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Eyes Upon the Playground by Michael Giardina - Page 1

Garret was the kind of man you could trust with your life, the kind of man that would quietly listen to all of your innermost secrets. His face was a pale white and his body was covered with the kind of freckles that melt together into stains. His eyes were completely devoid of pigment; grey and continually open. Garret was the kind of man who didn't want to miss a thing, who kept his eyes wide open. Iridescent red and orange strands of gorgeous hair parted from the very middle of his scalp and floated limply about his angular cheekbones. Garret-after being so often confided in, after being hurt so many times in his life-became obsessed with secrets, became dependent on those penetrating pieces of the human experience. For Garret, it was no longer a game of trust but of acquisition. He sat at his desk-his eyes reflecting bright little speckles of light from the warm glow of the buzzing computer monitor. He spent his nights idling in chatrooms, urging vulnerable strangers into his trust. Once they opened up, he would slip a small program, disguised as something worthy of inspection, into their hands. It was then that, though they never knew it, the unsuspecting souls offered Garret an unrestricted invitation into their lives. It was just in this manner that Garret came to know the woman named Samantha.

Garret slowly yet persistently urged the young Samantha into his trust. Samantha executed the file and let the electronic walls of protection crumble. Garret could do nothing but smile. He spent hours watching each and every one of Samantha's individual keystrokes. When she left, Garret remained behind, sitting at his desk, watching the monitor, waiting for the keystrokes to resume their scrolling. Garret became obsessed with the first letter. He read it over and over again.

Dear Brook,

How are you honey? I'm so sorry for not keeping in touch. Rena had a relapse with the heroin addiction. I can't believe that she lied to my face like that. Honey, I just can't live here anymore. We finally let Pearl wander the streets again and she's gone. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. There's still a gang of Puerto Ricans after Rena, I'm sure I saw the barrel of a gun from the van across the street. I just hope she knows not to come back here. Brook, I really miss you sweetheart. I've come to the conclusion that a princess simply can't live in the projects. I don't know how I'm going to get back to you. I'm afraid to drive my stuff down because my license is expired and there's still the warrant for my arrest. I don't know how I'm going to get the truck home, I can't have it gone long or they'll start to ask questions. I'll probably chance it. Do you think you can get one of my ex-cookies to help us unload? All I want to do is get back to you. I want to sit with you under the leaning tree, the one that grew into metal. It's such a sight, do you remember it? Just remember what I always say Brook, it's all about the children.

Love,
-Samantha

There was something in the letter that made Garret give pause: the tree that grew into metal. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, Garret had a recollection of this very tree and yet he could not remember where he had seen it. He felt such excitement at the possibility that Samantha lived so very close to him. He read the letter over and over, hoping to find a clue as to the location of this tree. He continued to read Samantha's mail for weeks, reading about her fashion company, about her successful arrival in town, about her meeting with Brook under that mysterious tree. Yet nowhere could he find, in the vast amount of writing, the location of that tree. Everyday he read that very first letter and searched it over and over for a clue. He became obsessed with the landmark, with the opportunity to find Samantha and finally get the opportunity to observe her.

A week later, Garret sat at his desk, his hands grasping anxiously at his hair. His eyes passed from his old Polaroid camera, to his locked metal boxes, to the multitudes of rusted keys and videotapes that piled up around him. He stood up and walked to an antique book case and stared to admire his collection of old and dusty books. He reached for a small red book with gold-leaf pages and stared at the cover. The title was in Japanese but intricately inked onto the cover was a picture of children playing upon a playground. He focused on the young children and his heart began to race. He looked at one of the foreign characters and, if only for a moment, he thought he perceived-somewhere hidden in the language he couldn't understand-the beautiful picture of a tree falling towards the ground. It was then that the clue came to him. He raced back to his desk and loaded up the first letter. He focused on the last line, his mouth widened, and the blood in his face began to escape back into his swelling heart. There was the answer he had been looking: "Just remember what I always say Brook, it's all about the children."

The children played at park. The tree was at the park. Garret shook his head in disbelief. Somehow, deep in his heart, he was absolutely certain that he would find Samantha in that very same location. He tossed the red book at the floor, grabbed a drab grey jacked from his nightstand, and swiftly walked out the door of his house, and headed toward the playground.

***

The park was filled with many young children running, jumping, climbing. If one were to stand at a distant and watch their little bodies breaking into society, one would see an intricate kind of dance; all the world's problems being played upon a stage, rehearsed, and yet entirely-as contradicting as it may seem-new and unpredictable. Every young mind seemed to participate in this intricate dance and every single step, every jump, every cry, every scream seemed so entirely logical that one could convince themselves they saw it coming all along. In the end, though, the children were always one step ahead.

There beyond the sandy playground, over a small hill of grass, was a large tree that leaned over as if it wished to fall. Two large metal poles arched up from the ground, holding the three upon its side, but not letting it near the ground. After so many years, with gravity pressing down upon these white metal bars, the tree's bark came to grow it's around the metal stilts. Deeply penetrating into the bark, it now seemed as though the tree grew these sturdy supports of its own desires and needs. One could sit under the tree, always wondering if the metal could ever fail the spectator, if one could-in an instant-be completely removed from those children, trapped underneath the incredible weight of a tree that's been living its life to fall.

Garret walked up a small hill and perched to look down upon that old and leaning tree. There, sitting underneath the tree, was what appeared to be a dark and rough woman. Garret watched eagerly, hoping the woman was Samantha. The woman sat beneath the leaning tree and watched the children jumping about, climbing, skipping, and cheering. Each time one of the little girls fell, the woman would lean forward and her eyes would open wide. As soon as she heard the little child's first cry, the rough woman would smile. Something about the high pitch noise, echoing through the park, seemed to comfort her. This woman's face seemed so strong, so sturdy. Garret edged closer and leaned in. If only for a moment, Garret thought that the woman turned to look at him. Just before he averted his eyes he saw this woman's muscular chest. He looked back and realized that his hopes had led him astray. It was clear to him now that the young woman was simply a man dressed in women's clothing. He winced his eyes and was about to stand up when a young woman came running up the hill. She bounced elegantly in the wind and seemed to be heading right for the man in drag.

Garret slowly settled back to watch the spectacle.

"Brook!" Called the man under the tree.
"I'm sorry," the voice called.
"Hey," good to see you.
"Sorry, Sam. I know I'm late."
"Just sit, it's fine."

When Brook finally settled in, the two-now comfortably lying in each others arms, underneath the tree-lowered their voices and Garret was shut from their lives. Garret stared incessantly at the couple. It seemed so implausible that Samantha was a man. Perhaps she wasn't, perhaps her features were just worn and masculine. Garret felt betrayed in some unexplainable way but slowly these thoughts started to pass from his mind and his eyes started to focus all about the playground, always coming back to Samantha. How could he know so little about her yet know so much? Garret felt overwhelmed with a sense of incredible power. There, sitting at the top of a hill, he watched this woman and knew her darkest secrets. There, sitting below Garret, Samantha sat with Brook and together they watched the children play.

That night Garret sat at the computer for hours. Images of small children grabbing onto monkey bars, falling, and crying upon the ground floated weighed down upon his mind. He could still see Samantha's rough face, a transparent image burned onto his retina, superimposed upon the animated children. Garret winced uncomfortably and stared at the blank screen. Samantha was nowhere to be found. Garret waited and waited, forgetting about food and completely unaware of the time. He just waited and watched, listening to the sound of the small children in his mind. He thought for a moment that they were calling out his name, reaching out to him.

"Just remember what I always say Brook, it's all about the children."



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