Sunny J. Reed

playground ghost

I see you sitting with your graying blonde hair and an arm outstretched across the worn white plastic outdoor bench that’s found new life as makeshift indoor seating.

You’re glancing over at me. I’m crouching by a ball pit that reeks of old gym mats and little kid sweat. I’m scolding my son and you’re fixing your bright blue eyes on me, smiling, curiously.

You’re starting to call to me but think twice, calmly watching me throw balls at my son. I can see memories all over your face, each flick of your lips a stop-and-start of a “back when you were little” or a “we didn’t have these things.”

Sensing your loneliness, I join you. We sit and watch the children play, each screech making me cringe but making you remember. In the crowded silence there’s only two of us: Me, hoping this moment makes you forget about my childhood and consider me a peer; and you, patiently waiting for me to ask for your help.

Our quiet bubble threatens to pop us into forced conversation. I turn my attention to safe topics: parenting in this day and age, best lunch spots, the town. I pick up your handbag, the familiar perfumed heaviness of its contents — stale peppermint gum and Altoids — burning my nose and stinging my tongue.

Your bag’s still heavy as always, I say. What do you carry in there?

She laughs.

My son runs over, stinking of play. He throws his arms on my legs, puts his head on your lap. You pat his hair, disregarding his boy-sweat and ask him to show you how he jumps on the trampoline.

I get up to buy you a bottled water, walking slowly over the padded floor. A madhouse for children and their weary adults. We sit together again, shoulders touching, my bare arms against your discount t-shirt.

Thinking about the dinner we’ll have and your long ride home, I realize there isn’t anything left to our visits. Except watching each other, not speaking.

And then I’m back at the playground alone with my son, picturing you sitting there, a spirit joining me when my son is happiest and when I am happier. Because all I have left of you is a shadow masquerading as a memory, a mother gone yet still remaining.


Sunny J. Reed writes about transracial adoption, race, and the American family, but her first love is for her cats, her dog, her husband, and her son—not necessarily in that order. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.