Sundays in the park
with Erik and Charles
are always a challenge.
Erik is edgy without his helmet,
which is too conspicuous
for a quiet public outing,
and he won't let Charles
blur it from the minds of the crowd.
Charles is edgy on the rough pavement,
which makes his wheelchair rattle over the cracks,
and he won't allow Erik
to lift him smoothly over them.
Their honor guards fare no better,
Raven in her blond guise glaring
at Alex from over Erik's shoulder,
and Alex fidgeting with his shirt
as if wishing for his battle harness.
But at least this way
Charles and Raven, Erik and Alex
can see each other
and each know the other is all right,
for sufficiently lenient values of "all right."
Charles and Erik square off
at the chessboard,
tossing a wooden nickel to determine
who will take white or black,
because they have learned to admit
that they are equals in skill and --
while their preferences differ --
each has borrowed from the other's methods
They speak little
but the air hangs heavy with intent
as the pieces move about the board.
Here, and only here,
they allow each other free rein,
Charles lightly sending his desired moves
and Erik manipulating all the pieces with his gift,
because politics and personal issues aside,
mutation is still groovy
and both of them hunger for someone
who can appreciate the pure beauty of it.
Sometimes the games go quickly,
one of them devouring the other's pieces,
flickering through five or six rounds in a single outing.
Other times, the play drags out,
and they have been known to stall all morning
only to end in a draw at lunch time.
They play for the joy and the heartache of it,
because they cannot bear to stop,
to leave everything forever unfinished between them.
This may be the only place they ever see eye-to-eye
but it is better than nothing
and they have learned
to take what they can get.
They rarely get through an excursion
without someone causing trouble,
and it's rarely either of their parties at fault.
The snotty girl who calls Charles a cripple
somehow trips over her penny loafers
to land in the mud puddle under the water fountain.
Charles rolls his eyes at Erik
and hides a smile.
The punk who slings anti-Semitic slurs at Erik
earns a sharp glare from Charles,
then suddenly asks the pig-tailed little girls
if he may join their game of jump-rope.
They let him in, to howls of laughter from his friends
who will never let him live this down for the rest of his life.
Erik does not bother to conceal his shark-like grin.
At lunch time,
they shake hands over the board
before packing it away.
This is the only time they touch,
but they linger just that moment longer
before letting go.
They have learned
to take what they can get, and
to get what they can before it is taken away.