Memories in the Park
Paul Beckman, April Bradley, Audra Kerr Brown, Gay Degani, Hillary Leftwich, Jan Elman Stout, A.E. Weisgerber, & Nan Wigington
A collaboration prompted by Kamilah Aisha Moon’s poem, “Memory in the Park”
I remember the day when Mama swung across the river on a rope tied to the branch of the swamp oak. I saw her pleasure naked. I saw sky upon cloth upon skin. She was the arrow of human ambition arcing across the sun, and her stretched legs pointed to Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune.
She pulled the rope and walked it back as far as possible, snapped it a few times, and pulled on it to insure it would hold her, as she glided across the river from hill to hill with her Heidi Klum backpack to deliver my forgotten lunch. Mama wanted me to swing over and get it: against the rules. Running, she pushed off, her tether unbroken.
And the first tier of maple limbs got assigned to my sisters by Father, and each girl, woman really, was jealous of each. Every sister wondered why she was assigned the worst limb—one unexpected to survive New England winters. Father knew trees and knew wood, yet heard the whispering and whining from his stripling daughters. How he laughed. He didn’t understand this birth, this longing. The old man sees the cramp of time, bunched gingham, the women they will become, the children they will bear, bodies bulged like pears. He sees women as heartbeats of the world’s aliments.
Mama looked at me. Her pleasure fractured, like frilly underpants on a boy.
Father berated Mama for not bearing sons, who would have accepted their gift and shrugged off the others; each would have believed he won the lottery.
I pumped hard to make a plan. Up high, clouds tickled my toes. Below, the ground grew dark. The wolves kept on pacing as pirates pulled out spyglasses, pointed them straight at me. Swinging was the closest thing to my soul. My ankle-socked feet pumped hard and piloted the wind, cauterized my ragged nerve endings like wine.
I remember too, above the monkey bars, how air thumped and churned and drummed down through the canopy of trees whock whock whock. I dropped down to the hard-trod dirt, my knees kissing the earth so I could cover my ears and see the fast-passing shadow.
Mama stepped out, shielded her eyes, and looked up. The helicopter disappeared and I followed her gaze and spied air currents disturbing treetops a ridge distant.
I saw it—treasure under waves of hawthorn, a blur of green, some specks of amber, ruby, the sapphire of delphiniums. I almost jumped up to pluck the gems, but near the bench, pirates lurked with slinking wolves on leashes.
I shut my eyes and saw the jewels, the castle wall.
Back then, my magic could make it so.
Back and forth unattended—beaming—I swung, A little harder each time, we sailed. Mama used to say: Our journey begins with a star compass of hope. A shark caught inside a jellyfish. This one is victim, that one is predator.
To flying, then pushing off—I knew how to soar and hurl through space in a rush towards infinity, poised along the arc of memory of sister stars scooped up with honeysuckle-sticky fingers and dirty knees crusted with red dirt and creek gravel.
This is the exquisite design of life: the strain, the push, the reach, the drift, the falter. We wheeled through life like the Lost Pleiad, shone, struggled to be seen, never noticed our radiance, until the wooden seat snapped in two, dropped us like stones.
I’d been thinking of Father, how he used to push, make my feet touch the branches. Now I lay on my back deciding if I should scream or cry, who might hear, and if they did, would I want them to. I noticed something high in the tree, what looked like a mummified head: dark holes for eyes, puckered mouth. An alto voice, I wondered whose, rang out: God’s child, you are whole. I released the linked metal chain, so cold it burned. Grackles screeched leaves skittered branches snapped sharp mown grass stink lit up my nostrils cicadas screamed louder than drill bits in steel hands. It hit my forearm. At this I did scream—short and high like a strangled goose—and I didn’t care who heard.
We sink on our own time. Burnt in our daily clothes. We blow a flame for every cross. Tuck bodies tight in bed sheets stained brown. Some called it a good burial, I called it convenience.
This story is about a final daughter. This is about me and the wind cutting my body. My ending is the same each time. This is me, trusting air under feet. This is Mama, watching me fall.
As I rode—the wind!—shotgun with my shoulders pulling and my hair flopping forward and back, Mama crease-folded her map of Missouri and looked at me.
“Remember,” Mama stifled a yawn, “your new name?” Another gust pummeled the treetops.
“Yeah,” I kept dragging my feet and watching the dustup whip away until I stopped. My right Ked was dirtier than the left. The wind still pushed me.
“Tell me, so I know you know.”
I pressed a thumb hard on my thigh, making a pale oval appear. “Ruby.”
The wind pushed everything around except the ants on the leg of that picnic table.
“Well.” Mama’s smoothed the map and tucked it in her bag. “What’s Ruby want to know?”
I looked at the old metal slide and its ladder. “Will there be a playground there?”
Paul Beckman of Connecticut is the author of PEEK: Stories and Come! Meet My Family and Other Stories. More information at paulbeckmanstories.com.
April Bradley lives on the Connecticut shoreline. Recent work appearing in CHEAP POP and NANO Fiction. Follow @april_bradley.
Iowan Audra Kerr Brown’s stories are in People Holding, Fiction Southeast, Fjords Review, F(r)iction Online and more. Tweet her @audrakerrbrown.
Californian Gay Degani (www.gaydegani.com) has two story collections, Pomegranate and Rattle of Want, and a suspense novel, What Came Before.
Hillary Leftwich lives in Denver, where she co-hosts the At the Inkwell literary reading series. Stories in Hobart, Whiskey Paper and others.
Jan Elman Stout lives in Washington, DC. Recent work in Literary Orphans, b(OINK), and Jellyfish Review. Tweet her: @janelmanstout.
New Jerseyan A.E. Weisgerber recently essayed on Mötley Crüe for March SHREDNESS. Publications news at anneweisgerber.com or @aeweisgerber.
Nan Wigington lives in Colorado and tweets @Mind_of_Winter. Recent fiction in Gravel Magazine, Pithead Chapel, and Halo Literary Magazine.
The authors express their gratitude to Kamilah Aisha Moon for granting permission to use her poem in this new creative work.