A DAY IN THE PARK

Hang on Mom

The stooped-over old woman is staring at us and it is giving me the willies. I’m always wary of old men ogling Samara, but this is creepy. What is a woman as old as she is doing in an amusement park, anyway? Carrying a purse!  Seriously!

I have this eerie sense I’ve been here before. Along with a prickling on the back of my neck, I feel afraid, somehow. Maybe it’s just the old lady, the way she watches Samara.

My little girl is awfully cute, I get that. She has my mouth and my tawny skin, and her hair is thick and bushy like mine.  I asked Mama if I looked like her when I was her age, but she said no, and seemed annoyed with me for asking for baby pictures of me.   Even when I went through her things after she passed, I didn’t find old pictures.  My dad died in the service before I was born, but there were no pictures of him, either.

Now what? The old lady is crying and pointing to Samara.  A younger guy—maybe my age is trying to calm her down, but he’s staring at me.

We’re getting out of here.

Oh no, she’s crying harder and the young man, probably her son, is heading our way.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, I know this must seem odd to you, but would you please talk to my mother for just a minute?  She insists she knows you. Mother hasn’t been well and sometimes she’s a bit delusional.”

“I don’t want her to scare my daughter,” I tell him.

“Don’t worry.  She will quiet down and speak gently to both of you.  Please?”

I don’t know what to say, but Samara pulls on my arm and says, “It’s okay, Mama.  I like grandmas.”

“Come, mother, this nice lady will introduce you to her little girl.”

Up close, the woman doesn’t seem as old as I thought she was. Her son did say she had been sick, and now I can see she’s quite weak and unsteady on her feet. Tears pooled in her eyes.

Samara runs right up to her and gives her a hug.  “Hi, Grandma,” she chirps, “How are you today?  Do you like coming to the park?”

“What’s your name, honey?”

“I’m Samara.  What is your name?”

“My name is Alice, and I am so happy to meet you, Samara.  I love how you call me Grandma!  You look just like your mama, you know.”

She seems harmless enough, but I still have goose bumps on the back of my neck.

By this time her son—he introduced himself as Stephen—brought her wheelchair.  She sits down in it and turns her attention to me.

“How are you, Stacy?”

“I’m fine, but my name isn’t Stacy, it is Jennifer.”

“Mother,” Stephen warns.

“It’s all right, dear.” She takes my hand and turns my arm slightly. “It’s still there,” she says, pointing to a heart-shaped birthmark on the inside of my arm.  “See that, Stephen?”

He pales.  Wordlessly he holds out his arm and shows an identical birthmark.

Okay, now I am officially freaking out.

Alice, with trembling fingers, snaps open her purse and pulls out a yellowed newspaper clipping.

Parents enjoying Walker Park on opening day are horrified as one of their twins is abducted.  Police say the mother was changing the diaper of the 22-month-old boy when an unknown person snatched his twin sister from the stroller. Police urge anyone at the park that afternoon call police with any information whether it seems pertinent or not.  Call 555-2912 and tell the operator you are calling about the Walker Park kidnapping.

As you may imagine, I can only stare.  At Alice, at Stephen—who has the same tawny skin and bushy hair, like Samara and me.

“Mama?” Samara watches as I sink to the ground. “Mama, what’s the matter?”

My ears ring and my head is buzzing with old questions and odd memories.  No baby pictures.  No daddy pictures. Not even a birth certificate. No history!

This will take some getting used to.

photo by Carl W. Soerens

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