Doris paused at the entrance to the playground and stood blinking in the late afternoon’s gloaming. A little boy about three or four sat perched at the top of the slide. At the bottom, his mother stood bent over with her arms outstretched. The mother clapped her hands and laughed. The boy shook his head, grinning with delight. Doris bit her lip. The last southbound train of the day clacked across the bridge over the river.
Doris walked on quickly past the park, past the big hotel, past the silent Sunday office buildings, and went into the bar and grill under her apartment. The place was nearly empty. Two old men leaned into one another on stools at the end of the bar. An old woman sat alone at a table, her hands wrapped around a coffee cup, staring out the window. The bartender was drying glasses near the old men and the kitchen’s doorway. She put the towel over her shoulder, nodded to Doris, and began pouring a draft beer. Doris took a stool away from them. The bartender brought the beer over to her, set it on a coaster, and went back to drying glasses. They’d been in a couple of classes together in high school fifteen years earlier.
Quiet music came from the kitchen. She took a sip of beer and looked at her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. She watched herself unzip the top of her jacket. She whispered, “Hello.”
Doris had started the day at church. After the service, the pastor stood on the steps and handed a white carnation to each woman as she left because it was Mother’s Day. Doris shook her head when she came by him, but he stopped her with his hand. He kept nodding until she accepted the flower. At the corner, she dropped it in a trashcan.
She had brunch at a buffet. Afterwards, she went to a movie, a comedy, and watched it twice. Then she took for a long walk along the river. The afternoon was dim, gray clouds hanging low in the sky. She was grateful for the sound of the rushing water.
Around five o’clock, Doris stopped and sat on a bench where a portion of the river widened into a pool. Ducks swam over to her. She took crusts of bread from her left jacket pocket, broke them apart, and tossed them to the ducks. They stayed and waited long after she’d finished, then finally swam away. Doris looked across the river at the city’s skyline. A plane went by above the buildings scratching a thin white line across the ink-washed sky. Except for the river, it was quiet. After an hour, she’d headed back along the river to the playground entrance where she’d seen the boy and his mother.
Doris watched the bartender go through the swinging doors into the kitchen. The old woman at the table coughed. Doris had met a man at that table one night several years before; he’d come over and sat down across from her. They’d shared drinks and then went upstairs to her apartment. When she awoke towards dawn, his side of the bed was empty; she didn’t even know his name. She hadn’t been with anyone else, so there wasn’t any question. She never saw him again. Doris took a long swallow of beer, set the glass on the coaster, and walked back outside.
She retraced her steps slowly past the office buildings, past the hotel, past the park to the playground’s entrance. It was empty. Evening had fallen, and two streetlamps threw a yellow wash of light over it. She walked across the grass into the playground’s sand.
Doris stood still there for a long time, looking at the swings, the jungle gym, the teeter-totter. Finally, she took the small urn out of her right jacket pocket and took off the lid. She peered down into her son’s ashes. He’d been about the same age as the boy on the slide, but her son had been afraid to try it all the times they’d come there. She sprinkled a few ashes into the sand, and then waved the urn through the air. The ashes left a thin cloud like smoke. Doris watched it dissipate in the canopy of light.
A dog barked nearby. She replaced the lid on the urn and put it back in her pocket. A breeze came up from the river, the swings groaning in it. Doris squeezed her arms together, hugging herself as tightly as she could.
William Cass has had seventy-five short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies, including the winning selection in The Examined Life Journal’s writing contest. He lives and works as an educator in San Diego, California.