The fat autumn sun hangs low over the Hudson. I’m sitting alone on the park bench, swathed in a blue cloak; the camera in my bag, wrapped up in its red cloth.
It’s been at least three years since I was alone in a park, without Maia. I’m immediately awkward: a camera, no kid.
I had met Frias in front of the Korean restaurant on Broadway before coming to the park. Frias is a friend who owns many different types of cameras and takes good pictures and makes movies. He doesn’t appear in this map again until somewhere in the middle. Then he vanishes completely. He handed me the Polaroid in its red cloth and let me unwrap it. A beautiful thing. He took it back immediately – like a toy you don’t really want to share – and showed me how to use it. It opens up like Maia’s Maclaren stroller so straightaway I knew how to open and close it.
We went over the basics: load, focus, shutter. While I was learning how to use the focus, I snapped a shot by mistake. The camera-mouth spit out a photo – he quickly grabbed it and hid it in his jacket pocket. The photos, he explained, have to be in complete darkness while they develop. I put the camera in my bag.
He said: Take good care of it. He said: As if it was your own kid. I promised I would take care of the camera. He doesn’t have kids.
I get up from the park bench and walk over to the playground a few meters further on and ask an almost teenage girl – relentless melancholia, acne, mind-noise – if I can take a picture of her swinging.
She says Okay, and pushes her feet softly against the ground for impulse, eyes fixed on her lap, muttering to herself. I take the photo and clumsily place it in my coat pocket. When I say Thanks she looks back at me and smiles – a beautiful smile, suddenly unencumbered.
While I’m walking up 116th St to take the subway and head for the daycare to fetch Maia, I take the picture out of my coat pocket, study it.