by Emily James
Henry Hudson Park, Bronx
We see him in the distance, laying crooked in the grass, cane by his ankles. Did he fall? My husband asks aloud, our little girls trailing behind, bending and picking up acorns, throwing them ahead. At first it could appear that he’s lounging, a swimsuit model in old-man khakis and a worn flannel shirt, propped on an elbow. But as we approach, the creases in corners of his smile show pain. I’m ok, he tells us, his tiny wood-colored pup circling our ankles, its blue leash trailing. I’m ok.
My husband bends down to hoist him up, I grab to help. His overgrown fingernails grip both of our shoulders, dead weight. But even upright, the bottoms of his feet seem round and unbalanced, they don’t hold, don’t do what feet on ground are supposed to do. I look down as he grips us harder, see the beige of his pants darkened in their center, grey lint bunched in their corners.
The pup sprints towards the tree, stops, looks back. The old man’s breath is slow, intentional, hits the side of my forehead.
Is there anyone we can call? My husband asks, and the old man chuckles, the foggy blue of his eyes looking off. He shakes his head: No.
His weight feels harder on my lower back now, so my husband takes both of his arms, and they hold each other. The little dog yaps and runs, it’s tiny tail fierce and beating, my girls chasing it to pat its matted fur.
I’ve seen this man so many times before, never wondered anything about who he was, how his limbs were holding up and his insides throbbing along towards their end. Never filled him out to be anything other than an old man with a dog in a park enjoying the scent of Honeysuckle bushes from a peeling bench, sunlight crawling down his face as my children crashed scooters and collected rocks into the late afternoon.
No, I hear again, seeing him for where he is: on a small hill in a small park in the Bronx, at that place in life where the veins of your connections have ended, the lines turned into a single point. No. We’ll call for help, my husband says, and they meet eyes, two men at different parts of their lives, dancing. I see each of them in the other, the young, strong man this stranger once was, and the weakened body my husband will one day be. Life, locked in grip. Standing. Swaying. The wind blows leaves in circles around their feet, and I hold the small of my back, watch my children chase the dirty pup in circles, trying to catch its leash. I watch my husband and his wide arms holding onto this old man’s frame, trying to keep him from falling. The girls and the pup in circles around the tree. Everything running towards and away, dodging from or grabbing at what used to be and what will come.
Anyone? We don’t ask again, and so he doesn’t shake his head, just smiles, as they stand grinning with the grass around their ankles and wait.
Emily James is a teacher and writer in NYC. She is the submissions editor at Pidgeonholes and the CNF Editor at Porcupine lit. She’s the winner of the 2020 Baltimore Review CNF contest, a Smokelong Flash 2020 Finalist, and the winner of the 2019 Bechtel Prize. Her work can be found in Guernica, River Teeth, The Atticus Review, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere.