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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Short Story: In The Park

In The Park
by Erlynda Jacqui Chan

It is an unseasonably hot autumn afternoon. A thick layer of smog hangs over the city, filling my nostrils with the smell of burnt wood. The normally busy park is near empty, truly unfortunate for me.

I sit in the small cafe' at the corner, hidden and quiet with a clear view of the park across the road. On a more pleasant day, you will find me in the park lounging under the wooden canopy of angels and flowers. The spot offers me an unhindered glimpse of the world and its inhabitants. In an age where life moves faster than a speeding train, it's refreshing to see people stopping for a moment's rest.

There's a bench under the crimson flowered eucalyptus tree, where an elderly gentleman used to sit every evening. He always came with a brown bag which contained his dinner, either a sandwich or a plastic container covered with tin foil. He ate slowly, his mouth moving in a circular motion deliberately as if he were counting the number of chews before he swallowed. The blank stare on his wrinkled face usually embraced a contented smile as the park started to fill up. At times, he chuckled loudly at the children playing nearby, finding joy in the lives of another family. He ceased to appear last spring, I prayed he had moved on to a better place and I wrote a piece in his tribute. He was just one of my many muses.

You see, I am a writer, and have been for many years. I seek inspiration from those around me, in faces whose names I will never know. The park is my private bed of creativity, allowing me the privilege to silently observe the people who roam the open trails and discern the stories they tell.

Today, I hope to seek an end to a story that has slowly unfolded over the course of two years. I first saw them on a breezy autumn evening, two friends, a man and a woman. He was a tall, skinny lad with a jutting chin. She was easily a head shorter than him, dark hair and a face graced with an impish smile.

He ran head on into the wind, feet trampling on the golden leaves that littered the trail while she giggled, trying to catch up. Their infectious laughter rang loudly, as they teased and talked until the sky grew dark. There was such ease in their gestures, an affection so magnetic, I found myself speculating on the depth of their friendship. They came every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening. I took delight in watching their interplay wishing that there was such a friendship in my life.

The seasons passed, and in the winter of the following year, a new development began to unfold. Another character started coming with her, a handsome young man. They strolled hand in hand, giggling endlessly, a sure sign of two people in love.

Her good friend joined them from time to time. Not often and when he did, he maintained a distance between them, seemingly happy to give the young lovers some privacy yet the hesitant smile he gave her each time she looked at him led me to believe otherwise.

As the temperature continued to drop, a nervous energy came over him, he stayed further away, eyes darting back and forth, stealing glances at the happy couple. Soon he stopped coming altogether, I was saddened by his absence and what it might mean to their friendship.

Early the following spring I saw her sitting forlornly on the bench under the eucalyptus tree. Elbows on her knees, she cradled her head in her hands, her shoulders trembling. Her ever faithful friend stood just a few feet away, his features pained by the anguish of his friend. After a moment, he sat down beside her and placed a gentle arm around her. They stayed like that for a long while. I never saw the other man again.

They didn't appear again until late that summer. They went back to their old routine but something had changed. He no longer ran ahead like he used to, he slowed his pace to match hers. Their touches grew more intimate, their gazes upon each other lingered for seconds more. They spoke softer, like they were guarding some secrets between them. Could it be? Dare I hope that they finally saw within themselves what I had seen the first time I laid eyes on them?

Things came to a head a week ago. Against the rose tinted sky, they fought. It was not an angry exchange, rather one of confusion and frustration. Tears streamed from their faces as their hands motioned furiously, before they collapsed in each other's arms. They held on tight in a desperate embrace. Finally she broke free, leaving him to watch helplessly as she ran wildly toward her car, almost stumbling over. With a slam of the car door, she sped off.

I have been here everyday since, hoping to see them. Maybe today will be the day. I take a quick glance at my watch, it's already past six. If they were to come, they should be here by now.

They didn't disappoint me. I hold my breath as the familiar blue pickup rolled to a stop by the curb. Two figures climb out, a man and a woman, laughing, sharing a joke. I watch with delight, as he slides his arms around her, and places a kiss on her lips. Their faces beaming, they link their arms and walk off, following the trail that has lead them to this moment.

I smile, my spirit lifting. How can I not? In a chaotic world, filled with heartbreaks and missed chances, they have found one another. I pack my things and pay the bill. It is time I start work on their story.

About the author: Erlynda Jacqui Chan is an avid short story reader who after turning thirty, decided that it was now or never to fulfill her lifelong dream of writing. She resides in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and her short stories have been published in Gold Dust, Antithesis Common, 5th Story Review, The Green Muse and The Flash Flood.