The fence said she couldn’t go farther, so she stopped for a minute, looked at the birds — geese and ducks? — hanging out in the wetlands. It was pretty here and she could think. She pulled the headphones out of her ears for a minute.
The man standing with his daughter pointed.
“There’s a squirrel there. Look.”
“He’s a little scrawny.”
He suddenly felt…stupid. Here in his audacious hat and backback, forcing his 13-year-old daughter to find nature in the middle of Los Angeles. While she stared at the squirrel, talking about how she never saw them anymore, he looked.
She was beautiful. She was younger than he, pretty in the way that women in their late 20s can be as they find themselves. He felt even more stupid. He had been alone for so long and it pained him to see a pretty woman. It made him miss his wife. It made him feel even more lonely. The only woman he knew anymore was Rita, and she clearly hated him for a reason he couldn’t quite understand. His sister said it was that age. He thought that somehow, she blamed him for the cancer.
“I grew up in Wisconsin, you know.”
“So you miss the squirrels, too?”
She wasn’t sure why she was talking to him. It had been a painful morning. He had given her her things back and tried hard to hold on to her, but it was too late. Her heart had broken and her expectations for love vanished. She came here to find the solace she’d always found in nature. Something pure.
He wasn’t attractive. But he was kind. He listened as they stared out, pointing out animals. The Canada geese. The ducks. The herons. Part of her yearned for kind.
She told him about her favorite hike, hidden in the canyons.
“We went somewhere near there, I thought. Right Rita?”
His daughter shrugged. She didn’t want to be here. She missed her mother. These walks. He thought this would bring them closer together, but the walks were pregnant with her mother’s absence. She was the one who never forgot water, and would make them all laugh. She would have gone past the fence that said the rest of the trail was closed. He tried so hard, but he could never be here.
The three of them stared in silence.
She realized she should keep going.
“I’m going to go that way. Have a nice day.”
The second she walked away a tinge of regret flickered. Maybe she should have introduced herself. As she walked away, she saw a heron on the bluff. It seemed to tell her to stand tall. This was only a moment, today was only a day. She would get past this.
She stopped, murmured to herself and partly to the heron.
“You’re beautiful. Thank you.”
He watched her walk away.
“She was pretty, wasn’t she?”
“I guess so.”
He was relieved that she was gone. The pain of loneliness left him. It was better this way, anyway.
“What do you want for lunch?”
The walked away and as they curved around the final bend of the trail, he hoped to see a flash of her. Maybe they could nod to each other.
She saw them walking a little in front of her and she slowed down. She let them get into their car and drive off. She looked at the water.
She climbed over the fence to the restricted area. It was beautiful here.