A Walk in the Park

I pass the same dilapidated kiosk of wares every day. On most days, I actually pass two or three times a day - first going north, then heading south as I return home. I’ve imagined what it would look like if an omnipresent camera has been recording footage all this time. I watch the silent film made from the pieces of video of me passing if they were put together and the other roughly 52,520 hours of tape were cut out. In my mind, this non-existent video plays in fast forward. First, my husband and I walk by looking younger, tanner and thinner. Then, we stroll along with our puppy. Our new neighbors stop to say how cute she is. Later, I walk briskly by, trying to stay in shape as my belly grows in pregnancy. Each day I pass and it’s noticeably bigger. My stride gets slower and wider. 

Our whole life plays out in front of this one imaginary vantage point. My husband proudly carries our newborn son against his chest as he tries to get him to sleep on a hot summer evening. Then, I jog with a toddler sleeping in the stroller, working to get rid of those last few pounds. The three of us walk together, tiny hands holding our fingers. Then, we run to chase him. We stumble to hold onto his handlebars for one more moment before he rides on his own.  

The seasons change again and again. Our outfits change. The footage rolls on and I’m getting round again. It’s becoming hard to keep up with this energetic boy. The dog is loyal and she waits for me, he doesn’t. Winter comes again and I can’t zip up my coat. I don’t want to buy a new one, though; it seems like such a waste of money when soon I won’t need such a big coat.  

Then, there are four of us. Our daughter joins the pack in the same way her brother did. In our arms, in the stroller and, eventually, on her own two feet. We just keep passing along the path of the park - back and forth – going about our lives. 

Sometimes I used to stop at the kiosk and chat about the weather as my dog sniffed around. Some afternoons I’d kiss my son’s knee after he fell off his new bike. Then, I would engage in a friendly conversation that consisted of complaints about some perceived problem in our perfect little town. Trash collectors not passing that day, heroin addicts sleeping on the benches or the general lack of maintenance of our (in reality) beloved park were all fine fodder.   

My dog, a spotted mutt named Buggy who has a brown spot over one eye like all of the stereotypical dogs of cartoon families, loves to pee in the gravel. I’ve noticed that this drives the “owner” of the used book kiosk crazy. I put owner is quotation marks, because I’m quite sure that he has no official ownership rights to that square of gravel in the city park. Anyway, his annoyance doesn’t stop me from letting her relieve herself where she pleases. In my opinion, the park is public property and dogs should be able to enjoy this small bit of nature freely. We never use a leash; she’s so intent on herding me and the kids that it seems ridiculous to tie her to me as well. Buggy’s better than I am at following directions and her only form of aggression is rolling over so that perfect strangers can rub her belly.   

A recovering alcoholic named Antonella just set up a table one day and started putting some used books on display and it grew from there. A canopy was erected at some point. In addition to books, faded boho clothing, crocheted doilies and random knickknacks were set out on the table and hung from the canopy structure. She eventually appropriated the shed behind the gravel patch and used it to store her precious goods that nobody ever purchased. Antonella would put them away with care each evening and lock them up before slinging her backpack over her shoulder and walking four miles back to her home. She walked because she had no car. No car, no real job...her only possession was that ratty backpack and a house that she inherited from her estranged father.  

And she had this square of gravel in the park which she had claimed over the years. I think that, because she was friendly and harmless, nobody ever cared to shoo her away. The local police passed by regularly in their patrol car or on horseback and never bothered Antonella or her kiosk. We all knew that she wasn’t supposed to be operating a cash-only business on public property with no permit whatsoever. But it was also apparent that this failing business was the only option that she had left.  

You’re right, I wrote “he” when I first mentioned the only vendor who has apparently been given permission by omission to set up shop in our park. There’s a man running the kiosk now. I don’t know his name. Though I still pass every day – taking Buggy for a walk, bringing the kids to the playground, on my way to meet a friend for coffee – I haven’t stopped to chat with this guy. He unofficially took over the stall as soon as Antonella didn’t show up to claim it as she had done every other morning before that.  

That was the day on which I found out her name was Antonella. That was the day that I found out that she had a sad past as an alcoholic and an even lonelier existence once she dug into recovery. That was the day our chain-smoking neighbor told us that Antonella had decided not to walk all the way to her kiosk. Instead, she laid down on the railroad tracks and waited for release from this world.  

Now, that kiosk is a sad landmark for me. It serves as a reminder to be kind to the people who I encounter as I go about my life. Though the events may unfold in a way that looks like the perfect story, you never know what’s going on in the background. I think about the nameless actors and extras making cameos in my home video sometimes. It’s so clear now that not everyone gets their happy ending.  

Content Marathon

Assignment #1 

See assignment #2, assignment #3 and assignment #4 from the Content Marathon.

This story has been edited and enhanced since its original publication; read the second version here.

More about the author: Hannah Werntz.