Romance Sad

“Do you regret anything? I mean, do you have any regrets…you know, places you didn’t visit, things you…didn’t quite manage to get to?...”, the man in the worn, dark brown pea coat and matching ivy cap asked, shifting his weight in search of some comfort, however fleeting, on the weathered, wooden bench upon which he found himself seated. The park he and his companion found themselves in was largely empty by this time of day. The local schools had since resumed classes after their fall sabbatical, leaving only the scattered families from out of town to enjoy the playground. 

The hesitation in his voice was punctuated as he spoke by small clouds of condensation in the late November air, which mingled with the last, most stubborn leaves of autumn to come tumbling through the air. Just as the leaves flounced and bobbed about on the early evening’s light breeze, so too did the man’s words dance about and evaporate into the cool air as they missed their intended mark, favoring, instead, a more uncertain trajectory. 

“I’ve never known a day when the pigeons weren’t out. It must be getting cold for them, too, I suppose. I remember coming here all the time with my father when I was a little girl. After he had split from my mother, I saw less and less of him, but the few times I came to visit him here, in the city, he would make it a point to take me to get a bagel from the deli below his apartment complex. And then, it was off to Central Park to feed what stale bread he had lying about his cupboards to the birds. I can’t recall the name of the shop, but I recall he would always get the lox…I never understood his fascination with the stuff, myself. Far too fishy for breakfast if you ask me; but, he never seemed to mind”, Cindy responded. 

A moment of uncertainty flashed across the man’s face–a twitch of a frown creased his lips, a downward shift in gaze, a nearly imperceptible flare of the nostrils–but it was gone before the next leaf to loose itself from the maple nearest him had time to twist a full turn in the air as it fluttered toward the ground. There had been a time when Cindy would have noticed a shift in demeanor even twice as quick, but between her nostalgia and ever-worsening eyesight, the moment was lost on her; regardless, eyesight or no, she had just met the man in the park when he took a seat next to her on the bench, and one thing Cindy was not, was intrusive. The man’s problems would just have to remain his own, and that was that. 

“Perhaps I should visit him”, Cindy continued. “It's been a while since I last spoke with him. He lives in the old…”. Trailing off, staring off into the distance, a bewildered look of panic slowly set over her face as she searched the blurry, autumnal visage of Brown County for the answer to her recent lapse of recollection. “He lives in the old…”, Cindy repeated after several long moments of silence, “...well, I’m sure I could find it”. 

It was the man in the worn, dark brown pea coat’s turn to search the distant tree line for traces of answers to his unanswered questions amongst the foliage. The man’s eyes scoured the horizon for  a short while, his wild, gray eyebrows furrowed, deep contemplation creasing his forehead. Lost in thought, it was not until the wind picked up that he noticed a response to his current quandary. 

The shrill squeak of metal joints grinding against one another followed by the woody, cobbled-together slam of planks joined loosely together by ancient, heavy bolts, snapped the man’s attention away from his present ruminations. Turning his head, it did not take long to realize that the sudden commotion was caused by a gust of wind catching the wide, smooth bucket seat of an old seesaw, tilting it on its fulcrum and landing with a thud that sounded all the louder in the silence that had fallen between himself and Cindy.

Turning to Cindy, the man said, “You know, I used to spend every summer and fall break away from school camping with my family at this park when I was a young boy. My brother was older than I was by some years, and by the time I was old enough to use the seesaw, he had outgrown his interest in it, altogether. It wasn’t often that I would meet any other kids my age, so I rarely had the opportunity to use the thing…It's kind of a silly thought, now, at my age–with my knees, and all–but how would you feel about joining me for a few rounds of to-and-fro?”

Cindy’s expression loosened, the wild look in her eyes began to fade, and a small smile broke out between her now-blushing cheeks. “Well, seeing as the birds aren’t out today, I suppose we could give it a try.”

The man stood stiffly from the bench and helped Cindy to her feet. Offering her his arm, which she meekly accepted, the man and Cindy made their way across the small, quiet Brown County park toward the seesaw. Helping Cindy onto her saddle, the man hardly noticed the usual aches and pains that had slowly taken up residence in his joints; instead, a pep in his step now replaced his usual, carefully measured stride as he made his way over to his own saddle. 

“Are you ready?” the man asked Cindy, pulling his seat downward, raising both Cindy slightly off the ground and his voice to account from the distance now between them. Cindy responded with a nervous thumbs-up and gripped her handle tight. “Here we go!”, the man shouted gleefully, the faintest of chuckles escaping his lungs, defying his previously dour demeanor. 

Lowering himself slowly to the ground, the man watched Cindy carefully as she was lifted higher and higher into the air. The squeak of the ancient playground equipment was loud, but Cindy’s laughter could be heard clearly, cutting above the pitchy din. 

“Oh, this is wonderful! The colors–the leaves are beautiful!”, Cindy exclaimed, beaming. All around her, for miles upon miles, Cindy experienced a blurry blend of soft yellows, lush oranges and fiery reds against a baby blue sky. Even though she had a difficult time making out individual trees at her current distance, the spill canvas of fall foliage nearly brought tears to her eyes. “You have to see this–bu-but, not quite yet”, she added, hastily. “I’ll tell you when you can have your turn” Cindy called to the man, the color of her cheeks rising to match the tone of the fall explosion around her, a devilishly playful look filling her eyes. She wondered, briefly, if this man in the worn, dark brown pea coat and matching ivy cap were married; this thought further intensified the warmth in her cheeks, which she attributed to the cool, autumn air. 

“Let me know when you’ve had your fill–but don’t take too long!”, the man replied, dimples appearing at the corners of his mouth as if his lips were meeting some small resistance as they  reminded the rest of his face what a genuine smile felt like. 

