Boy in Park

There is no sound. The lens giving onto the scene beads with drizzle that gathers into pools, warping one part and then another of the picture into a fugitive funhouse stain, each distortion growing gravid in turn before bursting to reveal in barren clarity its fleck of the territory surveilled. For some time nothing happens save the undulation of windswept trees and the occasional car shuttling unknown occupants along the perimeter of the park. There is a hooded bicyclist with his face clenched in a grimace. Against the wind perhaps, or a cramp, or some dreaded thing at his destination.

At length a child enters the park. A boy of maybe ten, he covers ground lithely, effortlessly, bounding forward irrepressible and automatic at every step. He adheres to no marked path, nor does he wear any gear against the weather. He goes to where the water has pooled and trudges through. It has met with his satisfaction: Doubling back at a dead run, he launches into a jump at the lip of the puddle, broadcasting a disintegrating plume of mud as he lands.

The resolution is not good enough to make out his face, but his carriage and movement speak the language of health and joy. He’s at the puddle jumping-business for some time, and it is not tiresome to watch, no more so than watching any creature with the wildness still in it. No other child comes to join him, for these are not days of children roaming free. These are days of radio wristbands and regimentation and a relentless pharmacopeia to precipitate the wildness out of them.

Satisfied that he has competed with equal mastery in the puddle long jump and the puddle broad jump, he now changes his game, beginning to crawl on all fours in the fashion of frogmen. He crawls slowly at first, skylighting the terrain for foes the way he has seen it done, then charging forward at a wallowing sprint to take some imaginary line, writhing and rushing with all the ardentheartedness of a soldier under live fire. During one crawl he stops mid-stride to examine some grub or critter. He picks it up with reverence, cupping it before him, then sets it aside.

After a few more crawls he conceals himself behind a tree. The camera can see him, but the road cannot. His stillness can be seen, his silence nearly heard. He waits, the drizzle coming in lazy sheets. At last he lunges out from under cover wielding something in the shape of a gun, aiming down its barrel and firing off imaginary shots in cartoonish imitation of a pistol’s recoil. He runs through this sequence again and again, sometimes rolling, sometimes crawling, other times bursting out from behind the trunk in full stride.

There is a car passing at the periphery. It slows, wavers, then lurches to a halt. The door can be seen to open. Details are hard to make out at this range, but soon a figure can be seen advancing down the park, it appears with trepidation. The mystery is dispelled when a figure waddles out from some underbrush in the middle part of the picture. It is a police officer. His status can be recognized by the gear belt that compasses his generic girth. There is a lighter-colored fleck at heart level to one side of the uniform. Through the lens and drizzle it might be taken for fuel port, an access point for a technician’s tinkering, or a recessed controller box. The officer advances sluggishly down the park until he reaches the fountain, his features a blur under the brim of his hat. He slips into a crouch and speaks into the radio on his shoulder.

Meanwhile the boy is at his martial moves. No one drill is quite like another. To a poetic eye his myriad of moves might be thought to resemble variations on a musical score, a series of notes being tuned and shaped to perfection by a boy who dreams of not of symphonies, but of playing by the iron laws of war. The joy and ingenuity of his play do not diminish when the officer stands up and can be seen calling out. The officer fits his hand to the side of his mouth to shape a trajectory for his words. His chest rises and falls as he yells out a second time. The boy darts out from the tree trunk, drops to his belly and assumes the firing position. He is facing in the direction of the camera, looking past and under it. He has not looked in the direction of the officer, nor does he turn to face him now. A flash of smiling teeth can be seen as his hand jerks up in mimic recoil.

The officer has advanced a few steps beyond the fountain’s safety. He yells again and stomps his foot. He then reaches for his firearm. A sinister shade of black, it is the darkest object in the frame, and the most distinct. Pointing it first in the direction of the boy, he wavers, raising it to the sky instead. The pistol bucks in his hand and a sliver of gunsmoke escapes the muzzle. The warning shot does not interrupt the boy going through his paces. It does not even startle him, nor does he turn to face it. It is as if no shot was fired.

By now the officer’s face is writhing in indistinct fury under his hatbrim. It is impossible to tell how old he is, much less what intelligence may lurk behind his eyes. The face is no more than a shaded stain on the lens, working, gnashing.

Without further warning the officer trains his gun down the foreground on the boy, who has just now rolled over into a more advantageous firing position. Suddenly the boy’s head slouches over to one side. The object he was holding slides from his hand into the grass. He twitches once and no more, all the life and joy and wildness in him spent. Another rill of gunsmoke curls into the drizzle. The officer holsters the gun and has a look around the park. After a moment his gaze, dimly seen, comes to rest on the camera. He does a double-take before leaning over to speak into his shoulder. He looks up at the camera again before lurching down toward the boy. When within five paces of the body the transmission cuts out, leaving only the vaguest impression of two figures burned into the screen, one erect and the other lifeless.

Boy in Park

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