Counselor Troi’s Sofa (revised)

         He now wears what looks to be a permanently semi-horrified zombie like look on his face, as if he has only now just seen an accident, or stumbled upon a body. His eyes look as if he has not quite gotten back from whatever it was he saw, and tired. He has lost weight but it doesn’t look good, it is the sickly, empty balloon type of weight loss. He is not an official ‘person of color’ but his color is bad. It is the wan, yellow color of bad food,despair,regret,alienation, exhaustion.. prison. He looks right at me, though it feels like straight through me to the wall.

I know he is not enjoying this, that it it just all part of the requirements, part of the release. I want to make it not as bad, without seeming condescending, without seeming overly-maternal- yet also not seem professional to the point of him adding me to the roster of his judges, as I am not. He sits on the couch rather than any of the chairs, and seems to take up the whole thing, his legs creating a kind of table with their length.

He has the uneasy and slow grace of the imprisoned giant he has so recently been. He does not stretch out. He keeps his hands in his lap, as if still cuffed. I come around the desk and sit in the chair to the side of the couch. He looks up but doesn’t move. I’m relieved there appears nothing squirrelly, shifty or mercurial in his face, his speech or movements- in fact, I feel like I’m on the far end of barely the same solar system-  this is like the planet Neptune, slow-moving, large, remote.

“I fucked up,” he says. ” I know I did. I go over it all the time. I dream about it- but I didn’t mean to do it. I wasn’t trying to kill him, I was going to tazer him, he kept resisting- but I didn’t mean to kill him- I can’t change it, and people don’t believe I’m sorry, but I am, I am so fucking sorry.”

” I believe you.” I say, looking at his hands.  Pause. “I believe you didn’t mean to kill him.”

        “Well, some people don’t. They think I meant to. They think I’m not sorry- but I am.” With his left hand, he starts playing with a shoelace. ” I feel like shit. For what happened, and like shit for even worrying that I will always be seen as some evil trigger-happy psycho. I’m at fault for fucking up, grabbing the wrong thing, I’m at fault for killing him, but I wasn’t out to kill anyone. We’re not supposed to strong-arm people, if it didn’t happen like it did… I could have restrained him, but we’re supposed to not touch them more than we have to-and I shouldn’t have been afraid, but I was. Not really afraid of him, but afraid of a situation-that could have gotten out of control-it wa already out of control to a point-but if I had control of the situation, if I knew what I was fucking doing I would have grabbed the right thing..and I didn’t. ” He looks up from the shoes, as if he is in trouble right now, as if he is waiting for me to either approve or scream at him that whatever he said isn’t good enough.

For all of our gifts, we are flawed- we are idealistic more than realistic , sometimes quick to anger and deny when things aren’t as they should be, instead of doing at least the first step of the AA creed, something about at least admitting there’s a problem. This guy probably doesn’t even have the flaws a lot of us have. I get that pain in some center place that tells me I won’t be having any more coffee today and stuff is rumbling around. Or is it Iam just hungry?  He certainly isn’t doing the typical stuff that makes the squirrelly/weaselly things an easy scent to catch once one knows what to sniff for.

He might be retreating, defensive, mentally locked down for fear of his own sense of anger over being vilified to this degree- but he is not hiding lots of bad secrets. He doesn’t have what I would call for lack of a better phrase- psychic pimples, or…imagine, like a porcupine. He doesn’t have lots of invisible barriers, like those laser alarms in banks.

 He shows me a couple photos. A cute child, a woman who also bears  an ‘M’ name – that looks vaguely like my sister, the branch of the gene pool that skipped my father’s side and looks like grandpa. I have seen these or similar ones in a file, but I’m glad he is showing me himself. It’s a good sign- life-affirming – outside of this shitty context, would be the normal thing to do, and I would show him pictures in return. But because of this framework, this construct , I cannot be just a ‘person in return’- it sucks, I can’t give back, I have to be behind glass, behind my own wall, this particular format of a construct of something bigger- something bigger which I which I hate and try to subvert very chance I get, every chance I recognize another construct. They don’t serve us, they kill us-and the Others too for that matter.  It’s not just me noticing this. There’s others. Lots of others. If you take me down, it won’t take everyone.

