By Shelly Reuben
Chapter 38 –  My Most Happy Life; Part II - An Unexpected Gathering

Illustrations by Ruth McGraw 

The look on her face at that moment was an unattractive combination of rage, humiliation and frustration, a look that all victims yearn to see on the faces of their tormentors. Delana clenched her knobby hands into fists, grimaced over her big white teeth, turned away from the park benches, park paths, park people, and park trees, and yelled, “Police!”

The members of our estimable city police force in the park on that memorable morning numbered one: Patrolman Peter McWhorter.

Delana saw him bent over a DO NOT CLIMB sign, his hands gripping both of its sides. She ran up to Pete and shouted in his face, “They’re destroying city property and pulling out our signs! They’ve gone crazy. Arrest them!”

Patrolman McWhorter stared at the raging woman. His eyes narrowed—not an easy thing for such a good-natured man to do—and with his hands still clasping the sign, he said, “You’re kidding, right?”

Delana stamped her foot and shouted, “I AM NOT KIDDING!”

Pete McWhorter yanked the sign out of the ground, threw it on the grass, and smiled. It was not a friendly smile. In a scarily soft voice, he said, “Neither am I.”

He rested his right hand on the butt of his revolver.

That seemed to get her attention.

She spun around and bellowed, “Men! Women! All parks department employees! Follow me!”

And she led her irritable band of followers out of the park.

Less than half a block from our gate, Delana came upon the baby-faced policeman who, ten days earlier, had backed down when Hercules was ordered to keep away from the trees, and later, feeling bad about it, had taken Herk out for a cup of coffee.

But that morning, he, like so many others who had read the front-page of The Daily Globe, was in no mood for conciliation.

Delana stormed up to him, but the baby-faced cop did not wait for her to open her mouth. He reached for his radio, identified himself and his location to the police dispatcher, reported “an

unruly mob disturbing the peace outside the entrance to the Samuel Swerling Park,” and called for backup.

Within thirty seconds, Delana and all of her cohorts had disappeared.

The cop replaced his radio on his belt, began to whistle a merry tune, and mounted the steps to the park.

Once inside, he saluted Patrolman McWhorter, who returned the salute with a causal wave of his hand. Then he walked to the nearest tree, climbed to the lowest branch, leaned his back against the trunk, tipped his uniform hat over a thick thistle of hair to hide his eyes, and fell asleep.

Pete McWhorter looked at him and grinned.

Pulling another sign from the ground, Alvin Widdle commented, “I guess he’s off-duty.”

“Honestly, Alvin,” McWhorter shrugged, his eyes alive with mischief, “I’m not sure that it matters today.”

The records clerk carried the sign to the wastebasket, dropped it in, nodded cheerfully, and said, “Guess not. Come to think of it, I’m supposed to be at work, too.”

Delana with her big teeth and knobby hands did not return to the Samuel Swerling Park that day, or any other day. Nor did those under her command who had hurried to the Department of Parks to lodge a complaint against the police. Their entrance, however, was barred by a supervisor from the personnel department, who coolly informed them that the real commissioner of parks, Michael Moses Hurwitz, had returned to his position, and that they no longer had jobs.

It was 9:00 a.m.

The temperature rose a few degrees.

The air was dry. The breeze was gentle. There was no humidity.

Children kept coming to the park.

Children kept climbing.

Parents kept coming to the park.

Parents kept climbing.

Poets, actors, artists, and students came back to us, too.

After Esther and Meg had pulled the last poster off the backrest of the last bench, and after Ghita and Mr. Corporate America had finished cutting it into small pieces, Esther said, “Grandma, I’ll be right back.” She did not tell anyone what she planned to do, but she went to her apartment to get Winston the ferret. At just about the same time, Meg said to Carmichael, “Sweetie, I’ll be right back.” She went to her apartment to get her cockatiel Butch.

Before they returned, Merritt Jones, riding in an aerial ladder truck with seven men from the firehouse, pulled up outside the park, for no reason other than—like so many others who had awakened that morning with a prior history at the Samuel Swerling Park—they knew without having been told so that they would have to climb a tree.

Some, but not all.

Merritt stayed with the fire truck.

