I took a final sip of coffee as Felix meandered across the dew-jewelled grass.
“Mornin’, Mister Swanson.”
“Good morning, Felix,” I returned.
“Look. I picked up two cups, four ciggies, a straw, and a soda can. That’s worth five cents.” He tipped his orange sand pail towards me.
He reached under my bench and came back up twirling the foil liner from a gum wrapper. Mesmerized by the shiny paper, he spun it back and forth in the morning sun, then smoothed it flat and stroked it against his stubbled cheek. Finally, he folded it in half and slid it gently into the handkerchief pocket of his tweed jacket.
“Finished your coffee, Mister Swanson?”
I handed him the empty paper cup.
“Gotta get workin’.”
“Have a good day, Felix.”
While I read my newspaper, he criss-crossed the area around me, stooping to pick up scraps of litter, peelings, and what-have-you, occasionally making his way to the trash barrel to empty his plastic sand pail, always keeping the five cent soda can. I must have dozed, slipping away into easy escape.
A light sound woke me. Breathing? Felix was standing two feet from me, waiting.
“Done with your paper, Mister Swanson?” I handed it to him, and he tucked it under his arm like the suited executives hurrying through the park. He already had a stack on a nearby bench; I imagined they were destined for a recycling bin.
Felix stopped mid stride and lifted his arm. He turned in a slow pirouette, and I wondered if he was imitating the tai chi folks further down the beach. When he finally faced me, I saw the reason for his careful dance: a swallowtail butterfly had alighted on his hand. Wide-eyed, he gazed in rapt wonder while the butterfly opened and closed its wings, teasing Felix with its bright display.
The butterfly eventually fluttered away and Felix disappeared, presumably to continue his daily mission in another part of the park. I sighed and thought I should probably do something, as well. Except this was the one day a week I relaxed for an hour or two in the park while a home support worker cared for Anna.
Who had stolen the laughing woman who used to make bread and go camping and grow geraniums? The brunette who’d shared my bed for forty-five years and had borne three equally wild and brilliant children?
Trapped in a shell and unable to put on her shoes or brush her teeth without help. She couldn’t be left alone lest she set the house afire or run into the street. She asks me every morning who I am.
Kiss me, sun, and let me sleep.
A ball rolled up against my foot. I opened my eyes. Felix was back.
“’Scuse me, Mister Swanson.”
He handed the ball to a mom with a couple of little girls.
“Sleepin’, Mister Swanson? Wanna a pillow? I got some newspapers.”
“No, I’m fine, Felix. Thanks.”
The park seemed busy for the middle of the week. The executives were gone, cloistered into office buildings by now, but the baby carriages and dog walkers were out in full force, as were the joggers and couples walking hand in hand. I looked away.
A few people strolled along the edge of the lagoon, throwing bread crusts to the ducks. Tame as could be, the ducks were, not minding the children mingling with them.
Suddenly, Felix leaped into the water further down the lagoon. I stood up to get a better look, then walked down towards the narrow beach. A small crowd had gathered.
Felix was already wading back through the reeds and rushes along the shore by the time I arrived. He carried a small, wet boy in his arms, muddy water streaming down his trousers. The boy was gulping and sobbing, hair plastered to his brow.
Felix spoke gently, “You shouldn’t holler and splash in the water like that. It scares the ducks.”
A woman pushed through the people and pulled her dripping son from Felix’s arms.
“Mommy! I was drowning!”
Collectively heaving a sigh of relief, the crowd scattered. Felix retrieved his plastic pail, then bent over, and picked up a spent match. A pair of Canada geese ambled aside as he walked along the path and disappeared among the willows.
I returned to my bench in the sun.
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