Paul jerked his hand away as they passed the bench. Sharon saw him swipe at his face. “You okay?” People on both sides of the path were playing in the grass, and she didn’t want to be obvious. Was he crying?
“Yeah. Yeah. I’m fine,” he said but he inched sideways away from her.
This was one of their favorite walks and they always held hands, didn’t matter where they walked. His eyes were leaking and he swiped the back of his hand across his face again almost as if he were angry—or sad. She didn’t know.
“Baby, can I…..”
“No!” he said, emphatic but quiet, and walked faster, out-pacing her, his shoulders, even from the back, curved and defeated.
Paul saw the woman, her hands filled with yarn and knitting needles, on the bench as he and Sharon were about to pass. His whole body stiffened and his mind shouted, “stupid purple sweater…everyone laughed…” He jerked his hand away from Sharon and swiped at tears that had sprouted, stinging, running down his face.
“You okay?” his wife asked.
“Yeah. Yeah. I’m fine,” he said. He shifted sideways, not wanting her to see, not wanting to tell, not wanting to evade another question.
“Baby, can I….”
“No!” He didn’t want to remember, didn’t want to tell her he’d lied, didn’t want to her help, didn’t want didn’t want didn’t want… he walked faster.
Sarah saw her son enter the park from a block away. She knew his walk, the way he swung his arm, the way he held tight to the woman’s hand. He was safe, that’s what mattered.
The woman laughed at something he said, and Sarah saw her head tip back as her mouth widened. Sarah couldn’t hear what he said, they too far away, but she remembered how he used to make her laugh. That wry sense of humor she’d somehow lost along the way.
How many years? Must be going on to twenty. Let’s see, she thought. I was paroled after fifteen and it took nearly five more to find him. She hoped he didn’t hold a grudge; hoped he’d forgotten the day she’d shot his father when he was going after the boy with a butcher knife. She shook her head. She didn’t want to remember, either.
Sarah started up to leave but they were too close. He’d see her. So she ducked her head and studied her hands knitting. They shook a little. Used to knit him sweaters all the time…said he liked them…all but that purple one. But he probably didn’t remember.
She kept her head down as they passed. She heard his wife ask, “You okay” and his voice, older but strong. Still strong, say he was fine. That was all she needed. To know he was safe.