“Stand still!” her shrill voice echoes down the trail. She leans forward slightly with a small camera clutched equally between her hands as if holding a dangerous weapon. Then she lowers it away from her round austere face and yells “Stop fidgeting, Stephen! And get your hands out of your pockets!” The camera now dandles at the end of her short pudgy arm which is forced outward from her hips. She raises it again pointing towards two young children who are on the opposite side of the wide cement park pathway. They stand quietly on the red dirt shoulder one in front of the other near some low dry bushes. A brilliant sun blinds their squinting eyes and forces their heads to lower.
“Get your hair out of your face!” the mother bellows. She briefly glances around the walkway which is scattered with passing tourists, her long fuzzy light brown hair flipping around her chubby neck. Her broad rounded shoulders are packed tightly into a pale green T-shirt and held tensely towards her neck. Her belted blue jeans ride high around her waist and barely manage to bend at the knees.
The smaller skinnier boy brushes his long straight blonde hair hopelessly to the side of his puny face. His loosely fitted white T-shirt half tucked in and half hanging down over one hip. The bottom seams of his faded jeans drag in the red dirt beneath him. With a fleeting glance towards the mother, he shifts his light frame onto one leg and abruptly puts one hand on his small hip with a clipboard holding some papers tucked under the arm on the opposite side.
The mother quickly stands erect and takes a half step forward. “If you don’t stand still, I’m gonna come over there and make you stand still! You don’t want me to do that in front of all these people now, do you?” The younger boy leans back against the taller boy’s rigid body and lowers his head. Simultaneously giving a fleeting look at a passerby, the mother persists “I told you to keep your head up, Stephen! How am I going to take the picture if your hair’s in your eyes and your head’s down? Smarten up, Stephen, or I’ll come over there and smarten you up!” In an erratic manner, the silent young boy turns his head and his narrow delicate-looking shoulders towards other people hastily walking by.
The taller dark haired boy stands motionless with both arms extended rigidly at his side looking straight ahead towards the mother. His short sleeved cotton printed shirt buttoned to the collar, fitted perfectly to his sizable frame and tucked neatly inside the waist of his jeans. His face is framed with short cropped well-combed hair and remains frozen and lifeless. His persona is almost undetectable.
The warm penetrating mid-morning Arizona sun sneaks through a crowded stand of giant stately sycamore trees. Their thick white branches decorated in multi shades of brilliant orange and yellow leaves that glisten in the rays of sunlight casting dancing shadows on the wide-eyed faces and the red earth below. Large straight round trunks dressed in a greenish white and grey camouflaged pattern emerge out of the mottled red earth like round wooden pegs on an oversized cribbage board. The cool dry fall breeze holds musty fragrances that are reminiscent of youthful days playing hide and go seek in backyard wooded areas after a heavy rain. A faint high-pitched echo of singing birds is heard along the towering sun-bleached granite cliffs above. Their jubilant sounds nearly drowned out by the low-level mumbling of the modest crowd of passing tourists who proceed past the mother and two boys in an oblivious manner.
A tall female sightseer meanders non-chalantly from the parking lot, passed the park information booth and stops on the cement pathway near the mother. Her black western-style felt hat shades her brown eyes from the warm sun. Her long black shiny hair clasped at the back of her neck and drapes down her slender frame. She stands quietly admiring the two young boys while waiting patiently and not wanting to interfere with the mother’s attempt to capture the perfect picture. Then her expression turns sombre.
“She shouldn’t be talking like that” she silently acknowledges to herself. Her concerned eyes hone in on the children to catch their responses. “Shit! This woman’s a real piece of work. This is abuse. Those poor boys.” She calms herself hoping that the mother’s deluge of harsh words will stop. She starts to turn and walk away. As if the words were meant for her, she hears “How many times do I have to tell you? Smarten up, Stephen!”
“Oh boy, I’m probably gonna get an earful,” the tall woman reassures herself. “Those kids have no one to stand up for them. I can’t just walk by pretending it’s all right and not say anything.” She takes one step forward towards the mother who pretends not to notice. The tall woman hesitates. “Maybe I should leave well enough alone.” She takes a deliberate short breath with pursed lips and drops her shoulders abruptly. The younger boy glances her way. His innocent blue eyes meeting hers before his mother snatches his attention with “What are ya lookin’ at her for?”
“That’s it! I have to do something! This isn’t right!” The woman in the black hat prays for the right words to say but then blurts “Ahhh, come on, lady. Don’t talk to your kids like that!”
The mother’s head turns sharply towards the intruder and as if waiting for the opportunity to bellow “Mind your own business!”
The tall woman responds “Those children don’t deserve to be talked to like that.”
“Like what? the mother taunts.
“It’s not right that you’re talking to your children the way you are,” the tall woman tries to explain.
“Oh, so you think I’m abusing my children, do you?” the mother replies sarcastically. Then she looks towards the children and smirks “She thinks I’m abusing you.”
The two young boys stand silently. The younger boy’s wide eyes moving back and forth from his mother to the intruder as if he were watching a well-played tennis match. More sightseers approach. The mother complains to them “This nosey woman thinks that I’m abusing my children. She should mind her own fucking business.”
The tall woman starts walking down the park trail passing directly in front of the two young boys. She stops and whispers “You guys are cool. Hang in there” before continuing on her way. A short distance further, she casually takes a picture with her cell phone. At the same time, the mother rushes across the pathway to the children. She grabs the younger one by the hand and in a commanding voice blurts “Come on!” She yanks his arm and pulls him forcefully in the same direction passed the stopped woman in the black hat muttering “There’s that woman who thinks I’m abusing you. She thinks I’m a bad mother.” The female sightseer continues to take pictures outwardly oblivious to the mother’s loud accusations. The young blonde boy dangles at the end of the mother’s stern arm that is stretched out ahead of him and pulling him further along the trail. His head turns repeatedly towards the tall woman in the black felt hat. His eyes meet hers several times before he finally disappears from view.