Ranger Percy took her duties seriously. She followed a routine that began with first light and ended well into the dark. It was a routine that most new mothers are accustomed to having:
Change the babies,
Feed the babies,
Out the dog,
In the dog,
Feed the dog,
Prepare for the charge of the babysitter,
Out the door,
She loved her job, creating a safe haven for those who needed to touch nature. Everyday, she followed the park’s trails looking for the beauty she could point out to others. Somedays the park was quiet, and those quiet days were filled with the sights of fawns, ground hogs, bald eagles, osprey. Other days were filled with activity, crowds surging to the river with their churches, earnestly baptizing rogue elements and bringing them back under the banner of the church, praying for the devil to be gone, and sharing an open barbecue with any who wandered near. Or perhaps it was the weddings that were held under the white picnic shelter where everything was new and clean, that fit into her fancy. Somedays the park was filled with rain and wind or snow that caused the gates to stay locked. On those days she poured extra coffee into herself and watched the antics of the deer under the picnic shelters. Safety first, she would think at the deer. Then she would smile at the idea that the deer were so well-trained they avoided the drifts and acted like tourists.
Logs washed up on the riverbank with the changing tides. Ranger Percy would wander among them along the beach selecting interesting driftwood from the boring logs. She saved them for a local woman who wandered through the park, talking to herself, who would paint them with scenes of fish underwater or goblins lurking and then leave them like a sacrifice to the wild. Percy would load them into her vehicle and put them on display at the Visitor’s Center.
Second equipment check,
Drive the parking lots,
Return to office,
The windows of the Visitor Center filled with steam as the class on batiking for teenagers flowed on. She wandered over to the gift counter and rubbed the steam from the window, only to move rapidly out of the center to the walkway that led up and away from the building. Her homeless woman, the one she left the driftwood out for, knelt on the ground mumbling to herself. She had knife in one hand which she raised over her head and then plunged into a bundle of flannel.
“This for your heart.
This for your hands.
This for your feet
To travel to different lands.”
“Come, my dear, for
where you bleed, is here
in the present and a gift
To succeed. Travel through the smoke…”
Then she lifted the knife and held it over her head saluting the sky. A bag lay on sidewalk, close but not touching her.
“Are you okay, lady? I haven’t seen you around much. Is something wrong?” Slowly Percy moved toward the lady. She kept her handgun in its holster, preferring instead to calm her and keep her from injuring herself or another.
The lady looked at her blankly for a moment, then shook her head. “No, I’m not okay. I will never be okay. I am not sure I will make it through the day, let alone the night. Nothing will be the same.”
“Would you like to have some tea with me? We could go to my office in the Visitor’s Center, it is a lot warmer there too.”
“Why should you care? The world left me long ago. No one will remember me.”
“Come with me. I’ll show you something. I’ll make us some tea.”
They rose together.
“Thank you, but this is only tea. Nothing can leave my place filled when I’m gone, and I will be gone.”
“This is the room I made for you. You left these behind you. I was so surprised to see how they all went together, a mural. Is the display all right with you?”
The bag was opened. The flannel set to one side, with the knife now out of view, and the before the ranger’s eyes was a small wooden figure carved so carefully that it seemed alive. With a sudden intake of air, the figure opened its eyes and reached out to her.
The lonely old lady was gone.