Gretchen maneuvered her car into the tiny space. She almost got it, but swore under her breath when her back tire bounced off the curb. The little girl giggled and the bright tinkle echoed. Gretchen couldn’t help but laugh with her.
“Are we going there?” the girl asked, pointing across the street.
“Are you sure? Mommy never lets us go there.”
Gretchen swallowed. “Today, we’re going.” Both of them ran from the car.
Outside the museum hung bright swatches of fabric that billowed from the roof to the sidewalk. The swaying designs looked like dancing kites. In the courtyard outside the entrance, there were dozens of holes in the ground. Scattered in between those, were flat colored lights, designed to shine up to the sky. The little girl ran to where other children were playing. They darted around the building’s pillars, playing hide and seek. She gasped when the lights flickered on and sent blues and pinks and purples onto her skin. And then she squealed. Jets of water erupted from the holes in the concrete, sending cold sprays onto her warm skin. She jumped and splashed and clapped, throwing her head back with laughter and blinking when she squirted her own eyes with water.
Gretchen looked on and smiled. She had always wanted to do that as a kid. Never had the chance. The little girl bobbed in and out of the jets, circling the other kids. She chased them, coming close but never fast enough to tag any of them.
“So you’re one of the nutty ones too?”
Gretchen turned to the question.
“I used to line the car with garbage bags for the ride home. Anymore, who cares? Gonna get wet and dirty again tomorrow anyway.” The woman was a tall pixie-cut slice of cool mom calm.
“For sure,” Gretchen said. “Which is yours?”
“Pink shirt. Rain boots. Pants only. Pajamas,” she said, ticking off and pointing to splashing kids.
“Four?” Gretchen asked in awe.
“I like sex,” the mom said. “Yours?”
Gretchen pointed to the little girl. “Green t-shirt. It’s mine.”
The mom squinted her eyes, but didn’t see a little girl in a green shirt.
“We’re across the river. South. You guys near here?”
The mom nodded. “Their dad teaches. Some romance language that doesn’t pay a lot.”
“That must be nice,” Gretchen said.
“It is,” the mom said. “Except the days when it’s not.”
In the background, another woman’s voice bellowed and the handful of kids at the perimeter of the water scattered. The only kids remaining were the pink shirt, the rain boots, pants only and the pajamas. The mom stared at Gretchen.
“I just love watching them play,” Gretchen said.
The mom ran into the water. “Let’s go, gang. Come on.”
“Aw,” Gretchen said. “Maybe we’ll see you here again sometime.”
The kids huddled together, banging off elbows and knees as the mom hovered over them, trying to keep physical contact. She practically ran them into traffic hustling them all across the street.
Gretchen watched them disappear into the crowded sidewalk. “The kids left,” she heard.
“I know,” Gretchen said. “That’s disappointing.”
“You play with me,” the girl said.
“Oh…honey…I don’t,” Gretchen started. The girl frowned. Gretchen flipped the girl’s pigtail, then took off her shoes where she stood and ran into the water jets with the little girl.