of urban woodlands and werewolves

Tonight the kids and I head out on an evening bike ride while Ralph mops the hardwood floors (a ritual required more regularly due to the summer shedding of our two lazy felines). Usually when the children and I go out for a ride it starts out cranky, or boring, or whatever, but soon we’ve established a rhythm of conversation that feels more comfortable than just about anywhere else.

Our destination: the West End playfield, about 1.5 miles away. The children may be looking forward to playing but I could never get tired of the neighborhood: all the different houses and gardens, the people, teenagers free for the summer playing at a volleyball game in the front yard at the housing projects, and yes, even the methy-looking people striding purposely here or there, their clothes flapping open and their faces set and grim.

Just before passing into Aberdeen we come alongside a man filleting a large fish on the tailgate of his battered pickup truck. He’s about fifty: tall, dark, handsome, long black hair pulled back under a banana. A song by Cream is playing on the radio and he’s busy slicing into the beautiful, shiny fish. Sophie and Nels want to look at the fish so I ask him about it. He pulls up the halibut by its tail, then a type of bass (I think): both gifts his cousin, a commercial fisherman, brought him earlier. He’s smiling at us, a few teeth missing, but mostly he’s concentrating on preparing the fish. The kids hover closer and closer as he expertly fillets away the flesh of the animal, almost no blood. “Have a nice dinner,” I say, the kids tell him goodbye! in that open, sweet way that only children can, and even strangers find themselves responding to, then Nels jumps up behind me and we’re back on our way.

At the park after playing a bit (the children enjoy being chased but have specific and capricious “rules” for when I’m allowed to terrorize them and how) we end up beyond the athletic fields, behind the cyclone fence in a little makeshift trail alongside some kind of runoff ditch. This is the sort of place I loved exploring while a child, a secret hideout framed by greenery, a stretch small and of no notice to an adult yet huge and massive with possibility for children. I have turned away for only a moment to hang our helmets up on the fence before joining the kids, who have already pulled their knickers back up after each taking a discreet pee just off the trail. They hustle along the path, calling back to me, swinging walking sticks: independent, “raising themselves” as I’ve heard it said – and often it seems so true I experience the dizzying sense of both life’s preciousness and my relative unimportance: Why do I worry so much?

It’s not a long trail but it likely seems so for the littlest one. “This is assing me out,” Nels presently says, of the nettles and grasses whipping against his five year old legs (which are finally catching up in the horrific bruise / scratch quantity that his older sister has long inhabited). He picks me a flower – a striking yellow tri-lobed bloom on a common weed, I don’t know what it is – and seems betrayed upon our return trip to see that it had fallen out of my buttonhole alongside the trail. He returns it to me and I put it in my coat pocket.

We are still behind the fence and on the trail when we see from way down Oak Street the flashing light of another bike: Ralph riding to join us. Sophie pulls him back along the little makeshift trail hidden by blackberry and assorted other six-foot-high bushes. “Oh, what a lovely river!” my husband says, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “It’s a culvert,” Sophie corrects him.

Home as the sun is setting, the only condition I don’t enjoy biking in: darkness in city streets. The weather is beautiful, people are out everywhere, we’re back on the familiar street of Cherry to get home. The kids and Ralph have developed another scheme: tonight is a full moon and Ralph has been bitten by something. “My arms feel itchy,” he tells them. Home and there’s a bath, much scrambling about the house as the children arm themselves with sliver bullet for the eventual betrayal and denouement of their lycanthropic father.

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