        “Do you want to tell me the story of that day?” I ask. I have already read about it plenty, but I’m hoping he will go through it for what is probably the thousandth time. He does, a few different times, but the story stays essentially the same , only the little details of things that happened during other parts of the day change, things remembered in retrospect. I thought he would be angry- the kind of fake-anger-seeming men have when they are actually scared, depressed- defensive. I thought he would put the focus on justifying how things played out that day, but he doesn’t.

 He comes back from the place he hides a few times, the place that makes his eyes have that dull, dead look-the shut down place. I remember writing about being haunted by the living, and this is what is happening with him, except he is haunted by himself and that day, stuck in a kind of loop of the events of that day, and the days that followed until now.

It is as if he driving and almost falling asleep, and when he startles himself awake, he realizes he is lost- he is still looking for landmarks, anything that might render this new universe easier to navigate-some evidence of the familiar- but he doesn’t trust himself or the hostile landscape and there is no one to ask for directions. There is just him and that day and life before and after.I try to tell him some easier-to-make-sense-of version of this but he just stares at me.

         “You don’t have to convince me.” I say, breaking the rules by touching his hand, though quickly and lightly- conveying emphasis rather than intimacy. “You have to convince yourself, and then you can stop trying to convince everyone else and move to the next level. ” But he doesn’t see a way out of the loop just yet. I start thinking of Dante’s Inferno and wished I hadn’t said ‘level’, but hopefully he doesn’t make the same connection.

“What’s the next level? I can’t do anything to change it, what do they want? .there might be a lawsuit against the city, I don’t know..-but I can’t go back ” he sighs- it comes out shaky and exhausted.

“But you are going back- you keep going back to that day. You’re not ready for whatever is next until you come to terms with it. Maybe you won’t be for a while. Until you get out of the convincing and approval so you feel better, endlessly judging yourself , stuff like thinking anything good you do doesn’t count now, feeling like you’re stealing for enjoying time with your boy-right now it’s how you are getting by, because you don’t have any other way to function except going into hard protective mode or shutting down- what’s the alternative, falling apart?right now this convincing, defending -it’s how you are making an attempt at …it’s not really forgiving yourself- we don’t have a word for it in English- you already know anything you say is never going to be good enough for the people… for whom this is a cause, people who see it…..”

He’s smarter than I thought and knows where I am going without me having to go all the way there for him. I’m grateful.

            “As a race thing? Yeah of course they see it as a race thing- those people see me as The Man, like I was waiting to take one of them out- and they are seeing one situation applying to every fucked up thing that’s ever happened to them from cops or whoever but this wasn’t that- this was an accident, a fatal accident-and not even of judgment- I meant to just taze him- just a pathetic error, a fucking stupid mistake and I’m sorry, damn am I sorry and that’s the difference- I’m not The Man , I’m just a man and this wasn’t one of those him or me type situations… I’ve seen that, people get shot because we’re trying to protect ourselves too…Now they are making this guy a martyr for their cause which is trying to make me everyone who put someone up in a tree or dragged someone from a truck.. but that’s not me, and they’re trying to make that me, and yeah I do resent that. I’m not a hero and will probably never be, but neither is he. I can’t make him come back alive from my mistake and I have to live with it-and the death threats- but he’s not their hero either. He shouldn’t have been resisting, all kinds of shit was going on, people were trying to run away hand-cuffed and get back on the train, people yelling and screaming, people trying to get close and take pictures with their cell phones- we both fucked up -only I fucked up a lot worse. I got death threats that are always about all that other shit that doesn’t have to do with what happened that day at the train station. They’re going to say it does, but it doesn’t. A man can get hurt and it doesn’t have to do with all of that. A man can get killed and it doesn’t have to do with all that. “

I know, kiddo, but when one invokes the magical ‘White Privilege Rumplestiltskin’ goblin and mixes that formulae with  ‘The  (Evil White) Man’ i.e., in this case, cops- why- then of course it must have to do with any kind of historically fucked up stuff. In fact, it always does, and it’s always Whitey’s fault, meaning it doesn’t matter in their context what actually went down, the story is going to get fed into the oppressed peoples narrative and this kid is going to come out the grinder like some grand cyclops dragonmaster, or whatever the hell they’re called. Which is so much bullshit.

