The following story comes courtesy of back-to-back illnesses and massive doses of medications that produced both good and evil results. In times such as these, the brain gets scrambled and cohesive and sensible thoughts don’t necessarily visit, and rather than force out the story I’d planned, I let one come out on its own. And enjoyed allowing the imagination to play.
It’s mid-day downtown. The park is crowded, benches full. My hot dog is growing cold, its ketchup coagulating.
I see a suit start to stand. The woman beside him remains seated. Smiling, she speaks. Smiling, he gives her his wallet and leaves. Her father, I suppose.
I take the vacated spot beside her. Nod a greeting. She inches away just a bit.
“From around here?” I ask.
She shakes head no.
She’s attractive, but not pretty. Freckles spill off both sides of her nose. Her book is open, but her eyes are distant. Not on the page.
A squirrel approaches. I toss it a bit of my bun, but it ignores my morsel and instead, jumps onto her lap, where it relaxes instantly. Its little legs dangle limply.
“A friend of yours?” I ask.
“Hard to tell them apart,” says she.
I reach over and touch the comatose squirrel. Its eyes jerk open and it leaps down and races away.
“I’m sorry,” I say. She shrugs.
We hear loud barking, growing closer.
“Cooper! Cooper!” the frantic owner is calling. And then, there is Cooper. A gorgeous German shepherd, his leash trailing behind him. He sees her and smiles.
She smiles back.
Cooper places his front paws on the bench with his haunches down, like a dog in prayer. He puts his heavy head on her lap. She touches him lightly. Cooper shivers. His eyes close.
The owner races up. He’s breathless. He snatches up the leash and jerks it. Cooper struggles. His eyes seem made of glass, slow to focus. Dreamy.
Now two squirrels are approaching. They pause to bicker. Seems to be a me first! kind of thing.
I smile. She smiles.
“Odd gift,” I say.
Another shared laugh. She’s more than attractive, I realize. More even than pretty.
The squirrels leap in tandem. She gives one hand to each. Both do as the first. Legs dangle. Eyes shut.
“My sister finds lost things,” she tells me. “Returns what she finds. Lives off the rewards. My brother turns bad into good.”
“Real estate mostly,” she says.
The explanation feels satisfactory, and I nod.
“They make a good living from that?”
“Very,” she says.
More nodding from bobblehead me.
“You need to go soon,” she says.
She’s right. I need to go. Back to the office.
“Your gift?” I ask. “Making creatures relax?”
“My gift is their trust,” says she. “Complete trust. All animals.”
“Not as rewarding as finding things, I guess,” I say. “Or turning bad into good.”
“You’re going to give me your purse now,” she says.
And I do.
And she smiles.
I smile back.