Shepherd strode towards the car, the brim of his hat hid his eyes, but his lips were set in a tight line, and he pumped his arms to lengthen his stride.
‘Ma’am, you know you can’t be here.’
She cocked her head to one side, blinked heavily and grinned with all her teeth.
‘Hey Jeff, how’s Molly?’
His cheeks turned red, and he looked at his feet, folded his hands at his hip.
‘She’s good, ma’am. Look, I don’t want to do this Paula…’
Paula’s smile faltered and she sighed.
‘I’m not in the park, Jeff, I just want to look at it.’
Jeff leaned forward, hands on his belt. He fought the smile, tried to make it look like the indigestion that he would get when he ate chili. He had been mortified to read about it in the memo that came down. Banned for life from all 58 of them. Acadia to Yellowstone.
Graffitti, which pissed Molly off more than him. He loved his wife, feared her a little too, which made him love her even more, and so he would allow her to carry the weight of some of his feelings on any given subject.
‘We have a lovely gallery of photos on our Facebook page.’
He spoke mechanically, a conceit to hide his dismayed confusion.
‘Jeff, please let me be here for this.’
Her tone took him by the throat. A cracking of her voice, unable to bear the weight of her emotion.
‘It’s not even there, we had to get a specialist out to clean it off. Taxpayers money when it’s a time that people aren’t really keen on dipping into their pockets to do that.”
She ran her tongue over her lips and gazed with an earnest depth into his eyes.
‘I understand, but there were reasons, Jeff. I know I’m banned, but I need to be here.’
He took off his hat, plucked at the brim with his fingers and puckered his lips in confusion.
‘Paula. You have to go.’
She leaned forward, lifted her chin. He had never been a man that people pleaded with. He lumbered around the park, going about his work with a quiet, gruff economy that afforded him no respect but allowed him to save his energy for his times with Molly and the kids.
‘Jeff, let me stay for five minutes. I won’t even get out of the car, I can see it through the windshield just fine.’
Jeff wanted to pluck his shirt from where the perspiration stuck it to the small of his back. He could have ignored her, but one of the volunteers, anal-retentive and someone who read every memo that came through, had spotted her and so he had to act.
‘I nearly lost my job because of you’.
She put her hands forward, clasped so tightly that her knuckles turned white.
‘Please, I’ve paid a price for it. But let me explain’.
He sighed. Molly would give him holy hell for it, but he was a fair man.
She smiled and moved her hand over the door handle.
‘Can I at least get out of the car?’
He sighed and nodded his head. He had liked her, and the wattage of her smile made him weaken. She opened the door. She was compact, bright blonde hair and he noticed that she had cut it to blunt spikes and had lost enough weight to make her skin lose it’s elasticity at her jawline and her throat. Her eyes blazed like precious stones and her hands shook as she bounced on the balls of her feet.
‘Do you believe in magic, Jeff?’
He grunted and shook his head. His disappointment made him take a step back.
‘Paula, come on, that’s ridiculous.’
She gesticulated around her with her hands.
‘No, come on, you work here. There’s places that you can feel it, right?’
She had a point. He would go out, oftentimes with Holly before her hip got bad, and they would hike through, legs pumping and breathing hard, feeling every inch of his body alive and tingling. The air sang in certain places, he had known that but she was soiling it with her madness. Using an ugly colour in a painting.
‘Paula, think you should stop this. It’s a goddamn insult when you try to claim that this was -‘
‘You’re not answering my question. It’s okay, I know how it sounds but listen, there’s all sorts of energy out there.’
He grimaced and turned his hat in his hands even faster.
‘Then why scrawl all over it? I mean, it’s narcissism, Paula. I thought you were better than that. You don’t get to decide that your bullshit fucks up the park for everyone else’
His voice had risen in pitch and volume. His vocabulary was spare, like a savings account that he had forgotten the account number on, but there was money there. Swearwords were large withdrawals for him. He worried about what his mother would say and she had been dead for eight years.
‘It’s supposed to look like narcissism.’
There was a high, chiming sound. Too loud and clear for the public address system. It hurt his ears and he looked around, saw children with their parents hands over their ears and the air started to shimmer.
Paula was grinning so hard it was almost ugly and there were tears in her eyes.
‘They’re coming,’ she said.
He went to ask her who was coming but the chiming grew louder, and he fell to his knees. He watched her point upwards and saw where she pointed.
The column of light shot upwards, he took Paula’s hand and began to pray.