Just like a man can get hurt and it isn’t about racial stuff, sometimes shit can also seem unfair and it still isn’t racially related from their side, the cop’s side- and if anyone thinks it’s a good idea that you can resist or give cops crap, that’s just stupid, stupid from the angle if one is white and thinks they will certainly be cool and not bust you because of that, because they’re your ‘friends’.. (you don’t really think that , right?), so you get mad and act out when they do bust you-while you’re all belligerent and drunk and having a fight with your old lady- well, that’s not a smart move, and it’s also stupid from the point of view ‘oh, I’m a minority, if they do anything, I’ll sue the crap out of them like whatshisname down in LA did and got a few million dollars, or I can try to break loose and run for it , because they’re too afraid to put their hands on me, even if I deserve it because I’ll say they ‘profiled’ me or some other discrimination shit that has nothing to do with what actually happened… ‘

I’m thinking now of the four dead cops in one day from one guy- the Lovelle Mixon case out of Oakland, but of course I don’t mention it. Mixon is dead but it doesn’t make up for the four he killed,doesn’t bring them back to their families- or the fact the Mixon’s sister was packing AK’s or whatever in her apartment and he probably knew it. Maybe there wouldn’t be four dead without her help, maybe there would be ‘only’ one or two. It’s really hard not to keep score on how many cops get killed by thugs all the time versus this, or the shootings that end up killing random people on the street. I think of a recent news article I read out of Redwood City, a three month old shot dead in a car-bullets meant for the adults- teenagers arrested, gang retaliation supposedly the motive.


                           ” I guess we’re going to do this again, ” he says. “It’s part of the whole thing ,right?”

 “Yeah, it is. ” I tell him, ” but it’s your choice whom you see.”

                                 ” I don’t want to have to start over, I’ll come back next week.” he says and sets another appointment. I try to think of something encouraging to say, something that is solid.

” It doesn’t feel like it now, but this isn’t going to be what defines your whole life. ” I do believe that, but as soon as it’s said, it sounds trite and I almost regret it.

                    “I hope that’s true, ” he says. “Monday at 2, ” and closes the door after himself. In a moment I hear the click of the lock of the back entrance of the building  and a car’s engine.


I will prob  be mostly adding stuff to the creative writing section, which counts as a “page” rather than a blog category that regular posts just get “filed under”  , I don’t care much for this method for chapters that are meant to go together, in sequence, without a bunch of random stuff in between-  so that’s why I started the other page.  if I write something that exists outside of whatever is in that area, it will go here.


Revisionist Mystery, Chapter I


                 The one lamp illuminates the room with a yellowish-orange light. It must be almost 9 pm.

“Dad,  you’ve heard of this….you’re not one of “them” , are you? ”  

               The brow furrows, he sighs.  ” We’re not Jewish. I’m not, your mother is not , you are not. ”

  ” No ,Dad. that other stuff we talked about?”

 Dad  laughs now, not a true nervous laugh, and not the  laugh when he talks to his friends on the phone, but there is something wrong with this laugh, it doesn’t fit into the something-really-is-funny category.  A disturbing chuckle which does not refute. I am helping him clean his den while he  transforms PDfs into Word documents and types up my legal forms. Tap, tap, tap. Space. Pause.
“I need to focus on this now ” he says as he types away. ” and don’t talk to your mother about all this.” Space, tap, tap tap. 

               He touches my wrist- ” Go, take a break.  You look tired. There’s coffee and food out on the table.  ” When all this is over you will feel better, ” he says, unconvincingly. “Oh, before I forget, when your mother and I go  up to Russian River , you will feed the fish, water the plants?”

“Of course, Dad”.

     The phone rings, I recognize the name, one of his professor friends. He wheels around to look at me  with that blank , confused “I-don’t-speak_English” look on his face which I know in this case means “Are you still here?”

I go, close the door behind me,  I head to the kitchen, mother must be out on the  front deck smoking- and  eye the prosciutto, cheese, salad, bread , all spread out on the deli paper. It’s the good stuff, but I don’t want it.



