by Ann Regentin
Kitty is divorced with a young son, and a life as closed-off and safe as her frightened soul can arrange.
Chris crossed the Atlantic looking for sanctuary from his angry ex-wife and teenaged daughter.
Chris and Kitty collide with the power and fury of a train wreck. The ensuing inferno derails their lives completely, threatening to consume everything and everyone around them.
It could destroy them. It could also be exactly what they need.
The park across the street from my rented house had a huge play structure for children, with massive wooden beams, slides, even a rough bridge to run on. In the mornings, though, it was usually empty so I took my laptop and my students’ papers out to the picnic tables and worked there. It was quiet, a perfect place for being both out and undisturbed, and it was important for me to be out. The trees were soothing, dropping colored leaves on me from time to time, and the squirrels were sociable, so I brought food out for them and they thanked me with their unabashed greed. It was getting close to winter.
When I met the head of the University of Michigan’s jazz department, I had nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it. My band was taking a year off, which left me doing session work and playing occasional gigs as a guest; in short, spinning my wheels. The offer of a position as a visiting professor, not to mention a year in America, sounded like a gift from Providence. A change of pace, I thought, was just what I needed.
Whether I need it or not, I certainly got it. I discovered too late that “visiting professor” was a synonym for “indentured servant” and I was grateful that I wasn’t dependent on my salary. The cost of living in Ann Arbor was surprisingly high, perhaps not as bad as Berlin but I still wondered how some of my colleagues managed.
For me, though, money was the least of my problems. I thought I spoke American English, but there were too many conversations I couldn’t understand, and I kept making stupid mistakes in conversation and lecture. Americans drove like lunatics, but couldn’t get where they were going on time. Gallons, pounds, miles, and Fahrenheit meant little to me. I joined a local band made up mostly of University faculty and while it helped to ease my stress, it wasn’t enough to ease the culture shock. Sometimes my head hurt so much I wanted to cut it off. There were several possible solutions, but out of all of them the park seemed best, or perhaps the least self-destructive.
In the mornings, it was an oasis of quiet and alone with the squirrels, I didn’t have to worry about what language to speak or how to behave. It got me out of my depressingly temporary house, I could grade papers and prepare for my classes without the constant interruptions I got in my office at the University and, most importantly, be myself, my German self, which often seemed too straight-forward and aggressive for the gentle town I found myself in.
I was working peacefully one Wednesday morning when a woman came up the street, three children in her wake, two boys, and a girl. They looked to be about seven or eight. She had a football, the kind Americans call a soccer ball, and as soon as she got to the park, she dropped it and dribbled it into the field. She knew what she was doing. She was teaching the kids how to handle the ball with their feet, shouting to them in a clear, sweet soprano, and I stopped what I was doing to watch. I couldn’t see her face at that distance, but she was tall, nearly my height, and built like Aphrodite of Soli.
After a while, I went back to my work, distracted. I couldn’t figure it out. They were obviously not sick and the schools weren’t closed. I wondered what they were doing out of school. I wondered what she looked like up close.
When they were through with lessons, she followed the kids to the playground, right in my direction, and I finally got a look at her face. It was freckled and ageless. If I’d had to guess, I would have said she was in her late twenties. Her curly brown hair was pulled back into a thick ponytail, but it was escaping in sweaty ringlets around her face, and she had the sort of lush mouth that made certain actresses world-famous. She had a backpack dangling from one hand and she set up shop at another picnic table, pulling out sketchpads and pencils. An artist. Amateur or professional? Her eyes flickered back and forth from the children to her paper, and she drew with the speed and certainty of long practice. Something I envied. I’d never been good at art. I went back to my work, smiling. In a funny way, she was good company.
“Mom,” a juvenile voice demanded suddenly, “come and push us!”
I glanced up and saw the three kids on the merry-go-round. It was winding down and they were dragging their feet in the sand, looking pleadingly toward the picnic table. I couldn’t tell who had spoken.
“Joe, I’m working,” the woman said in a weary tone.
“Please, Mom!” It was one of the boys, whose hair should have given him away as his mother’s son from the start.
“Please, Kitty!” the girl added. “We can’t get it going fast enough.”
Kitty. I looked at her out of the corner of my eye, trying the name on with the face and finding them a good fit. The angles of her cheekbones and chin were vaguely feline. I watched her sigh and smile, and I knew she was going to give in. It made me like her even more. “All right,” she said, rising and setting her pencil down on her sketchbook. “Once. Hold on tight.”
They did, eyes shining with anticipation, and I watched her grab the bars with strong, capable hands before she dug her tennis shoes into the sand and started to run. The kids shrieked with delight and the merry-go-round spun faster and faster, so fast that Kitty could not keep up any longer. Instead of stepping back to watch, she swung herself up with them, laughing. I wanted to join them, see how fast I could get them going before I jumped on opposite her. She was laughing, bracing her feet, letting go of the bars and reaching for the children’s hands, and I wanted to be part of it so much that it hurt.