From my tree perch, high above the playground jungle gym, two girls gather blossoms. What near-pubescent sirens they are! One, in blue, her jersey flowered Swedish yellows, a clothier’s catalog girl, a Gap-for-Kids girl, a golden Hanna-Andersson model. The other in black – black curly hair, black Nikes silvered by Hermes wings, black double-knee sweats with smile-shaped rips in the knees. Their blossoms drop one-by-one into a red beret while all the while the girls sing a child’s ditty, their voices sweet as Mozart flutes. A half hour ago, I climbed this tree to rescue my son’s kite. Now he has lost interest in my untangling of kite and twine. I see him on the other side of the playground, whirling on a carousel with other boys, their cries as bright and joyful as this March day’s sunlight.
“Race you to the top,” the Black-sweats girl calls. She sweeps the beret into her hands and swings up into the jungle gym.
“Hey!” the Blue-tights girl cries. “Our blossoms!”
The Black-sweats girl climbs hand over hand, bar to bar. Blossoms flutter down, confetti-pink. “Catch me!” she cries.
The Blue-tights girl braces both palms on her hips, a womanly pose, one blue knee jutting forward. “Stop being a child!”
What mothers these girls must have!
“I’m afraid of heights,” the Blue-tights girl complains.
“Pretend you’re a bird.”
“I get dizzy.”
Black-sweats upends the beret. “Bombs away!”
Across the park, on the other side of the soccer field, a mounted policeman canters below a canopy of blossoms. Sunlight glitters off the policeman’s helmet. His horse, a chestnut Pegasus, tosses its chocolate mane.
From my perch, hidden among the blossoms, I call out. “What kind of friendship is this?”
The Black-sweats girl freezes. Her head snaps up, her eyes peer into my tree.
Blue-tights raises her gaze too, shading her eyes with a pale hand. “Who’s there?”
“A man in a tree,” Black-sweats answers.
For the past few minutes I’ve forgotten the kite, savoring the sun that filters through pink-dappled shadows. I’m closer to boyhood in this tree, closer to the equinoctial warmth, closer, by some spring-season magic, to the gods of spring. I part the branches and poke my head from the blossoms. “I am a father,” I say, “and as such, I am concerned that your unkindness may disrupt the harmony between friends – and of this lovely day.”
“He’s a man,” Black-sweats calls to her friend. “A man in the tree.” She glances up, curious rather than afraid. “A stranger,” she says.
“Don’t talk to strangers,” Blue-tights says.
“How old are you?” I ask.
“Eleven.” Black-sweats’ kneecaps blossom from the smile-shaped rips – white and round and pale as moonlight. “What are you doing in a tree?”
“I’m thinking of fashioning wings. From cherry sap and blossoms. Then I’ll fly to the sun. Like Icarus.”
“Like Icarus. His father, Daedalus, fashioned wings from wax and feathers in order that they might escape the puzzle-maze where King Minos had imprisoned them.”
The girl’s eyes – black and smile-shaped too – narrow. “You can’t fly.”
“Young lady,” I say, “there are many ways to fly. Flights of fancy. Flights of passion. Flights of imagination and kindness. And it’s kindness,” I continue, “that’s sadly missing from your behavior.”
“He says he can fly,” Black-sweats calls to her friend. “I don’t believe him.”
She looks up, searching for the rest of my stranger’s tale. “What happened to Icarus?”
“Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too low where sea spray might wet his wing feathers, or too high where the sun might melt his wax, but Icarus, excited by the blue beauty of flight, did what children often do: he ignored his father’s advice, soaring higher and higher, until his father called out desperately, Fly lower, boy! Fly lower! But Icarus didn’t listen. Like you, Icarus didn’t fear heights.”
“And the wax melted?” Black-sweats smiled a pleasurable, guileless smile, having anticipated the tale’s flight.
“The feathers fell away,” I said. “Icarus dropped into the sea. Like the blossoms you spilled from your friend’s beret fell into the jungle gym.”
