Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jason of Astor Park

The boys and girls playing at the park saw him limp toward them. He was more than a block away. It was Jason. He had dirty blond hair. His malformed face turned toward the sky. His slack-jawed smile, plastered and permanent. He howled as he walked. The children climbed high on the playground equipment, spreading out to keep from getting cornered by the man. The girls screamed and so did some of the boys. Stories of Jason raced through their heads as he crossed the street and headed into the park.

-Jason was hit by a semi-truck as a kid and his parents found him hanging from a telephone poll.-
-Jason has weird diseases and you’ll end up like him if he drools on you.-
-Jason caught a kid alone in the park one day and raped him behind the clubhouse.-
-Jason is a retard that killed his mom…Jason is homeless…Jason died and came back…Jason has AIDS…Jason escaped from an insane asylum…Jason…Jas…J…-

And then there he was. Jason Hooted loudly at the children he’d treed on the playground equipment. Today was different than most days. Today, Jason had brought with him a red wagon. The wagon was filled with magazine clippings that were held down by a brick. Jason gestured sweepingly to the wagon and the children. His voice garbled nonsense. Spittle flew from his mouth and dripped down onto his clothes.

Some of the braver children would drop down from the playground equipment and Jason would chase them. He smiled, laughed and howled breathlessly as he attempted to catch each taunting child. Sometimes, while they ran from him, the children would grab a handful of wood chips off the playground floor. Once back up in the safety of the equipment, they would throw the chips at Jason. It never made him mad. He would laugh. The children never knew why he didn’t climb the equipment. He just didn’t.

Most of the time Jason would stalk around the children until he got bored. Then he would leave, going back the same way he had come. Not today. Today, one of the children, a girl, fell off the equipment and landed on the ground. She cried. She had skinned her knee. Jason sat down beside her. His smile had gone. It was the first time the children saw him without it. His mouth formed a large O. A large gob of drool dripped down his chin. His eyes showed concern.

Jason picked a Dandelion and handed it to the girl. She slapped it away with a shriek.
Jason tried to put his arm around her. She screamed and turned away from him.
Jason sighed and began to play with the wood chips. Sometimes he would glance at the crying girl.

While Jason was sitting with the girl a couple of the boys dropped from the playground equipment and took Jason’s wagon. They rolled the wagon away from the playground about a hundred feet to the park’s small wading pool. It was Autumn and the shallow pool had long since been closed down for the season. The fence surrounding the pool wasn’t very high. Sometimes the children would climb the fence and roller-skate and skateboard in the empty pool.

It took all three boys to lift the wagon. They dumped the wagon into the pool. They had to stand up on their tiptoes to do it. The wagon landed with a loud clang. Magazine clippings blew everywhere. The boys laughed and ran. The children on the playground cheered.

Jason stood up. He’d covered his ears at the noise. He saw his wagon in the pool and limped over. The children dropped from the playground equipment and went home. It was supper time.

One of the children looked back at Jason as he went home. He saw Jason standing at the fence. Jason had both his hands pressed to the chain-link. His face was pushed so far into the fence that it seemed like he would pass right through. The boy heard Jason Howl. It was higher pitched than normal. It sounded worried. The boy thought he sounded like a dog.

The boy walked backwards home. He watched Jason. Jason walked around the fence of the wading pool once, twice, then he sat down. He howled again. The sound was long and very sad. Again, the boy thought about how closely the sound resembled that of a dog. Tomorrow he would tell his friends that Jason’s mom had sex with a dog. He would tell them Jason’s mom had sex with a dog and that was how Jason was born.

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