This was originally published May 2, 2007
Clara glanced at her watch and frowned. It was nearly time to get back but she just couldn’t force herself to move. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the children were having so much fun playing and chasing each other in the park.
She sighed. She missed having little ones under foot. She missed her grandchildren. She missed her family. Lifting a hand, she shielded her eyes from the afternoon glare. The man on her left shifted a bit and caused the park bench to groan in protest.
Clara looked over at her companion; Ben was asleep and snoring softly. She shook her head in disgust and turned her attention back to the children. How could he sleep on a day like this? There was so much activity, so much life, to appreciate and soak in before going back. There would be plenty of time to sleep, later.
A black and white checked ball bounced off her foot momentarily startling her. A little boy, not more than five, walked shyly toward her. She offered an encouraging smile, careful not to show her teeth; she didn’t want to scare the boy.
“ello,” she croaked in a throaty voice.
The boy hesitated. His eyes darted back and forth between the ball and his friends, he was clearly debating on whether it was worth confronting her to retrieve the ball or simply run back to his friends and forget about the toy.
Clara bent slowly from the waist and tried to pick up the ball, but her bones protested loudly and her muscles locked and refused to stretch. She sighed loudly and lifted one bony shoulder into a shrug. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But I can’t pick it up. Can I kick it to you?” The croak had worked itself out of her voice and the sound came out soothing and friendly. She was pleased at the change and smiled again; this time, the smile reached her eyes.
The boy visibly relaxed at her smile and nodded eagerly. He ran back several paces and Clara laughed softly. “No my child. I can’t kick it that far. You’ll have to come a little closer.”
Ben suddenly twitched next to her and emitted an abrupt snore. The boy jumped and Clara laughed again. “Don’t mind him. He’s just dreaming.” She blinked to bring the ball into focus. “Okay, ready now?”
The boy’s face stretched into a wide grin and he clapped his hands to signal he was ready. Clara summoned what little strength she had, brought her foot back and kicked.
Only she missed and the ball remained near her feet. She glanced up at the boy. The boy stared back at her. Suddenly, they both erupted into giggles. “I’m sorry,” Clara struggled to say past her amusement. “I guess I’m out of practice.”
The boy approached her and placed a small hand on her bare arm. His smile was beatific and his eyes sparkled with life and innocence. “S’ok,” his voice tinkled out. “My mom’s not a very good kicker, either.” He gave her arm little reassuring pats before picking up the ball.
A lump formed in Clara’s throat and she felt an overwhelming sadness surround her heart. She missed her grandchildren. Dear God, she missed them.
A soft rumble eased its way past the sounds of the park and caught the boy’s attention. Clara nodded off into the distance. “It sounds like rain’s coming.”
The boy nodded in agreement. “Yeah. My dad said it was gonna rain today.”
“Your dad is a smart man.” Clara said.
“Yeah,” the boy responded. “’Cept when it comes to fixing things. Mom says he’s not a very good fixer.” He grinned. Clara’s heart jumped at his expression and she noted, for the first time, one of his front teeth was missing.
“Mark!” A voice called toward them.
“Oops. That’s me. I gotta go.” Mark patted her arm again. “Thanks for trying to kick the ball.”
Clara’s eyes began to fill with tears at the boy’s kindness. Her throat closed up and she found she couldn’t speak. She simply nodded and smiled at him in return.
She watched Mark run off, and with each stride of his chubby legs, her smile dissipated until finally, it disappeared altogether.
“Mrs. Stevens?” A deep male voice sounded next to her right ear, a large hand rested on her shoulder. “Are you ready to go?”
“But,” she glanced at the thin gold watch on her wrist. “It’s not time yet.”
“There’s a storm coming, we should go. Are you ready?”
She swallowed a sigh and sadly nodded her agreement.