By Terry Horton
I open my eyes; the penetrating light streams through the soft white clouds making contact with my milky complexion. It is impossible not to squint when looking out over central park in the afternoon. The suns ray’s comfort and warm my spirit, allowing my mind to slightly relax. (I am almost able to forget about what it is that I don’t know and can’t remember.)
Each day of my life begins at ten o’clock a.m. and ends at two o’clock p.m. If you were to ask me how I know this I could not provide an honest answer. I just know because I know. When I first open my eyes I always see 10 on my wristwatch. Before I close them I see 2. This is my manipulated measurement of time. Most of my days are spent sitting. I sit all alone on a bench underneath a big oak, across from the red and yellow swing-set in Central Park. I watch the birds at play sometimes, splashing about in the fountain. The children are always a temporary source of entertainment as well. They laugh and scurry around, sliding to and fro on the playground.
What I love most of all though is the people who stop by during my day to visit me. Sometimes, they even bring me presents. Yesterday or so, my mom came by and brought me some chocolates in a heart shaped box. It was cherry red and had smooth lace outlining the lid. I slowly opened it. Inside was a solid bar of chocolate wrapped in gold tin foil. A sort of flash, of another something from the past, skittered through my subconscious. Then, like the smell of flowers in the mid-day breeze, it drifted on without me. I ate the chocolate and it made me happy. My mom never says anything to me though; I’m supposed to do all the talking. The doctor told her not to talk back to me. I guess she might not know what to say or something.
I am keeping a secret journal to follow the events in my existence. I am a man. I guess I am in my mid 20’s, but I’m not sure. I have medium length tar black hair that is neatly combed. At least I have a good idea that it is. My skin is much paler than any of the visitors that I have. There are two mysterious holes in my stomach. Pete told me they were so that the bad air could escape, and the good air from the park could flow inside. I don’t have any long term memory. I was told this so that I wouldn’t wonder why I couldn’t remember my childhood. Pete. Pete is the only man who ever talks to me. He says that I am his best friend. Pete says that I should do whatever he tells me to because he is smarter than me. Sometimes I wonder if Pete is really even my friend at all.
Pete is an older man with grey hair close to the front of his hairline; the remaining hair on his head is light brown. I sometimes tell him he has a moon head. That’s what I call his balding pattern; it nearly reaches the back of his head. He wears big brown glasses that trap the grey hair between his ears and head, making it bunch up into his already hairy ears. He smokes a pipe every time he visits me. Usually, he will start his visit by packing his pipe full of vanilla flavored tobacco. He strikes a wooden match, puffs three times to get it going, and asks, “Charles, how are you feeling today?” I always respond the same way to him.
“I am doing wonderful; how are you Pete?”
The funniest part is I never can remember him having answered that question. Pete seems to be the type of man who is tortured more than your average Joe. He is a mechanic; he fixes the cars and trucks. I just never seem to notice any dirt or grime on his hands or under his fingernails. He must wash his hands very well. He always dresses the same way. He wears a white shirt with a black jacket and khaki pants. Pete’s face has pain in it, but from where or why I don’t know. The reason I am able to see the pain is because right before two o’clock his eyes begin watering. I believe he is a simple man. He is just a man who visits me.
Today there was a homeless man in the park. He had propped up against a tree with a crinkled brown paper back dangling from his hand. This was the first time I had seen him. He would sing songs to himself fumbling and forgetting certain verses, due to his drunkenness. I liked the way his face looked. There was a sort of satisfaction that exuded from him. I wonder what the world must look like through his eyes. He was a man like any other I guess, but he had something else the others did not. What made him special was he had no ball and chain. No wife or no children to worry over. He didn’t care about politics or the environment; all he cared about was his next bottle. He and I were much alike in that sense, but my bottle was sitting on this bench just being here.
Can there be more to life than sitting on this bench? If there is, will I ever see it? These are the questions that wander through my mind. I asked Pete if he thought I would ever go on an adventure. He said that I had already been on one, I just couldn’t remember. I wanted to believe that but I just wasn’t sure.
A young woman walked by today. She was holding a small child by the hand as they strolled through the park. The woman was wearing a white dress with red flowers all over it. The child had on an all white dress. As they passed by my bench the little girl looked at me and waved with only her pinky up. Then she smiled. I felt something I never had before. Joy. I smiled back at her and imitated her one fingered wave. She smiled wider. I envied that. Whatever it was that they had, I truly envied it. After that day passed, I never felt the same. I would pull my secret journal and read the description I wrote on them everyday, waiting for them to visit again. They never did. Maybe it was better that way. The memory I had of them was flawless. It was my one piece of perfection; it gave me clarity.
The days seem to drain on endlessly. Alone on that solemn bench I sat. The leaves of the trees changed in color and tumbled to the ground. It all began to make sense to me. We were just as the trees were. We all would someday fall into the earth as well. In our stead another life would emerge and continue on.
