The Quiet Girl (Peter Hoeg)

As I wandered about from playground to playground, taking pictures for my art project, I found a little playground hidden behind the pool at the end of Westway. It still had some of the older equipment, including an odd blue climbing device. When I approached it, I noticed four little legs sticking out. I wanted to take a picture of the thing so I asked the kids nicely to get away from it.

"We know you're not the 'Playground Inspector' no matter what you say." I recognized the voice of Prasad, the imaginary kid from my super block. That meant the other pair of legs had to belong to Jimmy. or Timmy. or Whatever-the-heck-his-name-is. Maybe you can remember the names of all the imaginary people in your life, but I've got more important things to store in the ole noggin. For instance, I remember Quark, a TV show about garbage collectors in space that played for maybe a season back in the '70s. That might be the very thing taking up the space that might normally be devoted to remembering an imaginary child's name. I think it's worth the exchange.

"Are you smoking dope under there?" It seemed like something an adult would say. I'm always pressed to talk like an adult with these two.

"If we were," Chuckie said snidely, "we wouldn't share any with you."

The blue climbing thing "Actually, it seems to be a commonly held misconception among older folks that youngsters are constantly 'hopped up on dope.' I know my grandfather believes it. But it is only a myth, you know." Prasad is ever one for clarity.

"We might be conducting Satanic rites," the other lad suggested. I knew that couldn't be their pursuit because neither of these kids skates.

"All of this verbal communication is making it difficult to Listen." Prasad gave an inflection that made the capital letter obvious. "And if we cannot Listen, then we will not Hear."

"Oh, Lord," I said. "You've been reading The Quiet Girl, haven't you? For a book with lots of listening, I came away with very little feeling for the sounds of the city." The Quiet Girl is a quiet book with lots of violence and action played out quietly.

"Perhaps you did not listen hard enough," Prasad put in.

"I enjoyed the book, you know," I told the boys. "But much of it felt just like watching one of those confusing Danish movies where you're not really sure what's going on and whether it's because you missed some of the subtitles or what. Once you get over that, the images are fascinating. I'm glad you decided to emulate the listening detective-clown instead of the creepy earthquake children and their nuns. Precocious children with strange powers disturb me."

There was no response from the peanut gallery under the blue climbing contraption.

"Probably best to avoid head-butting," I continued, after a pause. "There was more head-butting in that book than I've read in a month of Sundays."

"I hear it!" Prasad exclaimed.

"Me, too!" said the other kid, after a moment.

"Hear what?" I didn't hear anything.

"I think it's that way," Prasad had climbed out from under the playground equipment. He pointed toward Westway. His friend had followed him out. He nodded and they both ran off toward the other side of the pool.

"I don't hear anything!" I shouted. I stood staring at the blue thing for a minute or two. "Oh, shoot, fine." I shrugged and knelt at the base. It seemed clean enough underneath, so I wiggled under and lay on my back. I could see circles of sky through the metal contraption. It was peaceful. I almost drifted off, but I remembered my backpack on the grass outside the blue thing, so I quickly sat upright and then fell back to the ground as my head bounced off the metal. I waited for my eyes to uncross, and then I, too, could make out the sound. I finally heard what the boys had heard.

The chimes of the neighborhood ice cream van.

"Darn kids," I said. "Thought they said they didn't do drugs."

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