Attractions by John Allman



After the painting by Edward Burne-Jones

It's the sheep meadow in Central Park. She's at a little portable organ and her blind daughter is squeezing a toy concertina. The boy friend, lying on his side in stocking feet, cyclist's spandex tights, looks bored, but that's nothing new. It's sadness, he says. You always mistake it for lack of interest. She sings, ignoring him, the battery-driven tones humming above the noise of traffic, her hair loose in the acrid zephyr of the breeze, hazel eyes empty, narcotized. Something too painful to surface. She's almost not here at all. The child, who last year had been seeing colors, laughs now at her squeeze box, the wreath of flowers slipping off her head, and she gropes toward her mother's playing. Passers-by walk around them, give them a wide berth, where they seem homeless on their blanket, a Styrofoam container empty of fries, the mother's singing making the silence between her and the lover obvious.

Each spring he awakens at her side. She fingers the text of her music, plays with one hand—her child lounging in the sun, wearing dark glasses, as if she'd seen the Grail. But he's got the grayness of cheek, the blistered touch of the forbidden. He's sad because longing repeats itself in her monotonous music, her nasal singing, and no matter how often he comes back from cities or describes the unexpected verdure of mountains, or at a shore, the murals in a beach chateau, her eyes are the empty glass of drained goblets and her child asks to feel the curve of his face, the healed ridge of his broken nose. As if each time he is at first unrecognized, then disappointing when he is.