I’m standing there, waiting, waiting- the inevitable cash register/computer that never fails to  quit in almost any line I am standing in. Strains of “I Shot the Sheriff” play out in the  background. The woman in front of me,  turns her head over her shoulder and rolls her eyes at me in acknowledgement of our mutual suffering. Both of us are too far in to defect to another register, our stuff is on the conveyor belt.  The hateful Sheriff song has ended, a worse one in its place, behind me a man with chips and a bottle of some kind of alcohol sings along.”Brandy , you’re a fine girl, do, doo , dodoo it, doo, do”.. I catch his movements peripherally and  discern possible methamphetamine at work. I feel relieved he is lost in his own world, and will not likely share any mutual sufferring with me.  I get to the register, the  poster child for future perfect dead soldier scans my items, he brings to my attention my failure to  press some button .

“I’m sorry, I’m not really awake today”.

         “Neither am I”, he says, looking  at me.  His hair is fair and cropped close, his eyes are surprisingly dark brown for how light his hair is, and he has been in the sun recently. He smiles a friendly, sympathetic smile, I smile a no-teeth, weak, motherly smile back .  I haven’t  noticed the bagging clerk, who looks vaguely like a Santa Claus mixed with an aging, heavilly mustashed country singer. He asks if I want help out, I  sweetly decline, as I know he will keep me in the parking lot talking, and I already know too much.  This time he doesn’t get huffy that I said “no thanks”.

I get back to the house, put everything away, boot up the PC.  The Skype is flashing.  Lists of names of people I don’t know- or know better than I should. Pop up messages with links I will not click on. Pop up “add me” requests that seem to come from nowhere , with nothing that identifies them as anyone familiar even in a vague “screen name” sense.  People telling me more things I really don’t want to know.  Asking me stuff I don’t have answers to.  Wanting what I can’t give them, that I no longer have myself. People “happy” for me, “sympathetic” . Then there are the resentful, the cautiously casual,  the “fake friendly” and the “fishermen”. Dante, surely there is room for instant messaging in Hell?

Mental note: take that out of the start up. Run>>msconfig>>startup>>uncheck. Talk to  tech geek son about other  VOIP clients. Or not. 

The Thoreau-esque cabin image comes to mind again, the scent of dirt, eucalyptus,cypress, the sound of leaves crunching- simplicity.  There are no Laura Ashley or Martha Stewart anything in these  visions. Ever.

Answering machine flashing as well. Appointments. Discussions. Questions. Fake good cheer. My eyes narrow. I erase them all. 


Consumer’s Inferno

Each time the inevitable birthday shopping trip rolls around, I postpone it, and am sorry for it in spades.
There have been years I have skipped it, yet “paid” anyway. If I do not present with junk toys galore, I am a “bad mom”. If I do not host a birthday party , the same- no matter how much strife and sadness cover the house like a fine layer of dust, like mold on the blinds, like the scent of something dying under the foundation. I chose to produce the toys, but knew I could not hold it together for the party. That will be in a nearby town, with people who were supposed to have been my family too. Thus I fail, because halfway doesn’t cut it. Thou shalt celebrate, or die trying.

Someone lets me cross the street and I run, my new body lighter , colder, and faster than it has been in years skips up on to the curb and approaches the door. Blank faced “immigrant” families of various types barrel towards me and I dodge them. Jabbering and occasional screeches are heard. I find a discarded cart outside and use it as a shield as I enter the store, the enter and exit doors seemingly to be located on the wrong sides. It doesn’t look too bad as I pass the snacks, knowing exactly where I am going and determined not to make any detours. I look far down the aisle, ahead of where I am to try and navigate a path when I realize some young man of unknown (not White) race and unruly , puffy hair is staring at me. It was yet another blank looking stare.Not particularly hostile, but not friendly or one of the typical “this place sucks , can you believe how bad shopping on the weekend is?” looks I am used to in my own neighborhood.
I look past him, pretending I didn’t notice, jaw set, as if I was the lead juror in a murder trial, and just voted “guilty”.

