Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday afternoon, 4 pm

At the statue opposite the library the line of people waiting for a photograph is four families deep. Cameras are exchanged with a minimum of solicitude, 'just press this button' being the order of the day. Reluctant teenagers are prodded into posing on the steps of the statue by their proud parents; they stand there self-conscious, afraid of being seen. Sometimes their parents join them, which makes them relax a little, perhaps because they feel camouflaged in the midst of their family, perhaps because the presence of their parents in the photograph means that posterity will know this was not their idea.

After the families leave, a squirrel climbs up to the top of the base, crouches at the statue's feet and nibbles away at a morsel, supremely unaware of being watched. Above it, Ben Franklin clutches the arms of his chair, trying to decide whether to scowl or look aloof.

Long lozenges of light melt on the summer lawn. A church bell intones the hour, a baritone rehearsing his notes. In the silence that follows, the rustling of leaves in the wind sounds like distant applause, as though the trees were praising the sky for its blue.

By the flight of steps that lead out of the park, a trio of long-haired teenagers is clattering back and forth on skateboards, practicing the geometry of defiance. They are ignored by the great halls of the University, which have learned to hold their peace.

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