CABB’s 2019

April 12th Challenge

Secrets of Central Park

something joyous

by JoAnn Baca

Inspired by the Central Park Slide

 

Sacred space and sacred time and something joyous to do is all we need.
~ Joseph Campbell

 

“WooHOOOOOO!!!!!!!!”

Kipper’s shout carried across the playground as he skimmed down the 45-foot granite slide in the Billy Johnson Playground inside Central Park. The children from Below loved everything about the playground, just a few years old and still feeling “new” – itself an unusual  condition among people for whom “used” took on special dimensions Below.

Samantha was right behind Kipper, waiting impatiently for him to clear the bottom of the slide before propelling herself down in turn. “Wheeeee!” she squealed, letting loose and screaming with abandon.

More children waited near the top for their turns, and Jamie smiled indulgently as one after another they ran up to her, breathless, to proclaim it the best slide EVER, and to urge her to take a ride on it. She demurred, not because she didn’t want to, but because she felt her dignity required her to abstain in the children’s presence. Besides, she had already been Above a number of times with Mouse to sample the delights of the slide, as well as the bucket swings in the playground.

Morgan plopped down beside her, red-faced and huffing, sweat beading his brow. “Whew, that’s really something,” he announced as he swept his shirtsleeve across his forehead.

Jamie opened a thermos and offered him a cup of William’s lemonade. He accepted it gratefully and slurped it down. His panting subsided but he continued to sit on the bench beside her, swinging his legs.

“Everything OK?” she asked.

“Yep. Just…hangin’ out…if that’s OK?” he said, anxiously expressing his last words.

She reached out to tousle his hair. “Sure!”

He ducked, embarrassed at her gesture. “I’m not a kid,” he declared.

“Oh. Sorry,” she replied, wondering why he was suddenly so touchy.

He slouched next to her, a frown on his face. “Not a kid,” he said again.

“OK! I said I was sorry.”

Mouse shuffled up to the bench. “Mary said time to go soon,” he announced.

Morgan glared at him, which Jamie noticed, even as Mouse remained oblivious, social cues not being his forte.

“Morgan, why don’t you round up the others for me?” she asked. He brightened at the request and jumped up. “Sure!”

As he ran off towards the slide, Mouse sat where Morgan had been. “Likes you,” he said.

“Huh?”

“Morgan. Likes you.”

Jamie stared at Mouse as if he had two heads. “You’re crazy. He’s just a little kid.”

Stubbornly, Mouse repeated, “Likes you.”

She shook her head, wondering where Mouse got such silly ideas.

* * *

As they travelled the underground paths leading to the Hub Below, Morgan hung back to walk beside Jamie. Now that Mouse had put that idea into her head, she noticed things about the youngster beside her. He was walking closer than he needed to, so that his arm often brushed against hers, and he was staring up at her more than he was watching his footing. Several times she had to reach out a steadying hand as he tripped over a low pipe fitting or an uneven section of ground. Irritated, she finally said, “Morgan, watch where you’re going!” That caused him to blush deeply and mumble an apology, but he stuck close by her side and kept staring at her, regardless of her admonition. By the time they got back to the Hub, she was convinced of the truth of Mouse’s observation.

“Hey, Vincent!” she called to her old friend, who was entering from a side tunnel into the main pathway her group was using. “See you later!” she said to Morgan. She stopped beside Vincent, grabbing his arm to make him stop as well, and she let the group of children walk on without her. Morgan stared back in her direction for a moment before joining the group moving down the tunnel.

Puzzled, Vincent asked, “Is something wrong?”

“Yeah,” she admitted. “Apparently I’ve got a young admirer.”

“Ah, yes, Morgan,” he said.

“What? You, too? Did everybody notice this but me?”

Vincent chuckled. “It appears so. Even Catherine mentioned it last time she was here.”

Jamie rolled her eyes. “Just great. Now what do I do?”

As they began walking again, Vincent considered her quandary. “You don’t want to hurt his feelings, but you also don’t want to encourage him. So…be diplomatic.”

Jamie snorted. “Me? Diplomatic? Since when? Maybe I should just tell him I’m too old for him.” She nodded to herself. “That’s what I’ll do.”

“Please, Jamie,” Vincent said, “don’t do that. Consider that this is probably his first crush…and that he has excellent taste in women.” He got a smile out of her for that. “You don’t want to stifle his impulse to care about someone in the future, do you?”

“No-o-o, I guess not,” she replied, having not thought that far ahead. “So…what should I say?”

Vincent beckoned her toward his chamber with a tilt of his head. They entered and sat down as the pipes announced that Catherine had arrived at the Home Tunnels. “I should go,” Jamie said, knowing how Vincent treasured his time with his friend from Up Top.

