“Excuse me, ma’am, but you can’t do that here.” The policeman gestures toward me with his night stick. I squint at him as he sways in and out of the bright sun, straddling a muscular chestnut gelding. The horse’s smell is pungent and earthy, and mingles with the other park smells of dirt and grass and sun-baked paint.
“But I’m not doing anything,” I say. His shadow falls on me as he moves back into the sun’s light. He points the stick at my shoulder.
“You’ll have to move along,” he says, pulling back on the reins with his other hand. I look down at the lump under my blouse and hold the baby closer to my breast. I caress her tiny bare foot with one fingerand look back at him.
“But nothing’s showing,” I say, and it’s true. My nursing blouse has a modesty panel that hides my breast and the baby’s head. The towel draped over my shoulder is a second layer. Even so, the way he looks at me makes me feel exposed and ashamed. He taps the night stick twice against his boot, a soft, leathery sound that is hard and unyielding at the same time. I pull the baby’s bag toward me to pack up.
I look up at him when I pull the towel off my shoulder. The horse sways again and I catch my breath when the sunlight falls on the policeman’s face. I know that expression. It’s the one my father wore when I was a teenager, when he’d see my lacy white bras in the laundry basket or a box of tampons in the grocery cart. He would stare at me and clench his jaw until I quietly hid the offending item behind something else. I look at my daughter, already hidden beneath layers of clothing. Hidden.
“No. I’m not leaving.” I stare up at him without squinting, my eyes watering from the sun, and begin to unbutton the panel on my blouse. His angry stare and gritted teeth make him look even more like my father. I undo the buttons one at a time as he stares, gripping the night stick. When the sunlight falls on the baby’s face, she makes a small sound and pushes into me. Surprised, the policeman and I both look at her, and the spell is broken.
I am a little disappointed when he jerks the horse’s reins and trots away, leaving me with only the memory of my father to fight. I look down at the baby’s closed eyes and sit back in the sun without reaching for the towel.