They obsessed his imagination. Often, in the middle of they day his attention would drift from his class and out of the window, his eyes not seeing the trees beyond it, but a scene before a river, a woman and her children. Replaying over and over in his head, his focus was on the minutiae of the moments, the exact tone of the girl’s laughter, the woman’s delicate fingers as she unpacked her basket. He could at least say that his class did not suffer from his lack of attention. He taught advanced writing at a private school, and despite their tender years his students were of a serious sort. They took his mental absence from class as free writing time, and he would often find a pile of assorted poems, short stories and journal entries sitting on the corner of his desk when the bell rang him out of his reverie. At least it gave him something to grade, he thought to himself wryly. (Though he didn’t really like to say “grade”, much preferring the word “review” to the harsher and more judgmental term). He wondered why the man had been absent that day (for there had to be a man, didn’t there? There were children, and one just a baby… There had to be a man.). Was the woman a widow? Was her husband a soldier, still across the seas in the desert, fighting a war that nobody wanted? Was he simply a working man, who had to spend a Saturday morning at the… (Office? Garage? Building site?) He couldn’t imagine that the woman was not married. She seemed a proper sort of lady to him, old worldly and delicate, like the women in stories written by women in the late 1900’s. He remembered how the wind had stirred her hair, catching at the smooth coiffure and felt an alien stirring inside himself, a strange desire to brush the hair from her angelic features and plant a soft kiss on her delicate brow. He shook that thought away, it wouldn’t be right… Not if there were a man.
He went to the park every day after class (and in the early mornings and afternoons on Saturdays) in hopes of catching another glimpse of them. He no longer took his papers out of his briefcase, just sat on the bench, feeding the crusts of bread left over from his lunch (He never ate the crusts) to the ducks, or squirrels patiently watching at waiting, letting his imagination wander along scenarios of them in his head. The little girl would take piano lessons (and she would excel, he knew it). The woman would have a housekeeper, but not a cook. She would be preparing dinner as the child practiced, smiling gently to herself as she drifted about the kitchen. Hair back from her face, sleeved rolled up to her elbows, flour smudging her nose. Only in the kitchen did her imagine her allowing herself any sort of disarray. Tendrils of hair would escape her braid to float about her face, creating a sort of brown halo… And his mind again placed himself in the picture, brushing the flour and hair from her face, kissing her tenderly and smiling at her laughter, which would sound like bells to him.
He was obsessed. Captivated, and he knew it. He took no issue with this fact. He was not stalking her, had no intention of following her or approaching her if he was to see them again. Pragmatic sort of romantic that he was, (he delighted in describing himself in oxymorons) he gathered that his fascination stemmed from his own lonely childhood, from the continued loneliness of adulthood. He was an only child of a widow, who had worked too much to be more than a remembered shadow of a woman rushing in or out of the door before she died when he was twelve. He had went to live with his grandparents then, and had continued to be left to his own devices much of the time, as the older couple did not seem to have the patients, or inclination to spend much time with an adolescent boy. His imagination was his only source of comfort, since he had been a socially awkward boy, unequipped for easy conversation and casual friendships. That awkwardness had followed him into adulthood, had progressed into a withdrawn reservation that kept him apart from his pears, and people in general. This is how he knew he would never approach them. He could not think of a thing to say to the woman. He couldn’t imagine just strolling up to her and starting a conversation on a topic so trite as the weather.
His frequent visits to the park slowed down after several weeks of daily disappointment, his mind cooled against it’s distracted imaginings and he slipped back into his old routine of sitting on the bench reviewing his student’s papers on Saturday afternoons. It was on one such day that he saw them again. Unexpectedly, they appeared once again in a moment between marking a paper and glancing at the path before him. The girl’s dress was blue, and the woman was not juggling only a basket and umbrella this time, but a brightly colored kite and she seemed to be having quite a time with it, stopping every so often to readjust her burdens so as not to drop anything.
He slipped his papers into his briefcase (no scattered chasing for him today, thank you) to watch them as they again set up their picnic lunch, again ate with the slow delicacy he thought to be befitting of proper ladies. He watched as the woman repacked the basket and unbundled the kite. He continued to watch as the child took of running, trying to get the kite aloft. Her hair and laughter flying out as the kite streamed behind her and up into the sky, she was the very picture of youthful joy.
He was startled by the ringing of his cel-phone alarm. It was alerting him to the fact that it was three thirty and he had less than an hour to return home and get ready before having to show up at the Dean’s doorstep for an early dinner party. It wouldn’t do to be late. With a reluctant sigh he gathered his briefcase and headed down the pathway. Glancing back before he turned the corner out of the park, his last sight of them was the woman bending over the carriage to lift the baby out, the girl running once again, trying to coax the wind into catching her kite back into the sky.