“No, stay, please.” He patted her hand and she relaxed into her chair. “It could be that he’s confused about his feelings. Morgan is quite young, and it’s possible that, being motherless, he sees you as an ideal of womanhood.” At Jamie’s snort of disbelief, he joked, “Remember, he’s young!” She smiled. “Of course, Mary is a wonderful caretaker, but perhaps he’s seeking someone…younger…to look up to.”

She nodded. “It’s hard to think of myself as…motherly.”

“There are a few women Below younger than you who have had a child.”

“True. But I don’t want to be anybody’s mom. Ever.”

“That’s fine,” he said. “But we’re dealing with someone else’s perception or need, not your own. I suggest you sit down with Morgan and gently…” he raised his eyebrows to emphasize the word, “…very gently explain to him that you enjoy being his friend, like you enjoy being friends with Samantha and Kipper and Tony and…you get the idea.”

“And that’s all there is to it?”

He smiled. “Well, no. It will be a slow process. Sometimes you might let one child sit with you, sometimes another, sometimes Morgan. You might give each child a turn to help you with something, including Morgan, but not let him volunteer all the time. Over time, this could allow him to understand that you are here for him, a trusted friend but not an exclusive one.”

“I hope you are here for me exclusively” came a voice from the entry. When Vincent turned at the sound, he saw a smiling Catherine standing in the doorway.

“Always,” he vowed, giving Jamie the distinct feeling that he had suddenly forgotten she was even in the room.

“OK, well, thanks, Vincent,” she mumbled as she stood to leave his chamber. When she turned at the entrance to say goodbye, she saw them in an intense embrace, so she slipped away without another word. He really needs a door, she thought.

* * *

At dinnertime when Morgan asked if he could sit next to her, Jamie realized he had been doing that for weeks now, and she had been letting him because she had thought nothing of it. Now she understood she had inadvertently been feeding his attachment to her all this time.

She reacted without thinking, shaking her head no. When she saw his disappointment, it made her feel guilty, so she resolved to try that diplomacy that Vincent had urged her to use. Taking a deep breath, she put Vincent’s suggestion into practice, explaining that she didn’t want to appear to have favorites, so tonight she would sit with Margot…but that his turn would come again. He accepted her response, although grudgingly.

As she buttered a slice of cornbread, she sighed inwardly. This acting-like-an-adult thing was hard.

* * *

“I’ve been hearing from the children about the slide in Central Park,” Catherine said to Vincent as they walked back to his chamber after dinner. “That playground wasn’t there when we were their age. Wouldn’t it have been lovely if it had been?”

“Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it as the children do,” Vincent reminded her. “We’re hardly too old to slide.”

She turned to look at him in astonishment. “We’re not?”

“Well…I’m not.” He gave her an innocent look.

He was baiting her, and she loved it. She laughed. “Then neither am I! It’s a date!”

Confused, he asked, “What’s a date?”

“Tonight. Midnight. The slide. Be there.” She entered his chamber and said, “Now, where’s that novel you were telling me about?”

* * *

Two cloaked figures slipped into the trees from the Central Park culvert and made their way to the playground a little past midnight. After looking around carefully to ensure they were alone, first Vincent then Catherine pushed off down the polished granite slide, moving with amazing speed on the slick surface.  Inhibitions fell away with every turn, so although each warned the other to hush, there were numerous violations of their self-imposed silence by their third ride down the slide. On their last trip down, they rode the slide together, Catherine tucked between Vincent’s legs, and they collapsed in a tangle of limbs at the bottom, laughing helplessly.

Later, as they slowly swung on the bucket swings, Vincent murmured, “It’s amazing how one’s childhood comes rushing back with just a simple slide.”

Smiling, she considered his comment. “If you lose the child within you, you become a grown-up.” She twirled the chains holding the swing on which she sat, spinning as they unwound again. “I refuse to grow up,” Catherine vowed.

He nodded. “I suspect the people who put this playground in had the same idea. That slide….”

“It’s made large enough for adults,” she said, confirming his suspicions. “But that’s fine with me.”

He sighed. “Shall we return to the Tunnels?”

“Yes, but first…” She looked at him with a wicked gleam in her eye. “Last one down is a rotten egg!”

2 Comments

  1. I could actually visualise them going down down the slide and swinging on the swings.
    I even got a ! What you smiling at from my daughter Catherine.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this happy story I haven’t read before. Thankyou

    Reply
  2. Great story, I don’t think I’ve read it before either. I can imagine it all so accurately. Another shared and pleasant moments Above just the two of them, another souvenir for them. Really lovely!

    Reply

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