My daughter goes belly first down the slide, the skin below her shorts squeaking against the hot plastic. She arcs high in the swings, her body floating near the top, the chains slack for a moment. She tangles with a boy about climbing the ladder to the jungle gym, but he is stronger and shoves her away. She calls him a name I can’t make out, giggles and whispers with a pack of girls, a cupped hand around her mouth. They run to the pond, a mixture of innocence and mock sophistication. Sticky with sweat, they throw bread at the water. An armada of ducks and geese squawk and swim their way. Older kids jump off a rock ledge at the pond’s far end, squealing as they hang for an instant above the water, drowning out the chatter of cicadas.
I sit in the grass, picking the heads off buckhorn plantain. One by one, her friends drift into their own worlds until the last girl waves, running toward a mother that emerges out of nowhere. My daughter waves back, slows, crawls into my lap, and lets her head fall against my chest. Her smell, earth and sweat, draws me closer to her. She grows by the hour, and these moments dwindle. We stay like that until I scootch her up on her feet to go home.
She skips ahead when a man near the park’s boundary stops her gently with a cane, claiming he can levitate. For a dollar, he will show us. He is barefoot with striped pants that balloon around his hips and a moustache that curls out over his cheeks. He is boisterous; he is loud; he attracts a crowd. Children come from everywhere:
The rock divers.
The ladder boy.
The duck girl with her mother.
“Just like the man on TV,” my daughter says, sweat drying in the dust on her cheeks.
The man scoffs. “A fraud; a nothing!” He flicks his hand in the air. I slip the man a dollar.
He rises twelve inches off the ground. My daughter cheers, squatting to look under his feet. “Sir,” he says to me, “take my cane. Wave it over my head; check for wires.”
I sweep the cane all around him. Air and sky. “Sheer willpower connects me to the earth,” he says.
“Look,” my daughter says. She scoots her body along the ground under him, his toes dangling just above her chest.
“No! No!” the man says. “Never let anyone do that! Not when you levitate.”
“Sorry,” she says, scrabbling to her feet. “I can’t levitate anyway,” she says, pushing a strand of matted hair out of her eyes.
He raises an unruly eyebrow, descends to the ground, and glances from one child in the crowd to the next. Calculates a final look at me. “For five dollars, I will whisper the secret to her.” He puts a rough finger against her lips. “But you can never to tell another soul.”
She crosses her heart, then turns to me with her hands in prayer, mouthing, “Please, please!” How can I deny her this hope? I hand him the money.
He squats, his face level with hers, puts an arm around her, whispering in her ear. Her mouth hangs open, and she throws her arms around him, shouting, “I love you! I love you!” The children swarm in. Me next! Me too! Me too!
I toss his cane to him, and my daughter and I escape through the crowd. All the way home she tries. She hops into the air. Walks off stone copings, hoping to stay suspended, only to lose her balance and skin her knees.
When we get to our house, she closes her eyes, jumps as high as she can, and crumples into the grass. “He tricked me,” she says.
I crouch to her, reaching for her small hands. “It appears so,” I say.
She smiles, taking advantage of me squatting there and swings a leg over my neck. “Carry me into the house,” she says, but we both know that we will never get inside. She grabs my forehead; I hold her ankles close to my ribs and bounce her toward the porch. She loosens her grip, giggling as her legs slap down on my shoulders.
I am afraid. Of what? Of time? Of her? Of the earth?
Before we reach the porch, we let go simultaneously. She rises above the roof, beyond the trees, and through the clouds. There are others, many, floating up across the neighborhood, seeming to converge. Though I am certain there are parents standing in their yards – their eyes cast upwards – I don’t take my eyes off my daughter, careful not to stand under her. She looks back a moment but wills herself on, becoming a speck in the evening sky.
We are where we need to be. “No strings,” I say, as she moves past my vision, her secrets held high above me in the expanse of stars, mine anchored here deep within the earth.