The girl lay on her blanket looking as naked as a light bulb, her skin glowing waxy white against the criss-crossed bits of cord and fabric that made up her bikini. Oblivious to the swirl and bustle around her, she glanced neither to the right nor left, but rested on her stomach reading, with her chin propped on both fists.
‘But what protects her?’ I wondered each time I passed her on my walking circuit. Where are the cads and dummies you might expect to see accosting her every couple of minutes? ‘What maintains her splendid isolation?’ was it the fact that she was reading, and people still respect reading, for all the culture’s silly love romance with hotter media? Or was it her beauty, because who isn’t stunned into silent awe in the presence of great beauty? Maybe some guardian powers flowed from the only other two things she was wearing: a pair of prim eyeglasses, like the ones worn by secretaries and schoolmarms in a thousand Hollywood movies; or the colorful tattoo splashed across the top of one arm with the word “Mother” spelled out inside an inky tangle of loops.
I looked around then, wondering what it is that safeguards any of the living things in that public space. Because every creature I saw seemed calm, even those trusting ambassadors the dogs, who strained against their masters’ leashes to sniff and touch noses.
Across the path from the bench that I finally settled into, a couple seated in wheelchairs ate ice cream and discussed the accessibility of the city’s public transport systems. A woman floated by under a parasol looking like she’d just sailed in from another century. Two kittens so new their eyes were the biggest things about them stood unsteadily on the laps of a pair of young women seated on the grass.
I must have heard seven different languages being spoken by those who passed by.
I saw a dozen different books tucked under people’s arms, from novels to chemistry texts, from “The House of Mondavi,” about the famous vintners, to “A Lotus Grows in the Mud,” Goldie Hawn’s autobiography.
“My Marvin and I were married for 58 years!” boomed an elderly woman on the bench to my left, only she pronounced it “Mawvin.” Her makeup was a deep fawn color and her hair the exact bright hue of a Strawberry Shortcake doll.
Then suddenly two girls around 12 appeared before me, each wearing a T-shirt adorned with the image of two much smaller girls smiling against a portrait studio backdrop.
“Want to buy some candy, support the festival?” one asked as the other displayed a boxful of chocolate bars.
“Um, what festival is this? When does it take place?”
“September, probably,” said the more outgoing of the two.
“It’s in the park. Well, the other park,” she added, gesturing in a northerly direction.
“And who is in it again?”
“Really it’s just us two,” she said with a dazzling smile as she pointed to the T-shirts. “We sing, and then we dance.”
And so in that safe place where all my fellow citizens had met to share the sunshine I decided I might as well vote for trust and brotherly love myself. I gave the girls the money and they gave me a Hershey bar. Then I peeled it down and ate up every bite.