a short story by Sue Gelety
The appearance of the odd woman seemed to be a common occurrence apparent from the reaction of everyone in the play area. She drifted into the playground hunched over, unkempt and mumbling to herself. Her face revealed deep set wrinkles and she was dressed in a tattered blue dress with a frayed yellow sweater. With her slumped figure and the tears emerging from her eyes, an air of sadness exuded from her.
The rhythmic grinding of the swings’ rusty chains drifted through the air. Voices of children yelling to each other could be heard as well.
“Let’s go down the sliding board!” Michael shouted.
“No, it’s too hot, it burns my legs,” Joseph responded.
The play area teemed with laughter and excitement; feet shuffled from one apparatus to another through the gravelly surface covering the playground. From early morning to dusk, the decades old playground became the gathering place for the neighborhood children of all ages.
The chaos and excitement of the playground became a low murmur as the children’s heads turned to look at the strange woman entering the playground.
“Oh, it’s just her,” mumbled Elizabeth.
“Yeah,” Laura responded dryly.
Elizabeth’s mother whispered to Laura’s mother, “I wonder why this woman comes here every day?”
Without skipping a beat, the loud chatter of the children resumed as well as the sounds of the ancient playground equipment squeaking and grinding. The odd woman moved in a deliberate pattern around the perimeter, stopping from time to time to stare upwards towards the sky. She took the same path and stopped at the same spots on her daily walk through the playground. Her appearance lasted all of fifteen minutes at the same time of day around dusk, before she left.
Everything changed one morning. Bulldozers plowed their way through all the play equipment, pushing, pulling and destroying everything in sight. The scene of the carnage brought everyone to a standstill on the edge of the property. The playground was transformed into a construction zone. Parents and children walked away in dismay. Several weeks later a complete transformation took place. The old playground was replaced with state-of-the-art equipment for the children.
As everyone entered the gate, they walked around in awe of the beautiful new play area. Someone spotted a plaque placed where the odd woman would stop and look up at the sky. The inscription read, Dedicated to my daughter Julie, disappeared 1972, age 3.
Debra, Elizabeth’s mother, walked over to the plaque. She turned to the people gathered and commented knowingly, “That woman who came here every day passed away after her last visit to the playground. She was Julie’s mother, Mrs. John J. Vanderhall, a well-to-do widow. Her daughter disappeared from this playground one day while playing around dusk. The child was never found.”
Julie walked alongside her mother pulling on her hand directing her to her favorite swing. She released her grip and ran over to claim the swing. It was going to get dark soon and she knew they didn’t have much time to play. When she turned to have her mother place her on the seat, she felt disappointment as her mother walked over to speak to a group of other mothers chatting, turning her back to Julie. Shoulders slumped, Julie kicked at the pebbles on the ground as she wandered past the shiny sliding board to the edge of the playground near some hedges. She looked up at a smiling friendly looking older woman holding out a bunch of colored lollipops for Julie to choose. Julie loved lollipops!
Art Academy of Milton will be featuring short stories written by the students of Michael Rash's Prose Writers' Workshop. To learn more about the next workshop and other events, visit our classes page!