I realize I should have taken the “back way”, along the wall, by the refrigerated goods, but it is too late, I am almost there, and that would create even more of a back up. I reach the general area and turn in, go to to the wall area to stay out of the main traffic aisle leading there, trying to discern what category of toy crap I am looking at. The general noise is fairly loud in the store, the stereo section, which is adjacent to the toy section, blasts some kind of soul-pop, a woman singing redundantly and in a high pitch to an upbeat tempo.

It appears the general theme of the toys is small and cheap or big and a little less cheap. I head away from the direction of the stereo. I am now in some “summer fun toy” area. What looks like a father and son from some other country plays an impromptu soccer game in the aisle with a giant plastic ball substituting for the real thing. They are uninhibited, and completely unselfconscious and oblivious to me as I slowly back out of that aisle back towards the wall, checking behind me, an Asian teenager stands awaiting my approach to the wall with the cart, so that she may dart in front of me, though there was plenty of room behind me as she made her way towards the stereo dept and was parallel to my cart a second ago.
She squeaks an impertinent “Excuuuse meee”, and moves on.

Though I am not, I feel huge, lumbering as a woolly mammoth, she the lizard-like sprinting surviving remnant of the dinosaurs.

I feel a retroactive urge to have “accidentally ” squashed her.

The soccer players have also moved on, but I still take the back way to the next aisle. There is a “discovery and learning” area, full of National Geographic made toys. I look at a realistic looking light up moon that goes in one’s room at night and is accurate to the phases. This is something I would want, but probably not a 6 year old boy, and I would be reminded of this fact, another failing if I was weak, and presumed my son might enjoy something I also did. On top of that, it is almost exactly like the one I had seen at the Exploratorium and commented about months ago, so I would be called on it that I had really wanted it for myself. I return it to the shelf, making a note of the company.

Below that area, I see a child’s guitar, only 20 dollars and less garish than the one that was given him at Christmas. On the yellow, white and blue box is a smiling black boy, only his head, not playing guitar.

It is as heavy as it should be for it’s size, and it has classical strings like my own guitar, has it s own case and tuning instrument, (I don’t need that, but he may , if I am not around, no one on the other side of his family is musical) I place it in the basket.

Now I look for smaller items, things that would be seen as more action oriented , I find a small parachuter man. I try to think of things he would like, not as me liking the toys, in case the guitar is not considered “fun enough”. I find a bubble blowing kit, and a set of magnets. Then I think of art supplies as he draws fairly well for his age. There is nothing in the children’s section for this that is not electronic. On the way to this area, I pick up a card, tissue paper and huge gift bag, with a view to avoiding buying the more expensive wrapping paper, and knowing I am not great at wrapping presents anyway, and to make it easy for him to tear the wrapping off by himself.

I wonder if this will be perceived or commented on as half-assed, and feel a hot rush of anger/sadness/embarrassment at this.

The store has really started to become so crowded it is difficult to navigate down the aisle. People talk loudly as they careen down the aisle, as if on stage. Some call out to each other in various languages, children are berated, others wail mercilessly, while still others look blissfully unconscious in baby strollers,t he ones who are not covered up by yards of hand knit blankets. I think of SIDS whenever I see this. It is not cold in this store in the least. My mouth is dry, and I feel the beginnings of feeling faint , quite familiar I am with this feeling from my last pregnancy. this is not the case now, but I know I should get some sugar. When I first came in, I grabbed a box of candy, a kind I don’t even particularly like, because it was close and on sale cheap for this very purpose. No one notices as I open the corner and sneak a few jujube’s into my mouth, knowing I will have to buy this box of vile chewy gelatin and additives. However it works, in minutes the sweaty feeling is all but gone, only the thirst remains.

That I can take care of later, besides there is nothing to drink on this side of the store and the other side seems miles away now, the thought of having to battle hordes of loud, large, not-conscious-of-their-body-in-relation-to-mine people does not appeal one whit.
The way things are organized here seems to bear no relation to each other, unlike the smaller drug stores. I find the art supplies , crayons and markers. I am in luck, some are discounted. I buy the crayons, marker pens, tape, ruler, paste, and drawing paper. I realize there has been some other radio-machine blaring old soul-pop from the 80’s. In my right temple the thought of a headache begins. A couple feet ahead of me, sashays three black teenagers or perhaps early 20’s, it is hard to say. I cannot make myself politely look away (besides, they don’t see me) from what they are wearing, how they walk, talk. One wears a kind of halter top, her middle, sides and gut protrude like bad meat. I wonder whether she has had children or is just unconcerned , or possibly even thinks she is stylish. Another plays with her artificially straightened hair, what there is of it. At this I resolve to stay in back
of them, knowing the hate for White women with long hair, no matter how old we are in comparison to them.

