Heidi received five “likes” for her Instagram picture of her niece, Wendy, crossing her eyes and blowing out her cheeks. She was trying to take another of ducklings following their mother in a line when she heard Wendy’s voice.
“Aunt Heidi! Look at me!”
Wendy was hanging like a wet shirt from the monkey bars, her four-year-old muscles not developed enough to hoist her up and move her any further.
“That’s amazing.” Heidi turned back to her phone and clicked the picture. One of the ducklings was just out of range so she clicked again. She viewed her picture and was quite pleased. It looked like a perfect picture of spring (maybe that’s what she would caption it) and so she clicked to share it.
“What should I do now?” Wendy was suddenly at her side, her pink cheeks glowing and her pigtails fuzzy and disheveled. “Should I swing or should I go on the monkey-fish?”
“It’s your choice,” Heidi said, preoccupied with cropping her picture. When she had applied the “Rise” effect, she clicked a blue arrow on the upper right hand corner of her phone to proceed.
“If I swing, you’ll have to push me. I don’t know how to push myself.”
“Okay, you’ll have to wait a minute.”
“Who are you texting?”
“No one.” Heidi typed in the caption: A picture of Spring!
“Okay, I guess I’ll go on the monkey-fish.”
Heidi suddenly looked up and saw her niece, running across the playground in her pink, corduroy pants, pigtails flapping like crazy.
“Wait!” Heidi called, and then decided to follow her.
She walked quickly to the other end of the wooden playground, to the cement outcropping of two fish with lion heads. The strange statues were painted by local artists and welcomed creative children to the playground. Heidi remembered them as being weird, even when she was Wendy’s age, fifteen years ago.
Wendy was already climbing on the statues, with two other boys. The boys’ mother was busy taking pictures of them with her phone.
“Wendy!” Heidi scolded her niece. “Don’t just run off like that! I’m trying to keep an eye on you, you know?”
Heidi heard a laugh behind her and turned around to see an old lady in a long grey coat sitting on the park bench. She was clutching a black vinyl purse in one hand, a red canvas leash in the other. At the end of the leash was a Scottish terrier, who bore a striking resemblance to Toto from the Wizard of Oz.
“Are you?” the woman chuckled. Her hair was well kempt, but wiry and curled in a way that she resembled an old movie star – waves that fell heavily against her ears. Her face was lovely and chiseled, but she stared at Heidi in such an intimidating way that it unnerved her.
“Excuse me?” Heidi asked her. It sounded very much like the woman was accusing her of not keeping an eye on her niece.
The woman chuckled again to herself. “They’re like quicksilver, these kids!”
Heidi felt a strange relief, absolved from any guilt of being neglectful. “Especially, her,” Heidi pointed to Wendy, who had now made friends with the younger boy who was climbing the fish. They were pretending to be afraid of the fish eating them, and shrieked when they lost their balance climbing up his slick back. “She’s like lightning.”
The old woman mistook this snippet of conversation for friendship and motioned for Heidi to sit down next to her on the bench. Unable to think of an excuse not to, Heidi walked over and sat down.
“It used to be that the mothers all sat together on these benches,” the woman said. “That’s why they were put in.”
“Hmmm.” Heidi felt trapped in a conversation she had never intended to be in and raised her eyebrows in feigned interest.
“That was before cell phones,” the woman’s face turned dark and bitter, as if she were talking about memories of a concentration camp.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“You guess so, I KNOW so.” The woman shook her head and pet her dog on its head. “The change that cell phones brought has been devastating for the park. Now the mothers are so busy taking pictures of their children and talking on those phones and typing…. that they never talk to each other!”
“Maybe you’re right.” Heidi couldn’t relate even if she wanted to; she wasn’t a mother and she didn’t come to the park often. Today was a favor to her sister while she got her carpets cleaned.
“Look at that mother,” the old woman leaned closer to Heidi and pointed at the boys’ mother snapping pictures with her phone and smiling. The mother was wearing yoga pants and Uggs and really looked cute for her age, but Heidi was sure the old woman was about to make a different observation. “She came to the park with her children and all she’s doing is taking pictures. The only time she talks to them is to have them look up at her and smile.”
“Hmmm.” Heidi wondered if the woman had noticed her snapping pictures of the ducks.
“I guess the world does need more good pictures, but that’s why we have photographers for! What good is it to come to the park and be in your own private world?”
This odd statement resonated with Heidi. She looked at the woman again and wondered how old this woman could be. Eighty? Ninety? Why was she walking her dog by herself? Why was she waiting here on this bench?
“Do you come here often?”
“Oh, I bring Lucy out here everyday. She loves the park!” The woman smiled down at the dog, who licked her lips. “Now she thinks I’m going to give her a treat.” The old woman reached into her pocket and pulled out a plastic baggie that she unwrapped slowly to reveal a piece of cheese.
“What’s your dog’s name?” Wendy's voice broke in. Heidi jumped, surprised that her niece was suddenly there with them, panting and flushed from climbing the fish sculptures.
“Her name is Lucy,” the old woman said as her terrier gobbled the cheese. The woman became animated and leaned forward, smiling at Wendy. “What is your name?”
“Wendy, like Peter’s Wendy?”
Heidi smiled, watching the exchange between the old woman and her niece. Something looked familiar about it; it reminded Heidi of being in kindergarten. Wendy looked confused and nodded slowly at the woman.
“Who is Peter’s Wendy?”
“What!?” The woman exaggerated a surprised response. She looked from Wendy to Heidi and smiled. “Well, Peter and Wendy were two friends. It's a book -a story of children who go on a magical journey to Neverland together. Have you not read it?”
Wendy leaned forward and glowed, waiting for the story to come out of the woman. Heidi felt five years old again, hanging on the woman’s every word. The woman looked at both of them and then over her shoulder at a tall brick building.
“Do you see that building over there? That’s the library! There are so many stories in there! Why don’t you go and see if you can find the story of Peter and Wendy and your sister here will read it you!”
“That’s my Auntie. That’s my Auntie Heidi and she’s twenty years old and she has a boyfriend named Bobby who smokes.”
“Your Auntie Heidi can find that story if you help her,” the woman said, tapping her index finger against Wendy’s chest. People think the story is called Peter Pan, but it really is called…” the woman waited for optimum effect. Then she whispered, “Peter and Wendy!”
Both Wendy and Heidi smiled. “Let’s go!” Wendy took off for the library, pigtails bobbing and arms pumping.
Heidi jumped up and started to tear off after her, before remembering the old woman. “I’m sorry, thank you!”
The old woman was still smiling and winked before Heidi trotted after her niece, who was trying to open the heavy door of the library.
When she caught up, Heidi took her niece by the hand and knelt down beside her. “If you want to go in, remember that we have to be quiet and walk and not run. Stay with me, okay?”
Wendy looked into her Aunt’s eyes and nodded, sincerely.
They entered the building and the smell of old books greeted Heidi, bringing back beautiful memories she shared here with her own mother. Aunt and niece approached the desk and were warmly greeted by a woman who smiled brightly, her hair tied back and glasses hanging from a beaded chain around her neck.
“Welcome! How can I help you?”
“Do you have a book called Peter and Wendy?” Heidi asked.
The woman smiled to herself and began to look in her computer.
“That’s my name!” Wendy said, a little too loud. Heidi turned to her and put her index finger to her lips.
“That’s my name,” the girl whispered loudly.
“Wow!” the librarian smiled brightly at the child. “Our copy of Peter and Wendy is out right now. I can order you another copy, but it will take a week.” The woman looked up to Heidi, who smiled, disappointed.
“I don’t come here all that often.”
“Well,” the woman said, quietly. She leaned forward as if she were sharing a trade secret. “Peter and Wendy is free on kindle. It’s public domain and you might be able to download it and start it for her.”
Wendy was panicking. “We can come back next week, can’t we, Aunt Heidi? You can climb the monkey fish with me or even take my picture. Mommy will let you….”
“Yes,” Heidi said to both the woman and her niece. “Please order it for me and I will pick it up next week. Also, I will download it and start reading it.” Wendy was pleased and hugged her aunt’s leg.
After filling out paperwork for a new library card and then submitting a request for the book, the librarian smiled and thanked her.
“What a nice request! It’s been a long time since someone has requested it by its proper title. Most people ask for Peter Pan!”
“We were in the park and a lady actually told us what the name of the book was.”
“Was it Mrs. Ravenwood? Did she have a little dog with her?”
“That was Mrs. Ravenwood!” The librarian smiled. “This is the Ravenwood library. It’s named after her and her husband. They were both teachers in this area. She still walks that dog everyday and comes in and says hi.”
“Oh.” Heidi was stunned.
As they walked home, Heidi relaxed into gentle contemplation of her niece. She looked so much like her sister did at that age. She made everything wonderful; she was never bored or lonely. As they walked down the tree-lined street, Wendy made sounds like an airplane and held her arms out. She started to get away from her and when she did, Heidi was quick to call her back.
“Hey, Wendy!” Heidi called to her niece. “Why do you call that statue the monkey fish? It has a lion’s head.”
Heidi stopped running and looked back at her Aunt. She waited for her to catch up, then explained the mystery: “It’s not the monkey- BARS… It’s the monkey- FISH! You can climb on it like a MONKEY, but it’s a FISH!” The child’s hands were open and her fingers were spread apart, implying the concept was easy to understand.
“Are you going to read about me and Peter when we get home?”
“Yes. You’re lying down for a nap and I’ll read it until you fall asleep.”
Wendy looked angry. “I hate naps.”
“How do I know you’re not taking my picture?”
“You’ll know because I’ll be reading you the story.”
Heidi felt the child’s hand in hers and she smiled, looking down at her. The sun was directly above them and the light shone down on her niece’s head, making her curls look like gold.
If you want to read the amazing story of Peter and Wendy, it is free on kindle. Click here to get it. You might want to buy the book just for the illustrations by FD Bedford