Child’s play

Last night, about ten before eleven, on well-lit Martinez road, I saw a playful scene act itself out before me. What struck me, though, was the thinness of the line that separates play from risk.

As I was passing through, I saw a young man, in blue shorts and a basketball jersey, carrying a baby that must have been only a few months old, pretending to cross the street. He had the exaggerated motions of someone playing a prank; he was swinging the baby in his arms widely, and making as if to cross the street and crash right into a passing car. Beside him stood — his wife? his sister? — a young woman of probably the same age. She tried, not too earnestly, the same way one sidles up to a fly to swat it, to retrieve the baby from the playful young man. I am sure there were people behind them, right on the street, laughing at the scene, but now, when I try to remember, I cannot see any of them.

What struck me most, however, was the expression on the woman’s face. Her lips were turned up, but she wasn’t smiling. It could have meant many things: exasperation with a brother for pulling yet another unfunny prank, familiar pleasure in a father-and-child scene, or resignation in the face of yet another circumstance beyond her control. She may well have been deeply happy at that point, but her face seemed only one small twitch away from anger or tears.

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