Short Story: The Bench

I met my wife on this bench.
I was daydreaming, watching ducks float in the lake when I first saw her. She was running along the bike path, her face full of determination. I expected her to run right past, but she stopped right in front of me instead, kneeling to re-tie her shoes.
She shot me a quick glance as she knelt in front of me, her curly hair tied back in a bun, sweat dampening her shirt. Yet, despite her obvious exhaustion, she seemed… alive.
Nervous and suddenly sweating even more than her, I tried to think of something clever to say…
“I like your shoes,” I said, mentally kicking myself.
She gave me a quizzical look as she finished tying her pink running shoes and took out her earphones. “What?”
Supremely embarrassed, I looked into her eyes and managed a stutter. “Um, I said that I… like your shoes.”
She gave me a weird look, obviously unsure of what to make of me. I didn’t blame her.
“I mean… they look good on you, is all,” I said, giving her a tentative smile in an attempt to seem less creepy.
“Thanks,” she said, returning the smile, “your uniform looks good on you.”
My heart leaped. “Thanks. I iron it myself,” I said, smiling like an idiot.
She nodded sagely, a grin forming on her lips. “Isn’t that mandatory?”
I shrugged, declining to answer.
Her grin broke into a full-out smile. “So when do you ship out?” she asked.
I frowned. “Two days, actually. That’s why I came out here. To re-evaluate my life choices.”
She let out a full-throated laugh, her eyes sparkling as they looked back at me. It was the first time I’d ever made her laugh, and it’s still one of my fondest memories.
“Then we better make this time count then,” she said, holding her hand out. “I’m Sarah.”
I wiped the sweat off on my pants before taking her hand. “Andrew.”

“Then what happened?” Grant asked, taking notes in his little moleskin notebook.
I sighed, wiping away a tear from my eye as I looked out over the lake.
We were sitting on the wooden bench, still damp from the rain that morning. I didn’t mind, running my hand down the arm of the bench, dragging my fingers against the grain as I drug up memories long past.
“What was your project about, again?” I asked, eyeing the young boy.
“To ask a stranger their life story.” He said casually, his pen poised over the notebook.
I eyed him distrustfully for a moment. “It’s not a very happy story.”
Grant shrugged, looking at me expectantly.
“Alright then,” I relented.

I fell in love with Sarah over those next two days. She thought I was foolish for believing that, but it’s true.
She was smart. Smarter than anyone gave her credit for. And she never failed to make me laugh, even in my darkest moods. In a world full of so much suffering, she shined. A lone spark of hope.
But that third morning I left for war… It’s not something I like to talk about. And to tell you the truth, I’ve blocked much of it out. If I start dredging through memories… well, I’d rather not.
Suffice it to say that I was deployed for two years, but only about a third of that time was spent fighting. The rest of those two years were spent thinking about Sarah.
I didn’t send her any letters. She told me not to. But I wrote them anyway and held on to each and every one of them.
But before I could come back to Sarah, I got injured.

Grant stopped writing just long enough to look down at Andrew’s arm, his eyes alight with curiosity.
“And then I came home early,” I said lightly, eyeing Grant.
“But…” Grant said, still staring at my arm.
“But what?” I prompted.
“But, how did it happen?” Grant asked nervously.
I shook my head at the boy. “I told you I didn’t want to talk about the war.”
Grant nodded, his face fallen in disappointment as he readied his pen for more notes.
I rolled my eyes. “My arm was blown clean off,” I said, raising what was left of my right arm.
Grant’s eyes widened, taken aback.
“And that’s all there is to it,” I said, lowering my arm.
Grant nodded vigorously, his eyes still focused on the stub sticking out from my sleeve.
“So,” I continued, “I went home early.”