“You would rush a lady!? I have half a mind to tell your mother!” Cindy responded, giggling, a familiar joy she could not quite name filling her heart.

“My mother, madam, would have wondered how I managed to wait as long as I have, already–I’m coming up!” the man replied, and with a grunt, knowing that he would feel the effort in his knees tomorrow, pushed himself up from the ground, lowering Cindy safely to the earth below, their eyes locking for but a moment as they passed one another. 

“You bull-headed, stubborn old man!” Cindy shouted from the loam below between giggles as she held the man in the air. Stubborn…Cindy seemed to recall using the word often, with fondness, but she had no idea why, only that the thought left her feeling butterflies in her stomach.

Above the world, the man took in the familiar sights of a long, happy life spent in the countryside of his lifelong home. Memories came crashing forth, unfettered, of long camping trips with his parents, his brother, the numerous friends he would make at various campsites from season to season…few were the friendships which lasted longer than a single season, and far, far fewer, yet, were the friendships he considered himself fortunate enough to have shared a lifetime cherishing, enjoying, growing, laughing, crying, and sharing together. “The oak may shed its leaves, but its roots last a lifetime” were the closing words of his vows that he had spoken to his wife on the day of their wedding, many, many years ago, inspired by shared fall visages similar to the one he currently found himself immersed within. 

High above the ground, atop the weathered seesaw, looking out at the trees reminded him of the seasons he spent in the park with his own family, hiking the trails with his wife, and later, their children. “The leaves certainly do have a way of changing, don’t they, Cindy?”, he called down. 

“You’re taking too long! What are you doing up there!?”Cindy called impatiently from below, stern, yet playful. 

Snapping out of his reminiscence, the man took in the sight of the leaves blowing in the wind one last time before responding.

“Sorry! I was just thinking about the kids…darnit, it seems like it was only yesterday they were playing on this seesaw, hiking the surrounding trails, asking questions about every little thing–oh, so many questions!--and never satisfied with an answer, either, those boys!”, the man responded fondly. 

“You have children? I’d always wanted children–I even had names picked out! How many do you have?” As an afterthought, taking note of the man’s apparent age, Cindy added, “Are you a grandpa, as well?”

As she awaited his response, Cindy pushed up from the ground, rose high into the air, and audibly gasped. ““Oh, this is wonderful! The colors–the leaves are beautiful! You have to see this!”

Searching thoughtfully for his words, the man answered Cindy’s questions from his seat in the dust. “Three sons. Three kind, intelligent young men, each with families of their own, now. We still get together from time to time, all of us, when their busy schedules allow”. The sun was hanging lower in the sky, just behind Cindy, as he spoke, causing him to look toward the ground, a reactionary tear rolling down his cheek as he studied the temporary imprint left by the setting sun. The man was quick to wipe the moisture on the cuff of his peacoat. 

“You know, I met the love of my life at a park like this when I was a young girl”, Cindy called down at the man. “At the time, I thought I was lucky to have found someone to play on the seesaw with one evening–but he kept coming around! Wouldn’t leave me alone no matter how hard my mother tried shooing him away–talk about stubborn!” 

As an afterthought, Cindy added, “I think his name was Paul…it was so very long ago, though. Every now and then, I wonder how he is doing…I am certain that he made a very happy wife out of someone. We were children when we met, but we spent so much time together…even went to the same high school! So kind, intelligent…patient, oh my goodness, so very patient! And he had to be, what with all the time I spent away in New York visiting my father…I wonder if he remembers me at all?”

Cindy trailed off, grasping for memories that refused to be caught, memories that swirled and danced just before her, like so many leaves on the wind. By now, a veil-like blanket of clouds were settling into the sky, streaks of gold and purple, orange and blue complimenting the fiery, royal hues below.

Braving the bright, setting sun, the man looked up at Cindy, the faintest trace of a smile on his lips, and asked, “It’s getting fairly late, the sun will set before too long–would you like me to walk you home? 

Something about the way the man spoke, his thoughtfully chosen words, the dark brown of his peacoat, the matching ivy hat sitting upon his head, wrested something small, something faint from Cindy. Not knowing where the words had come from, Cindy asked, “How are Dominic, Will, and Roland?”

Bringing the seesaw to an even keel and lowering Cindy gently to the ground, the man in the worn, dark brown peacoat and matching ivy cap helped her to her feet, another tear loosed to tumble down his cheek, one which he could not, would not, blame on the sun this time. “They’re doing well, Cindy. They’re doing really, really well”. Offering her his arm, the man began to lead Cindy away from the old park, with its old bench, its old trees, its old seesaw and old, faint memories, toward an old, familiar home just down the street. 

“That’s so nice to hear. Those boys were always so loving, so full of life. I’m sure that family life suits them well. And thank you, sir, for your company this evening! I’m so sorry, but I’m afraid I’m horrible with names these days–what did you say yours was, again?”.

Using his free hand to steadily, discreetly, wipe a third and final tear away from his cheek, the man, holding his gaze on the path before them, steadied his breathing and answered “Paul. My name is Paul, Cindy, and I am so happy to have met you. Thank you, too. For…everything”. The couple, Cindy and Paul, continued the remainder of the short trip to their old home in silence, enjoying what was left of the evening’s sunset, a lifetime of memories swirling about their heads as beautiful and fleeting as the leaves on the wind. 

April 20, 2024 02:31

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Alexis Araneta
16:59 Apr 26, 2024

This was so touching and poignant, Ryne. Your imagery was so lovely and impeccably used. Smooth flow too. Splendid work !


Ryne Wemhoff
11:53 May 12, 2024

Thank you so much, Alexis! I hadn't written a short story in quite some time before this competition--I was always a poetry guy, myself--so it was fun to challenge myself and try something different! Thank you for your kind words!


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