I sit on a park bench this evening as I have every evening for the last 3 years since I moved here from college. Sipping the tea I make to keep me warm. I watch people who pass, imagining a sense of intimacy due to our nods of recognition. Today I see a new face, one of an old grandma wondering from street to street peering at every sign. Sighing, she sits next to me seeming happy to get off her feet.
My tea has grown cold before I ask her what she is looking for.
“I’m looking for my way back”
But she does not go on.
I pull my jaket close and tip that last of my tea into my mouth.
“Where are you from”
Her eyes clear, “the sea, I once sailed to the equator to swim with the mermaids” She falls into a rhythm of story about searching for a lost captain. When they found him he was white with age as he had gained 50 years in the two days spend under the waves
“I want to go back,” she said as she stumbled to the end of her story.
My shoulders hunched as my mind tumbled the story. With no reference to reality of my own having never seen the sea. But know that though the story had been told with pure conviction it could not have been true.
The sun was no longer visible but the climax of the sunset had not been reached.
“Can I help you bet you are going?”I asked
“I hope so” and we stood together. I watched her wince as weight pushed down on her hip.
“I remember when this old thing did not hurt, running on the grass with my kids” she continues telling of grass so high you could hide for days.
“They might still be there giggling and waiting for me to find them, I should go back.”
I agreed It was getting cold and I wanted her inside before her denters started chattering. “Which way is your home?” I ask. But she doesn’t hear me, her shoulder straightening with the memory of hide a go seek and her smile filling the skin on her cheeks that before seemed to be designed for a larger face. The same story made me slow as memories of plastic playgrounds duled and longing drooped my mouth.
“What way did you come from?” I prompted her. The lady looks at the street signs and picks one without much thought. I follow her as colors spread across the sky and she tells me a story of painting a landscape so beautiful that a rich matron bought and hung it above her bed so she could look at it as she made love. As she tells this story my hand aked with unspent creativity, stuck at stick figures, fear of failure preventing ambition.
The lady skips down the curb and looks back to offer me a hand. I take it, fingers still sore as they curl around her’s. We make a right and two lefts. Her, confidently leading the way as I peer at street signs hard to see in the dimming light. We get to the base of a tall flight of stairs and the woman pauses maybe with fear of making the assent but her strides no longer hold the lean of someone in pain. We loop our arms around each other and lean in like tipi poles as she hums a story of her friends arm in arm singing each other up a mountain that rose above the clouds. Together they make it to the tip and in ecstasy jump hand in hand. The clouds which in turn through them up into the stars. As she speaks I lean on her like her friends and she supports me, almost lifting me up the last step.
At the top there is a door with a brass knocker and she pulls it and lets it falls as if she calls here every day. A nurse opens the door looking at us she says
“Where have you been we have been worried that you’d fallen on your way to the park” The girl next to me answered “I found her wandering and thought she needed help”
“Thank you” said the nurse
I looked at the girl, confusion in my cateracked eyes, hip aching from too much walking and stories from a life winding in my head. Mermaids, tall grass, and trampolean clouds, but also a sitting bench, one so familiar with blurry faces passing by. None of it felt like mine. But that is how an old mind is, I have been told. I mean it feels like college was just a few years ago. As the warmth though the large door draws me in, the young girl turns to leave and ask with panic
“Where are you going”
She turns with a glint in her old eyes, “I’m going back” and descends into a night to blurry for me to see.
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