On sunny days I ate my lunch at Wilson Park; it was here that I fell for Sayvon. His mother was white, but his beautiful caramel complexion and curly hair, suggested his father was African American. When Sayvon smiled, his eyes became tiny slits and his face scrunched right up. He wore the same filthy clothes for days on end and spent most of his time in the sandbox digging with old plastic cups or other pieces of garbage he found littered in the park.
Sayvon’s mother had bleached blonde hair with black roots and a faded tattoo of a skull and cross bones on her bicep. She wore her clothes two sizes too small, accentuating the fact that she was carrying an extra twenty pounds. She never interacted with Sayvon, just smoked cigarettes on the bench. I ate my tuna salad willing her to push him in the swing or catch him at the bottom of the slide.
The first time I heard her speak to Sayvon it was because they needed to leave the park. “Are you deaf or somethin’? Do I need to slap you, for you to come when I call?”
Soon, Sayvon’s mother started acknowledging me with a smile or a wave. And it wasn’t long before she asked me to watch him, for a few minutes while she went to the store or the restroom. I didn’t mind because this meant I could play with him and I could tell he appreciated me. I’d swing him high in the air, and he’d giggle when I grabbed his toes. He was smart too. I taught him all the words to “You Are My Sunshine” in about fifteen minutes.
It didn’t take too long to figure out that Sayvon’s mother was off getting stoned out of her mind while I pushed rocks through the sand making truck noises with her son. She’d come back all jumpy and talking up a storm; her words melded together making her speech disjointed. I told April, the receptionist at work, about it and she said, “Call the authorities. That woman doesn’t deserve to be a mother.”
“Yeah. What would they do?” I asked.
“They’d yank that kid out of there so fast, it’s not even funny. He’d be in a nice suburb with a decent family in no time.”
Then one day, I came to the park and Sayvon and his mother weren’t there. I went back each day looking for Sayvon, but he was nowhere in sight. I asked a few people at the park if they’d seen him, but no one had. After work, I would come home, and the cats would pounce on me, desperate to be fed. I fed each one in their special area — they were so particular. I always fell asleep on the couch after I ate my T.V. dinner. My sleeping was so erratic — bad dreams kept waking me up. I kept dreaming that Sayvon was lost and crying, calling for me. I searched and searched, but his cries seemed further and further away. He told me how much he missed me and asked me to play with him. “I’m here, I’m here, Sayvon,” I yelled out waking myself up. I was sweaty and my face was smashed into the corner; the couch pillow nearly smothered me. I knew my dreams meant that Sayvon was distraught and missed our time in the park.
Then one Thursday, Sayvon was back, clean and bathed. His mom was crouched down helping him dig in the sandbox; each had a new shovel in hand. I could hear Sayvon’s infectious laugh as she intentionally buried his foot in the sand. I guess the sand tickled his foot, but I didn’t think he liked getting his feet all dirty. When she saw me she waved for me to come over. “Hi, you know, I don’t even know your name.”
“Rae Ann. My name is Rae Ann,” I said.
“Rae Ann, I’m Sherry. Thank you for watchin’ Sayvon all those times. I’ve been tryin’ to kick a very bad habit, but I think I got it beat.”
“No problem. He’s a sweet boy.”
Then on Friday, Sayvon was still dressed in Thursday’s clothes and Sherry looked a little weary, but she was at least pushing him in the swing. His eyes squinted in the sun and he smiled as his mom pulled back on the swing. She didn’t even grab his toes or sing to him like I did.
“Hi,” she said when she saw me.
“Hi. How ya doin’?”
“All right. Last night was a little rough. Sayvon’s daddy and me got into a big fight and I was feelin’ pretty low. I did use some, but then I threw the pipe out. I’m flat broke and that’s probably for the best ‘cause this weekend’s gonna be rough. I’ve got a funeral to go to. I hate funerals. I guess nobody likes ‘em, but I just hate ‘em. I just need to stay strong.”
“Yeah. You need to stay strong,” I said. “Hey, Sayvon. Did you get a new shovel?” Sayvon didn’t even look at me.
“He’s just bein’ shy,” said Sherry.
“Um…that’s odd, he’s never been shy with me before. Listen, please take this,” I said as I reached into my wallet for some money. I put the bills into her hand and watched her eyes light up.
Monday when I got to the park, Sherry was waiting for me in the parking lot. Her eyes were dark and sunken in and her hair was a tangled mess.
“Can you watch Sayvon for me?” she asked.
“Sure. No problem.”
I smiled as I watched her drive away. I opened my purse and pulled out the bright yellow tractor and dump truck I’d purchased on the weekend.
Amy Corbin has been or will soon be published in filling Station, The Cynic, Ascent Aspirations, Shine, Every Day Poets, Every Day Fiction, Haruah: A Breath of Heaven, Ignavia Press, Flask and Pen, The Battered Suitcase, Flashes in the Dark, Short Story Library, Smokebox, Writers’ Stories, Wanderings, and Boston Literary Magazine.