I ached to call them back. They were so young and if they passed the next rise, I wouldn’t be able to see them. I glanced over my shoulder to my husband. Between the distance and the press of bodies he was nearly lost, struggling to catch up as he pushed both his bike and our older daughter’s before being swallowed by the crowd. He wouldn’t hear me, couldn’t shush my warning to the younger children. Wait. He had lectured me on the car ride to the park while I stared out the window.
“Loosen the apron strings,” he said. “Let them explore, they’ll be perfectly safe. You’ve got to let go, don’t stifle them or they’ll never grow-up.”
It was only a moment before I returned my gaze to the children. They were stopped now, my son standing beside his bike, taking one step, and then another backward. My little girl straddled hers. She appeared perplexed, but I barely saw her. My vision became telescopic.
A man in gray sweat-shorts pulled low under his expansive naked belly loomed over my boy, his hand gripped my son’s shoulder.
I lost my hearing, my taste and touch, my nostrils were no longer filled with salt air and tanning lotion. All of me saw only the stranger touch my child. I closed the distance between us, never seeing but somehow sensing my daughter rushing along behind me. Another part of me was aware of the drinks teetering in my hands and a jet screaming overhead.
“Can I help you?” My voice was not my own. It was low, a growl, louder than I’d been taught a lady should speak.
The man continued to look at my son, a forgotten soft-serve cone – chocolate – dripping along his left wrist. No one had ever taught him to speak quietly. “What? You can’t do that no more, talk to someone else’s kid?”
He started so reasonably, but then spittle began collecting at the corners of his mouth, his pitch growing frantic, that kettle-drum stomach heaving, soft and white. I remembered him from the clam shack; he had been in line ahead of us.