The Bench, continued
Long shadows fall all around the empty bench. The clock tower stands sentinel. No footprints mar the glistening snow that blankets the ground. Only sun and shadows touch the cushion of snow on the seat. The bitter Alaska wind has dashed the layer of snow completely off one wooden arm rest, while it gently draped the snow over the other arm rest, like a scarf left behind.
By the time he finally asked her to go to the summer dance, she was already in love with him. He was her brother’s best friend and he was always around their house. This was the first date for both of them. When she went to answer the door, her grandmother came down the stairs and wrapped a maroon silk scarf around the girl’s neck. Her face grew bright and she kissed her grandmother’s cheek. She had coveted the scarf ever since her grandfather had given it to her grandmother when the girl was only seven.
The dance was wonderful and the young couple were in young love. The scarf was left behind and it was weeks before the girl even remembered it, she was so caught up in the heady feelings of love. By then she was getting ready to fly out of state to stay with her oldest sister for the summer and he was barred from their home after a fight with her brother. The boy found out she was leaving and raced to the airport with the scarf in his pocket. He had slipped it in his pocket when she dropped it at the dance and hadn’t had the chance to return it. He couldn’t find a parking spot and by the time he got to her gate she was gone.
They didn’t see each other again until they were in their 50’s. They had both raised families, been married and divorced. She was back in their home town to help her brother recover from surgery. The boy, who was now a man, still lived in town and stopped in to visit his old friend. They had made up years ago and were now very close. When she walked from the kitchen, to her brother’s hospital bed in the living room, she saw a stranger standing by his side. They both stood frozen and stared at each other, while her brother smiled from his propped pillow.
She stayed in town for five weeks while her brother recovered. Although her first (and new) love only lived a few blocks away, they only saw each other occasionally, at her brother’s bedside. The rest of the time they talked on the phone, catching up, late into the night. She spent most of her waking hours caring for her brother and his home and visiting her nieces and nephews at their house. The couple had found love again and by the time she was ready to go back to her home in Alaska, they had made plans for him to come stay with her later that summer.
He put his house on the market, sold or gave away all his belongings, and moved lock, stock and barrel, to be with her in Alaska. He rented a car at the Anchorage airport and carefully followed her written directions. She walked to the small park near her house and smiled as he walked toward her. They hugged and kissed for the first time since they were kids and he lovingly slipped the maroon silk scarf around her neck as they lowered themselves onto the park bench.
Two months after their deaths, I had the worn bench replaced with one that includes an engraved plaque in memory of the couple who had spent many afternoons over the last 40 years enjoying each other’s company in that little park. The old worn out bench has a pace of honor in the entry of my condo. I can see both benches while standing at my sink.
Patti Hall 2014