It was amazing that she'd seen the leaf at all, her eyes weren't as sharp as they once were. But it was there, hung high in the bare branches, just hanging on, twisting. It was bright red, and stood out against the gray sky like a bloodstain.
Jeremy was late, but he was always late. She'd eaten half her sandwich sitting there waiting, and now the other half rested atop the brown bag on the bench beside her. The cold of the slats was seeping through her long skirt, between the fibers of her panty hose, piercing her thin skin and digging right into her bones. She didn't exactly mind it. She watched the leaf quiver in the air. It made her think of Jeremy, not even Jeremy yet, squirming inside her belly. The first time she'd felt it, she'd cried out and clutched her stomach. She never got used to the feeling, even when he was so large that she could discern top from bottom as he heaved and rolled inside her.
Across the greenway from where she sat, a small boy threw a ball back and forth to his mother. They both squealed with delight any time the boy caught it, and let out a chorus of "ohhh!", any time he missed. Jeremy had a ball like that when he was four, bright red rubber that he bounced around the house incessantly. He'd hit her in the backside with it once by accident, and they'd both laughed. He did it again, and they laughed again. After the fifth time, she'd begun to get annoyed and asked him to stop. Jeremy, alright now, stop. Jeremy, stop. That's enough. I'm not playing anymore.
Still, he continued to hit her with the ball, laughing, unaware. She broke then, grabbing the ball and throwing it hard against the wall and, when he laughed again, grabbing him. She hit him until the only sound he made was tight gasps; until he lay on the floor with his arms over his head and his knees curled in to his body. He lay there long after she'd stopped the beating, so long that she thought he'd fallen asleep. Her hot rage subsided and her head full of guilt and shame, she'd started to put a blanket over him. When her shadow fell across him, he screamed and pushed himself along the floor, away from her.
She thought to herself, for the millionth of many millions of times, this is not the place for me.
She glanced at her watch, and picked up the sandwich. She took birdlike bites that tasted like sand. Is this why old people never eat? she thought. Will everything taste like this forever now, and fill my body up until I am nothing but skin and sand, and then one day I'll dry up and blow away? She looked up and squinted her eyes at the leaf, hanging still, alive for the moment.
Despite everything that she had been, and had not been, Jeremy grew up just fine. He married a just fine woman and had a just fine job and just fine children. They paid her rent in a just fine assisted living facility and he met her here every Tuesday and glanced at his watch every five minutes while he watched her eat her sand sandwiches. One Sunday a month, Jeremy brought her to his house and she sat on a chair covered in plastic and smiled and nodded while her daughter in law talked about nothing and her grandchildren ignored her in favor of handheld devices. How are you doing, Mom? the daughter in law would ask and she would always answer, Just fine.
They took her out of one box and put her in another, moving her around to give the illusion that she mattered still. But she was just furniture. Except on Tuesdays, sand sandwiches notwithstanding. On Tuesdays, when she could get a chill from the park bench and imagine that it was her throwing the ball to the boy, and believe that Jeremy would be here on time. She closed her eyes to wait.
Above her the red leaf shuddered, and fell.