Maggie leaps across the puddle to catch up. Her daughter is running ahead; it’s amazing how fast toddlers can be. Nobody ever tells you that. In every book, there’s no mention that they are quick little buggers. It’s one of life’s allusions, Maggie reckons, that parents can keep up with their children.
‘Peggy! Wait for mummy!’ she calls. Her only child is skirting dangerously close to the pond.
‘Maggie Champion? Is that you?’
Maggie looks in the direction of the voice. Brent Davidson. Fuck.
‘Hi Brent, yes it’s me.’ Maggie slows momentarily, hiding her annoyance and frustration as best she can. ‘Excuse me, I’m chasing my daughter.’ She continues in Peggy’s direction, without a backward glance.
She reaches Peggy, who’s moments from the pond’s edge.
‘Peggy,’ Maggie whispers in her ear, after pulling her close.
‘Ducks, mumma. Wanna feeda ducks.’
‘We can do that. Sure, honey child.’ Maggie sniffs the top of Peggy’s head, closes her eyes and enjoys the moment. She brushes away thoughts of “what if…”
‘And who have we here?’ It’s Brent, of course. Maggie’s not surprised: at school he was one of those side-liners, never part of the “it” crowd but he always, always knew what was going on. Sneaky.
Maggie looks up. Brent is standing dick forward, feet wide apart. God, she remembers how bombastic he was. She wants to disappear. Or him; perhaps the ground could open up and take him to Earth’s core. Or, better, certainly more realistic—she could push him backwards into the pond.
‘Brent, this is my daughter, Peggy.’ Maggie can’t help herself; she has to be nice. She was always the one in school to try to include him. Old habits die hard.
‘You’re married then?’
‘Yes.’ Her jaw sets firm.
‘Do I know him?’
Maggie wriggles her torso, as if a moth is fluttering under her T-shirt. She sighs loudly. ‘No, he’s not from school.’
‘You seem to be doing well.’
Maggie’s aghast. How can he possibly tell her circumstances? She follows his gaze to Peggy’s outfit: Nike toddler shoes, a Ralph Lauren pinafore over polo shirt, with a cardigan to match.
‘Alright, Brent. We have to be going, sorry. Peggy’s got gymnastics class in a little while.’ She doesn’t, but Maggie sees no point in staying while Brent’s here. The morning picnic in the park ruined. ‘Been great to see you again.’
‘You haven’t asked about me.’
‘Sorry. We really have to be going.’
Maggie picks up Peggy, under her arm like a fireman’s rescuing her and jogs back to her blanket. She quickly bundles everything in the basket while feeling his eyes on her.