Chapter 38 –  My Most Happy Life; Part II - An Unexpected Gathering


He was about to ascend the aerial ladder to take photographs of the park, when he realized that he had forgotten his camera. But just then, he saw a small thin boy with almond shaped eyes, ears like butterflies that had landed on both sides of a jug, and a serious expression on a cherubic round face.

He was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, and his much too big feet flopped from the ankles of very skinny legs.

There was a camera slung by a strap around his neck, and he was hurrying past the fire truck when Merritt caught him by the back of his T-shirt and pulled him to a stop.

“Timothy Wong,” he said.

The boy looked up apprehensively at the large, unsmiling fireman.

Merritt snapped his fingers and frowned thoughtfully. “Yesterday. On television. That was you on the magician’s show. What’s it called?”

“Reality Check,” Timothy responded solemnly.

“Right. Right.” Merritt released his grip on the boy’s T-shirt, grabbed him by the forearm, and began to pull him into the park.

Timothy tried to wriggle away. “Wh…Wh…Where are you taking me?”

Merritt grinned.

“Brace yourself, Kid. I’m going to introduce you to your fans.”

And that is exactly what he did.

Timothy met Ghita Swerling and Mr. Corporte America. He met Franklin and Genevieve. He met Carmichael and Noah, their mother Donna, their Aunt Honor, and a bunch of Swerling cousins, aunts and uncles who had also come into the park, but nobody knew when.

Timothy even shook hands with Alonso Hannah, his wife Pepita, and their son Herk.

But search as he might, Merritt could not find Esther or Meg.

“They’ll be back soon,” Ghita assured him.

“Okay,” Merritt said, and without waiting for a response, he added, “Tell them that we’re going up the ladder.”

Then, his hand still around Timothy’s forearm, he dragged him back out of the park.

“Now where are we going?” the fourteen-year-old demanded.

But his voice was not stern.

“I need your camera,” Merritt answered.

And if he had looked down at that very moment, he would noticed that the expression on the boy’s face was no longer solemn.

Two days earlier, Maximilian Flowers had interviewed Timothy in the isolation of a television studio with no more audience than a bored technician. Two days later, the boy had watched himself with his family on their TV set at home. His parents did not understand the nature of the exposé, but they knew that their son was proud of what he had done, so they offered him warm, if wary, words of congratulations.

They tried.

They really had.

But their response had been anti-climactic, and Timothy felt deprived.

Until that Friday morning when, against his will, Merritt Jones had dragged him into the park.

The back-patting, the hand-shaking, and the words of praise had induced in Timothy a state of euphoria so gratifying that, without asking the tall, dark-skinned, white-haired fireman why he needed to borrow his camera, Timothy handed it over.

Merritt turned it this way and that.

“Lots of knobs, buttons, and doodads,” he said disapprovingly. He pointed to a dial and asked, “And what do all these letters and symbols mean?”

Timothy explained about the MENU button and where to find the macro lens position on the dial. He was about to describe the DISPLAY and ERASE functions when Merritt pushed the camera back into the boy’s hands and said, “Not going to happen. Come with me.”


Merritt pointed to the aerial ladder.

It was fully extended, seventy-five feet above the park.

Timothy arched his eyebrows, widely opened his eyes, and craned his head back to look up, up, up to where the top of the ladder hung over the tallest branches of the tallest trees.

“Why?” he barely whispered.

“Because,” Merritt responded, “I forgot to bring my camera, and we have to take pictures of the park.”


Merritt grabbed Timothy around the ribcage, and flung him onto the fire truck. Then he hoisted himself onto the platform, and stepped toward the ladder.

“You go first,” Merritt said to the terrified teen. “I’ll be right behind to catch you if you fall.”

“Fa…fa…fall?” Timothy said, his voice shaking.

“You aren’t going to fall.”

The boy tore his eyes away from the top of the ladder and shifted them to Merritt Jones.

The fireman’s eyes were cheerful, compelling, and confident.

He grinned.

The grin was irresistible.

Timothy grinned, too.

Then Merritt pointed to the first rung of the ladder, winked, and said, “After you, my man.”

Copyright © 2017, Shelly Reuben

Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her work, visit