The sky is shimmering metal and the wind comes in hot, slow breaths. It is droughty, late summer, late afternoon. Soon people will go home. They will turn on their lights, they will shut their doors. I watch a man, lean and muscled and tan, who strides across the silvery grass and up the hill to the skate ramp, away from his child and her bicycle. He stands watching, hands on hips, timeless as geology. The skate boys swoop like lorikeets or sparks from fire, all lit up in the sun. The man’s legs flex – some memory.
‘Daddy,’ his daughter screams, trying to catch up. Her corkscrew pigtails match the streamers on her handlebars. They should be flying back in a fine breeze, and she should be speeding, but she cannot ride. She rocks from side to side, bouncing the bicycle along, one foot down, then the other, like a broken dog.
He turns, comes back to the brow of the hill, ‘What?’ he shouts.
‘Don’t do that. Don’t leave me.’ Her bicycle stumbles. She falls to one side, holding one handle tight, like it might save her. Her helmet has sagged back, he should have tightened it. It’s not going to save her like that.
Down he comes and grabs her shoulder.
She looks up at him. ‘Help me.’
He jerks the bike round. ‘Well, get on. Go,’ he says, pushing her back. The bicycle rocks like a mad thing.
She tips over. ‘Daddy,’ she sobs. Her head is down but she stands and drags her bike upright.
‘One more chance,’ he says. ‘I’m gonna count to three. One,’ he holds a finger up. ‘Two. Now go.’ A shove. She is not ready. ‘Three. Jesus, why can’t you get it right?’
‘Daddy.’ Her face is smeared. There is dirt on the bicycle pedals where they have dug into the ground.
He walks away and does not look back. Words float over his shoulder like a hero’s scarf. ‘Fuckin’ idiot.’
‘Daddy.’ The sound shivers around the park.
He is outpacing her. He is away.
And me? I feel that tender patch on my cheek. I stand and move closer. ‘Quickly now,’ I say to my girl. She comes to me fast. I straighten her helmet and put a hand, soft, on her back. ‘Quickly. We have to catch up or there’ll be trouble.’ I take the bicycle’s handlebars and pull.