Chuck Wendig: Who Had Been There?

This week’s Chuck Wending Flash Fiction Challenge is entitled Song Lyric Story.  Our instructions are to take something from a song that has caught our eye and turn it into a story of 1,000 words or less.  I used 998.  I sort of did one of these last year, using a song title from Jason and the Scorchers as inspiration.  For this story I turned to one of the seminal bands of my college years–who are still going strong today–They Might Be Giants.  The song is “Ana Ng” and I am referencing one particular line from the song, “Why was the bench still warm?  Who had been there?”  I’ve always been entranced by that line and the song itself.  Please to enjoy my story.  Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think.


WHO HAD BEEN THERE?

An elderly man sat on the bench, the ghost of a smile on his face.  His hand touched the worn wooden seat, moving slowly back and forth.  Softly, almost reverently, he patted the seat, as if inviting another to sit beside him.  Nearby, children shrieked and frolicked in the fountain, sending spray into the air.  A fine mist refracted the sunlight into a rainbow.  He didn’t notice, though.  His gaze was inward.

One of the adults supervising the kids at play was his daughter.  She came over and accepted his unintended invitation, sitting down next to him.  She reached down and took his hand.  His head came up.  He didn’t meet her eyes, though; his gaze went through her to a spot somewhere far beyond her.

“What’s on your mind, Pop?” she asked.  “What’re you looking at?”

He sighed and took his hat off with his free hand.  Untangling his fingers from hers he reached up and scratched his head.  “Nothing, really.  Just some old memories.”  She narrowed her eyes and gave him a look that promised more questions.  He chuckled.  “I’m thinking about the great love of my life,” he said.

“Mom?  What’s got you thinking about her?””

He shook his head.  “No, not Mom.”  His daughter’s eyes widened.  He smiled again, small and tender.  “I loved her with all my soul but she wasn’t my greatest love.  She wasn’t the one in the deepest corner of my heart.”

“Did she know that?”  His daughter’s tone was arch, her smile teasing.

He considered her question seriously, though.  “I think so,” he said, “but I was never really sure.”

His daughter’s eyebrows lowered.  She caught his seriousness.  “Tell me,” she said.  “Who was she?”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “I never even saw her face.”  He fell silent.  In the background, the children continued to play and laugh.  She turned away to make sure her own daughter was still in sight, then turned back to her father.

“Tell me,” she said again.

It was July 4, 1964.  The parade was over and it was time for the opening ceremony for the new fountain in the park.  He moved through the crowd towards the site.  He had been coming to the park each day to follow the progress of the fountain’s construction.

He had been there when they poured the concrete base.  He had been there when they raised the memorial statue on its plinth in the middle.  One of his colleagues had actually written the words that were engraved in the marble of the plinth, dedicating the fountain to the memory of the town’s honored dead, killed in wars going back almost 250 years.  He wanted to be there when they officially unveiled the statue and started the water flowing.  He felt like it was his fountain.  He wanted be there to share it with everyone else for the first time.

He approached the plaza.  The congregation was gathering.  In front of him he saw a bench, the bench he had been sitting on each day when he came over to watch the construction.  It was his fountain.  This was his bench.

Someone was sitting on it.  A young woman, he though.  He was approaching the bench from behind.  He could see that she had dark hair, a graceful neck, and, as she suddenly stood, a supple figure.  She was breathtaking.  She hurried off in the other direction without turning around just as he arrived at the bench.  He craned his neck to watch her go, but she quickly disappeared into the crowd.  He never saw her face.

He sat down and touched the bench where she had been sitting.  It was warm.

“I never knew who she was,” he told his daughter, more than fifty years later.  “I thought about her, though.  I imagined that I had called to her and she had come back and sat with me to watch the fountain.  Then, in my mind, we went to dinner after and the rest of our lives were set.  Even now a day rarely passes that I don’t wonder who she was and what happened to her.”

“It was this bench, wasn’t it?” his daughter asked, patting the armrest.

He nodded.  “She sat where you’re sitting right now.”

“You probably know her, you know,” said his daughter.  “You’ve lived in this town your entire life.  She probably has too.”

“I don’t think so,” he said.  “I’m sure I would have known her if I’d seen her again, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen anyone who reminded me of her.  I’m positive I’ve never seen her again.”

“But you’ve never forgotten her.”

He shrugged.  “What can I say?  It was one of those timeless moments.  What do they call them?  It was a ‘sapphire bullet of pure love’.”  His daughter laughed.

“That’s quite a story,” she said.  “And Mom never knew?”

“She knew the bench meant something to me,” he said.  “We used to come here and sit while you played on the Green.”

“I remember,” she said.  “You would put your arm around her and the two of you would put your heads together and talk and smile.”

“And I’d steal a kiss every so often.”  They both laughed, then he grew serious.  “But every now and then, even though I was with your mother and she was the light of my life…every now and then I would wish I was with the girl I had seen that day.  The one who stole my heart without ever seeing my face.”

“And you still come here,” she said.  “Are you hoping you’ll come to the park one day and find her sitting on the bench, waiting for you?”

He shook his head.  “No,” he said.  “I come here to watch my grandson play in my fountain.  Speaking of which…”  He pointed and she hurried towards the fountain to break up an argument.

Alone, he rubbed the seat again, and closed his eyes.  And he hoped.

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