"You're Fine By Rebecca L Monroe
Patty settled on the bench, watching her seven-year-old daughter, Melissa, race to join the others at the swing set. There were four in all. Tommy, Cathy, Melissa and Joe.
It was a warm, sunny Oregon afternoon. The Beaverton park was quiet because most people were starting dinner or on their way home from work. Patty liked to have a later dinner so they could enjoy the park without the crowd.
“I didn’t think you were coming,” Sandy, Tommy and Cathy’s mother, said dropping beside her.
Sandy was fat, there was no better word, with fuzzy blonde hair and light blue eyes. Poor plump little Cathy was the mirror of her mother without the damaged hair. Tommy had to have taken after his father because he didn’t resemble Sandy at all. He was thin, and had a swarthy complexion.
“I know. Traffic.” Patty leaned back against the bench, closing her eyes. She was a middle person, she thought. Middle weight, brown hair, generic clothes. She even had a middle job as mid-management. She was the mother of Melissa the Comet. Melissa had more energy in her small body than most of humankind.
“Are you ever going to teach her she’s a girl?” Sandy asked the same thing every week.
Patty felt herself smile. “I keep telling you, I’ll happily trade for a while if you think you can do better.”
“Joe is here by himself, as always,”
Opening her eyes slightly Patty saw Joe, ten, standing by Melissa, explaining something with wild gestures. He lacked the thick, black-rimmed glasses the rest of him said he should have. His brown hair clung to his skull; he had an overbite and no chin. His jeans were so short his ankles were visible and he wore a pinstriped, button-up shirt. He looked like he should have a laptop under an arm.
“Somebody ought to call somebody,” added Sandy.
Patty closed her eyes once more. Sandy was too ill to work. Or do much of anything as far as Patty could discern. Restless leg syndrome, insomnia, fibromyalgia, stress disorder, the list went on, the focus changing based on things Patty didn’t know and didn’t want to. Their kids played together. It was the only reason she associated with Sandy. Sandy’s constant criticism, opinions and discussions of her illnesses was tiresome and boring. And, Sandy always knew exactly what someone else should do.
“There they go,” Sandy’s voice was suddenly tense.
Patty bolted upright, wide-awake. She leaned over and pulled on the sandals she’d kicked off. “Enough is enough,”
“You asked Melissa?”
“Of course I did. And got nothing.”
“You’re her mother. You sound like she calls the shots.”
Patty felt a shot of rage at the woman’s audacity. “Do tell, Sandy. What did you find out?”
Sandy smirked. “Tommy clammed up on me. Cathy said they meet Grandpa.”
Rage turned to alarm. “They what?”
“Something about Grandpa. Tommy told her to shut up and I couldn’t get any more out of them,”
Patty didn’t bother stating the obvious. She scooped up her backpack, hitching it over a shoulder. “It’s time we find out.”
Sandy rocked herself to her feet. “I’m sure it’s harmless but I agree. Joe was leading the way. Odds are this is his idea.”
Patty walked away. Yes, Sandy, let’s fix blame first. Always the priority.
A month ago, Patty had noticed the kids would gather, talk a moment, and then disappear. Sandy said she’d already noticed. When Patty asked Melissa she’d been told ‘playing hide and seek’ and forgotten about it until going to the park had become a need. Melissa pitched a fit if they didn’t. Last week ‘I have to’ had slipped out. Patty couldn’t forbid the park. It was the only place Melissa could run in the grass. There was no other park and it pissed Patty off there was an issue at all. It was time to find out what was going on.
With Sandy behind her, she stepped into the woods of large Douglas fir that lined the park, slowing so she could listen.
“How will we…”
“Shhh,” Patty waved a hand at Sandy.
Patty turned. “Will. You. Shut. Up. For. Once!”
Patty didn’t care. She was tired, worried and had had it with Sandy’s self-centeredness. Her desire to talk was overriding finding the kids and Patty was sick of the sound of the woman. She heard a giggle and slowly crept toward it, not bothering to see if Sandy followed.
The four kids were in a clearing not very far in. Patty, tense though she was, still wondered how her apartment bound seven-year-old ball of energy could be sitting in one place, listening from the look of it. The other three kids were doing the same. Listening to the derelict of an old man sitting with them on the grass.
Unease shot to fear. She was about to bolt forward when Melissa piped up.
“Why did I choose Mommy?”
The old man turned his head toward Melissa. “Where is it? How does it work?”
Joe leaned forward. “It’s in the remembering, not in the asking. Soon as you ask, you know,”
“I don’t know.” Melissa cried.
“Because she’s pretty?” Cathy said.
“Who cares if she’s pretty? She’s always mad.”
“At least she’s not always sick. Or busy,” Tommy’s voice was high and sharp.
Enough! Patty started to rise and froze. In the center of the circle formed by the children, a light had begun to shine. The old man’s grimy hands were visibly empty in his lap.
“Help me build to help you remember.”
