December 23, 2014


Okay Cupid
Joanna Ruocco
I was in the park.  I saw a circle of mothers.  The mothers were circuit training under the cottonwood trees and the circle of circuit-training mothers was circled by baby strollers and the baby strollers were circled by squirrels and the squirrels kept coming, more and more squirrels dropping down from the trees, army-crawling head first down the trees, joining the thickening circle of squirrels, the circle that unbeknownst to the mothers, had cordoned off the circle of strollers.  The mothers did not notice the squirrels.  The mothers maintained a singular focus on fitness.  They had stowed their nuts and their bars with their babies in strollers.  I saw the circle of squirrels close in—it closed in on the strollers—and I saw the first wave of squirrels swarm up the strollers, and the mothers were running in place with high knees, the mothers were squat thrusting, they were tuck jumping, the mothers were revving their bodies, they were pumping their bodies, they had the glow of young mothers.  I liked their hair and their work-out clothes and the way they waved their tiny bright weights, and I thought about stopping the squirrels before they could summit the strollers, before they could cover the babies, pile on the babies and eat the babies’ whole faces, but then I thought about thinking.  I stopped and I thought about thinking, how thinking intervenes between regular people and heroes.  There’s a split-second for heroes, and if you think about heroes or seconds or mothers or babies or how many squirrels, that’s it for the faces; you’re standing still in the park thinking through circles in circles, and things happen around you.  In a split-second, things happen.  The strollers are seething with squirrels.  The mothers leg-lift in plank.  The sun is hot but the air is cold and geese are passing through it. You’ve never seen so many geese flying one by one, the geese composed of a lone goose and then another lone goose, each lone goose flying close to the ground.  There are many of them but they aren’t in any way geese.  Each goose chooses its own direction.  Each goose stretches out its very long neck and chases its own head through the air.  A goose goes by.  Across the street from the park, there’s South High School with a goose landing on the lawn.  There’s a goose much closer, by the adult athletic equipment.  It’s emerging from a bed of ornamental kale, lifting off, wings thrashing the crimpled edges of the kale.  The squirrels have devoured the nuts and the bars, the babies, the strollers.  The mothers are sweating.  The leaves on the cottonwood trees are a rattling yellow.  There are yellow leaves on the lake.  There’s a lone goose on the edge in long weeds.  There’s a squirrel in profile—one rolling eye.  It is holding its paws to its mouth.  Some squirrels can fly but no one ever sees them.  Flying squirrels are shy.  The shyness helps them survive.  They fly short flights from their trees in the night.  They don’t mingle.  They hide from predators and from each other and so they don’t breed very often.  They are dying out.  Each one that’s alive stays alive helped by shyness, but each one stays shyly alive all alone.  The squirrels that fly are dying out slowly, without violence, in whole moments: no heroics.  Things happen around them while they sleep, each in the crotch of a tree, resting up for the short flights they take at moon rise, short flights without encounters, short flights that keep their muscles from fraying so they can sleep day after day curled in the crotches of trees.  I’ve never seen one.  I walk around at night and I try not to encounter anything, although I can’t help but observe small disturbances.  My rule of thumb is to give disturbances distance.  When I identify a center I move to a perimeter.  Often I walk for a very long while.  From time to time I remember to return to my daylight haunts.  I collect the broken roughage from the public beds.

Joanna Ruocco co-edits Birkensnake, a fiction journal, with Brian Conn.  She is the author of The Mothering Coven (Ellipsis Press), Man's Companions (Tarpaulin Sky Press), A Compendium of Domestic Incidents (Noemi Press), and Another Governess / The Least Blacksmith: A Diptych (FC2), and DAN (Dorothy). Toni Jones, her more athletic alter ego, recently released her first novel, No Secrets in Spandex, from Crimson Romance.  

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