The halter top draws to a halt , starts exclaiming over a whole box of Hallmark cards, categorized so you need not shop every time one needs a card, and seems to make a comment as if she is “playing house” about how she needs something just like this.

Now it is safe to pass them and start for the register. Another Asian hummingbird tries to dart in front of me in the line, but I swing myself and my items up too fast, she is away without any comment. I stand in line, the very next in line while the cashier , an elderly Japanese woman waits on the large , what looks to be Samoan couple, and child.

The immense woman holds up a bra, obviously too small to be for her, nor for the young girl with them, prob only 4 or 5. “It has no tag” she proclaims to the older woman, her face pug like, resolute. I can feel the exasperation of the cashier, yet she accommodates them, asking her to send a family member to look for the same thing (this wasn’t thought of when she realized she was going to buy it?. The cashier has already rung up all of their other purchases, and appears to not want to void the sale and help me, possibly creating more trouble and complications for herself. We wait. The other person does not return. The cashier looks at me at once sympathetically and showing her resentment towards the previous customer. Minutes tick by. A White man appears behind me, he looks like a rougher version of a CS&N type. He only has a pair of shoes to pay for. I warn him of the disaster of the line we are in. He acts nonchalant, but after more minutes go by, thanks me, and defects to another line. The girl eats a piece of gum out of the pack she is holding and starts to swing on the dividing rope to the cashier area, she leans forward, and loses her gum to the floor, picks up up , puts it back in her mouth. The cashier and I exchange disgusted looks. The Samoan mother’s (grandmother?) hairline is damp.

After the White man has paid and left, the cashier comes around her area, and starts packing my things back into my cart, seeing as how I have already begun to do this. I tell her “this country is going to be really dumb in a few years”. She looks at me, it is hard to tell if she is uncomprehending of my statement, or sheer disbelief that I said it. Perhaps she thinks it is directed at her. I tell her it is not her fault. She thanks me as I move on to a cashier a few yards forward. Almost over, almost over. The sheer crowdedness and noise level have made this trip take much longer than anticipated. I am so thirsty now I am planning on visiting the store cafeteria for some fountain drink. I pay, then head over there, cart full. A table full of Asian teenager boys giggle to themselves, some private in joke they think hilarious. I wonder if I have sat in gum or a pen is leaking in my pocket, a button missing. A woman at least as elderly as the Japanese woman , but White ,a nd wearing an employee smock, fixes herself coffee. I stand alone at the cash regiter, hoping someone will show up, or the older woman will go back to her post. She calls someone from the back cooking area. A giddy looking Asian girl comes out . I ask for a large coke,a dn gesture to the fountain. “Soda?” No one says “soda” here I think, and recall a PBS website quiz about regional differences, but I say yes. There is 20 cents tax on the soda. The tops are all of the open variety, as if for a slushy. I know this will spill on me in the car, but I am too thirsty to care. I pay, fill up and drink deep, as yet another Asian woman holds a baby , the back of his head extraordinarily flat , and scoots her stroller and items out of the way for me to get though.

I manage to get though the door, receipt in hand, though there is no one there to check at this exit and make my escape. I have parked along the side of the building , a shorter horizontal direction walk than the usual long rows of parking most use. As I put my items in the trunk I smell the sick, burning smell of pot. I look around , yet do not see it’s source. I once recognized this scent as high school and early 20’s, yet now it makes me feel ill. I quickly get in the car, keeping my windows closed, and drink more Pepsi.

Now to get the cake at the Pak and Save, knowing it won’t be as bad as this.



