Sarp Sozdinler

Erasmus Park

Erasmus Park, where I found you reading that thick black book in the canopy of an oak tree—the oak tree, the one that looked like Mr. Dunleavy, our hunchbacked English teacher, as you’d so often say to make me laugh. You claimed it was a guidebook for troubled children like you but then it turned out to be a Turkish translation of the Bible, which you said you were reading for practice, and I said, practice for what? and that was when you launched into this monologue about life and death and fourth-dimensional deities for god knows why, and I admit I felt really sleepy at one point but just continued nodding along to make a good first impression, me a target practice, you the gun. As you went on, I thought I saw a shadow lurking behind you at one point, watching us with its big red eyes from behind the bushes of yews, but maybe I was just having another daydream in which you and I actually lent an ear to each other.

Erasmus Park, where we came across this wedding on an unseasonably warm October afternoon, you overdressed in your father’s beige turtleneck, me in a perv-repellent flat white t-shirt. The groom was wearing this funny-looking red tweed jacket and later on we found out that he owed his fashion choice to some obscure Kazakh tradition, and that his profession had something to do with singing ballads of his homeland to wild birds, so those birds could teach it to other birds, and so on and on, until the Kazakh language is spoken among all the birds of the Caspian Sea. We nodded along the whole time to feign interest and then drank and laughed ourselves senseless until it was midnight, which was about when we started blaring our lungs out to some Kazakh songs together, though we didn’t understand a word of it. Adele was crying about being in an ex’s arms on the stereo on our way back home, and I remember glancing out the window at some point and meeting eyes with this big black bird perched on top of the traffic lights, cawing and perhaps mocking us, in its own way, in some faraway language.

Erasmus Park, where you and I had a few beers on a bench the day after my Nana died. We were watching this family of swans fighting each other with their wing slaps and squawks. There was a fine mist over the pond that morning, obscuring the sky and stilling the waters underneath with absolutely zero room for reflection. After downing your first bottle, you flicked the cap into the pond, which skipped along the surface of the water like a stone. It almost hit one of the smaller swans, and that was when the mother swan started squawking really loudly, which sounded like Nana scolding me and you and my cousins when we were kids, teaching her younglings what winning looks like even when it feels the other way around. A teardrop crept lazily along my cheeks that day and found its way onto the muddy ground below my feet. With each passing second, my tears turned more and more into a pond of their own, the parts of which the ants started ferrying back home as if the seeds of my agony could help them make new memories for others come wintertime.

Erasmus Park, where we went ice skating on what was decidedly the coldest day of the decade. We hadn’t been able to leave our apartments for a while by then, and no one was really having fun or traveling anywhere anymore. The snow was above ankle-length that day, which made our little foray into this thick white cover of oblivion a little more difficult than it had to be, as was usually the case with you and me and everything we did. The pond was frozen at that time of year, and this kid at the next table asked his mother what would happen to the swans when the pond was covered with ice, me a microphone, she a footlong loudspeaker. The mother replied: They go to sleep. I, too, chose to believe her. From across the table, I looked at you in the same way the kid did his mother, but you were too busy separating the fries that didn’t touch the mustard from the ones that did without asking me first, though probably because of the weather and your poor allocation of resources the whole plate had already turned into mush.

Erasmus Park, where you flirted with that Filipino boy at Kiki’s farewell party the day before we visited your mother for our little spring break. He was wearing a collarless Free Britney tee and you my favorite red flannel shirt that you’d swiped on the grounds it didn’t look as good on me as it did on you. You didn’t realize I was flushed with something close to jealousy the whole time—but also, curiously, relief. Relief that we’d finally found a way to enjoy life even without having to move on from one another, like two domesticated animals tied to each other with an ever-shortening leash. Your face looked strangely animated as you two laughed at each other’s inaudible jokes, and I kept wondering what could be so funny to make you not turn to look at me even for just a second. That was the day you whistled the tunes to Hit Me Baby One More Time on our ride back home, over and over, while the pond of my tears had frozen sitting next to you, in front of the AC, only for entirely different reasons.

Erasmus Park, where you told me we should meet for lunch just three days before my finals started and three weeks after I’d last heard from you. Your voice sounded like an obituary of something long lost on the phone, and I didn’t even know how to say no to you, as usual. We met at this newly-opened cafeteria by the pond you picked for reasons that still escaped me. Maybe the diehard romantic in you was trying to rekindle our flame for one more round or just pull off one last symbolic gesture by steering us through the park where we’d first met each other. We ordered Aperols upfront, though I’d lost my appetite by that point. You looked gorgeous as always and more confident than usual in that electric-blue blazer of yours, but also strangely broken as if the blood of everything that made you you had clotted from around the edges and choked you inside out. We threw furtive glances at each other the entire afternoon and pretended none of them was intentional as if silence were a language none of us yet knew how to speak. That was when I decided to reach over the table and hold your hand, not to convince you otherwise or anything—on the contrary, to tell you in a way that I know, that I understand what time can do to people, even those who love each other most, that we are not too different from ants after all, that we try and try until we can’t, until there are no more parts to carry back home, that despite all the evidence to the contrary it’s all going to be fine in the end.

Erasmus Park, where I saw you years later under the shade of the same oak tree I’d first met you, the pond having left its place to a playground and Mr. Dunleavy to ashes and dust. Despite the uproar of the kids in your vicinity, your head was yet again buried in a book, this time a considerably thinner paperback, most likely as an outcome of your worsened eyesight or your changed habits in all the years we’d been together. Maybe it was also why you didn’t take notice of that man who looked painfully younger than you but obviously couldn’t help checking you out from the neighboring bench in the same way I’d once checked you, so I stood there and waited for him to make his move as if I were watching a documentary of two animals finding and losing each other in the wild. After enough time had passed, he probably got bored of your indifference and decided to leave you in your own dark—you clueless as ever, me gazing about to spot a pair of red eyes in the bushes, or a family of swans that had long made peace with each other, but all I could find was this pigeon that was perched on one of the higher branches of the oak tree overhead, watching over our past and present, wishing the best for you, for me, for swans, my Nana, my sagging body, my lonesome being. Maybe because of the heat, I thought for a second the bird warbled in what resembled the Kazakh language from all those years ago, then flew away to join its friends over the Caspian Sea and tell them, in its obscure symmetry, all about you and me.


Sarp Sozdinler is a writer of Turkish descent, and has been published in Electric Literature, Kenyon Review, Masters Review, DIAGRAM, Normal School, Vestal Review, Hobart, Maudlin House, and American Literary Review, among other places. His stories have been selected or nominated for anthologies (Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, Wigleaf Top 50) and awarded a finalist status at various literary contests, including the 2022 Los Angeles Review Flash Fiction Award. He’s currently at work on his first novel in Philadelphia and Amsterdam: