THE RED PARK BENCH • BY J. L. Barnes

No matter how many years pile on, I’ll always remember that little girl perched, super-still, on that pristine, red park bench. I must’ve been around her age, seven or eight — maybe, young enough to wonder how a person could assume the stillness of a copper statue and not faint due to a lack of oxygen, and yet, old enough to then correctly guess it had something to do with grief.

Being only a child, I was without the social filters I’d developed later on in life, asking her, “Why’re you sad?”

She didn’t react at all to my innocent question. The little girl held her blank gaze as though her life would evaporate were she to so much as twitch. The brown in her eyes were illuminated honey in the sunlight, the whites tinged a bit red, since, at one point, she’d been crying.

It didn’t bother me that I’d been wholly ignored. To child me, it was an invitation to keep trying.

I sat next to her. The red park bench was high enough that our feet didn’t touch the ground. I’d kicked my legs back and forth, my hands on my knees as I’d leaned forward. Then I glanced at her before looking at what I thought she was looking at. It was the park entrance. People came in and people went out.

“Are you waiting for somebody?” I asked.

Still nothing.

But the little me didn’t get the hint. She didn’t tell me to go away, so I stayed put, thinking I’d tell my friends about a doll I saw sitting in the park that seemed so real, it even took breaths if you studied it patiently long enough.

As I did so often, I got to thinking about the candies in my pocket. A boy could take on the world with a five dollar bill and a fist-full of candies. I recall pondering what candy made for a decent gift, one that I wouldn’t mind giving up, even if they were among my favorites. I rummaged a hand around in my pocket, the spherical treats rubbing together to emit the lovely sounds every kid knows, and pulled out a green-apple.

“Want candy?” I asked.

Still nothing.

But the little me figured she didn’t care for the green-apple. I reached back in my pocket and fetched a yellow-lemon. I placed it between us and then looked away. Little me thought that a lady might not want to be looked at while enjoying a candy.

My father called for me from where he had been feeding birds by the fountain. I put a hand up and waved to him. He looked at me and then the girl from far away. I could tell my father didn’t want to get in the middle of me making a friend. So he kept feeding the birds while maintaining an intermittent, side-eyed attention. The watchful parent did not faze little me.

I looked down at the ground and there was the yellow wrapper. Little me then looked at the little girl beside me and saw her face contorted in response to the zingyness of a four-times the sour combo! Super! Deluxe! Somehow she’d taken it in the span of half a heartbeat.

Little me chuckled, inadvertently.

I do recall finding it hilarious that this statue of a girl could make such a face. Yellow-lemon wasn’t that sour to me. But we all have different tolerances, am I right?

“Want another one?” I asked.

Still nothing.

But the little me knew she did. There wasn’t a human that ever lived that didn’t like the sour. I took out another one and placed it between us again. I’d let my eyes wander to the birds taking off. There, a few feet away, was an old man picking up his dog’s poop.

I heard the wrapper lightly hit the ground when it fell. I looked at her once more, and again, her face transcended comedy gold.

I laughed. Some big lady came by us suddenly. A mother, aunt, or careless caretaker, I’d presumed. She took the little girl by the hand and started dragging her away.

But the little girl did look back at me, though. Her smile, I’ll always remember. In the autumn wind I might’ve heard—

“Thanks.”


J. L. Barnes is a writer based in New York with a habit of daydreaming short stories.


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