fading twilight, he looks up and down the park. Confident no one is watching, he lowers himself to the grainy dirt beneath his feet.
With great effort to his bony, arthritic fingers, he begins pushing and pulling sand into a pile. As the mound grows, he pauses to observe his progress, feeling the harsh, penetrating cold. A tear begins to form in a melancholy, sentimental eye, but is wiped away before it can escape.
Several blocks to the north, a car door slams, unnoticed by the old man on his knees in the sand. A light snow begins to fall on the little park on Country Lane.
Copyright ©2000 S. Robert McCaffrey. All Rights Reserved.
Please contact the editor for free text versions of this very short story formatted for e-mail, usenet news, or ftp.