I was embarrassed to see her again. I didn’t even want my mother to see me the way I was then. I felt half a man.
Still, I looked for her, hoping that when I found her she would look past my injury.
I had built up this image of her while I was away. I imagined her just as she was when I first saw her. I thought about what I would do when I saw her again. What I would say.
We had arranged to meet at this same bench. I arrived early, dressed in my military uniform and sweating with nerves. I was close to bursting with anticipation when I saw her walking down the bike path, just like that very first day.
When I saw her, all other thoughts escaped my mind. The only thing I could think about was how lucky I was to see her again.
She wore a flower dress with sandals, her hair loose around her shoulders. Her eyes lit up when she saw me, a smile breaking out on her face.
I stood, fidgeting with my hand as she walked toward me, unsure of what to do. I wanted to run to her, but didn’t want to make a fool of myself.
I knew the exact moment she noticed my missing arm, her smile faltering, her eyes squinting in concern.
“Didn’t you have two of those before?” she said, her eyes twinkling.
I smiled, feeling a weight lift from me. “They were pretty strict,” I said playfully. “I couldn’t leave early unless I left a part of me behind.”
She came to a stop right in front of me, smiling as if no time had passed at all.
Blindingly nervous, I gave her half a hug before taking a seat.
“How are you?” I asked, nervously fiddling with my jacket.
She sat on the bench next to me and took my hand in hers. “I’m good,” she said… “A lot has happened.”
I nodded, focused on the warmth of her hands. “For me too, obviously.”
“Was it terrible?” she asked, her eyes full of concern.
“The war? Not really. Not most of it anyway.”
“And… losing your arm?”
I shrugged. “It wasn’t the most pleasant thing I’ve ever experienced, but it brought me back to you.”
She smiled sweetly, stroking my hand.
“What about you?” I asked. “Was it terrible… being here without me?”
She scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Not so terrible as losing an arm, I would think.”
I shrugged again, smiling back at her. That was when I noticed the ring on her finger.
For a few moments I just stared at it, trying to process what it meant.
“Are you engaged?” I choked.
Her face wilted. “Married,” she admitted.
I pulled my hand away, trying to hide the fact that I was shaking.
“I didn’t know how to tell you,” she whispered.
I shook my head, not knowing how to respond.
“I told you not to wait for me,” she said, a single tear falling down her face.
I couldn’t look at her, running my hand through my hair. I was shaking with anger. At her for moving on, but more so at myself for expecting anything else. She didn’t owe me anything.
I looked at her one last time, forcing the barest hint of a smile onto my face before walking away. I felt broken and lost, but I never looked back.

“But you got married,” Grant said, frowning at me.
I chuckled. “Yes, years later.”
“Can we skip ahead, then?”
I sighed, taking a swig from my bottle, watching the sun begin to set over the lake. “Might as well.”

Three years later, Sarah divorced her husband. I didn’t realize it at first. I wasn’t really in a place to keep tabs on anyone, seeing as I was dealing with my own things.
During those three years, my mother died suddenly. She had lung cancer. I spent all the money I had trying to treat her, but she died anyway.
We only had each other at the end, and then I had no one. She asked me to decide where to spread her ashes. I chose this lake. Not long after, I lost the house along with most everything else. Still, I never loved anyone else.
It was sometime after that when I found out Sarah was divorced. She had apparently tried to reach me for a long time before she finally succeeded. She found me at this very bench, watching over my mother.
I almost didn’t recognize her when she walked up to my bench. She had aged so much over those five years, but she was more beautiful than ever.
As soon as I recognized her, I pulled her into an embrace, overjoyed at the sight of someone I cared about.
She hugged me back, holding me even tighter when I eventually tried to pull away.
I don’t know how much time passed before we let go.
As soon as we sat down on the bench, I couldn’t help but look at her hands. There was no ring.
I proposed to her sixth months later. We were at this bench, and I read to her every letter I’d ever written to her over the years. We both cried. A lot. And it was the happiest day of my life.

