Central Park, shale/schist

Tassity Johnson

Kyle takes Kelly, his daughter, to Central Park. They walk past the playground and pretzel carts and the inline skaters and beneath the tall American elms to a part of the Park removed from the open expanse. They enter a small gated area; inside there is a bench and rock mounds. He climbs up a large cut of shale that rises from the grass and leaves like the upper hump of a whale breaking the sea for air, holding Kelly’s hand as she scales. She is only four and dressed in pink and glitter.

Kyle has come to the Park to get away from the lean buildings and streets and the crowds that teem between them. He sits on the rock and watches the wall of trees far along the park edge and the low rolling ground; behind the trees high-rises loom and all around him people and dogs and horses and bikes mill.

Kelly squirms, then tries to stand. Kyle grabs her hand, tells her “no,” but she is restless. He holds her legs as she balances and keeps her hand while she stands; she feels like a dragging kite. She dances a little, and her arm jerks. His heart seems to dip with each jolt; he fears he is tugging at the bones of her arm and in his mind he sees the small white of the humerus like a thin metal pipe turning in its socket. He tries to slacken his grip but she holds him tightly. The imagined sound of the scrape of her bones rolls in his skull.

People pass beneath them and the grass shivers and in the distance the trees waver; above them the buildings too seem to quiver. The wind grazes his bare skin, the bulb of his shaven head; everything seems moving, and he is sad at this, wishes for things to be still so that his mind might too become still. The walk from the hospital to the Park has emptied his mind and he hopes that the Park will maintain this, will not reveal in its soft shade and ground new ghosts.

He tries to pull Kelly down but she keeps standing, walking in small circles, talking to herself. “Kelly. Kelly, get down.” There is nothing in Kyle’s voice and Kelly ignores him. “Kelly.” He says it with force this time and she turns to him now, but as she tries to sit, she slips a little and falls and begins to cry. “Kelly,” softly. He takes her, holds her in his wide arms that fold and cradle and he rocks a little. He watches the face knotted and raging, and now from it comes something more as he sees in it a smaller blue face and the black hole of the mouth and the cord beneath it, tight around the neck like a slimed noose, the body squealing and no larger than two palms held so that the tips touch. Kelly clutches her leg; Kyle takes her hand from it, runs a finger across the smooth surface and tells her, “Kelly. Kelly, stop. Look.” She sits up, whimpering, and looks at the plain leg, runs her finger beside his. “But it hurts.”

“It will go away.” He lifts her out of his lap and places her beside him. He keeps her hand but closes his eyes. He tries not to think, tries to slow his mind and the beating in his body. Again he sees the blue face and then the body, the body lain behind glass like a young plant. He opens his eyes, turns to Kelly, scratching into the rock with a stick. “Kelly. Kelly, up.” He lifts her again, pulls the arm and the small body that seems like glass. He stands and faces the deeper section of the park, the trees clustered and dark and in the distance more shale rising. He can see no one in the thicket and from here it hides the buildings so that above it there is only gray sky that rests in the ridges of the tree tops like cloudy water.

Kyle kneels, pulls Kelly with him. “On your knees.” He folds them under, then takes her hands and presses them together. He does the same with his own. “Bow your head, Kelly.” This too, he does. “Close your eyes.” He watches her do this; she shuts them tight, scrunches her nose. She wavers. “Be still.” With his palms pressed he turns from her, closes his eyes. He sees the glass box again, and now the mouth, a soft hole black like dirt, and hears the high wail and then a low moaning, like the howl of some animal hurt, the low moan and the high wail stirring and he feels his skin, the skin of his arms and neck and back as they graze his shirt. He shudders, sees again the black mouth, and now another, this one larger and edged with white, sharp teeth, and now a wall of them, quaking. The mouths join into black, the teeth swallowed into darkness and the quivering now the slow pulse of soil freshly upturned. The baby is dead now, perhaps has died at this very moment. Rebecca, his wife, too is gone, not dead but gone at least for now, for the next few weeks, months, years. He knows the low moan is of her body.

He turns to Kelly, opening his eyes. Her eyes are still closed and her palms together, her face neat and calm and her body small but full and he thinks only that she is all there is, all he has for now, Kelly the first and the last.

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