I’m taking a walk when I notice the eyes. The park is all slushy paths, churned-up turf, dripping evergreens. The few people I see are huddled into coats and boots and scarves.
When I stop to cough, I feel eyes on me. It’s only a statue, some kind of thickset peasant woman in a bulky coat, a squishy hat, and great big boots. It stares back at me from under the hat brim, its eyes cold and bronze.
I walk on. My neck tickles and I look back at the statue. The eyes are still looking straight at me.
The next time I’m in the park I detour to check out the statue, prepared to laugh at myself for my fancies of cold staring eyes.
The statue stands with one heavy foot on a squashed shrub, the arms half swung out. I’m sure it was on its pedestal before. It doesn’t move while I stand there, panting. Its stark and empty gaze pins me down like a bug.
Back home I feel silly. Even if it had been a real woman, I can definitely outrun a dumpy elderly lady in giant rubber boots.
The next time I’m on my bike and decide to swing by the statue. There is nothing a statue can do to me while I cycle by, right?
It has shifted again. The formless hat has slipped back, her right hand seems to be rising up, her mouth is half open in a shout. The eyes spear me. My hand slides off the handlebar and I almost fall of the bike. She’s looking at me, I’m sure. I pedal off hastily.
My boyfriend wants to take a Sunday walk through the park. Since I’m thinking of keeping him, I agree to go. We pass the statue. It seems to have moved again, the other arm rising as well, the brow furrowed, mouth wider open, chin down. In sunlight, with Heiko holding my hand, I still feel like she’s running straight at me, thousand tons of bronze ready to crush me to a bloody pulp.
“She’s so fucking scary,” I say.
“What the hell babe? It’s just a statue of a fat old woman. I wonder what she’s running from.”
I try to look at her with his eyes, but I can’t. That scary message in her eyes is just for me.
We get married, we move closer to the park, I take my kids to the playground several times a week. But I always manage to walk past the statue at its back. I’m hoping to see her topple forward one day. Walking is controlled falling, so how can a statue transition from the moment of falling to the moment of stability, since it’s moving that slowly?
My husband says it isn’t moving. I’m a sane and stable person! I see it.
My kids get bigger. I hang out in the fucking park all the time. And actually, the park provides me with a few more of the quiet and sane moments that have been so lacking in my life as a mom.
One day my son wrenches his sweaty little hand out of mine and runs straight onto the bicycle lane. I go after him, but I’m hampered by the stroller with my daughter. The toddler crosses a bed of shrubby growth, the one where the statue used to be. I try to follow. The stroller bangs against a root and upends. I stumble over the stroller. My daughter goes flying through the air. I’m in mid fall and am in no position to grab my daughter out of the path of an oncoming scooter.
The statue takes a last step and catches my daughter. And freezes.
My son gets hit by a bicycle, only a little bit, but he’s howling over his skinned knees, my daughter’s screaming, bystanders gather around me. I just let rip. The sheer exhaustion of motherhood, of never doing enough, it all piles up and everything comes out in ugly hiccupping grief.
A stranger plucks my daughter from the statue’s arms and returns her to me. My son runs into me and kisses my skinned knee. I start to feel a little better. I wipe my eyes and look up at my savior, squashed hat, rubber boots and piercing eyes.
I read her so wrong.
|Bo Balder lives and works close to Amsterdam. Bo is the first Dutch author to have been published in F&SF, Clarkesworld, Analog and other places. Her sf novel The Wan was published by Pink Narcissus Press. When not writing, she knits, reads, and gardens, preferably all three at the same time. For more about her work, you can visit her website or find Bo on Facebook or Twitter.|