Jenniey Tallman

At the park across the street from where Jane lives

The black chil­dren descend. Jane has crack­ers, a rub­ber ball, a bot­tle of water, a book. They pile around, share the crack­ers, throw the ball, laugh and talk. Jane is help­less to their eager­ness.

They exchange rela­tions, house loca­tions, ages. Two, three and a half, four, five, six, AND HE IS THIRTEEN, they say—pointing to their cousin. HOW OLD ARE YOU? Thirty-three, she says. MY MAMMA’S THIRTY-SOMETHING TOO. Jane nods; it makes sense.

The only names she can pick out are Boo and Laneesha—and that is because Laneesha is six and can spell it. All the oth­ers are tricks of the tongue. Jane shakes her head and says, I am sor­ry but I can­not under­stand your names. THAT’S OKAY, they say, and tell about them­selves instead. They like crack­ers. They like their cousin. They like kittens—they have some at home. Six or maybe eight, but no, Laneesha says it is just four. ANDMAMMA KITTY, the lit­tlest one leans close to say. Her teeth are tiny and white and her breath is hot.

They play Hot Potato with Jane’s ball. Their cousin places his head­phones in the cen­ter of the cir­cle and paus­es his walk­man to put them out. OUT. OUT. OUT. Jane is glad to be put out; she did not real­ly want to play. The lit­tlest refus­es to be put out but nobody complains—when she gets out it doesn’t count. Jane’s cheeks ache from smil­ing. One boy gets sand in his eye and the cousin calls to her. Jane holds the boy’s head in her hands and cov­ers his eye from the sun and tells him to blink until it feels bet­ter.

They play Tag. They play Going Halfway Up the Fire Pole. They play Rolling the Ball Back and Forth, Throwing Flip Flops Down the Slide, and Don’t Step on the Broken Glass. They play Don’t Read the Graffiti.

MARIA TAKES WHAT IN THE ASS? Laneesha asks.

You can read? Jane says. That is real­ly good read­ing.

I LOVE READING, Laneesha says. MARIA TAKES WHAT IN THE ASS?

Shit, Jane mum­bles. It is dirty. I don’t want to tell you.

OH. Laneesha says. THAT’S OKAY.

Jane picks a clover flower and bites the ends one by one. The chil­dren are amazed. They emp­ty the park of the clover flow­ers. Their hands are warm and soft as they place the flow­ers in hers, force her fin­gers into posi­tion, insist a game of How to Pull a Clover Petal Out the Right Way & Where to Put it in a Mouth & How to Bite the End Gently in Your Teeth.

TASTE THAT? she asks the one called Boo.

Boo stares up at her and shakes his head. He can­not taste the clover. No one can taste the clover. Jane can­not taste the clover. It is a trick. There is no taste. Only a smell, a feel­ing on your teeth, and a light­ness on your tongue.

Laneesha yells, I CAN TASTE THE CLOVER! One by one, they each claim to taste the clover and tell her It Tastes Like Honey. It Tastes Like Water. It Tastes Like Sunshine.

For a moment, Jane wor­ries that maybe black chil­dren should not eat clover. Maybe it is poi­so­nous to them. Maybe they will die or get stom­ach cramps or start hal­lu­ci­nat­ing and then it will be all her fault. Someone will come. Someone will ask her, What Are You Doing With These Children? These Are Not Your Children. Why Did You Come To The Park Where All These Children Are And Why Did You Bring A Ball And Share Your Crackers? And what will Jane say?

Their cousin walks them home. They car­ry clover, yell good­bye, ask if she’ll be back tomor­row. When their cousin walks back through the park, alone, he says BYE JANE. He shows off: jump­ing up and grab­bing the bar the swings hang from, dunk­ing the ball over the bar, ask­ing her, DID YOU THINKCOULD JUMP THAT HIGH?

Nope, Jane lies. I didn’t think you could jump that high.

~

Jenniey Tallman lives in St Paul MN with her hus­band and three sons. Recent writ­ing can be found in Alice Blue, The Collagist, Slice Magazine, and Annalemma.