The Park
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Depression"
Originally featured on 10-30-2008
As part of our series "The Bigger They Are, The Harder Empires Fall (The Ions Behind the Scenes of Every Regime Change)"

You were lured with the beautiful incense of a saffron mystic. I should have warned you. It’s not romantic in the upturn. It’ll leave you slanted, jilted, stinging for the solid beige of future time, to rescue you, to sew the irrevocable past. Hungry for a girl with a common soul. But I didn’t warn you.

I took a bath at 4 pm today and thought of the people who spend 15 years in solitary confinement. I should be moving for them because they cannot. There was music on and it caught me and I ached. It was both hollow and pushed. Like someone was stepping on my chest. I lay down on the floor with my face in the carpet. I lay like that for 2 hours until the pain motivated me to switch. The apartment smelled of me and I couldn’t stay.

I walk through the park on a Tuesday afternoon. I go to the park so I can tell you I went when I see you later today. So there will be something to say and maybe you’ll think it was a good day. I went alone, as an adult. The purpose of kids and dogs is an excuse to do these things. It is wrong to exist there as an adult, but I am not supposed to be anywhere right now. Several adults stand a top of a children’s hill, where kids slide down, and they would never be there without them. I think it’s unfair, this rule about where to exist and that I’m perceived as a threat. Something poisonous to hurt their families. I remind them of what they were and could be again. My limbs are heavy and my stride is slow enough to attract attention, but that’s not my goal. I feel my legs dissolving into the concrete paths. I walk by an SUV and see two green car seats, one forward, one backward, the strengthening of vertebrae with stair step children. I looked for the older, stronger one, but only saw a baby in a mother’s arms. I weigh ninety-eight pounds and am not a vessel. I do not have the joy of a caretaker. It would be too heavy, too demanding. I walk the park because I’m early.

Two women sit near the fountain on opposite sides. Their tiny children play in the water. They let them wander too far. The women stare off at differing angles. I see one of their two year olds within ten feet of the street. The mother’s do not speak to each other, as if they are too tired. Their parenting is loose. I see a tiny girl alone and I think of leaving a note pinned to her, something like, “ I could have taken her,” to see if the women really are tired

I saw a group of teenagers. It was obvious that they were smoking, but they were hushed, behind a pavilion. Trying to hide whatever it is they do. They walked away and I went and picked up their stubs of cigarettes and tried to smoke them. To try to borrow the peer pressure. To borrow that attention. If you were here, you’d pull me away by the hand, and pretend it was part of our romantic walk. I was still early, but I decided to go to the place, to meet you, because I was tired.

This is the first place where people meet. A sushi place, but not a good place. I find a chair. The chair is made of young ash, a kinder silver. A woman’s seat, and I find it comforting. Like this is what is supposed to happen.

I hear a woman on a first date while I wait for you. She brings up her German Shepherd and the way she likes to lay on her couch with her arms stretched out when she’s drunk. I want to tell her she will be alone if she continues. That she speaks too confidently and she should be ashamed sometimes. Not everything is o.k. She’d better be careful. Shame, a bit of shame, is sexy. Her voice is too high. He doesn’t want her to talk that much.

The woman’s youth is so loud. It looks like you could cut it. That long blond hair, real and thick. The pores that aren’t there. It makes me afraid. My hair is long and young and I want to give it. To fill the room with youth. To use it. To spend it. I’m afraid I’ll just waste mine. I tried to use the art on the walls to stay present. But art, at its best, is only a demigod, like childbirth, and it will only keep you alive until the next one dies and then you’ll fade.

You sat down and I couldn’t look at you. There were instant tears in my eyes and I told you to give me a minute. We ordered sushi. We ate sushi because it’s trying. A bit of healthy. An obvious effort. I can use the chopsticks, but I can’t eat. You can’t use the chopsticks, but are hungry. As we talk, you get progressively more upset and forget what you are doing. You use your fingers to scoop the vegetables in your mouth while picking up your plate. There is sauce on your fingers and you forget and lick it off. At first I don’t notice. I hear you chew and I hear your TMJ and it makes me want to tear out my tongue and the flesh lining my cheeks. So I will never do what you are doing. I tried to ignore it, to give you grace, but people were watching and I couldn’t shut up. I told you that you were gross and you were ashamed. Your eyes were cast down and I wondered if you were catching this, this ugliness that I give you. But you didn’t say anything or yell. I told you I walked today and you said that that was nice. I told you about hills and fountains. Not of the women and babies.

Marriage is like being tucked in for a long sleep. I don’t like anything that makes it o.k. for me to not move, for years. I know you’ll stay and I know I’ll hurt you.

You must have thought I was a muse. Because I am too dramatic and too thin. There’s something about the excessive eyeliner. Maybe you thought I was a mystic, who could keep you from being tied to your job. It was stupid of you. I think my kind mother tried to warn you. Asked you if you were up for this. She used to mock me when we were in stores and she fed me macaroni and cheese at every opportunity, so the jutting bones on me wouldn’t be so pure. You just smiled and ate it. You didn’t understand this is more about beige than about mystics. It’s about desperation. I am a gross lie. You think I am not tied here, that I float, and sometimes maybe I do. My pain is not pretty or serious. I want to shred myself for it. Maybe you needed it too. To be loud and still and full of whines that take themselves seriously. For someone to carry that for you.

You ask me if I applied for jobs today. I tell you I did. But I don’t really remember. I slept for most of the day. It was hazy and I woke covered in sweat, rolled in our bed. You want me to walk and be awake.You ask me to pick up the dry cleaning, but you know I won’t and that we’ll fight about it later. You can’t let me be healthy and neither can I. Then who would carry this? You can go to work because I stay home. You eat because I am hollow for you.

I paid the bill and I found a picture of you below my debit card. When you put a picture of the one you love in your pocket, as you walk out the door, what does that mean? What does that mean you believe? You left before I did and I stayed and watched people.

Read More By Alice Clark

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