This is this week’s one-page story in a series of 52. Thank you for reading.
Dave was walking in the park when he felt something smash into his left arm. He staggered and regained his balance. Two boys, about thirteen years old, were standing to his left, giggling, shoving each other. “Why did you do that? Say you’re sorry,” one boy said to the other. “Why did you do it? You say you’re sorry,” the other said. They weren’t really asking or apologizing, they were playing a game with each other in which Dave was the equipment. “Be more careful next time,” Dave said, and kept walking. He wished he’d spoken more strongly to the boys, put them in their place. It was forty degrees and cloudy. There was no grass in this park and there were no trees, just a lot of concrete and fences, and the park was very small. He reached a closed gate and opened it and went through. He sat on a bench and closed his eyes to collect his thoughts. “Didn’t you read the sign on the gate?” a woman said. “No adults without a child.” Dave opened his eyes to see the woman sitting on a bench not far from him with several other women. He looked around and saw small children, swings, and a jungle gym. He was in a playground. “Where’s your child?” the woman asked. “I don’t have one.” “Then what are you doing here?” “I just needed to sit down.” “Sit down somewhere else.” “Not only is he a wimp,” she said to one of the other mothers, “he’s also illiterate.” “Or he’s a pervert,” the second mother said. “Keep moving, pervert,” said a third. He got up and left the playground and the park. Now he was walking along the sidewalk on a cold Friday afternoon not knowing where to go. “Hey Mister!” someone called behind him. Dave turned around. A woman was running toward him, holding something above her head. Great, now I’m going to get hit in the face, Dave thought. “You dropped your wallet,” she said. She handed it to him. She was wearing running shorts and a form-fitting shirt, her face red and sweating, her arms and legs glowing with exertion. She stood looking into his eyes. “Those women were wrong about you. You’re a nice man, intelligent, and you have a beautiful soul. I can tell by looking in your eyes. You’ve had some hard blows lately. You’re vulnerable. People sense this and instead of being kind, they go in for the kill, even mothers of small children. I used to be like that but I’ve changed. Now I seek out people with whom I feel a connection and shower them with kindness. Do you think you can be kind to me too?” “Yes.” “Good, my car’s right over there.” She started down the block, walking fast, springing up off the balls of her feet, great leg muscles. Dave followed. When they got to her car he hesitated. She said, “I’ve got a pretty little cottage upstate, fields and trees for miles. Just for the weekend. I’m a little crazy but basically okay. If we don’t get along I’ll take you to the bus station, scout’s honor. My name is Laura.” She extended her hand. “I’m Dave.” They shook hands and climbed in the car. Laura got onto the highway heading north. Dave looked her up and down. “Did you just go for a run?” She laughed and said, “I’m so glad you said yes. I’ve been really needing a good man.” “For what?” he said, realizing he was flirting. They were paused in traffic and she looked over at him. He expected her to be leering but she wasn’t. She looked somber and scared. He put his left hand on her right one, which was resting on the seat between them. She flinched but Dave held her hand there. “You’re stronger than you look,” she said, nervously. He said, “The contact is healing.” “Okay,” she said, and relaxed. There was a massive Friday evening traffic jam on the highway, no one moving for miles ahead and the sun going down. Dave and Laura sat quietly in the car.