This story was originally written for the NPR “Three-Minute Fiction” short story contest.
Downtown was unfamiliar to me as I had only recently acquired my apartment two blocks off Main. The job which brought me here offered a leisurely break to enjoy a walk after a midday meal. I approached one of the two roundabouts which defined the beginning and end of the street just three blocks long.
I stopped at the crosswalk before the roundabout, looked to my left and then forward again. An elderly man sat on a bench in the middle, to his left a bronze statue of a beautiful elderly woman. He was bent forward, his head held in his hands and elbows upon his thighs. As I crossed the two lanes and drew near, I could hear him crying.
Two people to my front had walked by him, looked, but did not stop. I nearly did the same, but could not. It just didn’t feel right. I turned round slowly, the statue of the woman between me and him. I took a deep breath and then reached out to steady myself on the crown of her head. It was warm to the touch despite the cool fall air, the metal so perfectly carved as to give soft texture to her hair. I lowered myself a bit, knees bent, and saw the man’s tears flowing free.
“Excuse me, sir, but are you ok? Is there anything I can do?”
He did not seem to hear me, his head yet held in his hands. I tried again, “Sir. You’re, … you seem so sad. What happened?”
His sobs lessened as he attempted a deep breath. He said nothing but lifted his head from the support of his arms. With his hand he motioned for me to sit upon the bench to his right. Both our gazes fell upon the red brick path at our feet. I waited. A long time passed.
When he found his voice he said, “I have never felt such grief. I have never felt such pain. The loss inside me, I could never live with this again.” He shook his head slowly from side to side.
In that moment my heart sped. I could feel his grief as though it were mine. It was difficult to speak, “May I … may I ask what happened?”
Two cars drove around the circle, one in each direction. A cloud moved to cover the sun. The wind blew lightly and then stalled again. I looked at my watch without lifting my arm, not wanting to press him for time.
He sat upright and then slowly turned his head. Our eyes met, his dark, nearly hollow inside.
Finally he said, “I have taken many risks in my life. I have challenged death more than one time. But the greatest reward I was ever given was experiencing a love that transcends time.”
He grabbed my hand with an agility and strength that surprised me, holding me tight. He breathed more than he said, “If you are ever given opportunity to feel this way,” his eyes penetrating mine, “stop at nothing to love this deep.”
He turned to face the statue of the woman, his left arm holding her in a familiar embrace. The warmth of his hand around mine was lost and when I looked up carved metal now defined his face. I pushed away from him and nearly fell to the ground. Tears were replaced with a smile on the left of two statues, side by side, on the bench in the middle of the roundabout at the end of town.
© Kai Staats 2011