The light grew stronger; a swirl of varying shades of violet and blue and Patty thought she saw forms, faces in the ever-thickening mass.
“She will help me help her help me remember,” Melissa said in a dreamy tone.
“The mad?” The old man asked softly.
“At herself for not remembering. She can’t help me if she doesn’t.” Melissa’s voice rose, catching. “She’s hurting herself for me. I don’t want that. I love her,”
“You do. As she loves you. And love will win in the end.”
The light swirled more thickly resembling a rainbow cloud and there was no mistaking the faces of herself, Melissa, Tommy, Sandy…
“Leave them be!” The screech of Sandy shattered it all; the light, the children, and the wonder Patty had felt expanding in her chest.
“Remember!” The old man’s voice overrode the screech even as Sandy barreled into the center of them like a semi whose brakes had failed.
The children scattered. The old man vanished. The light disappeared.
For a moment, for Patty, the world froze. However, with Sandy, silence was not to be tolerated. “Thomas. Catherine. Get over here. Now.’
The children were lurching about the way, Patty realized, she felt when she’d been woken from a sound sleep by an emergency. Knowing action was necessary but not grasping ‘what’ enough to have a direction.
“Thomas. Catherine.” Sandy stood with her hands on her hips, chest heaving, and arm fleshing quivering.
“He’s gone,” Joe said.
“You. Go home. Now. My children know better than to talk to strangers. This is your doing you…filthy delinquent.”
“Sandy, ease up.” Patty stepped into the clearing too. She wasn’t upset. Why wasn’t she upset? What had she seen? Hadn’t Sandy seen it too?
“Easing up is why your daughter is a wild animal.” Sandy snapped as Tommy and Cathy approached her. “We’re going home. There will be no more park for you two for a good long while.”
Tommy’s face went red and he opened his mouth while Cathy looked like she was about to cry.
“Remember,” Joe said.
“Remember,” Melissa repeated, relaxing as she walked toward Patty.
Tommy relaxed too and put his hand on his sister’s shoulder. “We’re fine,”
Cathy glanced at him, then her mother and though a tear escaped down her cheek, she smiled happily. “We are.”
Sandy gasped. “What has he done to you?”
Melissa had reached Patty and took her hand. “You saw.”
Patty squatted down, Sandy brushing past her. “What did I see, Melissa?”
“Yourself. Me. Tommy. And,” Melissa hesitated. “Oh, all right, and Tommy’s Mom,”
“I mean, the light,”
“So do I. It’s all of us. It’s what we are supposed to remember.” Melissa leaned closer, staring fiercely into Patty’s eyes. “You’re fine!”
It felt as if a worry had been resolved. It felt as if she’d been tucked in for the night and knew protection was right outside the door. Safe. For an instant, and the first time in her life, Patty felt truly safe. “Who was he?” Patty’s voice was thick. “Where did he go?”
“Nowhere. We none of us do.” Melissa’s brow furrowed.
Patty suddenly realized it was getting late and she had bills to pay. The thought clashed with the light she’d seen and she looked around. Perhaps it had been her imagination.
Melissa tugged at her hand. “Mommy. No. You have to help me.”
“Enough, Melissa. I’ve had a long day. It’s probably best if you don’t visit the old man anymore.”
“I can’t because he’s gone. You have to help me,”
“How?” It came out as a snap.
“Tell me I’m fine too.”
Patty almost blew it off. Almost said it by reflex. But the memory of how she had just felt came back. She bent over once more, returning the look Melissa had given her earlier. “You. Are. Fine!” The words came from deep within her and, like an echo – what she was trying to give Melissa bounced back and made her feel good all over again. “Wow.” Her irritation was gone, and so was her tiredness.
Melissa beamed at her. “Neat, huh.”
“Yes. Neat.” Patty noticed Joe hadn’t left. He was watching them. Patty’s heart wrenched. He looked so, dorky, and lost. “Do you need a ride home?”
Joe shook his head. “My mom comes to get me.”
Patty led Melissa over to Joe. “How long have you been talking to the old man?”
“Forget Tommy’s Mom,” Patty said, remembering Sandy’s words to him. “She gets overexcited.”
Joe smiled slightly. “But she’s fine too. She hides it better. There’s my Mom,” he nodded behind Patty.
The woman coming toward them was supermodel gorgeous. Flowing blonde hair, eyebrows plucked perfect, regal face and a business suit.
Patty bit back her ‘you’re kidding’.
“Joseph! Joy of my heart! Come. We must depart!”
Joe’s face broke into a delighted grin. The woman’s words radiated warm welcome as if her son’s presence was what she lived for.
“Mother! Human like no other! We’ll go after friends I show.”
The woman stopped beside Joe and gave him a hard hug. “Your day was good?”
“As always. Yours?”
“Perfection.” She turned brilliant green eyes to Melissa. “You are Melissa, who holds the tail of the world in both hands.”