The field trip was almost over. Myself ,this man, and 5 children (having been abandoned by the other mother who took the two kids she was with and decided we could have the third ‘extra’, that was originally to be shared by all) were gathered at the small lab-created island near the gate. I believe the entire class was supposed to have met there at a certain time to conclude the trip, yet it appeared only myself, this father, and the five various children in tow had followed protocol. The children were becoming overwhelmed , his daughter insisting on wanting papers and coloring books that my son had picked up free at a booth as we trailed behind them moments earlier. I sent my almost 6 year old son to escort her to the booth (seeing-distance away) to get her the same things.

The two other girls sat together looking at something, and the remaining boy climbed the island rocks, which had a rope guarding it and a sign to the effect of “Don’t climb on the island”. We pretended not to notice as he followed his daughter with his eyes to the booth. They returned, bearing more coloring books for the rest of the kids, and probably more than were needed. The rest of the class still not showing up, the man asked me if they had decided to just cancel the meet-up and stay at the playground area, where we had just left, putting shoes back on all five protesting 5 year olds, counting heads, collecting lunch bags and jackets.

“Looks that way”, I said.

“Hmmm”, he said, unsure of what to do, as if the situation were so complex. Now my son was also climbing the island, and his daughter, with the boy’s name and beautiful short , somewhat unruly strawberry blonde hair, was back to whining and imploring him for some new thing she wanted to have or do. He looked around, clearly annoyed with the situation.

“I’ll be back in a minute”, I said, making my son get down off the rock with the fake “neat-o” voice I had learned never fails with kindergarten age kids. “Let’s go see what’s in there..” and led Jr to the zoo store. He zipped around looking at stuff as I tried to rein him in asking him if he wanted a treat and what kind, an he started to take out way too many of every variety of the striped candy sticks.

“No, No, pick one flavor you like the best”. He did, and I picked the same for the other 4 kids, gave them to him to distribute. The other kids were thrilled with this ridiculously overpriced piece of sugar. He started the obligatory “What do you say?” and I just smiled at her, knowing the torture of parents who put children into that horrific “thank you, kind sir” constantly.

I apologized for not asking the man if it was OK if his daughter was allowed to have one. He looked at me as if I were slightly mentally ill, and said it was fine.

Contrary to the past theories of sugar making children into hyperkinetic agents of satan, the candy made them all seem to focus and at least stop making as much noise. He asked me something, a routine pleasantry that I hesitated, or stumbled over, or answered with not enough of something or too much of something, that it made his brow furrow. I think it was about vacation plans this summer. I told him I was not going along on the cruise, or the amusement park trip. I did not look at him until the end of this statement. He nodded. Long minute of silence. My face felt hot, my mouth dry. I longed for the candy the children had and wished I had bought one for myself.

I sat down at the end of the row of children to my left, who were engrossed in watching bugs crawl in the bricks and a loose brick they kept turning over and replacing. The man again started looking around, and almost pacing. He was average height, slightly built and sharp faced, the movement of his head almost like an eagle. His hair was of that indeterminate coppery sandy color, and of a rough texture, and very short. The way he scanned and watched for the children was a completely different way than I did, I noticed this when we were at the playground area. He accounted to me that he was going to the swings to push his daughter, a combination of “this is where I will be”, and “you take over”. I was surprised he did this but after the way he was at lunchtime, and the fact he paid for most of the kids train ride (except mine, my doing, feeling bad that the other mother and the rest of the kids were on his dime).
“OK” (half hearted smile), and turned back to make note of particulars about what the other 4 were wearing, or something about them to help me keep track of them.

He started talking about Nantucket and Father’s Day, how he was leaving that night (“that’s right, boysname, you can sleep on an airplane”)… I knew Nantucket was on the east coast, but that was all. It was better when we were just quiet and uncomfortable. I desperately wished he hadn’t started this new train of conversation. I nodded. Another half hearted smile, quick look, look back down. Oh God, it was my “turn” to say something. He saved me from this despicable moment, with something even worse. “so, we will see you at the school in fall, then?” . It wasn’t said brightly, either. It as said as if he had put 2+2 and thought this was the best question to answer all further questions.

I drew a deep breath, and looked up, took of the sunglasses that had by now become smudged and damp.

