The black wrought iron bench was placed in the only spot in the park that was never shaded. A fine way to ensure it isn’t overly stressed by the weight of people whose primary exercise is watching others jog. Its placement, however, didn’t deter the birds from decorating it with white polka dots during the spring and fall, and lovely purple ones at the height of summer when the mulberry trees were in full fruit.
Every Thursday Joanne took her brown bag lunch to the park and sat on the stone wall by the brook, watching as the pigeons pecked their way along the path around the lake. Every time a child or jogger whizzed toward the pigeons they flitted off in a panic, eyes wide and wings aflutter. Something about those retarded birds reminded her of her cousin, who panicked in the face of every threat, real or perceived. Sophie had been flighty as a child, but as an adult, she had become unbearable.
As children, Joanne had returned to her grandmother’s house one day without Sophie, although the two had left together.
“Where is Sophie?” Grandmother asked while pitting cherries for pie. Joanne shrugged her shoulders and wandered out pet the dog on the front porch.
An hour later, Sophie returned, sweat stains on her shirt, breathing heavily, missing a shoe.
“Lordy mercy! What on earth happened to you?”
Sophie looked her grandmother in the eye and said “Joanne is evil!”
“Oh honey. Now what happened?”
“We were walking home from the Dairy Queen with our ice cream cones, and the dog on Fourth Street started after us – he’d broken his chain".”
“Oh for Pete’s sake, I’m going to give Mary Kate and piece of my mind..”
“And the only way I could get away from him was to climb the stop sign at the corner!”
“I climbed up the stop sign. I sat up on top of it while that durned dog barked at me forever, and Joanne just laughed and pointed and then strolled home!”
As funny as it had been to watch Sophie stranded in an apoplectic fit on top of that stop sign, it hadn’t been worth the caning Joanne had received that evening. Somehow, everything that didn’t go Sophie’s way had been Joanne’s fault. Joanne had just accepted that she was somehow consigned to bear the responsibility for Sophie’s unhappiness. She listened to Sophie whine, accepted blame from others when things went wrong, and even allowed herself into being intimidated into foolish schemes that Sophie insisted were the best idea since sliced bread.
Until the day that Sophie called Joanne to complain bitterly about her father, who’d had the gall to require surgery the Friday before she and her husband were planning to leave on vacation.
“Sophie, I don’t want to hear it. You should be kissing his ever-lovin’ ass for all the things he has done for you. If it weren’t for him you’d be a drug addict living out your last days on the mean streets of Chicago, finally resting in the morgue tagged as Jane Doe. He has bailed you out of jail, sat by your hospital bed while you recovered from that horrid accident, and given you part ownership of his business, even though you’ve never shown an ounce of common sense!”
Sophie had flitted off, eyes wide, wings aflutter. And Grandmother had asked Joanne “What did you do?!?”