The Wood Nymph of Central Park: Part One

If you would ask Eliza how old she was, she would proudly declare: "Six years, two months, and seven days."

            If you asked her parents the same question, they would shrug. "She's five, I think?" her mother would say.

            "No, no," her father would object. "I think she's six now. Wasn't it her birthday a couple of months ago?"

            "Yeah, she turned five."

            "I thought she turned five last year."

            "Oh. Well, then she's probably six now."

            Eliza didn't see them often. Her father left every morning to go to work, sipping coffee as he blew Eliza a kiss heading to the tall building that reflected sunlight like a giant mirror, and that he had pointed out to Eliza once, in one of the rare moments they spent together on their patio. She was usually asleep when he came home at night, and if she was not, he was too tired to play with her. Her mother spent all of her time at meetings, dinners, balls, and functions, and little girls were invited to none of those, except for the occasional summer garden party, when Eliza got to wear a pretty dress and stand around listening to adults talk, the scents of strawberries and daisies tickling her nostrils.

Eliza didn't mind because she had Abby. Abby kissed her knee when she had scraped it, Abby held her when she had had a nightmare. And, Abby loved her.

Every afternoon, Abby took Eliza to Central Park, with its trees so high Eliza had to put her head in her neck to see them, and grass so soft she wanted to lie down and let it tickle her cheeks. Abby sat on a bench and sent Eliza off to play with other children. Once, Eliza had asked Abby what she did on the bench while Eliza was away, and if she wasn't lonely during those long hours of play time. Abby had explained that she studied, so she could become a nurse, and finally get a real job. She had whispered the last bit under her breath, not intended for Eliza's ears. Eliza had immediately proclaimed that, when she grew up, she wanted to be a nurse, too. Abby had smiled at that and said: "Girls like you don't have to become nurses. You just have to become pretty, and you're good to go." Eliza had suggested she could become a pretty nurse, and Abby just shook her head and sent Eliza away to play.

That was the day Eliza had met the wood nymph. The wood nymph sat against a tree, sitting on the grass field next to the playground. Eliza could still hear the other children screaming and laughing as she approached the tree, cautious not to come too close to the stranger. She had always thought nymphs were young, like the ones with flowing blue hair and large green eyes in her story book at home, but this one was older than her mother. The nymph wore many layers of clothing, even during the summer, and there were stains and holes in every article of clothing she wore. Her grey hair was a tangled mess, like a bird was nesting on top of her head. She was very skinny, and always hungry, so Eliza shared the cookies Abby gave her with the nymph. In return, the nymph gave Eliza all sorts of treasures from the two plastic shopping bags she always carried with her, that seemed to contain the whole world. There were small, braided bracelets that she tied around Eliza's wrist and that Abby cut off that same evening because they weren't 'proper', match boxes painted in bright colours and patterns, little beads, that Eliza put into the matchboxes.

Eliza knew she was a wood nymph because of the conversation they had had when they had first met.

"Who are you?" Eliza had asked.