Anne placed her purple finger on the page of her book, lowered her magnifying glass, and scanned the playground for Chris. She brought her hand to her forehead, shielding her eyes from the sun. Colors jumped out: the Latina’s red tee-shirt, toddler’s pink dress, and those twin boys’ black faces, but not Chris’s bleached hair. She stood up, angling to see behind the slide, inside the crowded sandpit. She spun about at the sound of crying: a small boy flat on his front; his mother lifting him.
Anne moved toward the boat-swings, searching the picnic tables, everywhere.
“Chris,” she called.
She started running, shouting.
A pretty brunette pulled on Anne’s arm. “What was he wearing?”
Anne had no idea. His denim jacket and jeans? Navy overalls? She looked back to the bench, seagulls fighting over the remains of Chris’s peanut butter sandwich, his blue cardigan next to her book.
A yellow tee-shirt, she remembered, bright yellow, and jeans. His hair is white-white, five years old, about so high, brilliant blue eyes.
A group gathered around Anne, their concern heightening her panic. They were supposed to laugh, shake their heads and reassure her. Damn kids, wandering off. The only dad amongst them took charge, his demeanor and buzz-cut marking him for a military man. His teeth made Anne shiver, sharp and triangular.
Anne dialed 911. She broke down, the dispatcher’s Southern twang sympathetic, maternal. The adults fanned out, calling Chris’s name, moving toward the woods and car-park. Anne wrapped her arms around herself, trying to stop shaking. They’ll find him, she told herself, any minute now someone will come running, Chris on her hip, terrified, but safe.
Anne called her daughter, Chris’s mom, the phone slippery in her hand.
Sandy turned hysterical. “What are you saying?”
Anne circled the playground again, the sirens coming closer.
The police officer spoke in calm, soothing tones. He wanted Anne to sit down. She couldn’t. He looked at Chris’s photo, his thick thumb moving back and forth over the boy’s face. Anne wished he’d stop touching the photo like that. A burst of codes and police-speak crackled from his radio. Sandy’s blue Corolla sped into the parking lot; she jumped from the car, rushed at Anne and the officers.
“Why are you just standing here?” Sandy demanded. “Why aren’t you looking for Chris?”
She turned in a half-circle, screaming. “Chris! Chris!”
She ran first one way, then another. “Chris!”
Anne chased her, grabbing at her arm. “Stop.”
Sandy gripped Anne’s shoulders. “Where did you see him last? Where was he?”
“He’s not here, baby, I’ve looked everywhere.”
Sandy shook Anne. “Why weren’t you watching him?”
Officer Jones placed his large hand on Sandy’s back, urged her to calm down.
Sandy slid down the front of his body, a wail coming out of her that didn’t sound possible.
Anne and Sandy sat together on the wooden bench. The officers wanted them to stay put. Sandy held Chris’s cardigan on her lap, kneading it. Anne bargained with God. Take me, she begged Him, and give back Chris.
A group gathered around them, offering flasks of tea and coffee and plates of triangular sandwiches covered in cling-wrap.
Sandy reached for the book between them on the bench. “You were reading?”
Anne’s hand rushed to her chest. “Yes, but I—”
Sandy stood up. “What was I thinking? I must be insane letting you take care of Chris.”
Anne reached for her. “Sandy, please, calm down, he’s going to be okay.”
Sandy stepped back. “You don’t know that!”
“I should have known this would happen—”
“Sandy, please, don’t do this.”
Phil suddenly appeared. He pressed Sandy’s head to his chest, shushing her.
Anne moved next to them. “I’m so sorry. I swear he was right here one minute, and the next he—”
Phil gathered her against him.
Sandy and Phil remained on the bench. They didn’t see Anne returning from the restrooms.
“I said she wasn’t up for this any more,” Phil said.
“You never said,” Sandy said.
“You know I did,” Phil said.
“What’s wrong with you? Bringing that up now?”
Anne stopped short, struggling to breathe.
Shouts sounded from the woods. Sandy took off running. Anne hobbled after her. A woman emerged from the trees, the pretty mother who’d first helped Anne, Chris by her side, his tiny hand in hers. Sandy and Phil raced across the grass, Phil getting to Chris first, hugging him. Sandy dropped to the ground, wrapped her arms around them both.
Anne was crying and laughing, silly with relief. She pushed her way through the officers and searchers, mad to get to her grandson. Chris was babbling about a white butterfly.
Anne knelt in the dirt, her arms open. Chris tightened his hold on his mother’s neck and shook his angry face, his blue eyes blazing.
“Granny got me lost,” he said.
Anne looked from him to Sandy. Sandy turned her head away, hooking her chin over Chris’s tiny shoulder.