This here bench, yeah. This is my bench. You see the reason that this is my bench is because I have been coming to this bench for… oh, a good fifty years or so, give or take a few. Excuse my vagueness; my brain isn’t what it once was. Well, that’s what happens when you get older, I suppose. Your reflexes slow down, you can’t remember a darn thing, hearing is a joke, and that blur right in front of you? Couldn’t tell you what that is until I’m practically on top of it, and sometimes not even then. Sore joints and slow movements don’t stop me though. No, sir. Every day that it’s nice out, I walk the two miles from my little apartment, through the bulk of Central Park, and to my beloved bench.
I don’t know how long the walk takes me. The last time I bothered to check the time was… well, I don’t know. I don’t bother to check the time for much of anything anymore. The only thing I ever care about being on time for is Mass, and usually, I’m a good hour and a half early anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if I’m running late in the morning. These old bones just mosey where they please, when they please whether that be down to the corner to get an old-fashioned hot dog from one of the stands or all the way down to Broadway to see a show.
You know, sitting on this bench gets lonely. Everything does after a while. I guess it’s because I got no one left to me. After Edna died back in 1943, it was all over. It was an accident. A terrible accident. She was only eighteen, much too young to have her life taken from her. She was the only woman I ever loved. Like that anyway. It’s terrible that I had to bury her so young. Edna and I never had the chance to get married, and right about when she died there was the war over in Europe. Having to go fight I didn’t have much of a chance to think about Edna, but when I did, boy did it hurt an awful lot. I vowed to myself that I would never get married, not if I couldn’t marry Edna, so I didn’t. Now it’s just me and my daschund Ike.
Sometimes I bring Ike out here when I need the company. He never knew Edna, but he would’ve liked her. Ike will sit next to me on the bench and just wag his furry butt at all of the children that run past, but he’s a good boy and never takes off after them. You see, the reason this is my bench, is this was where I met Edna. One fall day I was just strolling along, enjoying the colors of the fall leaves in just about the only stretch of remote green space we have in all of New York City, when I saw a woman sitting on the bench. Me being the friendly bloke I am had to step up and at least say a “Good morning” or “Howdy do” to her or something because back in the day, I knew just about everybody, and just about everybody knew me. She must’ve been new or something because I’d never seen her before, and well, you don’t need to hear the rest. I’m sure you all can put two and two together.
Anyway, I sit out here every nice day for anywhere between forty-five minutes and four hours, and that’s just sitting time. That doesn’t count the hour it takes me to get here from my apartment, the hour it takes me to get back, and any time in between that I spend walking where I please. I leave my apartment at nine in the morning most days, sometimes ten if I decide to make myself some steak and eggs or something for breakfast, and I return roundabouts six on long days, four on short. I’ve been all over the city, sometimes all in one week. Some days I get the impulse to walk on over to the Central Park Zoo to see the animals, and other days I have the urge to walk over to Strawberry Fields and see if I can find any street musicians to listen to. Every now and then my sweet tooth bugs to wander over to one of the ice cream carts on the corners, and let me tell you, more often than not, I give in. And these are only the places right near my bench.
I bet you’ve all hear of the bird lady. The one who sits on the steps of Saint Paul’s and feeds all of the little birds? Well, she may be the bird lady, but I’m the squirrel man. I sit on my bench, day after day, and I bring some birdseed for all of the little squirrels. They love birdseed, but no one seems interested in feeding them because they’re all too busy feeding the pigeons that hop around. That’s why I made it my duty to feed the squirrels myself. I’ve even made friends with a few of them. There are three of them to be exact, and their names are Larry, Curly, and Mo, after the Three Stooges. Every day at noon on the dot, they show up at my bench, making their shenanigans all over the place and drawing attention to themselves from anyone who walks by. Once they’ve settled down by 12:30, they’re hungry and ready for their seed.
After Larry, Curly, and Mo go on their merry way, I mostly people watch. I look at the youngsters all on the playground equipment and think back to when I was a boy. I think about my brothers and my sisters, even my nieces and my nephews. I think about how I wish I had kids. How I wish I had grandkids. How I wish I had Edna. I let out a loud sigh, and just as my chest is heaving almost to the point of a wheezing cough, I catch a glimmer of movement out of the corner of my eye. Slowly, I turn my head, and there he is.
A little boy, no more than four with big brown eyes, a button nose, and a baseball cap too big for his little head, sitting on the other end of my bench, swinging his dangling legs in the carefree way children always do. I feel a bit of an internal spasm in my chest, almost like the air is physically stuck from coming out of my lungs. I can’t remember the last time someone actually sat on my bench. Well, Ike does, but Ike’s a dog.