“And you both lived happily ever after,” Grant said hesitantly.
I shook my head, gesturing around me with my hand. The park was empty except for my box full of letters and the ducks floating in the lake. “If we lived happily ever after, then where’s Sarah? I told you this wasn’t a happy story.”
Grant shifted uncomfortably. “Well, for a while then, at least, right?”
I nodded, already lost in my memories. “For a while.”

We were happy for a time, but like all things on this earth, it didn’t last. It turns out, Sarah wasn’t perfect, and neither was I.
I still loved her. More than she ever knew. But marriage was hard. Even harder than war.
I hated myself for thinking this, but I began to understand why my father left us when I was little. It didn’t make what he did any better, but at least I understood. He was weak, and so was I.
I eventually turned to alcohol. It became my crutch. My escape from the stresses of marriage and the memories of war.
It was reasonable at first, but then it got worse and worse until it had taken over my life. Alcohol had enslaved me, and it had enslaved our marriage.

“So you got divorced?” Grant asked, strangely somber.
“Not divorced,” I said, “but separated. She was right to leave me. She deserved better.”
Grant’s hands shook, for once not taking notes. “I’m sorry.”
I shrugged. “It’s not your fault. The blame was entirely on me. Anyway, before she left me, we had a child. A little boy named Bryan. He was fourteen months old when she left with him.”
“And you never saw them again?”
I kept my gaze on the lake, trying to hold myself together. “No. That was about twenty years ago.”
Grant hesitated before closing his notebook and setting it inside his backpack. “How long have you been homeless?”
I gave him a look before taking another swig from my bottle. “I’d say nineteen years or so. There aren’t a lot of jobs for amputated veterans without a degree. It doesn’t matter, though. I’m fond of this bench. Better times and all that.”
Grant wiped away a tear as he looked into my eyes. “And you get to be with your mother.”
“Exactly,” I said, smiling as I placed the bottle next to my box.
“But you never tried to reach out to her?” Grant asked. “To see your son?”
I frowned at him. “Of course I did, but she wanted nothing to do with me. They moved out of town and on with their lives.”
“And you stayed here,” Grant said, a hint of accusation in his voice.
“Here is home,” I said defensively. “If they ever want to see me again, this is the only place she’ll know where to find me. So it’s here that I stay.”
“But you’re still drinking,” said Grant.
I stopped mid-swig, looking Grant in the eyes. “Like I said, I’m weak.”
Grant stood, sighing as he pulled his backpack over his shoulders.
“Thanks for your time,” he said as he dropped a dollar in my box and walked away.
I grunted, taking another swig from my almost empty bottle. It felt good to talk to another person, but it came with a price. My memories better forgotten were more vivid; more painful.
Then I noticed the markings on Grant’s dollar. In pen were the words when you’re ready, followed by an address.
I snatched the dollar up, staring at it blankly, suddenly realizing who Grant really was. My heart leaped as I threw the bottle at the ground, shattering it into pieces.
Clutching the dollar to my chest, I tried to run after my boy, but I was out of shape and he was nowhere to be seen.
I stumbled around the lake a couple of times, hoping to spot him somewhere in the distance, but he was gone.
Both heartbroken and hopeful, I made my way back to the bench and picked up my letters. “By, mama,” I whispered, as I walked away from the bench.
My boy wanted me sober, so that’s what I was going to be.

When I sat down to write this piece, I liked the idea of writing an entire story in one location. But it is incredibly difficult to write an engaging story without significant movement.

So instead of telling a story in space, I tried to tell a story through time. The same location over years of time. Pretty neat in theory, but that brings a whole other issue of consistency.

To start at the beginning of the story and then jump through time in chronological order would be jarring for readers. Therefore, we need a narrator, someone to guide us (hopefully seamlessly) through time.

Hence, this story all centering around a single bench. I hope you enjoyed it!


Short Story: A Hopeful Sleep

Howdy, everyone. I didn’t have time to write a chapter this week so, instead, the following is a fictional short story I wrote for a competition. I hope you enjoy it!

