HAND IN HAND, and very properly, Charlie and I cross Fifth Avenue as if it was water. In the Saturday-afternoon traffic it is important not to let go; red and green lights are beacons signaling take care, take care. By the time we reach the other side my hand is moist, and Charlie’s, within my fingers, feels cool and amphibious. With my free hand I bump the stroller over the curb; it is stocked with objects his mother has chosen for him: sand toys, several Matchbox cars, The Gingerbread Man in a Little Golden Book, a spoon, his crib blanket—extensions of his personality, definitions of himself. Just to the south the museum broods like a sphinx, and directly across the street a bored Secret Service man keeps vigil over the apartment house where the children of the late President Kennedy are staying. A low wall separates us from the Park, our destination.
Though familiar with the Park, I am a West Sider. I have identified sixteen kinds of warbler in the Ramble, including the Connecticut, and glimpsed a peregrine falcon menacing children’s kites over the Sheep Meadow. The broken kouroi in the Greek Rooms of the museum are old acquaintances; so are the hoarse, ironic seals by the Zoo Cafeteria. But I have usually approached their whereabouts from the west, bicycling through the Park with Robert (who has gone to live in another town), and certainly never before in the company of a seventeen-month-old infant.
It is, in fact, the first time I’ve ever been alone with Charlie. His landmarks clash upon mine. For a confusing second all directions become jumbled in my mind and the familiar wavers like a mirage. I cannot remember where I was told to go or what we were to do.
What we are doing right now is watching the shiny, colored cars flow by. City-wise Charlie tallies their passing. “ ’N a car,” he observes, with an almost blasé flick of the hand I am not holding. “ ’N a bus. ’N a tackie car. ’N a car. ’N a car.” They are his sheep, or birds. Rumble. Honk. Beep. Screech, they call to him. Before I become mesmerized by the traffic, I choose a direction at random, and at once several mothers with strollers and children appear ahead of us; we follow in their tracks.
Soon we find ourselves at the playground, guarded by bronze gates adorned with figures by Paul Manship, out of Aesop: the fox and the cheese, the lamb and the wolf. The gates, when shut, have gates of their own fore and aft to protect them against vandals. The fables seem to warn against flatterers, against opportunists. Charlie is politely inattentive to my comments about the beauty and moral purpose of these gates. I am talking, I recognize, too much. But then, so is he.
Because what is this he’s saying? “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy,” in accents uncannily close to hers, like some mimic bird. Spoken so purely, the na...read more