She’d been watching them play side-by-side, though decidedly not together, darting in and out of the water sprays. She noticed, too, the hole at the bottom of the boy’s bucket, leaking water in a neat, dime-sized stream. She continued looking on as the boy caught sight of the hole, his mental wheels conspicuously turning as he eyed the discarded plastic bottle in the hands of her son.
There was a brief interaction, a trade, and then a painfully predictable realization that life is nothing if not unfair. Determined to bring about the third-party manufactured universal balance he’d always known- one in which he resonated clearly at its center- her son attempted to regain possession of the now-coveted piece of trash.
Rebuffed by bucket-hole boy, who was now fleeing the scene toward the safety of the slides, her son gave chase. Faster and faster they circled one another, her son gaining ground, bucket-hole boy always just fast enough to escape capture. From her vantage point across the playground, she could see her son lagging, his energy draining as his face fell from angry determination to near-complete breakdown. This was not a battle he felt he could win.
“Go get ’em, Joey!” she bellowed between hands cupped around her mouth.
“Babe,” the man next to her whispered in harsh disapproval.
She sat up straight, smiling slightly as bucket-hole boy tripped and fell, involuntarily relinquishing custody of the bottle. An opportunity granted, her son plucked the bottle from the cement and turned tail toward where she sat, shaded beneath a pre-pubescent oak tree. From behind sunglasses, even while consoling her son, she watched bucket-hole boy limply run screaming to his own mother- who was seated on a blanket next to a blonde woman in a polka-dotted dress- one arm raised in the air pointing toward the enemy who bested him.
She steeled herself for a confrontation, but there was none. Despite his mother’s lack of action, bucket-hole boy continued to regale anyone and everyone around him with the tale of his demise. Following her son to the play structure, bucket-hole boy accosted him at the bottom of the stairs, gesturing toward a scraped knee and appearing to demand vengeance. Meanwhile, his shark-shirted friend accompanied her son up the stairs and toward the slide.
At once, she emerged from her shaded enclave, thirsty for blood.
She moved with slow purpose, stretching up to her full height as she navigated the sea of wood chips beneath her sandals. In her peripheral vision, she registered the blonde woman in the polka-dots meandering toward the same spot. She could feel the man watching her, his words still resounding in her ears: be nice. Be nice. Be nice. She could feel her blood boiling at the prospect of provocation. And she was ready.
Then: “How old are your kids?”
Stunned, she fumbled around for the correct answer: “uh, well, she’s 4 and he’s 5.”
“Aw, so he’s starting school soon?”
“Yeah. This fall.” She couldn’t seem to force out a full sentence, her mind still reeling from this unexpectedly banal banter.
“Mom, can we have a play date?” shark-shirt appeared, clinging to blonde polka-dot’s leg.
“Ah, well, I guess we can see…” blonde polka-dots looked at her, eyebrows raised.
“What’s your number?” shark-shirt inquired, smiling up at her.
“Um, like, my phone number?” she asked, not yet fully registering what was happening.
“Yeah. We wanna have a play date” shark-shirt explained self-assuredly, looking back at her son who was peering down at them from a safe vantage point at the top of the slide.
“Can we, mom?” her son inquired fervently.
“Oh, um, sure… our number is pretty easy to remember,” she prefaced, slowly rolling out each digit.
“Okay” replied blonde polka-dots enthusiastically, repeating back the number. “Maybe we’ll see ya.”
“Yeah, sounds good” she said, waving to shark-shirt as she turned her back and retraced her steps across the dusty wood chips, the sound of her son’s laughter fading behind her.