by Rhys Leyshon Evans
McCarren Park sits amidst the August haze, young and old voices peppering the exasperated air. Frisbee’s float this way and that. Families picnic on chequered rugs and blankets. Sandwiches wrapped in tin foil look on in despair as ravenous mouths descend. Husbands lose their cool with wives next to heaving iceboxes. Blades of grass sit cheekily on once expensive blankets, blemishing the psychedelic patterns like acne on a twelve-year olds once un-imitable pallor.
Couples are dotted all around the park.
Young and together through circumstance and drunken encounters and a fear of living alone: being alone, sleeping alone, dying alone, even though their youthful eye’s claim that the future is still something worth cherishing.
You spend the afternoon in the park with your girlfriend, the Blonde. The Blonde is actually a brunette. It is a joke that was never really very funny in the first place. You and the Blonde do not have a rug and sit serenely in shade watching the park’s activity bubble around you. A toddler celebrates his third birthday party with his family and half a dozen fellow toddlers. His mother, dressed modishly in slim black jeans and maroon polo shirt, prepares the cake and plates and napkins while the toddlers test the adult’s patience with carefully planned roaming. The birthday boy’s father busies himself taking pictures of the party: adults tucking into sly bottles of beer hidden neatly in paper bags, toddlers trying to climb up tree-trunks and the fence that surrounds the all weather soccer pitches.
You watch the Blonde examine a ratty paperback she has brought with her. It is angled so that the blurb faces the grass, while the cover points away from the Blonde towards the rest of the park allowing any passer-by to see that it is The City and the Pillar. Since the beginning of your relationship, you don’t think you have ever seen the Blonde read the ingredients on a food packet let alone an entire novel. Upon first arriving at the park, the Blonde spent a good three minutes arranging the book to her satisfaction. A leather bookmark, which once belonged to her mother, peaks out from near the beginning of the yellowing pages.
‘Is it any good?’ you ask, leaning back on your palms, and nodding towards the book.
‘It’s, y’know, a book.’
‘And the story?’
‘I’m only a couple of pages into it. I like to read about love, I guess. And the book is about love. It can be interesting. Like science or something.’
You pick up the novel and read the vague details on its back and then, under the watchful gaze of the Blonde, make sure to replicate its original positioning.
The mother of the toddler removes her designer sunglasses as she inserts the candles into the shape of a triangle.
A voice celebrates a goal over on the all-weather pitches.
Ice creams melt sadly.
‘I used to love going to library when I was a child,’ says the Blonde. ‘I never wanted to return the books when I’d finished them. My poor parents used to pay such high overdue fines.’
‘Really? Even in a library?’
‘Uh-huh. I once kept three books out for like six months and every couple of weeks a notice would arrive by post. Eventually my parents found the books. I had started my own library in the garage you see. Renting out books to people in the neighbourhood for a couple of cents each. I made nearly twenty dollars.’ The Blonde laughs and drinks in the pure blue sky. ‘I guess I just loved the feel of a hardback book. Early on I understood the idea of a first edition and rare copies. From the minute I started going to the library, I needed ownership of those books. Sometimes I would pick books that I liked the look of and simply stare at them until they had to be returned.’
‘I didn’t you realise you were a library buff.’
‘Well, I never really go anymore. If I like a book, I just buy it, y’know?’
Candles are lit and the partygoers cluster around the cake like it is some resurrected religious idol, each desperate to get a better view. With prompting, the toddler takes a deep breath and his father holds his expensive camera in place and braces himself for an action shot. You and the Blonde watch the toddler blow out the candles in two attempts and laugh loudly. But the father shakes his head. The picture has come out blurred he says. After much consultation, the father orders that there must be a re-take. Some adults mutter under the protection of their breath.
Children whine for cake.
After three re-takes of the toddler blowing out the candles, the father remains less than satisfied with the shots, but accepts that he cannot test the partygoers patience any longer.
You and the Blonde continue to observe the party evolve until the sugar rush and mid-afternoon sun combine to desensitize the toddlers and the party collect their belongings: numerous rugs that have been combined to form an ad-hoc archipelago, and other picnic paraphernalia, and transfer themselves to adequate shade on the other side of the park, near Baynard Street.
You look at the Blonde and consider nestling into her, but choose not to.
