Once a week, George and Patsy met in Windemere Park. Same time, same little wrought iron bench. Patsy cared for her elderly father; their relationship had always been stormy. In the afternoon, she gave him his pills and came to the park while he napped.
George lived with his wife, JoLynn; it was better between them once. George came to the park to walk their dog, Trixie. And to take a break from JoLynn.
They didn’t visit each other’s homes. They weren't friends, in the usual sense. George had never met Patsy’s father. Patsy had never met JoLynn. But there were things George couldn’t see unless Patsy pointed them out. And things that Patsy never saw until George held them up to the light.
Every week, the same little bench, and it always began with the same exchange:
How’s your dad today Pats.
Not bad today George. How’s your wife.
Still mean as a snake, Pats.
After that, they would talk about the particulars. Patsy’s father. Clear today or cloudy. She spoke of him in weather terms.
George would talk about his marriage. A War of the Roses, he called it. His last name was Rose. George and JoLynn had been high school sweethearts. Things were good between them then.
I don’t know what to do, George. One day he seems perfectly fine and then—yesterday morning, I heard him in the kitchen, early. I got up. He was flaking tuna into a bowl. He looked at me and he smiled. For Mittens, he said.
You don’t have a cat do ya Pats? Quiet Trixie.
Trixie whimpered a lot. High-strung. A terrier mix.
Oh gosh we lost Mittens…I can’t even remember it’s been so long…thirty years ago. Long time.
George reached in his pocket and took out a bag of Doggie D’lites. Trixie’s eyes followed his hand. He dropped three or four of the treats at Trixie’s feet.
There, he said. Now hush.
Patsy shook her head.
Rewarding bad behavior. You know that’s what you’re doing.
That’s what you always tell me, Pats. It’s how we met, remember? Seven years ago. This same bench. You said the same thing to me then.
And Trixie still whines and you still shake your finger. You still say, bad dog, Trixie, and give her a handful of treats. What message does that send?
You sure we’re talking about Trixie?
If only you spoke to JoLynn like that, your troubles would be over.
Maybe so Pats. Maybe so.
Trixie whimpered. George reached in his pocket.
You know what’s funny is, the other night, JoLynn and me, we’re watching TV—or we were there and the TV was on, might be a better way to put it—but anyway, it was one of those movie channels. They were showing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”.
Uh-oh. I’m afraid to ask.
No, that’s just it. Nothing happened. We sat through the whole thing without saying a word.
It’s pretty long, isn’t it?
A little over two hours, and the whole time I’m thinking, that’s us. Except for all the booze, that’s me and JoLynn. And I know she’s thinking it too. I mean, I don’t know. But I know. You know what I mean?
They drink a lot in that movie.
Yeah they do.
Patsy looked up. There was a sound of thunder in the distance.
It’s not an easy movie to watch. You’ve seen it right?
Yeah, it’s been awhile. But I’ve seen it.
I think we were both waiting for the same part. The same scene. Where he says, you can humiliate me, tear me to pieces, and it’s perfectly okay. Then she says, you married me for it.
No. In the movie. George says, you can tear me to pieces. His name is George, too.
Yeah. Funny isn’t it.
He scratched Trixie behind the ears.
Feels like it might rain soon. You okay, Pats? You had a look on your face for a minute.
Oh. No I’m fine, I was just…I don’t know why it popped into my head… he used to take me to get ice cream. My dad. Mint chocolate chip. It was my favorite flavor.
Mine too when I was a kid. I always got a double scoop.
So did I. Back when they still called them ice cream parlors. Whenever I’d done something wrong he would take me to Sweeney’s.
Rewarding bad behavior.
Yeah. I guess that’s it. He would say, you’re grounded, or no allowance for you until…and then he would take me to get ice cream. Like nothing ever happened.
That must’ve been confusing.
He used to lecture me for hours...it would always end with a “why can’t you”. Why can’t you just be a nice girl. Why can’t you be a good daughter…he felt guilty about it later. Wanted to be the good guy again. The guy who smiles and takes his little girl out for ice cream. Not this raving, screaming thing. And I sat there in Sweeney’s with my mint chocolate chip and I thought, why can’t you just be my father. Instead of trying to be my friend.
George looked down. Trixie leaned forward, and shuffled her feet, expectantly.
You know what I think Pats? I think we’re all taking a hammer to a can of creamed corn. Just because we didn’t read the label and thought it was peas.
Patsy thought for a moment.
That’s true, isn’t it. We hammer away, instead of reaching for another can. Or even a can opener.
The sky was dark and they heard a rumbling.
Rain’s coming, Pats.
No it’s here I just felt it. See you George. Take care.
You too Pats. See ya.
Once a week in Windemere Park, they held the world up to the light; re-shaping. Bending. Crystal prisms. Not lovers; more than friends.