Barefoot in the Park – Sean Winn
“Whatever. I’m going upstate to meet with Turner. I might also pick up a dog.” With that,
Harold Lattimer placed his hands on the counter, stood up, and walked out of the kitchen. Gwyn
heard the jangle of his keys in the foyer and the click of the apartment door followed by the
metallic clang of the stairwell door. Nobody in the building used the stairs except her husband.
Despite a hip replacement barely more than a year ago, Harold liked to slip some practical
exercise into his day. He was sixty-seven and Gwyn was sixty-five. They had been married
thirty-six years, most of them peaceful. Gwyn stared at the door. She was a teapot not sure if she
wanted to boil or not. Who the hell was Turner? There had been no discussion of a dog, and even
if there had been, were there no dogs in the City?
Gwyn was restless into the evening until she opted for a pill left over from a past trip to
the hospital. The next day, she was on the phone with her friend, Claire.
“And that’s all he said, more or less that he had to see a man about a dog?” Claire asked.
“Nobody goes upstate for business meetings.” Claire was the type who saw no reason for anyone to travel further south than Staten Island unless it was to Miami or Belize. “You were fighting
again, I take it?”
“We fight so much these days.” Gwyn had been flipping through a copy of Vanity Fair,
but couldn’t recall anything that she had seen. She slapped it closed, slung it onto the floor next
to the couch, and pinched her forehead. “He’s never not come home before.”
“Well, he’ll be back. Probably just venting. You should do the same; take the afternoon
and go for a spa. Relax. Or stay overnight; the spa at the Four Seasons is delicious. If you aren’t
there when he gets back, that’ll show him. Check the bank balances, though. Make sure that
there haven’t been any sizeable withdrawals. But don’t call him. Whatever you do, don’t call
him. It’s probably what he wants — for you to be all weepy: ‘Oh, where are you, Dear,’ and all
“I don’t know. I’m alternating between worrying that he is lying dead somewhere, being
pissed off, and just feeling — I don’t know — untethered.”
Gwyn’s next call was to Margaret, who had a different take on it: “He’s probably on a
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, it seems to me like the sort of place that accompanies a comment like that.
Someplace with hunting. Maybe he was borrowing a bird dog. A coonhound, or something.”
“Why on earth would Harold want to shoot raccoons?”
“People go bird hunting. Some of the partners at Jerry’s firm take clients duck and goose
hunting. Apparently, there are a couple of shooting clubs in New Jersey set up like country clubs
where you can order a martini while they launch clay pigeons for you. The kids splash around in the swimming pool on the other side of the clubhouse. Seems odd to me, but, you know.” Margaret said it like she didn’t find either image that far out of the ordinary.
“Oh, who knows, Gwyn. Men who have worked that hard over a career can go a little
cuckoo once they no longer have their routine and the competition for deals, or verdicts, or
whatever. Harold was originally from South Carolina, right? They hunt down there, don’t they?
Maybe he’s looking for something to do with the extra time on his hands since retiring.” Harold
still retained a stake in the firm, but he only went to the office about once a month these days.
“Call the office,” said Margaret. “His old secretary may have seen him come in.”
Gwyn was about to call Nadine, her bridge partner, but decided there was no point. She
could already hear Nadine’s take on things as clearly as if she was standing in front of her: Well,
there has to be a girl involved. Most likely she is young, blonde, and does crazy things in bed.
That’s always what it is. Nadine was still bitter about her two divorces. It bothered Gwyn just
thinking about the lecture she would get from Nadine if she heard the news. She walked over to
the floor-to-ceiling windows and gazed out at the city with her hands on her hips.
Gwyn was sure that the officer had heard correctly, and thought she was being
inappropriately dramatic. “No, not exactly. Something about meeting a guy, and something about
a dog … but not necessarily meeting the guy about the dog — a dog.” She was already getting
frustrated. “That’s all I know. That was three days ago.” Gwen waved her hands then thumped
them down on the reception desk. Her hands were thin with an increasing number of age spots, but not yet frail. She drummed a set of ringed fingers on the counter and surveyed the station.
There was a row of chairs in the hallway near the front desk, an open room to the right where
officers were processing what she thought to be criminals, and some glassed-in offices beyond
the desk. Gwen wasn’t the only woman in the station in a dress and heels, but it seemed that she
was the only one who hadn’t been picked up for solicitation.