‘Jesus Christ, I loathe children,’ murmurs the Blonde, watching the party disappear. ‘Such a waste, a complete waste of energy.’
Your palms begin to lose their strength, so you lie back on the grass.
‘Like, my friend Lucien had a baby and I just can’t be friends with him anymore. He’s become so self-centred. He only cares for his damn baby. Baby Jeff. I mean who calls a baby Jeff? It’s like calling it Norman. Or Nelson. Or Frederick. They’re just not baby names.’
‘Right. Malcolm is only suitable for a forty-five year old who sells air-conditioning units…I just don’t understand people’s obsession with children,’ huffs the Blonde, picking up The City and the Pillar and altering its angle slightly so that no shards of sun light catch its cover.
You keep your eyes closed and figure that few things are guaranteed in your life, but you know for certain that you will never have children with the Blonde. And this comforts you momentarily. You can guarantee the future. Almost. But how can knowing the future offer any consolation, or satisfaction? It is depressing to think you will never need to consider having children with the Blonde, or tackle some other serious issue together. As a couple. As a team. You and the Blonde have managed to reach a point in your lives where you both subscribe to a relationship you know cannot last and is merely sustained by a slight attraction to one another; and the defining trait is that you ultimately know very little about your respective partner and this suits you both just fine. And you wonder whether you will have children with someone else, and if you do, what they will be called. You always wanted to name a boy Claude. For no reason in particular, other than it has a pleasant ring to it, and seems to suit both a child and an adult equally. Claude is a name designed to transcend generations.
You sit up. The Blonde watches a game of dodgeball begin. From your vantage point, it appears to be shirts versus skins except the majority of the shirted side have decided that they too wished to dispose of their clothing and give an airing to toned muscles and meaningless tattoos.
The Blonde studies the early exchanges.
‘So do you love me yet?’ you jest to the Blonde.
Your joke comes out in a more serious tone than you would have liked, as if it is part of an impassioned filibuster designed to preserve the relationship.
The Blonde does not believe in love. She told you this the night you first met. The Blonde does not believe in a lot of things. For some reason, you found this attractive and half-mysterious for longer than you would like to admit.
‘No,’ replies the Blonde, neatly, as if this is a stock answer, prepared rigidly for when the time arrives and it needs to be delivered with as little emotion as possible.
‘That’s a surprise,’ you say.
Now you are most certainly not joking.
‘Not yet. I don’t think so anyway.’
‘Do you, Walt?
‘Let me ask you this, how can you be so blasé about it all?’
‘You really couldn’t care less, could you?’
‘Oh who cares, Walt? Who. Actually. Cares?’
‘I really do. Because we’re young and supposed to fall in love like every ten minutes on like quite a regular basis. That’s why I care.’
‘I don’t love you, Walt, and if you think about it, you definitely do not love me. And that’s fine that we don’t love one another. Maybe we’re not supposed to.’
‘Then why are we bothering to stay together if there’s no chance of something deeper?’
‘I guess because there’s a chance. You know, like there’s a chance one of those toddlers could run out onto a busy road at some point.’
You stand up.
Anger courses through your veins, unsure of how to articulate itself.
All you want to do is swear.
But you know the Blonde hates curse words.
‘I like you, Walt, so come on, let’s not jeopardize this relationship over something like love.’
‘Whatever,’ you mutter and walk off, knocking The City and the Pillar askew with your scuffed brogue. ‘I wish you’d just break up with me,’ you murmur, back to the Blonde.
‘But what would be the point? There’s nothing else to do.’
You keep walking, through the park, passing her apartment, passing your favourite neighbourhood bar filled with pitchers of light beers and pale ales, to the subway station where a drunk couple argues on the platform about who should pay for their cable television, and toddlers seem to be the order of the day, clumped together and filling all the seats on the train when it finally arrives, shouting about who won at softball. And you just close your eyes, hard, so you can only focus on the kaleidoscopic patterns tripping on your eyelids.
You keep your eyes closed.
Maybe the Blonde is right.
What else is there to do?
Rhys Leyshon Evans is 24. His work has appeared in 3am Magazine, Specter Literary Magazine, fwriction: review, and The Cadaverine. More info can be found at rhysleyshonevans.tumblr.com.