The Park Bench
by Kim Lindquist
He saw her there everyday. And everyday he’d lean up against the old oak tree, pretending to read the paper, but really just stealing glances. Long, chocolate-colored hair. He imagined it smelled as sweet as it looked. Her eyes were the same warm brown, glittering with intelligence. Lips as red as the stripes on peppermint candy. They matched her ribbon, the one she used as a bookmark.
She always carried a book with her, and she would come to the park every morning to sit on the green bench, and to read. Sometimes it was the same book, sometimes it was different. She marked the pages with a long, red ribbon, and when she opened the book she used the ribbon to tie up her hair in a bow. When she was done reading, she let the dark curls fall back around her shoulders. Sitting in contemplation, staring at nothing, twirling the scarlet silk around her slender fingers. After awhile she restored the ribbon to its new place in the story. She’d stand, take a breath, and walk back to wherever it was she came from.
He was new in the city, another man running from his past, but he’d seen her the first day he was walking to his new job, and the air had caught stiff in his throat. It took his all to rip away his eyes and keep walking. But after that, he always got there early and brought his newspaper along. He didn’t know her, and he didn’t want to scare her by approaching her. But he got lost when he watched her read.
Her smiles, the giggles she tried to hide. The tears that welled up in her perfect eyes, wiped away before they could stain her cheek. Her bottom lip, caught between her teeth as her brows furrowed together. He felt like he was taking those journeys with her. Like he was reading the stories as they played out on her face.
After a week, and a particularly tragic ending, he decided he should make contact. Not directly, but he wanted to brighten her day the way she did his. He went to a store and bought two things. A red ribbon, just like hers, and a single red rose. He did his best to tie a sloppy bow around the stem. And the next morning he left it on the park bench before retreating to his tree to watch.
The woman came as always, and sat down a bit surprised. She glanced around, head turning from side to side. No one seemed to notice, so she picked up the flower, holding the bloom to her nose. Her eyes closed, and her lips spread into a smile as she inhaled. Her eyes darted around again, but finding nothing, she bit her lip and set the rose down gingerly next to her. She resigned herself to her book.
The man had to smile to himself, and started off to work, having accomplished his goal. And so he went on doing the same thing every day. Each morning he’d arrive at the park early and leave a rose on the bench, then wait to make sure she got it. In this ritual he felt like he was finally adding a bit of beauty to the world, with every smile that he secretly shared.
She walked down the sidewalk, arms wrapped around a book. She always came to the park to read, every morning. Her father brought her there as a child. Sat her down on the green bench, and wove for her magnificent stories of fantastical things. When he passed, the park was the only place she could feel close to him. She would remember the sweet times, and it made it easier for her to get through the day.
A few weeks ago she was greeted by a pleasant surprise. Someone had left a rose on the bench, tied with a red ribbon, like the one she had. She could only assume it was for her. There was no way to know where it had come from. She hadn’t smelled a rose in years. Her father used to buy them for her mother; a bouquet every Tuesday. This one had smelled just like she remembered, and it made her smile.
And everyday since, when she came to her bench there was a bright red flower waiting for her. Even when she looked around and tried to find this mystery giver, it was to no avail. In this city it was always the same people, doing the same thing, heading to the same job. And so she just couldn’t be sure.
Today she walked with a little excitement, the warm breeze playing with the hem of her skirt. She looked forward to her gift. It felt good to know that someone was thinking about her for once. She had missed that. Turning into the grassy green park, strolling down the paved trail. But when she came to the bench, it was empty. There was nothing there. And there was nothing there ever again.