It’s odd what one focuses on when staring down the barrel of a gun. My palms grew sweaty, my eyes twitching uncontrollably, but all I could think about were the smudges on the otherwise shiny weapon.
“I could polish that up,” I said, my voice shaking.
The man with the gun snarled, cocking the hammer. His hair was disheveled, his eyes wild and locked on my own. A police badge hung on his chest.
“Can’t clean it if I’m dead,” I said, trying and failing to lighten the mood.
“Stop,” he growled, shaking his head. “Just for once in your life, stop talking.”
“That’s not what you want,” I said, afraid to break eye-contact. “You can’t have what you want.”
My heart raced as the man tightened his grip on the gun, trying to steady his shaking hands. “Where is she?”
“I don’t know,” I said, my voice cracking. “I would do something if I knew. I’d save her. I’d save us both. But I just don’t know.”
The man fought to control himself, tears falling down his cheek. “Think,” he pleaded. “You know. You have to know. If you want to live, tell me where she is right now.”
“We’re out of time,” I said, breaking eye-contact with the man for the first time. “We lost. You might as well get it over with.”
I took one last look at the room as I accepted my fate. This was her room. My daughter’s.
Her bed was made with her favorite pink comforter and princess pillows. I’d made it for her after she’d been taken, preparing the room for her return. I’d been a fool.
The man observed the room with me, meeting my watery eyes after sharing a brief moment of grief.
“It’s over.”
“They could have been lying,” he said, his gun still leveled at my face.
“We couldn’t take that chance,” I whispered.
“So what am I supposed to do?” He yelled. “Should I pull this trigger, then? End it?”
“We could have stopped this,” I said, defeated. “We just had to find her.”
“We should have gone to the station,” he said his gun shaking. “They might have found her.”
“We couldn’t risk that either,” I said. “It had to be us.”
“But why us?” He asked. “Why take her? Why not just kill us in the first place?”
“I don’t have an answer. Twenty-four hours and still nothing.”
“It had to be about revenge,” the man said, his breath quickening.
“More than revenge,” I said. “Humiliation.”
“And you can’t think of a single lead!” He yelled. “Who hates us that much?”
“It could be anyone. We’ve put away hundreds of felons.”
“But who’s on the outside? Who’s been released? Anyone recently?”
“They’re all on parol,” I said. “They have bracelets. GPS Trackers. It’s none of them.”
“What about their families?” He asked, grasping at straws.
“It could be anyone,” I said again. “We have no leads. Just pull the trigger. End this.”
Just then, my cell phone rang, vibrating against the petrified wood of my daughter’s nightstand.
I took one last look at the man in the mirror before picking up the phone.
“Hello?” I said, laying my gun down on the bed.
…“I’m about to do it.”
…“No! Don’t touch her. I’m doing it,” I said, throwing the phone on the bed. I knew I wouldn’t get another chance before they started hurting my little girl.
Shaking even more than before, I picked up the gun, staring at the mirror. There was a camera behind it. They had watched my every move from the very beginning.
If I left the room, if I contacted anyone, they’d kill her. The only way to end this was by killing myself, and they would know the moment it was done.
A note lay in front of the mirror, a blank space still awaiting my signature. Cold, almost unthinking, I signed it, my mind thick with fear.
The note explained that I was a dirty cop. That I’d taken bribes and arrested innocent people under orders from a local gang. Nothing specific. Nothing I could tie to any specific case. But it would be enough to force a re-trial for every case to which I’d been assigned.
I couldn’t hold back tears any longer as I removed my badge, placing it next to the note.
My body shook as I raised the gun to my head, and again my mind was fixated on the smudges along the barrel of the gun.
Allowing myself one last moment, I pulled a cloth from my pocket and cleaned the smudge from my gun.