“Have you called around to the hospitals, ma’am?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Hospitals. Have you tried calling around?”
“Well, don’t you do that?” Rapport didn’t exactly seem to be building between her and
the officer. The rest of the Q and A similarly failed to impress.
It was only eleven in the morning. Standing on the street in front of the police station at a
loss for what to do, Gwyn decided to take a stroll through Central Park, realizing that she had not
done so in several years. She and Harold used to regularly go to the park when they were
younger, before they started going out to the Hamptons. They had nice views of the park from
their apartment, but they didn’t actually go into it these days — or at least she didn’t. Gwyn
wondered if Harold ducked in from time to time. What else did she not know about him? If he
knew people that bred bird dogs, then what other mysteries might there be?
She walked on. It was a nice day, but her going was slow. She had to take breaks at
intervals and sit on benches to rest. Here and there young couples and the occasional jogger
passed by; some elderly people were also sitting on park benches, some by themselves, others
chatting in groups. She wondered in particular about the ones that were sitting alone. Had his
spouse passed away? Perhaps her partner was confined to a bed with a medical condition? She
was glad that she was not becoming hunched and that she had no signs of cancer — some of her friends had already gone through chemo. Two had passed away in the past year alone. Gwyn
began to feel more relaxed as a sense of gratitude spread. She considered the winding path and
the dappled light.
Conservatory Water, on the other side of the park, she thought. Yes, that’s where she
would go. She and Harold used to have picnics there, and enjoyed watching people sail model
boats around the little pond. Sometimes fathers would be teaching sons to operate the controls;
elsewhere kids played on their own. Sometimes a funny gentleman — always in a captain’s hat
and an ascot — would sail a model clipper ship. If it was a nice day, she and Harold would spread
a blanket and take out sandwiches and fruit. Afterwards, she might read a book and he might
nap. She recalled the splurge she had made on a posh picnic basket that had fitted places for
plates, silverware, and little glasses. It had seemed an extravagant expense to her at the time, but
The sun was high and it was warming up. Gwyn decided she was hungry, but she didn’t
feel like exiting the park to find a restaurant. She estimated that the Loeb Boathouse near the
pond was too ambitious at the pace she was going, even if she could get a reservation. Just
ahead, though, at a bend in the pathway, was a food cart of some kind. Well, sure, why not. How
long had it been since she had eaten from a food cart? It couldn’t kill her.
“What do you have there, young man?”
“Falafel.” He pointed to a laminated photograph of patties of some sort wrapped in
something like a pita with greens and a yogurt sauce. Gwyn wondered how hard it was to keep
yogurt from going bad given the heat on a summer day like today.
“Are you from the Middle East? There is an amazing museum that recently opened in
Abu Dhabi. I’m on the Board of the Museum of Arts and Design here in Manhattan.” As soon as
she said it, she realized that it made no sense. Why would he care about a museum in another
country? Maybe he would, but still; the comment still had no connection to anything. Gwyn was
proud of being on the board, but it dawned on her that she probably mentioned her Board seat
too often at cocktail parties. In fact, she didn’t actually do anything on the Board. Hardly any of
them did. They were there to raise money — or to donate. Gwyn’s stomach fluttered. Maybe she
needed to get some food in her more than she realized.
“I’m from Pakistan. We don’t really eat falafel there, but it sells well here.” He cleared
his throat and examined a chip of paint at the edge of the cart, rubbing it with his thumb.
Gwyn ambled towards another park bench with her meal, a surprisingly heavy foil-
wrapped torpedo swinging inside a plastic grocery bag. In the process, she became aware of the
beginnings of a blister on the pinky toe of her left foot.
The falafel was delicious. Gwyn wanted to go back and give the vendor a tip, mostly to
say that she was sorry for the awkward questions, but what would he think of that? That she was
condescending, odd? Both? A bird had landed in a nearby tree and was singing away. A warbler,
maybe. She wasn’t sure. It was a good spot to think. The change of scenery seemed to change
her opinions about where Harold was — and why he was wherever he was. Claire’s advice about
not reaching out to Harold and monitoring bank accounts now seemed harsh. And she was sure
that Nadine’s likely take on things — that her husband was holed up in a hotel on some kind of
sex binge — was definitely off. But Margaret’s explanation also seemed iffy. She was correct
about him being from South Carolina. Some of his people were “earthy folks” as Gwyn used to
say. She hadn’t meant that as a compliment in the past, but now she pictured Harold out in a flat-
bottomed boat with a retriever amid reeds rustling in the wind, on the lookout for ducks. She
smiled. It was a nice sort of earthy. Not that she could picture herself in that situation, but a guy with his loyal dog, ready to jump into the water and bring back a fallen bird in exchange for
getting rubbed around the ears to an emphatic “attaboy.” Well sure, why not. Maybe Harold had
done that sort of thing as a kid, before college, before moving to New York — before they met. It
was hard for her to picture rural areas without them seeming either artificially quaint or
backward and impoverished. She knew that wasn’t fair, though, and found herself wanting to
know more about his part of the South. Now that Harold was retired, they had time to travel.
Maybe that would be good for them — a road trip in the countryside, staying in regular motels.
That might be just what they needed. Maybe Harold did want to spend more time in the area. He
hadn’t mentioned it, but she was realizing that they didn’t talk much anymore. They scheduled
things, went to events. They discussed the news, politics. But they no longer had the deeper
discussions that used to keep them up late, meandering from literature to the Cold War to travel
experiences over the course of a whole evening, sharing and stumbling across revelations.
Deeper into the park, her feet were really hurting now. The blister was growing, and
causing her to wince with every second step. Gwyn was also starting to sweat, a novel sensation
for her, given that she was usually whisked around the city by a driver in an air-conditioned
Lincoln. A drop rolled down her back and soaked into the top of her underwear. She grimaced,
squirmed — and then smiled. Hobbling to the next bench, she sat down and rubbed her feet,
thinking how nice it would be to take off her high heels and walk in the grass barefoot. Barefoot
in the Park. That old movie! She couldn’t remember who was in it, but yes, that sounded nice.
But: pantyhose. She wasn’t about to go into a public restroom to take them off. She shuddered. A
gentleman in a cap carrying a book and a thermos was nearby, but he had his back to her and was
moving down the path. No one was coming from the other direction at the moment. Without
quite realizing what she was doing, she popped up, shimmied out of her hose, and flopped back down on the bench. Her eyes darted around to see if anyone had seen her. They had not.
Liberation! With the straps of her heels hooked across three fingers of her left hand, she
sashayed over to the trashcan and plopped in the spongy ball of compressed hose. She grinned
and ran her hand along the back of her neck, this time savoring the heat and the singing of the
cicadas. She wished Harold was here, wished he could see her now. Wished that they had not
stopped picnicking at Conservatory Water; wished that they could pass the day watching kids
with their sailboats. Once he turned up, she would bring him back through the park, picking up
falafels along the way.
The faint clicks of a key’s teeth sliding into the door lock put Gwyn on edge. She stood and
turned. Despite staring straight at the door, the clack of the deadbolt made her jump. She was
sure it was Harold, and after calling around to the hospitals in the area, she had been praying that
he would just turn up. She had softened in the days that he had been away and wanted him back.
Much of her time had been spent contemplating what a fresh start would look like if they did get
to have one. Old patterns were hard to break, though.
In her mind, she was rushing forward to give him a kiss, muttering something about “Never mind, Dear.” She could see the scene, as if watching a movie. The film wasn’t playing
properly, though. “Where have you been?” was what came out instead. It was more of a
statement than a question.
“Well, I went to see a man upstate.” Harold’s jaw tightened. He looked at the puppy he
held in his arms, studying Gwyn out of the corner of his eye. He sighed. “Anyway, this little
guy’s name is Mocha.”
“What did you have to get a poodle for. Aren’t they yappy? I’m not going to be the one
cleaning —” It was starting again. No, no, no, no. Why isn’t the movie playing properly? Gwyn
breathed deeply and made an effort to relax her shoulders. “I mean,” she stepped forward and
tickled the puppy under the chin, glad to see herself not pulling back when it slobbered kisses on
her fingers. It was awfully cute. “All these years, and we’ve never had a puppy.”
Sean Winn is a new phase writer whose poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in more than two dozen literary journals, most recently in Belmont Story Review, Spelt Magazine, and Glint. After living in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Indonesia, Sean now calls Austin, Texas home.