Finding an open spot on the sloping hill never posed a problem for mom and me – we always chose the hill over the park-bench seating in the bowl of the amphitheater. Mom spread our patchwork comforter over the fragrant grass and immediately pulled the orange top off the can of bug spray.
“Krista,” she hollered. “Come here.”
I had already started to follow my eyes, nose and ears to the florescent concession stand on the far side of the hill – the source of fluffy cotton candy, slurpy snowcones and buttery popcorn. I skipped back to the blanket and held my breath while the toxic mist fell on my skin and soaked into the thick, humid air.
“Ok, let’s go get a snowcone,” she said, clicking the cap back on the can.
We wove through small islands of lawn chairs, blankets, Igloo coolers and rambunctious kids on our way to the stand. A cool, sticky breeze wrapped around my goose-bumped shoulders and legs, carrying an outdoorsy mix of cigarette smoke, cotton candy and bug spray.
A few, fading strands of sunlight finally slipped from the summer sky and I turned to see the movie starting.
“Do you know what flavor you want?” mom asked.
Looking back at the bright white concession stand, I decided. “Purple.”
I could no longer see the going-ons in the mobile concession over the tall ledge. Holding mom’s hand, I glanced back to watch Lady and the Tramp’s beginning scene.
“Yeah, um, we’ll have a purple snowcone and a Coke with extra ice.”
An invisible voice replied, “One dollar.”
Happy music echoed throughout the park as Jim Dear and Darling opened the golden box with red ribbon and out jumped little Lady. I looked from the movie to see two hands thrust out of the humming concession to give mom the fizzing soda and a purple snowcone. As the movie flickered images of Lady yipping in the dark kitchen we wove our way back to our comfy blanket.
I slurped and crunched the purple ice till my teeth and tongue had turned just as purple and just as cold.
“Where’s daddy?” I asked, remembering that he had gone to work seemingly ages ago.
“He’s at work, hon,” mom answered, taking a sip of Coke.
I didn’t say anything, so mom continued. “We’re gonna see him after the movie.”
Mom’s answer satisfied me, but not as much as if dad had been there. We would go early if dad was with us. He would throw the Frisbee with me and push me on the swings by the tennis courts when he came. Maybe he would be here next time.
I leaned up against mom to keep warm in the moist, Midwestern air and fell asleep a little while later as Lady and the Tramp dined together on spaghetti and meatballs.
Pitch-blackness woke me up. Mom’s warm arms, the movie’s glow, and the song of cicadas and crickets had been my lullaby. But now the park had grown quiet and eerily dark. The fluorescent buzz of the concession stand was gone and the parking lot lights were always off on Monday nights so movie-goers could watch the movie without distant shafts of light blurring the view.
Mom stood up and I stood up, too, making out the shadows of other moms and dads stumbling up the hill with their half-sleeping kids. It was a near-silent exodus, accompanied only by grinding gravel and closing car doors.
“Are we picking up daddy?” I asked in a sleepy voice.
The streets were empty except for a few distant headlights. Within a few minutes, we pulled into the visitor parking lot at an industrial, brick warehouse with high windows and visible rafters. Muffled machines buzzed, clanked and whirred inside.
I climbed in the backseat, ready for dad to be here. The green light on the radio glowed with the digital hour – 10:02 – as “Message in a Bottle” whispered through the speakers.
A minute later, dad filed out of the factory with the other second shifters, got in the car and kissed mom. I stood up and wrapped my arms around the passenger seat.
“Hey, Kritter,” he said, kissing me on the head. “You have fun tonight?”
“Yeah. Lady and the Tramp, um, we watched Lady and the Tramp and I had a purple snowcone, but I didn’t swing. Mom said I couldn’t swing.”
“But you still had fun?”
“Yeah, and I got a purple snowcone and it was good.”
“I can see that,” he laughed. “You’re lips are all purple.”
I craned my neck to look in the rearview mirror and laughed when I saw the purple mustache above my lips.
“Can you come with us next time and push me on the swing?” I asked before sitting back in the seat.
“I’ll be there,” dad said, looking back at me.
I sat down in the seat while mom and dad talked quietly, their voices drifting into faint murmurs as I closed my eyes.
Dad carried me inside and, without waking me up, pulled off the repellent-saturated clothes, pulled on my Strawberry Shortcake nightgown and tucked me under my Strawberry Shortcake sheets.
If I had my way, every night would be something like summer Monday movie nights. A wisteria-painted sky giving into indigos and midnight blue. A flickering cartoon fading into background noise as I doze. Crickets and cotton candy filling the air with song and sweetness. And dad’s promise come true.