The girl glanced at the red beret in her hand and down to where her friend stood on the blossom-petaled gravel. “I was tired of blossoms,” she said. “I wanted to climb.”
“You could have climbed together.”
“She’s afraid of heights.” The child’s lips have shaped into a pout, soft as a blossom petal.
“And this made you angry?”
“Yes. She’s afraid of everything.”
The Blue-tights girl peered anxiously up through the jungle gym bars. “I am not!”
“You are too.”
“And because you were angry, you spilled the beret?”
Black-sweats placed both hands behind her neck moving her elbows back and forth like a butterfly airing its wings. “Yes.”
“And what was the result?”
Doubt clouded the girl’s eyes. “I made Celia unhappy.”
“And would you be happier in this beautiful park, happier on the jungle gym, without Celia?”
“No.” She dropped her arms to her sides. “I don’t want to be alone.”
Slowly, hand-by-hand, clutching the beret, Black-sweats begins to descend.
“Is he still in the tree?” Celia asks.
Black-sweats steps to the ground. “He thinks he’s a bird.”
Celia spreads her arms. “We are birds. Flying through the orchids in a rain forest jungle.” The girls begin to run in spirals, back and forth under the jungle gym, scattering the petals across the petal-strewn gravel, circling wider and wider beyond the jungle gym, swooping out into spring-green soccer fields limned in lemon-silver light.
“Beware the heat of the sun!” I call out. “Beware the spray of the sea!” But the girls have run beyond the fall of my words. Of what would I warn them anyway? That some flights are too high? Others too low? That a kindness can engender risk? Or strangers threaten danger?
I hear the sound of hooves muffled on grass.
Above my head, my son’s kite dangles upside-down, snagged by its nylon-stocking tail. The kite is plastic, yellow as daisies and red as a rose. My son and I assembled the kite this morning before we came to the playground, stretched and taped its plastic across a crucifix frame. I see where the stocking tail has wrapped a branch. I unhook it with a finger. The kite drops in sliding spirals to dew-jeweled grass below. But now, only a child’s height below my perch I see a policeman’s helmeted head. His horse snorts an explosive chuff. The animal is large, much larger than it appeared on the other side of the soccer field.
“Hey buddy. What you doing in a tree?” the helmeted officer asks.
“Untangling a kite.” I reply.
The policeman inclines his head toward the girls who are now circling in the soccer field. He glances at the kite where it lies at the base of the tree. The policeman’s boots are black. His holster is black. His Billy club is black.
“What were you talking about with them little girls?”
What do I answer? That I was helping them make their peace? That I was telling them a fable? That I was warning of the dangers of strangers?
“Kites,” I say. “We were talking about kites.”
The policeman’s hand rests on his billy.
“How about you climb down?”
I begin my descent, hand-over-hand. The cherry bark is cool and papery. Blossoms brush my face, soft as a child’s fingertips. Across the playground, a willow’s new-leafed branches descend like green tears. A dogwood flowers at the edge of the bridal path – a hosanna of white. I hear my son’s laughter, a bell ringing.
The policeman watches. When I reach the ground, he says, “I want you to leave this park.”
My son runs toward us. “Daddy,” he calls. “Did you get my kite?” My son halts, wide-eyed below the policeman’s mount.
The policeman looks down. His gaze shifts from my son to me and back to my son. He salutes. Then he turns his horse. Policeman and horse trot past the jungle gym, past the carousel, past the girls circling in the soccer field.
“Did you get it, Dad?”
“I got it.”
I pick up the kite and take my son’s hand.
We’ll need new twine, I think. Then we’ll fly this kite, fly it as high as the late-March sun, but we’ll take care to fly it neither sun-high nor sea-low, avoiding power lines and telephone poles and cherry trees, and when we run, drawing the kite behind us, it will rise, dive, and soar under a shower of March sunlight.