Friday, December 30, 2011

There is a tree




There is a tree in Central Park.

You find it if you enter from west 72nd street. You walk east past Strawberry Fields, down the hill, and onto the bike path. You come to a place where a large hill undulates and there, near the top of it, is the tree. Its roots stick out of the ground, but it gives good shade and it's the perfect spot for people watching.

You spread the blanket and take off your shoes, then sit down. You tuck one leg under you for a pillow, and the other runs along his side, foot level with his hand. He wraps his fingers around the place where the top of your foot meets your ankle, and you shift your weight to one hand and run the fingers of the other through his hair. He's talking about something that happened at work - you won't remember what, exactly, later - but you watch his face move and feel his body as he breathes, and you feel like you're in the right place. Nothing grand or earth-shattering; you just recognize that this is exactly what you want to be doing right now, and that's satisfying.

Your leg is falling asleep from the weight of his head, but it doesn't really matter. You look up from your lap and watch the people; this part of the park has a lot of babies and dogs, and there's a little girl that keeps running up to a group of thirty-somethings and interrupting their picnic. You laugh softly and point her out, and the two of you watch her for a while, listening to her voice and the wind through the tree above you.

Your arm is tired from holding you up, and you try to hide it, but he notices. He lifts his head and moves over, and you slide down next to him. Your head goes to that spot between his neck and shoulder, your hand to his chest. He encircles your wrist with his hand and you put one leg over his. This is familiar; you have laid like this before. You stay that way for a long time. Every once in a while you prop yourself up to look at the people and the sky and at him, but mostly you just enjoy the closeness and the company. You think, I like this. We should do this more. You say, I like this. We should do this more.

When you open your eyes again, your forehead is against his jaw bone and he's breathing softly. You turn your head slowly, careful not to put pressure on your hand to counter your movement. The tree is still, and the clouds are darker. You raise your head to look: the little girl and her family are gone. The thirty-somethings are packing up their things and there are people on blankets near you that weren't there before. He senses you stirring and stretches; the spell is broken. You don't want to leave, but he wants to eat and it looks like rain, so it's time. You stand slowly and gather your things: your book, his bike lock, fold the blanket. When you've put it all back together he takes your hand and you walk down the hill toward the bike path, the back wheel of his bike clicking as it turns beside you. His right hand steers the handlebars in a practiced movement and you wonder how many times you've watched him do this, how many more times you will see it.

For some reason you glance back just before you reach Strawberry Fields, and look at the tree. It's moving now, the wind passing through the branches, and no one has taken your spot. You wonder if the two of you will return there when the spring comes, and you're not sure of the answer, so you look away and watch the ground pass beneath your feet.

When you emerge onto Central Park West, the two of you stand for a few minutes, your hands resting on each others' hips. He's hungry, he needs to go back downtown for an appointment, you want to go home. But you don't want him to go. You say as much, and he agrees to come to your apartment after. You're happy about that, but somehow now you have a sense of unease, like that somewhere in the future will be the last time you come here - maybe this is the last time - and like maybe you only have a few afternoons like this left together. You wonder why you think that, and while you wonder he watches you and the way the wind is whipping your hair into your face.

He says he needs to go, and you say you'll see him later that evening. He swings one leg over his bike in a precise, practiced movement, and stands on the pedals to get up speed. You stand for a minute before crossing the street, watching his shirt ripple in the wind.

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