“Over here!” A strawberry blond boy yells, flailing his arms to attract his quarterback’s attention.
The other boys stood in slack jawed awe as the football spiraled across the park to the blond boy. Silence propelled by the shock swept both teams, interrupted by a rubbery thunk echoing through the boys. The football bounced to the feet of a nearby observer, and the blond boy hit the ground like a sack of potatoes.
The old man stumbled over the football in a mad dash to get to the boy. He checked his breathing, then shook his shoulders gently.
“You alright in there?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think so.” he mumbled, his body curled into the fetal position.
“I guess the guys thought it was a gas.” he added dryly as laughter fluttered through the gathered mob of boys.
The old man shook his head in disapproval, sympathy overtaken with momentary disgust.
“It’s alright,” the boy shrugged, “Don’t be so glum, Mister Jacob.”
Jacob shook his shiny, slightly spotted head to clear the fog of his mind and helped the boy up with his wrinkly arms.
“Why don’t you play with the girls?” he suggested, “Take it easy for a little, I’m sure they would enjoy your company.”
He ran back to the football game, diving for the ball almost immediately. Jacob sighed and returned to his post on the wrought iron bench. A few stray crows pecked the ground around him. The songs of a few girls carried through the flowers and trees.
Jacob exhaled and leaned to the side. The children reminded him of himself. Of his youth. Of the children he never had. For all the years that he’d spent in that park, the playful noises of children in the afternoon almost never changed. After retiring from the elementary school, this was the therapy he had to keep him young. To renew his zest for life.
The children coughed and hacked intermittently, dropping passes and interrupting songs. The boys playing football slowed to a crawl, the girl’s song mellowed to a halfhearted hum. One by one they laid down in the grass.
Jacob’s zest faded once again. Retirement was just a cover. The ragged newspaper next to him reminded him of that. Negligence, bold front and center. His eyes were heavy with tears that he refused to let go, his shoulders weighed down by all twenty of them.
A firm tug at the knee of Jacob’s slacks brought his attention back to the park. The blond boy looked up, his eyes greying.
“It’s okay to let us go, Mister Jacob.” he said with an approving nod.
“We know you didn’t mean for the gas leak.”
One after another they faded from sight. Once the last little girl was gone, Jacob let his tears flow. He would be back tomorrow, and so would they.