Saturday, June 05, 2004

Think Of The Children

It was late afternoon. By the river, low brilliant sun alternated with deep shade. She'd sought out a stand of strange, leggy, candle-flame shaped plants, hoping the green-white, bulging seed pods had opened to offer more taxonomic clues. What were these strange beings ? She realized that the stalks and pods had sprung from a low, prostrate wetland grass that had remained green all winter. Perhaps that was a clue.

She'd seen goslings, and two rabbits; milkweed was coming up in dense stands, and white and purple asters were beginning to bloom. Tall grass seedheads were opening everywhere -- brome, bluegrass, orchardgrass -- the seeds erupting with miniscule filaments and lacy fronds, green, purple, all waving in the light and wind.

Suddenly she noticed a group of three or four boys headed toward her on bicycles. They were maybe 11 or 12 years old, crewcut, boisterous. She moved aside to let them pass. As they passed they addressed her, loudly and hilariously:

Fucking freak !

Get a haircut, bitch !

She reeled into the pathside meadow as if slapped. Hot tears rose in her eyes. The boys whizzed away and their gales of laughter receded.

The wind whipped her hair -- longish, and quite gray -- across her cheeks. Her hollow, sunken cheeks. She felt diminished, pathetic. Old. Ugly. A death's-head horror. A freak. All the taunts of childhood bullies flooded back in chorus, an inchoate rush of cruel sound. Her chest -- her heart -- constricted. Civilization receded. She was naked, flayed, utterly vulnerable. She was surrounded by a crowd of youths, boys and girls, taunting, appetitive, aggressive, in full sexual display. She withered in their fierce, relentless, judgmental gaze.

Freak. Bitch. they hissed.

She peered at a clump of tiny white flowers at her feet. Ten petals. What the field guide calls inconspicuous flowers.

She'd always considered herself inconspicuous. Even invisible.

But now, in the harsh, transmogrifying spotlight of the strangers' gaze, she stood revealed.

A monster.

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