I saw that homeless man again. He was passing through the park as if he had somewhere to go. I called out to him. He came over and sat next to me for awhile. His name was Harry. He had a huge afro haircut. He must have been eating rice because he had some still in his beard. I didn’t tell him though. What would it have really helped? I wondered what happened to his front teeth because they were missing. When I asked him about it he said, “Yeah, they hit somebody in the fist.” I laughed. The trumpet was all Harry ever loved in life. In the end, it turned out the love affair was one sided. Harry knew how to make me laugh. I actually felt normal; I felt alive. He once asked me why I always was sitting here, day in and day out. I put on the most serious expression I could manage and asked him, “What, are you trying to say I’m a bum.” He belly laughed so hard I thought he was going to die. That was the only time I ever remember having made Harry laugh. He would continue to visit me for a good while to come. Most everyday he would come and sit with me. We talked about women a lot. Harry said there were few women he met he didn’t like, but none that he ever loved. He said, “Heartache should be reserved for something that defines a man, not one that steals his independence. Unfortunately, it doesn’t ever work out that way though.”
One day Harry came to me and told me he would be moving away to live with his daughter. Then he bent down and hugged me so tightly I couldn’t breathe. After he walked away I found a note he had slipped into my coat pocket. It said, “Dear Charles, you were the only friend I ever had. Thanks.”
In the days to come I would miss Harry. I never forgot him though; that would be impossible. Pete had not been visiting me as often anymore. He said it was because he was having health issues. My guess was he puffed that pipe one too many times. Then he just completely stopped coming all together. My mom began coming more though. She told me Pete had passed away. Although I never liked Pete too much I still missed him a little.
The trees were now green and the air was full of spring smells. Someone had planted roses beside my bench. They were bright red. Whenever I saw them I thought about the woman in her flower dress.
My mom came by one day and asked if I wanted to take a walk with her. I had never thought about that before. So we walked. We stopped by a little florist shop and bought some red roses. Mom wanted to pick the ones near the bench but I wouldn’t let her. After we left the store we came upon a graveyard. I told her it was a beautiful place to spend the day. She had brought a picnic basket and we ate lunch on a table under the shade. No one made tuna fish sandwiches like mom. We finished up and started walking beside the gravestones. There were all different shapes and sizes. I think the bigger the stone meant the wealthier the person had been before they passed. It seemed not to make sense though, because no matter how large or grand the stones were the person beneath it would never have the opportunity to enjoy it.
We continued to walk through the graveyard until the sun began to sink into the haze. I came across a grave that had an epitaph on it I liked very much. It read, “The earth is only the first rung in the ladder to the clouds.” I liked that. A few minutes passed and I showed my favorite grave to mom. She liked it as well. We continued walking for a while longer until we stopped at a small gated part of the graveyard. Mom asked me if I wanted to walk in with her. I couldn’t think of a reason not to, so I lifted the brown rusted latch and walked through the gate. All the graves inside were quite small. They also all had the same name on them, Fellmoore. Mom knelt next to one grave and laid the red roses down. She did it very slowly; I noticed that her lips were quivering and she was wiping her eyes. I didn’t know why mom was crying but it made me feel empty. She stood up and asked, “Charles do you know what today is?” I didn’t even know what time it was. I looked down at the stone in front of her. It had a name on it that I didn’t know. “No, Mom, I don’t know what today is?” She pulled a handkerchief from her pocketbook and wiped her eyes and blew her nose. She then turned her attention back to the stone where the flowers had been set and said, “Today is June 5th. He would have been 56 today Charles.”
I was puzzled. Who could she be talking about? Then she began sobbing very hard. I looked at the name again; maybe if I tried I could remember it.
The name was Peter Sebastian Fellmoore. No. It wasn’t Pete, or was it. Mom came over and put her arm around me and said, “Charles, I want you to see something.” I was curious as to what it was. I just hoped it wasn’t anything bad. She reached back into her purse and brought out a small black case. Then she just handed it to me. What was it? Maybe it was another present of some kind. I opened it…and what I saw was the one thing I had never wanted to see. I saw a face that over the years had become one I despised. It was a face I hated because I could not understand it. Long white bushy eyebrows grew above sagging weathered eyes. The nose was long; it had bumps and craters on it revealing its many years of having been alive and above ground. The cheeks stretched low, like they were made out silly putty. The mouth was wide and had naturally grown into a frown with age. From the mouth were long wrinkles that ran down to a whiskerless chin. I was an old bird who had been flightless for some time now.
“Charles, we have been married for many years. I will take you anyway I can get you. I will be your mother, sister, cousin, or aunt. Pete was your son. You loved Pete very much. Everyday for six years I have taken you to your favorite bench in the park at precisely ten o’clock. I pick you up at two p.m. sharp. The doctor says that by some unknown reason your memory erased itself, one day while you were on that bench. Ever since then you have made new memories. You only seem to be able to remember things while you’re in that park. Do you remember me sweetheart?”
She had tricked me everyday for the last six years into looking into that mirror, and I still fell for it. Damn, I was a putz. Well at least I still had my sense of humor, if nothing else.
She then threw her arms around me and said, “I love you darling and always will.” I knew she did. I knew she always would.