I didn’t expect so many children to fill Hancock Park mid-morning on a Tuesday. They are likely spillover from the nearby Children’s Museum, whirling like metallic tops across patches of yellowed grass. A neon-pink posse in matching camp shirts surround the lake pit, gawking at the emaciated mammoth raising its enormous, ineffectual tusks in frozen perpetuity. I spot you across the lawn. Welcome to the Ice Age, you holler as I approach from the east end, wearing signature shades; you, with your tattered Pavement cap pulled low to shield your cool baby blues from searing L.A. sun. You’d supplied the idea—let’s try again—and I, the baked things: butter croissants, chocolate-dipped madeleines, a date scone the baker on Fairfax talked me into, which I know you won’t like.
The sun burns hot against my unprotected shoulders, the noise bright in my brain, the high-throttle hum of screaming children, construction work on Wilshire, traffic jams spanning the Miracle Mile. Sleek, Lulu’d moms parallel park pricey double-strollers in a narrow strip of shade, lay Manduka mats for bootcamp. How can all those babies sleep at a time like this?
It smells like oil field, all that ancient asphalt bubbling not far beneath us, fossil fuels created by the decay of sea creatures, covered in gravel and clay, end products of endless erosion. Neither of us eat, though you pretend to try, unraveling tiny bits of croissant in the same tedious way you peel labels from beer cans, rolling then tossing them into the grass. A child steps too close to an active excavation site, separated from danger by cold metal bars and bright yellow safety tape. Still, the chaperone screams, startling me off our picnic blanket and into quick, instinctive action. Good reflexes! you say as I settle back down, and I think: I would have been a great mom. But you already know that. You just don’t say it anymore.
Kelle Schillaci Clarke is a Seattle-based writer whose stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Penn Review, Los Angeles Review, LEON Literary Review, Gone Lawn, CHEAP POP, and other journals. Her work has been nominated for Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fiction awards, and she was recently awarded the Pen Parentis Fellowship for 2021-2022. She can be found on Twitter @kelle224 and at her website: www.kelleclarkecreative.com.