She loves to look at the trees. Especially the ones in the middle of the lake, their bare branches and smooth trunks that make her hands itch to touch them. She wants to run her cheeks across them, her forehead. Her son shouts at her from the playground as he propels himself down the slide head first, arm extended like he’s flying. She claps and he takes a bow before racing back to the top. She turns back towards the water, watches the sun bounce off the top of it.
She listens to the sound of tennis pounding over the paved track, the controlled breath of the runners that pass her by. She can’t walk around the lake without losing her breath, feeling the jolt of the pavement in her hips. Her body hasn’t been the same since having her son, or at least that’s the excuse she gives herself. Her husband offered to get her lessons with a trainer at the gym for Christmas. She had slammed the bedroom door in his face and stood with her back against it, trying not to cry. In the end he gave her a pair of earrings. She can hear her mother in law tell him how earrings look good on everyone. On the playground, her son is giving directions to another little boy, explaining the correct way to play monster truck race. The boy is nodding, his eyes intent on her son’s directions.
She watches a man who reminds her of her grandfather make his way towards the lake – fishing rod in hand, Golden Retriever running circles around his legs. When they reach the edge of the water, the dog jumps in, sending a group of ducks scattering, feathers flying across the water, bills clacking angrily. The man gives a whistle and the dog wades back out, water dripping from its fur. The dog waits until he’s next to the man before giving his fur a shake and sending sprays of water over his owner’s clothes.
The dog spots her and trots over, its fur clumped together in silky shards. She gives it a pat on the head, kneels to rub its sides.
Sorry about that ma’am, the man says, walking towards her.
No, no, she can hear herself say, I love dogs.
The man has deep creases in the corners of his eyes and around his mouth. He’s wearing a fishing hat covered in lures and a shirt that reminds her of a tent.
He nods. Have a dog yourself?
We used to. A beagle. We called her Becky. She died a year or so ago. My son used to chase her around with pieces of his food, trying to get her to eat it. She shakes her head with the memory.
Sorry to hear that ma’am. It’s always hard to lose one. This here’s Sam. He’s ten but acts like he’s a puppy. My wife always thought he’d outgrow it, but here we are.
She laughs. He’s sweet, she tells him, patting the dog on the nose.
Nice to meet you, he says with a nod and then whistles for the dog to follow him back to the edge of the lake and his fishing rod. On the way over the dog runs after a squirrel and attempts to follow it up the tree. She hears a clipped voice behind her, the sound of a kid crying. When she turns around the little boy her son was playing with is covered in dirt, tears streaming down his face. Her son is standing to the side, bottom lip sucked in and head low. She sighs and makes her way back to the playground. She apologizes to the little boy and his mother who by now is wiping the boy’s eyes with the hem of her shirt. The woman gives her a curt nod and she grabs her own son’s hand and pulls him towards the car.
We don’t throw dirt, she tells him, even if you’re angry or upset. That hurts.
He keeps his head down, his breath hard and fast through his nose. As they leave, she catches a glimpse of the trees again, their barren branches seeming to wave goodbye.