It’s cold today, and my fingers want me to stop, but I don’t want to go back yet. The less time I have to spend in that house, the better, and I love this park. My sisters and I used to cut through this park on the way to and from school. That was the last taste of freedom I had, me and Frances and Florence crunching the dead leaves under our feet, watching our breath in the air, and singing all the way home.
I can still catch the 2:47 bus if I sit here another ten minutes. My fingers are really protesting, but if I give in to them it’s the beginning of the end. I’ve seen it happen, and it won’t happen to me. Not yet, anyhow. It’s not time.
Her hair is what I notice first. She’s like Rita Hayworth with that hair, but that face – it’s a miserable face. Pretty, but miserable. He holds her hand like he’s afraid she’ll disappear, like she’s not real, and maybe she’s not. She blazes like the maples but there’s something otherworldly about her. I think it’s all that sadness. It keeps her from being here on earth with the rest of us.
“Baby?” Her fingers are so cold. She refuses to wear gloves, and no matter how many pairs I buy her or how often I remind her she is hell-bent on having freezing hands. She says she hates the way they squash her fingers and insists that mittens don’t keep her hands warm. But that’s Chelsea. She gets an idea in her head and that’s it. Gloves don’t keep my hands warm, eating fish is cruel, monogamy is a societal construct. The Gospel According to Chelsea.
Today is a bad day for her. It’s noisy in her head and she can’t make it stop. I brought her here for a walk hoping that the fresh air and sunlight and small bit of exercise would help her, but the truth is I can’t help her. I can’t help her any more than I can help myself from clinging to her like a vine. I want to grow up her side, wrap around her ribs, and shield her from the elements with my blanket of leaves. She holds my hand but it’s more like she’s letting me hold hers more than she’s holding mine back.
And yet if I let go…
Tommy has suggested it a hundred times. That bitch makes you crazy, he says. Find yourself a nice girl like Lauren who smiles and wants kids. A girl who isn’t so fucked up all the time.
He’s right. She’s fucked up. All the time. And no more so than when I try to walk away. It’s the funny thing about Chelsea. She acts like she doesn’t want me here, but all I have to do is try to leave and I get all of her. Almost all of her. And those are the times I feel the most connected to her, when I’m slipping away and she’s grabbing me instead of me grabbing her. When she wants me. When she needs me.
I fucking can’t and he knows it. But he doesn’t stop. It’s like he lives to exhausts me.
Tell me why.
I have no fucking idea why. It’s not on the tip of my tongue. He doesn’t get that it’s not in there hanging out just waiting to be told. I’m not like him. I don’t just have all these feelings bubbling up all the time. I’m not even sure I can feel. Not anymore.
My fucking brain won’t cooperate and I’m winding up and I want something to make it stop and Deacon isn’t helping. But he tries. He tries so hard. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I didn’t have Deacon trying, because he’s the only one who ever tries. He’s the only one who cares if I’m here or gone.
His hands are so warm and I just want to go home and be warm with him and make it stop. When he makes love to me he’s so hot he almost burns me up. I feel something then. I feel alive when Deacon is inside me. I am vital when he looks in my eyes when he’s inside me. I stop feeling like a fucking basket case because he treats me like a woman and I get hot with him and I sweat and I breathe and I come and I cry. It feels like something then.
Chelsea doesn’t want to feed the birds. I thought she might, but it turns out she thinks feeding them encourages them to breed here and be killed by cars and stray cats. I’ve never seen a stray cat in this park ever, but I can’t tell her that. She believes her own words completely. I put the bread back in my pocket and rub her icy little hands between mine.
The old woman on the bench watches me trying to warm up Chelsea’s hands. She doesn’t smile and her fingers never stop with the knitting needles. There’s this tiny sweater in her lap, bright red, and I wonder if it’s for her grandchild. Or maybe great-grandchild, since she’s so old.
Suddenly it hits me that I won’t ever see Chelsea as old as this woman. Chelsea won’t ever be ancient and gray and knitting a sweater in a park on a cold autumn day. She won’t ever have great-grandchildren because she won’t ever have a baby of her own.
The fact that none of that seems to ever bother her breaks me. It collapses my chest like a heavy stone dropped on me by the universe, and Chelsea pulls away from me because my tears makes her uncomfortable. Public tears are selfish. I hear her words in my ears as she wraps her arms around herself and walks in the other direction. I can’t catch my breath. I can’t stop her.