The sunlit earth let out of breath of relief after the rainfall of night. The green ground now soft. Martha McDowell sat on a bench in the park watching her children play. Tag, hide and seek. Candy Crush. Pokemon Go. She peered at her phone to see the time, half past noon. The children had off from school. Parent teacher conferences, but Martha never went. Her eyes glistened from the glare of the light, she turned to see a man smoking by the smoke urn. Get the kids on it early huh? Why have it in a park, so close to where they play. Not good for the lungs, not good for me. Don’t look.
—Martha what a surprise seeing you here! Celeste Springly said with her gaunt pale face.
—How have you been? My, I haven’t seen you in so long, it has to have been over a year or two by now.
—Isn’t funny how quickly time flies?
—Now that I think about it, Martha, two years ago…didn’t you end up in—
—So, are you here alone? Where are your kids? Martha interjected.
Celeste always seemed nosey, she loved gossip. The man by the urn puffed a cloud of smog, he seems preoccupied with something on his phone. On the swings a little girl yelled out to garner his attention. She kept yelling, but he didn’t notice. Later on in life she might seek attention in unhealthy ways. Poor girl. I understand the pain of neglect. Attention and love. We can look for them in the wrong places. I try my best to love my children. It was hard back then. It’s hard now. I try, and I’m trying to give them a better life than I could ever live.
—I’m just taking a nice walk through the park. I left the kids at home. I can’t stand another minute of it in that house. I’m sure you understand the woes of parenthood.
—I do, Martha said, but I never like to make it seem I regret it.
—Some days I do, Celeste said in an ironic or serious tone.
The man smoking looked intently at his phone. The world around seemed to disappear as his daughter shouted as she swung higher on the swing.
—Daddy! Daddy! Look at how high I can swing! Look Daddy! Look!
—That’s great sweetie, the man said with a disgruntled cough. Smoke stuttered out with each wheeze, his eyes still on the phone. Martha thought it funny to bring a child to the park and not pay attention to them.
—You know sometimes I wish I never had children at all Martha. Celeste let out a nasally laugh. Her shoulders hunched up and her breasts wiggled with each mucous filled laugh.
Martha gave a faint smile. Celeste always seemed to show disdain for her life. Why get married, why have kids, why anything if it doesn’t make you happy?
—I tell you what Martha, I would still have my slim figure if it weren’t for childbirth. Men don’t understand the pain of it all.
—Daddy look! I’m higher! I’ve never been this high!
Celeste kept laughing, the man kept smoking. Martha looked out to the seesaw and she could see that she saw her two boys. Don’t want them on their phones but they weren’t the ones that purchased them.
—My husband lost $5,000 last night gambling. He’s so reckless, him and I are going back to the casino this weekend.
—Should you and he really be going back? Martha asked with downcast eyes. Horse races. Her and her husband used to bet. Lost so much. Years ago, build self back up but still lost so much. Celeste. You are a dangerous tempting Siren.
—Of course we’re going back! A change to win our money back! And even if we lose more…it’s just so fun. I say, Celeste said, you sure have become a stick in the mud since the last time we’ve hung out. She let out a mirthless laugh filled with spit.
—There’s more important things in life Celeste, Martha said. There’s responsibilities and things to protect. I’m done being selfish, my children need me.
—Whatever you say Martha, whatever you say.
Celeste took out a pack from her pocket and lit a stick. She inhaled deep before exhaling in harmony with the man across the park now on his sixth pack. The smoke filled the air, a child playing coughed. The girl on the swing kept swinging higher and higher. Her father still not looking. Celeste gestured to Martha.
—You want a smoke?
—No. I don’t do that anymore. I’ve stopped smoking, drinking and gambling. I’m sober now. Sober for a full year.
—It doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun, Celeste said giggling.
—I don’t find it fun anymore. I’ve worked hard to get where I am. Sobriety isn’t easy. I admit I have urges to drink again, to gamble all of my money away. Maybe those urges never go away. But I know that if I return to that life I will fail my family and myself. There are more important things, real things, in life. My life, no, I’m too important to throw away again.
—I didn’t mean to push any buttons, Celeste said, puffing out smoke from the cigarette.
The young girl on the swing who swung higher and higher still shouted out to her father to take notice. With a glaze in her eyes her little hands released grip from the chains of the swing once she reached the peak of the new height. Her body felt light as it fell and made impact with the ground. The child began to cry. Martha instinctively stood up and ran to her side.
—Sir! Your daughter! Martha shouted. She looked down to the girl to comfort her.
—Your daughter! Sir! Your daughter!