Wednesday, August 16, 2017


It’s a small city park, built to meet the requirement of the city’s quota of greenspace in an area that used to be filled with warehouses and train tracks. I look down on the scene from my condo terrace four floors above it, not from the fourteen floors I couldn’t afford, but okay, especially on this day, where blue skies, white clouds, fill the air above the surrounding hills instead of the smoke-gray fog we have dealt with for two weeks.  It’s safe to breathe, these clouds signal.
So, I do, over a glass of dry Riesling celebrating an avoidance of a $200 charge to replace the toilet paper holder in my bathroom. My back aches, my mind frizzled by the conquering of an Allen wrench one more time. At eighty- two, that’s about all I can conquer these days.
Below me is the three-acre park; a green oval snuggles in its middle, a playground blooms with racing children at one edge.  At the other end of the oval, an empty dog park waits for customers. I’ve looked down on many community festivals rollicking for a few days on that green grass--lively colored tents drawing people in to taste homemade cider, local barbecue, yoga moves, a smiling summer parade of pleasure seekers.
            This afternoon, sipping my award-wine, the scene below me is quiet. Fifteen or so small active bodies, a cluster of parents and au pairs, one grandparent, keep watch as their thrill-seeking children ascend and descend the play structure’s chains and slides or spill shovels of sand on each other. The kids laugh, chase. The adults talk or look down at their phones.
            An oval path wraps the park, a running-walking kind of concrete trail, 1/8th of a mile-- just the right length for older folks to use in exercise routines. Dog owners walk it, too, their four-legged friends enjoying and using the grass at its edge. The empty dog park is enclosed by a fence that separates the big dogs from the little ones, for some reason.
I lean over my terrace’s railing and watch an electric wheel chair roll up to the gated entry to the children’s playground. A German Shepherd leashed to the chair barks twice. A child, a girl by the colors of her blouse, jumps off the back of the chair and runs to the locked gate and turns the lever. The gate opens, and she moves through it, pushing aside a two-year-old hoping to break out.
She closes the gate behind her. The dog, rigid, alert, barks.  Once. Loud. A warning. The girl heads toward the chains. Another bark, this time high-pitched, almost frantic. She pauses, looks at the play structure. The dog brushes against the gate, watching.
 The girl turns, goes back through the gate and climbs onto the blanketed mound in the chair.  She wraps her arms around it, whispers something. She returns to the playground.  The dog, motionless, stands guard.
I am distracted by the non-moving chair-person, the anxious dog, and when I look back toward the play structure, I have lost the girl in the colored blouse. I cannot locate her on the chains, the slide, the sand or the benches. I sip my wine, wait. Five minutes. I still cannot find her. The dog and the chair remain at the gate. I remain at my railing.  Are we all searching?
 The sun is obscured by a cloud. In a gray shadow, I wonder has the girl escaped from a bad situation? Has someone captured her and taken her away? Why is her dog worried? Has the person in the chair fallen asleep and does not know she is missing? Dead?  Should I do something, hovering four stories above them?
The person in the chair does not move. The dog ignores those going through the gate, his tail still.
Then a ray of sunlight cuts through a meandering cloud and the park lightens and becomes the harmless place it is supposed to be. A girl in a flowered blouse emerges laughing from a bush tunnel. She runs through the gate, hugs the hump in the chair, and climbs onto the passenger step  behind the hump. The dog rises, stretches the leather leash as he leads the two of them onto the oval path. They disappear into the dog park.
I almost had a book in this scene. I think it’s still churning.

Jo Barney Writes

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Letter to My Best Friend in the Eighth Grade

July 12, 2017

Hello, Mary! 

Your letter arrived a day ago and I have read it with both a sad kind of recognition of old age we each are living in, and a firm sense of the joy of friendship, which we still enjoy. 

I’m reading about Karl and the cords of his oxygen machine winding through the rooms and feeling sympathy for what you both are experiencing. And a new kind of sisterhood with you, Mary.  Don and I don’t have tubes stretching through the house, but we do have a device that Don hates, which apparently, if he decides to use it, will allow him to sleep soundly (even though it rattles all night. ) Ear plugs for me. 

Unlike you two, we haven’t lost weight, but we do not travel well anymore. Don still drives, but unhappily, and we both inch our ways out of car doors and wonder why we decided to go to where ever we are.  I have been in a very bad-walking period in the past few months, lower back pain, dragging heels, and one day I looked at myself as I shuffled my way past a reflecting window and thought, “My god, that’s an old lady.”  Don gets dizzy and needs to lean against passing buildings. Sometimes my back hurts so much I want to sit down on the next curb. We hold hands to support each other, not to indicate our close relationship, and we meander along the sidewalk in such a way that people approaching us step aside to get out of our way. 

We just had a small argument over whether I should defrost the pork chops in the freezer or whether he should walk down to Safeway and buy new ones since he’s discovered we still have fuel in the barbecue and he’d like to cook at least once this summer.  “They’ll defrost fine,” I reassure him.
“You always move in on what I’m doing,” he answered.
I acknowledged a need to control our meals, remembering on past experience. "And besides, it’s a beautiful day.”  We could sit on the terrace, relax while the meat softened.
 “No." He will walk to Safeway.
 “You always buy five times what we need, and impulse-buy in every aisle,“ I answered, remembering a recent blackening container of  hummus.  “You always…”
“You always say that,“ he murmured, going back to his New York Times

At 82, I’m too old to keep the you always argument going.  I remember Mom and Dad using that phrase. I recall the chapter on family counseling in my professional life that warned against it.  I wonder if our grave stone will read, “You Always.” I need to do something.

I just did it.  “Do whatever, honey.  I’ll be happy to eat whatever you bring home.” I smiled.  He smiled. We’re at peace, sort of. The sun’s still glowing on the terrace.

I’ll work on the phrasing of my next accusation about the socks left like mating varmints under the bed, discovered this morning by the rug-cleaner who almost sucked them up into his machine.  
Living this long with another person is difficult, especially when you have forgotten who, if anyone, is in charge. Tonight, he’s cooking.  Tonight, I’m having a glass of white wine. In the end, it all works out, they say.

Mary, call me.  Even though we haven’t seen each other in years, we’ve gotten to this place together.  We need to talk, like we did when we were thirteen. Jo

Jo Barney Writes