Crowd pours onto the pavement like a viscous liquid. Swallows yesterday’s residue – traces of discarded food, pocket garbage, piss stains – with no hesitation. I prefer the crowd’s absence, when the streets are butter, smooth and glistening under the dawn sun rays, when the line of sight is not interrupted by prepared faces. I swear one day I’ll be walking to work like I am today and every morning and there it will unfold in front of me – a creamy, quiet street, unmarred.
I am cutting through the park today, which I often do. By now I know its every detail – a small flower garden with an elegant fountain shaped like a sea monster, a long passageway with trees on each side forming an arch (they bloom so lovely in spring), fancy benches, some of them with shiny plaques with names of people I don’t know, and lush grass. There is an old apple tree that I like to lean against; its roots and branches are massive and arthritic and you sort of want to bury yourself in them and imagine that they will smother you until you’re food for the small organisms for which this tree is a whole city. I know the gardeners’ schedule. I recall many different iterations of the flower garden by now.
I recall how many times I’ve been interrupted here. Most recently, a coworker.
“Hiiiiiiiii”, she said, and continued talking without bothering to get a hello back, “I don’t think I saw you RSVP to our little celebration!” Well no shit – that’s because I had ignored it. I was annoyed that she chose to disregard our intricate social contract.
“I’m not paid to like you outside of work hours”, I said, I think, and it was disappointing to admit that because I thought that it was both unspoken and understood – “Just kidding! I can’t that day…My family is visiting”. I think I flirted with that coworker a bit afterwards, not because I wanted to but because I had to.
I also recall what’s about to unfold today. It’s a Wednesday. It’s almost choreographed. I jigzag between an arrangement of seventeen conically-shaped knee-height concrete blocks that are throwing clean sharp shadows. Today I reach block number fourteen when I freeze like a small mammal knowing a predator is right there.
She gets up from a bench and slowly walks towards me – I see her from the corner of my right eye. I recoil, shrink, try to continue being big, but I know it’s not working. I just stand there, and I hate that, every time. She takes a step closer and I shift my body back just enough for her to notice. I don’t know if she takes pleasure in my almost well-hidden fear but I imagine that she isn’t indifferent to it. Her steps are soft, smooth and self-assured, her posture tall and graceful. When her heel clack, they go “tick…tock…tick…tock”.
I swallow that ball in my throat and say: “Hello mother, you look well”
She smiles and says: “Thank you, you too. Make sure you don’t skip breakfast today okay?”
It’s been been seventy three years, four months, and two days. But how much time is enough time? I’m not the one who took the constraints away from me, it was her. The way I see it, I have the whole eternity to fear her.
“Tick…tock…tick…tock…” say her heels as she’s walking away.
Jenya is an engineer who likes to tinker with technology and with words. This is her Tenth appearance in Vending Machine Press. Her poems are available on Amazon and have also been featured in Clementine Poetry Journal, and her paper on algorithms for safe irradiation of brain tumours is available in an operations research journal somewhere.