“I don’t know. I might (a slight stutter here, not an official one, but headed in that direction, only a 1.5 ) , might have to move”. I clenched by jaw, pressed my lips together before I knew I was doing it, and felt that awful itch in my nose that meant the worst was about to happen. I looked down. His feet, in nicer shoes than a zoo trip should warrant, that were in motion before, turning this way and that, scanning for the other parents, stopped.

I stood up for fear he might sit down near me, and thankful he waited long enough for me to pick myself up, as I tried to regain dignity . With horror and embarrassment (or was it fear?) I almost recoiled as he touched my arm . “I’m sorry” he said. He looked at my hands , an obvious check for what was the appropriate thing to say. “I hope things get better (tiny iota of a pause) .. for you”, or something like that. How he could think of things to say, every pause, every word measured-that quickly frightened me yet impressed me. But “it” was over.

There would be no more awful questions now.

” That’s why it is better this way”, he said to the air , looking away. “No custody fights, no anger, no blaming. ” I listened, happy to be an audience for his proclamations, hoping he was about to lead into some boring rant about counseling and mediation and people ending up “friends” ,and that would conjure enough contempt I would stop feeling this way, at least.
I was so relieved he was not asking about me, I didn’t even follow some of what he said, or perhaps I couldn’t hear, except the part “when my wife died”…my mouth fell open .

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know that, I thought you just had custody”.

I recalled seeing them, he, the daughter and the grandmother the little girl had called “Oma” at the book fair where I had volunteer cashiered the week before. They were the first ones there. He seemed overly thrilled when I found the last copy of a children’s book for his daughter, and asked my name and introduced me to the grandmother, made the daughter thank me, which she did enthusiastically . I had wondered if this fey little creature was perhaps spoiled (although this scenario was missing something for it to be that) by the two obligatory late in life parents, and recalled seeing him drop her off in a car that looked to be expensive, at the time, passing judgement that the mother worked when she didn’t have to, and the little girl went to the afterschool program until 5 not being picked up by her mom like myself and the other mommies who stood and endlessly yakked as the children played on the playground atfer school let out.

Now I understood the introduction, the after-school program, all of it. The flush of shame rose in me. I looked at him helplessly and swallowed. I didn’t ask when or how, and wasnt about to. This was the kind of “opportunity’ the other moms would savor as far as knowing exactly the right consoling phrase and tone to take- but I, having been thrown off by my own tears so recently could only stand there and silently cry more but this time I didn’t look down, I looked straight at him, my pain being less than his I would not allow myself vain or prideful gestures when I had so little else to offer as far as words- the tears ran fast and hot, though silently for him, for my judgements, for the sound of his voice when he said “my wife” , his love for her in death possibly stronger than any man had loved me alive- then felt awful for my own self-pity- for his daughter whom I was looking at and wondering if her mother looked like her, as she did not favor her father much, and how that must add to it for him. My stomach tightened, longing for a full on sob, but I held it back with a deep, sinusy sniffle, which sounded bad, but was better than a sob or a vocalization.

I can’t remember anything else that was said by the island, as about then one of the school mothers whom everyone knew came up and he asked her what was happening, she stated that we could just go. He looked at me and I said that sounded like a good idea to me.

As we proceeded to the exit gates and he walked towards the close parking and I walked towards Sloat Avenue where I was parked half a mile away to avoid the five dollar parking fee, I looked back and said to have a safe trip. He sid something, but I can’t remember what he said to that. I turned holding my son’s hand and led him to the trail for the walk to the car. When I felt I was far enough away, yet he was still “back there” , I crouched down and hugged my boy, my face wet all over again. I had no mental sentence constructed to neatly wrap things up.

My son seemed not to notice, having seen this kind of thing before at home, and skipped along, commenting on the trail, the zoo buildings..

I now understood the vicarious happiness in him at the book fair, the inappropriate (I thought) introduction, him not eating at lunch and seeming inability to relax, how he seemed to be regularly checking not only where the children were, but the whereabouts of myself and the other mother as well- making a fuss over the fact his daughter was not finishing the sandwich or leaving a mess. The shape of their new universe and now unintended importance of details , small things, completion. , his determination that she would have her book, eat her lunch , go on the train, and smile.