2008-07-09 - 2:16 p.m.
I was walking back from the mailbox place on Saturday. It was not yet noon but hot already, the heat rising in waves off the new, black asphalt and the broken expanses of concrete. I was sweating and felt the beginnings of a cold coming on: scratchy, dry throat, foggy head. I wished I'd worn shorts.
I came upon the new playground on the corner of Calvert and Madison, maybe. The one that's got all the fresh-looking yuppie playground equipment, the bright sheet-metal flowers and the water spraying out from stuff in whimsical little ways. When I pass this playground, my first thought is that I hope neighborhoods kids or somebody else don't break all this stuff. It's a cheerful playground but the rowdies are never very far away and much of it seems destined to be destroyed, like a full, ripe May dandelion standing quiet in the sidewalk crack.
There's a bright, plastic twisty-slide there and at the very bottom, where the plastic flattens out for the drop to the ground, I noticed a little ball of fur, very dark against the slide's schoolbus yellow. The ball was wet and I couldn't be sure, but maybe moving, too. My first thought was that it was a dead rat. But, no, the opposite, the hunter of rats: it was a just-born kitten. Its back was to me and it was curled up, upon itself, but you know little cat ears when you see them, I think. I checked the gate and it was unlocked.
I got very close. Its ribcage was bulging and then contracting, very quickly. Its eyelids were closed. Little bugs--ants maybe--were crawling on its skin. Its hair was matted and clumped. But it was breathing. I didn't touch it, at all. I don't know why. I wanted to.
An older white couple walked by. The woman, about 65, had dyed blond hair with gray at the roots. She carried a plastic bread bag with all different kinds of bread in it: brown bread, white sandwich bread, halves of bagels. "What is it?" she asked and then she saw what it was almost right away and said "Ooohhhhhhh," with such ferocity and sadness that I thought she might cry or break down. The man, a little younger than her, followed her into the playground. She picked up the kitten right away and said, "Ooohhhhhh" again. "Is it gonna die?" "I don't know," her friend said. "Ooohhh. We need to get it some milk," she said, and wailed some more. She held the kitten close, trying frantically to brush off all the bugs.
I left just then, waiting until they turned their backs. I didn't say good luck or goodbye. I just left, closing the gate behind me very gently.