Monday, January 19, 2009

The Family Picnic

There was a wide open lawn just south of the park’s northern boundary, where the sounds and the shadows of cars flew across the leaves of the bushes like ghosts and a statue was perched on top of a thick heavy brown rock, looking down at the grass with eyes of arrogance. There was a small circle of thick trees to the eastern side and a dark grove to the west. The park road passed by the edge of the lawn but it was higher up so the sounds of motors and honks got mostly lost in the wind. The grass was moist and uneven and there were no gaps of dirt in the whole green expanse. The place gave the illusion of isolation even as it stood right in the middle of restless city activity, desires that plunged through the street like ravens, dreams that fell from the sky like shooting stars. Here everything had the silence of undistinguished noises, here was the promise of eternity in a glimpse of shadows and a green shade of light.
On this particular sunny afternoon, a family of four had taken over the center of the lawn. They were an older couple, their son and their daughter in law. The father was a strong thick man with angry eyes and muscular arms covered in tattoos. He had full black hair and a bushy moustache that trailed over his fat lips. He wore a white T-shirt and rumpled blue jeans. He sat on the edge of the sheet that his wife had brought for them, and he constantly surveyed his surroundings for any sign of danger or intrusion. The mother was a full figured woman who looked older than her husband. Her hair was turning white and her round belly protruded over her waist like a basketball. Her face was lined by wrinkles, both etched in the flesh of her cheeks by the ongoing passage of the years and also newly pressed by constant worry. She wore light brown pants that came down to her knees and a leopard print faded shirt, a gesture to memory, a sign of better days. She stood by the food and looked over her small reign of three people, trying to make sure that things went as planned, knowing that everything could be derailed at a moment’s notice.
The son sat on the cooler as if to claim as his own private property. He had short black hair and a thinner body than his parents. His arms were muscular but not as thick as his father’s and he showed no signs of tattoos. He was hunched over in an easy expression of relaxed amusement, mostly looking at his wife who sat on the sheet directly in front of him. She was the only one of the four whose skin wasn’t white, instead she was the color of coffee mixed with milk. She wore a manta shirt with colorful adornments around the neckline. Her hair was solid black and it was straight and smooth as it fell gracefully over her shoulders. Her eyes were thin and slightly slanted, her breasts were small and pronounced. She sat sideways, resting most of the weight of her body on her left arm. This sideways position gave her a look of royalty, as if a queen had decided to spend a day among the peasants.
"It’s a beautiful day isn’t it?" the mother said with a touch of anxiety, an unsuccessful attempt to gracefully interrupt the cloud of silence that tended to descend on them like a black cloud.
"It sure is… we don’t have many of these around here…" the son said and nodded to his wife, urging her to make a comment.
She looked up at him and subtly shook her head, in an attempt to refuse her husband’s demand, but then she talked anyway. "It’s very nice to be out on a day like this… isn’t it?" and with the question at the end she turned to the father whose eyes were locked on the road above them. At the moment he was so focused on the small group of teenagers that were walking by that he missed the gesture of his daughter in law. The mother stepped in to accommodate for her husband.
"It really is good to be out on a day like this… right?" and she stepped across her husband’s vision. The father looked up at her and then turned to look at the two younger people.
"Yes, it is. It is a nice day." And he nodded gruffly, as if it pained him to admit that anything at all could have a touch of niceness.
"You two should come up here more often," the son said, looking at his parents but feeling the burning eyes of his wife on him. "We could spend more days together… more days like this…"
The mother nodded aggressively. "Yes, that would be very nice… family should be together… right?"
The father looked up at her and then at his son. "That would be good… I probably can’t you know…work and all… but it would be good if I could…" His head swiveled slightly and his eyes landed on his daughter in law. She looked back at him and attempted a smile.
"Family should definitely be together… " and he looked up at the road once again, as two men in bikes rode by. The daughter in law looked up at her husband and nodded. The husband looked down at her and pressed his eyes together and shrugged his shoulders, then he turned to his mother again.
"Whenever you can make it up here… it would be good to spend more time like this…"
"Yes it would… it really would…" the mother said as she felt another wave of silence descending on them with a dense heaviness that she wasn’t sure to be able to withstand and lift away.
"Shall we eat?" she said, smiling painfully.
"Yes, let’s eat…" the son said, and stood up from the cooler where he sat. The father nodded. The daughter in law looked away. The mother started to prepare the plates.
The statue looked down at them and the lawn continued in its endless silence, untouched by the cars to the north or the south, untouched by the sound of airplanes flying overhead, untouched by the strange singing sounds of the people sitting on its heart. The statue had seen many just like them. The lawn would hold many more again.

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