The little boy is humming happily to himself, until he turns his head and sees me sitting on the other end of the bench, looking at him. He stops his humming, but he doesn’t even flinch. Well, he blinks twice, but that’s about it. The kid’s eyes just look innocently into mine. I wonder whether or not I should say something to him. “Hello, little boy, are you lost?” I ask, clearing my throat a little. The little boy shakes his head. “Oh, just resting, then?” He nods. “Oh.”
I look straight ahead, out at all of the cars and taxis driving by on the road. “Hey, Mister? Why do you come here every day?”
I look back at the boy, startled. I suppose it’s not that hard to notice one old man coming to the same bench at about the same time every day for years, but at the same time, it is. There are a lot of people that come in and out of Central Park every day, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this little boy before. I look down at my lap, a little sad. It just reminds me that it’s been ages since the time when everybody knew everybody, not because they were nosy, but because they were friendly. “Well, little boy, I come here every day because this bench is special to me.”
The little boy looks at me again earnestly. “Do you get lonely coming here every day by yourself?” I don’t know how to answer, so I just settle for looking back out at the traffic again, thinking. When my answer doesn’t come, the little boy says, “My name is Johnny.”
I turn toward him again. “Nice to meet you, Johnny. My name is Mr. Kipling.” For a few minutes, Johnny and I sit in silence. He doesn’t hum anymore or ask more questions. He just sits peacefully and gently swings his tyke legs back and forth. The kid reminds me of Forrest Gump. Honest and inquisitive, but not looking farther than what’s right in front of him.
Suddenly, a woman appears in front of us. At first, I can’t get a real good glimpse of her face because her red hat is shielding it from the sun. She says, “There you are, Johnny, I’ve been looking all over for you!”
Johnny, not moving from his seat on the bench, looks up at her and simply replies, “I was just resting, Mommy.”
“Johnny, who’s your friend?” the woman, asks indicating me.
“Mommy, this is Mr. Kipling,” Johnny answers. That’s when she turns toward me, and I see her face in full. It looks so familiar, I could swear that I’ve met her before even though I know I haven’t. It’s the feeling of having known someone in a past life.
Realization washes over the woman’s face. “Mr. Kipling? Hi!” She sticks her hand out for me to shake. I take it, still not clear as to where she knows me from. “I’m Marianne. Marianne Blatz?” The name sends a shockwave of memories coursing through me. Blatz. Edna’s last name. “I’m Edna’s niece. This is my son Johnny.”
“Hi, Marianne. May I say you look just like Edna?” I ask smiling, trying to keep the tears forming in my eyes from leaking out.
“Why thank you. I know she was quite a beauty in her youth. My gosh, has it been ages!” Marianne says. I notice how she talks about Edna like she’s still here, just like I do. I find myself trying to remember the last time I saw Marianne, and in my mix of emotions, I can’t really think too well. “Well, thank you for watching Johnny for me. Johnny, can you say thank you to Mr. Kipling?”
“Thank you, Mr. Kipling,” Johnny says obediently.
“You’re most welcome, little man.”
Marianne offers Johnny her hand, and he puts his little hand in hers as he hops off of the bench. As they start to walk away, Marianne stops. “Mr. Kipling, would you like to come to dinner tonight? We’d love to have you.”
I smile at her, nodding. “I would be most delighted. Thank you.”
“Wonderful. We’re still in the same apartment. I’m sure you remember?”
I nod. “I’ll see you then.” Looking at their retreating backs, I don’t know how long I can keep my tears in. They’re more happy than sad now, but still. I see Johnny turn around to look at me.
“Good-bye, Mr. Kipling! See you for dinner!” Johnny yells, waving the hand that is not holding his mother’s. I wave back. Once Marianne and Johnny are out of sight, I ease myself up off of my bench, using my cane for leverage and thwacking my suspenders a little bit to make sure they’re tight. I adjust my hat a little and start my slow walk home. Just as I get past my bench, I look at the side where E.B. and G.K. are carved into a heart in the wood.
See that bench right there? Yeah, that’s my bench.
I wrote this scene quite awhile ago, but it still remains one of my favorite. I’ve got some new ideas stewing, particularly one for the holidays, so I’m hoping you get you new material hot off the press in the near future. In the meantime, I hope you’ve been enjoying the scenes that I’ve been pulling out of the reserves.