It felt good to do something productive. A feeble fruitless last act, but an act all the same. And so I cleaned the whole gun, attempting to take control over the last tiny portion of my life.
And then it happened. The gun went off in my hands.
Fear and sorrow brought me to my knees, my body convulsing with sobs as I realized I was still alive.
It was only after I settled myself down enough to stand, that I noticed the bullet had destroyed the bottom half of the mirror and the camera behind it.
“No,” I said, stricken with fear. “No, no, no, no, no!”
Crawling up to the mirror, I shoved my face against the glass. “It was an accident. You have to believe me. Don’t hurt her! If you can hear me, please don’t. I’m about to do it. I’m doing it right now,” I said, picking up the gun.
What if they can’t hear me? I thought, the cold tip of the gun brushing against my temple.
Panicked, I reached for the phone only to stare at the blank screen. But what if they think I’m already dead? Calling them would give it away.
Heart thumping, I looked back at the mirror. “Can you hear me?”
I waited, body shaking with anxiety. Then I spoke again, louder this time. “Please call me.”
Nothing. They can’t hear me. “Don’t hurt her,” I whispered. “Please don’t.”
Dropping the phone, I began to pace around the room, the gun shaking in my hand. They wouldn’t assume I’d killed myself, would they?
“No,” I said, beginning to hit myself with the butt of the gun. “They’d send someone to make sure.”
I continued to pace around my daughter’s bed, crippling sobs threatening to overtake me. “What do I do?” I whispered.
“End it,” someone said from across the room.
Startled, I snapped my gun up. I didn’t recognize the man.
“Where’s my daughter?”
“Far from here,” the man said. “If you want her back, you know what you have to do.”
“Why?” I asked. “Why are you doing this to me?”
“I don’t know any more than you,” he said. “Only that you must end this. Now.”
Slowly, I turned the gun on myself, but I couldn’t keep my hand still.
“You do it,” I told the man, lowering my gun.
He shook his head. “Be a man. Surely you want to see her again?”
“I can’t,” I said, defeated. “Why did you have to take her?”
“I didn’t take her,” the man said, his voice somber.
“Why did she have to go?” I whimpered, rolling into a ball on the floor.
“Because of you,” the man answered. “It’s your fault she was taken.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” I said, tears pooling on the wooden floor against my cheek.
“No man is innocent.”
“I’m a good man,” I whispered.
“Are you?”
I didn’t respond, afraid of the truth. Eventually, I lifted myself to my knees, prepared to beg for forgiveness.
“I cheated on my wife,” I said, head bowed.
“And she left you for it,” he said.
I nodded, cradling the gun in my hands. “I still loved her.”
“She was right to leave,” the man said.
I nodded. “She was too good for me. She trusted me.”
“And then you lost her baby.”
“I didn’t lose her!” I said, rising to my feet. “She was taken from me.”
“And you allowed her to be taken,” the man said.
I shook as I looked into the man’s dead eyes, setting with rage. Suddenly, I screamed as loud as I could and pulled the trigger, shooting the stranger until I ran out of bullets.
The rest of the mirror shattered, falling to pieces on my daughter’s floor. Still shaking, I lowered myself to her bed, dropping the gun on top of her pink comforter.
Dead inside, I took the picture from her nightstand and held it in my lap. The three of us looked back at me, smiles lighting our faces.
Our daughter had been missing one of her front teeth at the time, but her smile was all the more beautiful for it.
My wife had been happy too. There was no resentment in her eyes. Nothing held back. I had ruined things for all of us.
In a moment of lucidity, I realized I was losing it. Hanging on to reality by the barest thread of string.
And then I realized I was wasting time. Someone was coming, and I needed to be dead when they arrived.
I carried the picture over to the broken mirror, placing it next to the letter and badge. Ignoring the glass, I knelt on the ground, staring down at the picture as I raised the gun to my head.
I could hear movement outside the room. The sound of yelling and shuffling feet. I was running out of time.
