~This piece previously appeared in North American Review (2003)
From the bouncy spring rocket ship ride on the playground where he sits, Sean watches the orange-suited convicts rake litter and brush from the shoulders of the asphalt that wraps around the crescent-shaped beach. He remembers that Key West’s motto is “One Human Family.” Sean doesn’t know why he remembers this but it comes to him seated here now, watching his children run loudly from the swings to the colorful slides, which despite being made from some sort of space-age polymer designed to remain cool to the touch in direct sunlight are, he knows, already too hot for their tiny hands. Too hot before noon even this time of year on a disastrous Christmas vacation. Disastrous because Sean is hung over, because he feels so genuinely guilty about drinking again last night after two years on the wagon that he’s caved to his wife Carmen’s demands, and taken the kids to Astro City Park, the only playground they could find, and guilty because he knows that the convicts aren’t included in Key West’s tourist brochures, though he is just now beginning to believe that the convicts in their orange suits have more freedom than he does.
Sean tries to resist this train wreck of thought, when it is flicked from his consciousness like an errant mosquito as Chai, the younger of the children, trips, falling head first into the steps of the playground slides. With a quickness that amazes him, Sean has moved across the hot sand and is scooping up his toddler before she realizes she’s hurt, actually bleeding. She’s got a bloody nose and Sean knows it’s got to be painful as he brushes sand away, and rocks her gently in his arms. Bobby, the oldest, appears simultaneously in the opening of the tunnel slide at Sean’s feet. His son’s glee quickly turning to concern, fear. Sean can see his boy pointing. He looks down. Chai has bled all over Sean’s brand new Hawaiian shirt.