Monday, April 20, 2009


by Jessie Baum

The playground was covered in children, all cutesy clothes that would have been tacky on anyone else but were unbearably adorable on tiny people on monkey bars. To the mothers (and occasionally fathers) that lived near 9th Street, the playground was a place to let their children off of their little leashes and chat with friends. Only one man didn't know anyone else at the 9th Street Playground. The dirty man lying on the bench.

He was technically breaking rule #45-A of Parks Service Public Conduct (“only guardians and their children may enter”) but he didn't care and the police weren't about to bother him. They weren't eager to encounter him again.

The parents, for the most part, ignored him, though occasionally they'd snatch their children away from his radius. He was tired, and wanted to sleep, but as soon as he drifted off, a child's shriek would rouse him. He was about to slouch off when a little girl, thin with slip-on-shoes and droopy socks, danced up to him.

“Are you his daddy?” She pointed at a little boy trying to do the monkey rings.

“Go away, kid.”

“'Cause he says he don't got a daddy and I said everyone has one and that's when I saw you, and you look like him.”

He squinted at the boy. He did look like him.

“What's your name, kid?”


“Song, if that's your real name, I don't got a son, okay? So leave me alone.”

She cocked her head. She actually looked a bit like a bird, with bright dark eyes and dark hair. He closed his eyes and prayed Caroline wasn't the child's mother.


“Why what? Go.”

“Why should I go?”

“Cause I don't like kids.” He did his best fierce homeless-guy face.

“Why? You were a kid too, right? And why don't Oliver got a daddy?”

“I don't know. Someone's not a daddy unless they're in a family.”

So I can't be the kid's father, he added silently.

“Why is your voice so scratchy?”

“'Cause I used to smoke. Don't smoke.”

“My mommy smokes. But I love her. She showed me how to cartwheel. Look!”

Song stepped back and ran a little and gave a jump, but tripped and skinned her knee.

“Oh no! Hey! You okay kid?!”

“Yeah.” She smiled bravely.

He smiled.

“Song!” A woman called form across the playground.

“I gotta go.” She looked at him almost wistfully.

“I'm here all the time,” he called to her as she skipped away.