She was sitting at her window and watching an elfin-like woman with a large leather strapped bag slung over her shoulder, wearing heavy leather sandals, gray-green shorts - longer ones, coming to just above her knees and work-like looking - and a faded black T-shirt. She was accompanied by two tiny couldn’t be more than three and-a-half or four year olds. One blonde, in the white-gold way of a quite young child, a bit like a dandelion gone to seed, and the other a curly headed tot with glossy-brown hair. The woman herself was slender and boyish and wore her dark hair in a neat cap. The three arrived via the walking path, coming out into the sun and into her view and instantly capturing her attention.
The little ones were gamboling like lambs - and yes, she had experienced the real thing and lambs did indeed gambol - a most fun thing to watch. As were these two, who quickly diverted from gamboling to tackling, one each, short stumps set at the side of a high granite table-bench, both children going all out at clambering up.
The stumps were set well into the ground to circle the thick half-moon slab of granite that was, itself, settled onto well-planted stumps. The granite slab was just that bit too high and thick for easy or comfortable sitting but just a right height for a table, with the stumps set out to serve as table seats. This was one of three such granite pieces, each styled a bit differently, all for the pleasure of hill-top walkers.
As a watcher from above, she worried for the safety of the little stump-climbers. The distance from stump-top to ground was about equal to their height and the stumps were set fairly close. But she saw the woman watching quietly with seeming confidence in the children’s climbing skills. Turning back herself to watch, she saw that the two were going nimbly yet cautiously at their self-appointed task, each using just a right combination of agility and care so as to remain safe. She relaxed into the pure pleasure of watching their antics.
Soon enough they achieved the table top, both landing first on their knees then tentatively pulling up onto their feet and lastly standing authoritatively - glancing at each other to mark success. When standing steady and balanced, the woman had them strike poses -- arms wide, legs wide -- straight legged, arms at sides -- a tiny dance with arms out flung -- while the woman took pictures on her phone.
Watching it all from above, she was pleased to see that the woman did not instruct the two to ‘get closer’ or ‘throw your arms around each other,’ as they appeared very together while still maintaining absolute individuality. Leaving them independent of each other was, she thought, smart of the woman. Sensitive. Wise.
Once the picture-taking was over, the dandelion-headed one immediately turned to clamber back down. Already had one foot stretched to reach the nearest stump-top, the other still balanced atop the table, body-weight ready to be fully switched into the move off and down, when the woman called out a command. The child swiveledaround, getting back up in time to see curly-head jump and be caught in mid-leap by the woman, who instantly set to circling around and around, the child’s legs swinging free, both of them laughing and ki-yi-yi-ing. Dandelion-head now stood ready at the edge of the tabletop and its turn, when it came, was an exact repeat of exuberant jump, expert catch and a circled swinging, round and round, accompanied by laughter and ki-yi-yi-ing.
As soon as the dark-haired child was released it had taken to its heels with never a glance back for dandelion’s jump, instead heading off and away at a fast trot, and as soon as dandelion-head’s feet hit the ground, it was running after, to catch up. But the woman hailed them back and they turned obediently to gallop to her. As they reached her side, the woman caught them both in one arm, holding them tight against her to swing them around once more before setting them down.
Audience to all of this - the play and interactions and spontaneous choreography - she couldn’t contain her contact-high and called down to the woman, loudly, “They’re beautiful!” The woman clearly heard a voice, but unsure that it was meant for her, gazed about rather absently, never thinking of course to look up to a window three stories above in a building some 20 feet away. And after that brief pause, the woman turned back to her charges and, together, they wandered off along the fenced-in community garden beds, the woman pointing at what was growing, flowers here and vegetables there, while the little ones looked - but only briefly, more engaged were they in leaping, hopping and skip-running.
Then curly-head stopped abruptly and then hurried to catch the woman’s hand and pull her down to whisper in her ear. Nodding, the woman called the other child back, catching at it as it came near, and leading both children back the way they’d come, but halting at the side of a short boxed-in structure that housed a water tap fitted to a pipe driven into the ground and connecting to city water - one of two such sources for use by gardeners - not meant for drinking so fitted not with a drinking spout but only a free running tap.
It was soon clear the curly haired dark-headed child had had an accident, for the woman was handily stripping off both its bright orange shorts and white under pants. Then, squat-crouched by the now running water spout, the woman held the child by the arm while turning it back and forth, cleaning the child’s bottom with splash-rinse after splash-rinse. Finished with the child, the same treatment was now given pumpkin-colored shorts and underpants, water spraying and glinting, bright in the sun, as the woman worked. Dandelion-child, intrepid and bored by this homely spectacle, took itself off to the near-by school gardens, where it was soon picking and eating berries from the raspberry bush at a corner garden bed.
The curly-headed child was playing in the water, soon devising a means of keeping its balance while raising a sneakered foot high enough to be placed squarely in the flow of streaming water, and then quickly reversed its stance to give the other foot equal car-wash service. The woman, busy wringing water from both underpants and shorts, saw this maneuver too late to do more than shake her head at the child, now happily stomping its soaked sneaker-feet and batting its hands in the water to make it spray. When the woman rose, she held the wet clothing in one hand and used the other, first tousling the child’s dark curly hair and then batting gently at it’s naked buttocks, so that the child bucked and waggled and giggled.
But now it seemed dandelion-head had had enough of the ripe berries and was tired of wrestling with the sharp thorns and whip-like canes of the raspberry bush. Now standing, it worked at cleaning its hands by giving long and careful tongue licks to first fingers and then palms, alternating licks with vigorous scrubbing of hands down the sides of its lime-green shorts. Finally free, it appeared, from the worst stickinesses, dandelion-head gave a last brisk swipe of each hand to its pants’ seat and - started for the street.
She set herself to yell a warning, louder this time. But the woman had sensed something herself. Draping the wet clothing atop the water tap, she reached for for the clean buttocks-ed child. A quick glance around showed her where dandelion-head was and where it was headed. When her call to come back had no effect other than to speed the child on its way, the woman took off running, in hot pursuit, bare-butted child securely hip-slung, holding to and being held tightly, by the woman.
She got there. The miscreant blonde handily caught, fugitive run-away successfully corralled, any intent regarding the street neatly contravened. Then, turning both children back toward the water tap, the woman followed behind until they were all safely arrived without further ado or todo. Dandelion-head was quick to set about making a grand splash-around in the running water, while the woman knelt and helped the naked-bottomed child don a fresh pair of underpants, pulled from the woman’s bag. Then, under her instruction, dandelion-head turned off the water, stilling the flow to a few final drips.
Tasks completed, the woman remained scooched down, elbows on knees, regarding both children -- the one busily hopping in the puddled water, the other busily hauling its clothing into place. When the woman stood, she scooped them both close for a hug. Then, plucking up shorts and underwear and winding them through a leather strap of her bag, where they hung damply, she motioned the children ahead of her, and ... .
And, they were gone. Disappeared. With no sign they had ever been, except for the puddle of muddy water at the base of the water tap. Between watching one moment and looking back down at her book the next, at some point in that tiny gap, the small family of three had left. Were gone. Out of her sight. She had no idea in which direction.
The contact high lingered to color the rest of her day, curly- and dandelion-headed children cavorting here and there in her dreams that night. But she never saw the small group again. They were gone. And left behind was this new slice of hill-top life. Another short story-chapter in her summer novella. Peopled by those who travel through or along or past or come to work in the gardens -- all on the hill-top, lying beneath her windows.