Terrified, my finger trembled over the trigger. I tried to pull the trigger. I swore I did, but my finger wouldn’t move.
The noises were getting louder. “Pull it,” I whispered. “Do it!”
I pulled the trigger just as the door opened, the adrenaline of the moment shocking my body into action… but I was out of bullets.
“George?” Someone gasped, yanking the gun from my hand.
I didn’t respond. I couldn’t respond.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing!” She said, pulling me to my feet and spinning me around to face her. My ex-wife.
“Catalina,” I said, “what are you doing here?”
Her eyes were wide with fright as she examined my shoddy exterior. “Please don’t tell me you were about to… to kill…”
“I didn’t want to,” I said, trying to calm her down. “But I have to. They took our little girl.”
“George,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “That was weeks ago.”
“No,” I said, “there’s still time. I just have to kill myself before they hurt her.”
“George,” she insisted, holding me by the shoulders. “Ruthy…”
“Let me do this,” I begged, feeling oddly calm. “I need to do this for our girl. For you.”
“You can’t,” Catalina said, her mouth trembling. “It’s over, George. You’re alive.”
I shook my head. “You don’t understand.”
“No,” she said, looking into my eyes. “You’re confused. Let’s get out of here.”
“I can’t go,” I said, gesturing toward the shattered mirror. “They’ll know.”
“George,” she said, increasing her grip on my arms. “It’s okay. We found them.”
I blinked in confusion. “Found who?”
Tears rolled down her face. “The ones who… killed Ruthy.”
I nodded, trying to process her words, but she wasn’t making any sense. “Ruthy isn’t dead,” I said.
Catalina bit her lip, her face filled with turmoil. Then it finally clicked. Devastated, I lost the strength to stand, letting myself collapse onto the ground.
Tiny pieces of glass stuck my skin as I hugged the floor, sobbing uncontrollably. Catalina knelt beside me, her hands resting on my back.
“I’m so sorry, George.”
I tried to open my eyes, to move at all, but my entire body had become frozen. Immobile.
“Can he hear us?” Asked a familiar voice.
I tried to respond. To give any kind of sign, but my body wouldn’t comply.
“You should assume he can. Hearing is the last brain function to deteriorate in coma patients.”
Coma? I thought. Who’s in a coma?
“George, it’s me. It’s Cat.”
Cat! My lovely Catalina.
“You stupid stupid man,” she whispered.
I know. I should have saved her.
“How could you do this to yourself?”
I needed to save our little girl.
“If you had died…”
Am I not dead?
“There’s someone who wants to see you.”
“Daddy!” Cried a little girl. My little girl.
Ruthy! I’m so glad you’re okay.
“Be careful with him, Ruthy.”
I can’t feel anything. Why can’t I feel her? See her?
“What’s wrong with daddy?”
“He’s really really tired,” Cat said. “So he’s taking a very long nap.”
“When is he gonna wake up?” Ruthy whispered, worried about waking me up.
My heart ached to reach out to her. To hold her.
“When he gets stronger,” Cat whispered back. “But this isn’t like a normal nap. This is a special nap because even though he’s sleeping, he can still hear you.”
“And I know he wishes he was awake because he misses you very much. Why don’t you give him a hug?”
I laid still, trying to concentrate. Trying to feel my daughter’s hug, but I felt nothing. But when she spoke, I could feel her closeness.
“I love you, daddy.”
The breath of her voice filled my ears, and for a moment I could feel the warmth of her embrace.
I love you too, baby. And one day I’m going to wake up for you. I promise.

When I sat down to write this story I had no idea what it would be about. My only thought was that it would fun to tell an entire story through a monologue. Two hours later I finished this story.

Even though I wanted to write a monologue, it was important to experience actual relationships at the end in order to give life to the main character’s emotions. I had to sacrifice my original idea for the good of the story, because character is more important than ideas, no matter how short the story.

I hope you liked it! Back to The Immortals next week.