Rusted

My father played softball at this park when I was a little boy. Shortstop, civil servant’s league, every Saturday for eight years, weather permitting. Though I was mostly too young to enjoy the game I came along anyway, spending the innings climbing on the jungle gym next to the baseball diamond or playing in the dugout dust with my toy dinosaurs and plastic army men. Sometimes I watched, though. The Fire Department versus Police Department rivalry games were always worth watching. When they won I got to have a sundae while my dad and his fire buddies enjoyed a victory beer.

I was eleven when they erected this memorial on the site of the park’s ruined community center. It was so bright, the polished surface gleaming in the early morning sun; so different from the still-blackened earth around it. All those little figures embossed into it, happily at play in an afterlife of burnished steel. Dad would be angry to see it neglected like this. His name is so rusted it cannot even be read.

Oxygen is a terrible thing. People think about it as something that gives life, that fills our lungs and infuses our bloodstreams. They forget that it was originally poisonous waste created by the first newly-evolved plants. We might’ve adapted to it, but it’s still a destroyer. Molecule by molecule it corrodes metal, and feeds fire so fast they say none of the summer campers trapped in the community center had a chance. Neither did anyone who tried to rescue them.

No one plays softball here anymore.

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