Surely I can do this, I thought as I challenged Wyatt to a game of Run Run Mamo. It is played at the little playground near their apartment-- he takes his little baby stroller (which, by the way, never has a baby in it, just rocks or sometimes a truck, and usually nothing at all) and begins to run around the climber, having instructed his opponent to run around it in the opposite direction. Then you meet on the other side of the thing, scream a little, grab him and say "I GOT YOU! I GOT THAT BOY!". You can get Wyatt many, many times, and he never gets bored.
I had watched a few rounds of Run Run Mommy. It was a lively game, full of surprises, like Wyatt stopping suddenly to look through the bars at his Mommy and laugh insanely, or like Mommy suddenly climbing through the equipment to head him off halfway through his trip around the climber. More laughter. She is so lithe and quick, I thought as I watched. Both of them.
"Let's play Run Run Mamo!" I said brightly as we arrived. "Which way should Mamo go?"
"This way!" he said, giving me a shove in one direction and heading off in the other. I trotted away obediently, and soon I had my first "get." Getting Wyatt is deeply satisfying: his surprise is always real, no matter how often you do it. "I GOT YOU I GOT YOU I GOT YOU!!!!!!" you shriek, and it's funny every time.
I got him and got him and got him. I wouldn't describe my progress around the climber as running, not exactly, not after the first two trips. The game had downsized a bit. Now, it was more like Run Walk Mamo.
Well, there's no chest pain, I said to myself as I sat down on the bench for a rest. All is well. I am always the oldest person on the playground. Neither "lithe" nor "quick" are words that would occur to anyone who was attempting to describe me in action there. "Torpid" might work. Or "lumbering,". But not lithe and not quick.
Now it was time for more walking, this time around the block. Wyatt took his stroller and we set off. He's getting faster now -- runs, mostly, rarely walks, and I must stride purposefully to keep up with him. "Turn right," I tell him, one hand poised over his shirt collar, ready to grab it. He says "Turn Right!" and then he turns right. The boy is a genius. He wants to go into every store -- most of them have their outer doors open now that it is warm, and that's irresistable. He took his baby stroller into an aromatic oils and lotions shop, a laundromat, a coffee shop, a West Indian restaurant and his favorite stop on the block, the very seedy bar on the corner. We've strolled through there before -- it has neon lights, a pool table, a drum set, and a few regulars holding up the bar. We go in one door and out the other. They always look at the empty stroller and ask him where his baby is. I always tell them it's an invisible baby.
"Just passing through," I tell them. "He heard there was no cover charge." I always say that, and they always laugh. We pressed on toward the big kids' playground, watching for a while as a half-dozen teenagers played basketball. Then his mother found us and I collapsed onto a bench as she and Wyatt strolled back to the playground. I lay there on my back, resting. There was a tree above me, and I could see the blue sky through the tracery of its leaves. It seems to me now that I spent hours gazing at the sky in just this way when I was a child -- even then, I was neither lithe nor quick, but excessively dreamy. I wonder if I really did spend hours, or is that an embroidery of memory? Maybe it was only a few minutes, a few times? Who cares -- however often and however long it was then, it was hours and hours now. Nobody owns our childhoods but us, and we alter them to fit us as we are now, or as we think we are. We make up stories about ourselves, and there is nobody to contradict us. Perhaps the details are unimportant. Perhaps what matters now is what we have taken from what we think happened then.
It was dusk by the time I got home. The garden was beautiful in the waning light -- the white roses, the pink foxgloves, the deep blue veronica, the geraniums. A small shape shot past the butterfly bush, not yet in bloom, and hovered over first one and then another of the foxgloves. It was W.C.Fields. For a dead movie star, he was very lithe and quick but then, the dead are like that. Much more mobile now than they were in life. Mobile, and elusive -- they are like hummingbirds: we may not encounter them often or for long, but we never forget it when we do, and we never stop wanting them back. Weary as I was, I had to stand and watch him.
It's good to see you again, Mr. Fields.
Ah, my dear, a great and good evening to you. The inestimable pleasure is mine alone, I assure you. Ye-es. You have journeyed far today, I believe.
Oh, just to Brooklyn.
Ah, yes. -- Brooklyn! Brooklyn! "I, too, many and many a time cross'd the river of old, Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies..." Ah, ye-es.
Um, Whitman, right?
The very same, my little flowerpot. Knew him well. I suspected this claim at once: Walt Whitman died in 1892. But no matter.
You lived in Brooklyn, Mr. Fields?
On occasion, my dear, on occasion. I have no fixed address, as you know.
Well, you can always stay here.
Ah, stay! One dast not stay. Ave! Vale!
And he was gone.
Mr. Fields is quoting Whitman's 1856 poem "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry."