“Poor baby,” said the snake. “The big one, I mean. With the little one making all that f—— noise–does she ever shut up?”
“No, you listen.” A long-fingered hand took hold of Karen’s arm. The one she held Zoe with. “You listen, what the f— you running away like some idiot make-me-chase-you-sweat-up-my-suit?”
“Your baby should shut the f— up, understand? Your baby should learn a little discipline, know what I mean? No one learns discipline how’s it gonna be?”
Karen didn’t answer.
“You know?” said the snake. “How’s it gonna be the puppy learns discipline when the bitch don’t know it? You tell me that, huh?”
He slapped her face. Not hard enough to sting, just a touch really. Worse than pain.
“You and me,” he said, squeezing her arm. “We got things to talk about.”
“What?” Panic tightened Karen’s voice. “I’m just visiting from–“
“Shut up. And shut the goddamn baby up too–“
“I can’t help it if–“
A hard slap rocked Karen’s head. “No, bitch. Don’t argue. You notice what we were eating back there?”
Karen shook her head.
“Sure you did, I saw you look. What was it?”
“Veal. You know what veal is, sweet-cheeks?”
“‘Zactly. Baby cow.” Winking. “Something can be young and cute, go bah-bah, moo-moo, but it don’t matter s— when people’s needs are involved, you know what I’m saying?”
He licked his lips. The hand on her arm moved to Zoe’s arm. Pulling.
Karen pulled back and managed to free Zoe. He laughed.
Tripping backward, Karen said, “Leave me alone,” in a too-weak voice.
“Yeah, sure,” said the snake. “All alone.”
The long-fingered hands became fists and he inched toward her. Slowly, enjoying it. The park so silent. No one here, dangerous part of town.
Karen kept retreating, Zoe wailing.
The snake advanced.
Raising a fist. Touching his knuckles with the other hand.
Suddenly, Karen was moving faster, as if her ankle had never been injured.
Moving with an athlete’s grace. Placing Zoe on the grass gently, she stepped to the left while reaching into the big, heavy denim bag.
All the things you had to carry.
Zoe cried louder, screaming, and the snake’s eyes snapped to the baby.
Let’s hear it for distraction.
The snake looked back at Karen.
Karen brought something out of the bag, small and shiny.