Someone took the red bench in the park where the old men of Coldwater once sat broadcasting their thinning memories on low cackling voices.
They naturally migrated to the spot where the bench had been affixed to a square of concrete, all shrugging the shrug of old men who had become powerless to change much, if anything, in their lives.
“There’s that bench on the other side,” one of the old men suggested. The others shrugged their ‘why not’s’.
The young mothers who always nursed their babies on the red bench arrived to the blank expression of cemented ground, their babies held against their bodies by large swaths of fabric so that they looked almost tribal as they nomadically drifted on, one in their tribe remarking, “Strange,” and frowning.
“You think someone took it?” one of the others asked no one in particular.
They all shook their heads, their eyes as blank as the ground.
“Let’s get coffee — at least we can sit,” one of the women suggested.
An old woman with her trinket dog passed by unceremoniously as if she had never stopped at the red bench at all, though she had frequently rested there while her Lilliputian companion relieved himself on the grass next to the bench.
The children who normally swarmed the red bench like a haze of wingless insects migrated to a pond on the other side of the park instead.
Brick Mahoney watched with maudlin awe from his bike seat as if a funeral procession was passing by. He thought of his father who designed the bench and glossed it with its trademark hue.
He thought of all the nights he had rolled back into Coldwater on two wheels after a long, dusty ride on back roads when only the stars over Coldwater’s tiny universe twinkling in the glossy wood acknowledged his father’s bench.
“I’ll bring your bench home, Dad.” After the procession had passed by, Brick spoke to the bare cement solemnly as if his father were buried there.
Brick wished those had been his last words to his father, not ‘go to hell’ when Brick Sr. tried to talk him into finishing his engineering degree at Arizona University instead of tramping around the world for a year.
He never finished the degree and was living in a yurt on the steppes of Mongolia when he got word his father had died of a heart attack.
“Who would steal a bench?” The question rippled across the town, from The Wise Owl coffee shop to Eva’s Tress Town to wherever else there was a place to sit, including the weekly town council meeting.
“It’s those brats from Gypsum — the ones we had all the graffiti problems with. They sprayed up half our town and tore out that parking meter.” Brick shook his head, spitting his last three words and disturbing the bald head of Tuck Beecher, owner of Tuck’s Treasures, an antique store in downtown Coldwater.
“There’s already a police report and we can buy another one — right?” Tuck turned his head side-to-side, collecting responses with his eyes. Most in the audience nodded or yawned. The council members murmured among themselves, some nodding.
“Like Tuck said, there’s a report filed and we’ve got funds in the public works budget for a new bench. Brick, I’m sorry, I know your father built that bench. If we don’t find it, I submit a motion to install a plaque as a memorial to Brick Mahoney Sr.,” John Reiger, mayor of Coldwater spoke. A unanimous chorus of ‘Yeas’ followed.
“Motion approved.” Mayor Reiger banged his gavel.
That was that.
Brick nodded his thanks panoramically, but blew soft exasperation through his nose as the council moved on to a request for a stop sign to be erected at the intersection of Pawnee and Shell streets.
He hadn’t moved on.
The next day, Brick set out on his bike along a back road between Coldwater and Gypsum, provoked by justice. He owed his father much more than a plaque.
He knew the route well, as he often cycled to his favorite coffee shop in Alta Vista, a few miles past Gypsum.
As he entered Gypsum, he noticed the city park backed up to the main drag of commerce. It was laid out much like the park in Coldwater.
There was even a bench — it was the same length — maybe a little shorter, or maybe it was longer — than the one in Coldwater. He couldn’t remember exactly. It was painted blue. It seemed to sit unhinged — floating on its square of cement. Could it be?
Why couldn’t he remember the measurements of his father’s handiwork? His eyes began to fill. He cursed his own pride. He was a fool, going after a possible mirage of adolescent anarchy when he couldn’t even remember a few numbers on his father’s tape measure.
He had never sat on his father’s bench, but only gazed at it from afar like the stars. He dismounted and approached the bench. As he rested his full weight the bench shifted noticeably, but Brick didn’t mind. Whether it was the same bench he couldn’t be sure.
His own regret indicted him as much or more than any petty hoodlums.
He sat for a while before remounting.
As he wheeled out of Gypsum, he felt lighter. The weight of the bench had lifted. Where the weight had gone he wasn’t sure. Maybe it was in Gypsum and painted blue. Maybe it was buried with his father, in a past as distant and beautiful as stars dancing in a glossy haze of red.
Jennifer Knopp Leeper is an award-winning fiction author. Ms. Leeper’s fiction includes Padre, a novella published by J. Burrage Publications. In 2012, Ms. Leeper was awarded the Catoctin Mountain Artist-in-Residency, and in 2013, Ms. Leeper was a Tuscany Prize Novella Award finalist through Tuscany Press for her short novel, Tribe. Ms. Leeper’s short story Tatau, was published by Alternating Current Press in the journal, Poiesis, and was shortlisted as a finalist for the Luminaire Award in 2015. Ms. Leeper’s short story, The Gospel of Chloride, won a 2015 Tuscany Short Story Award honorable mention through Tuscany Press.