Scenes of Scenery

by Brad Perry

From where you sit, the park unfurls like a morning yawn –open and profound and wonderful. A stretch of green races off to nowhere, radiating the sunlight in an emerald haze above the grass. You squint against it, peering out over the manmade lake. Although there’s a bit of a breeze, the water remains still. Not a single wave wrinkles the surface, yet the trees are alive with the wind. Branches wave, their leaves swishing together. You always loved that papery sound, like rustling newspapers or the pages of a too-long novel. You grin. It was an odd impulse to go to the park this morning, but you’re glad you acted on it. Things have been hectic lately. It was time to unwind and get back to normal. You take in a deep breath and sigh it out. You don’t have to be anywhere for another half hour. Take the time and drink in the scenery.

Along the water, an old man is practically oozing into a picnic table. His head is dipped well below his shoulders, his posture essentially liquid. A stringy white beard flaps in the wind, and you wonder if it makes the same sound as the leaves. His eyes are half closed, and his shirt is dirty. Could he be homeless? You look away, unmoved.

{Dammit, Jim needed a drink. No, not booze. Just water. A tall glass would be just what the doctor ordered. It was too hot. He shifted, his eyes glancing down at his shirt. Christ, he looked bad. He was stained from head to toe. Maybe he’d try to see Amy again. She always knew what to do. She always helped. Amy. Amy.}

Three young mothers push strollers along the sidewalk. Their outfits are almost identical, from the flashy white sneakers to the neon tank tops. Matching ponytails are funneled through the backs of baseball caps, bouncing with every enthusiastic step. All three wear sunglasses far too big for their slender faces. You scoff. Is this what motherhood boils down to? Ignoring sleeping toddlers in strollers while you gossip with friends?

{Shauna was so annoying. All she ever did was talk about going back to school, and it made Marie sick.So what if she was getting her Master’s degree? To hear her tell it, she was the first in the history of womankind to do it. Wait –was Shauna still talking? Marie shot a glance to Stephanie, who suppressed a giggle. Thank God someone felt the same way. Shauna blathered on, the baby kicked his little legs in the stroller, and Marie lost herself in the casual tide of her annoyance.}

Behind the mothers, moving in the opposite direction, is a jogger. He moves fast, each stride confident, each foot that slaps against the sidewalk a bold step into a better life. You lean to get a better look at him. He’s older than you initially thought –maybe in his forties or fifties? God, you’d love to have that kind of dedication. You only exercise sporadically, usually in unrelated bursts of fervor brought on by fitness infomercials or self-loathing. The jogger continues on, moving off the sidewalk and onto the grass. With one hand he checks his pulse, checking his watch with the other. What the hell inspires people to work that hard? You shake your head.

{Steve was doing okay, but he could be doing better. He had already gone two miles in less than twenty minutes, and that was pretty damn good for a guy his age, but it wasn’t good enough. Steve’s mind drifted back to its focal point, its centerpiece, its sun: Bill. If only Bill had exercised the way Steve had, maybe he’d still be here. Maybe they’d be grabbing a beer, or seeing a movie, or sitting down to dinner with their mother. Steve clenched his fists. The heart attack.That fucking heart attack. Steve pushed harder, trying to outrun his paranoia, his grief, and his brother Bill’s untimely death.}

A woman (a girl, really) is reading beneath a tree. She isn’t too far away, and you can make out the title of the book. It isn’t one you’ve heard of –The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. A bit of an odd, old-fashioned title, yet it seems to fit her. She’s pretty in an outdated sort of way. Cascades of auburn hair blow in the breeze. Thick glasses frame her view, resting atop high cheekbones. Long slender fingers, each nail painted a different color, tap against the book. Weirdly, she’s wearing a dress and high heels. In one of her hands is a pen, and every so often she stops reading to scribble something down in a notebook sitting next to her. You smile.

{It was hard for her to describe what it all felt like. That was the hardest part, right? Jessie could describe the sights, sounds, even the smells of the park that morning, but she always had a hard time melding it all together into a uniform entity. She took off her high heels and wiggled her toes, feeling the wind slip between them. If she was ever going to be a successful writer, ever create characters as beautifully built as her beloved Kavalier and Clay, she’d have to be more in-tune with the world around her. “Existence is truth,” Mrs. McCarty always said, “Writers must make us believe it.” Jessie gritted her teeth. What kind of cryptic nonsense was that? She rested her head against the tree and looked up at the swaying branches. The word “dramatic” appeared in her mind. Would that be an intriguing word to describe an old tree? Dramatic? Could trees actually be dramatic? She sighed, jotted down the word in her notebook, and shook her head. Writer’s block was hell, but she was irritably optimistic. The words would come, but she didn’t know when.}

Although you like the old-fashioned girl with her contemplative face and curious novel, you are distracted by a pair of teenagers sitting at the lake’s edge. It’s a boy and girl, and neither look a day older than sixteen. They both appear nervous, but maybe it’s just the puberty. You’re glad to be done with all that nonsense.

{Should he hold her hand? Could he hold her hand? He glanced down at her legs, which dangled just above the water. Good God, she had nice legs. She had nice everything. His eyes darted back to her hand, resting too close to his own. What did it mean? Everything? Nothing? Did she like him? He just didn’t want to screw up. What if he took her hand and she rejected him? What if she wanted it, but he never went for it? Sweat beaded on his forehead. What was he supposed to do?}

You chuckle, then glance at your phone. Shit, it’s time to go. You stand, brush some wayward blades of grass from your shorts, and take one last look around. There are plenty of people you don’t notice (the children playing tag, the college girls studying for an exam, the loner walking his dog), whose stories you’ll never know {the children are at the park without permission, two of the college girls are unwittingly dating the same guy, the loner is planning to kill himself, but is worried about what would happen to his dog}. But how could you?

You leave the park without another thought. Only the wind, with one less person to push, registers your absence.

Brad Perry is an English teacher from Michigan who reads and writes a lot. He has previously had work published in Page & Spine magazine.