Story of a couple whose significant chapters in their lives was bound up by a park bench
The Park Bench
The old man sat on the bench opposite the fountain every day, he was reading a copy of The Times and every so often he would knock his pipe against the edge of the bench, and after re-lighting it, he would put it into the corner of his mouth and resume reading. George Gregory had been coming to this same bench regularly for the past 15 years, but today was to be his last day, only he didn’t know it.
Ever since his wife had died some 5 years previously, George had taken to walking in the park each day and sitting on the bench reading, smoking and watching the world go by. This particular day seemed no different from any other, George had gotten up around 07:30 and after his morning ablutions, had eaten a light breakfast and tidied up the small flat that he and Elizabeth had shared for 40 years, they hadn’t had children, so the flat had always enough for them.
He had met Elizabeth at University, she had been a bit of a rebel, and had been arrested several times, for taking part in various protests, it was this rebellious streak in her that had attracted George to her, that and her beautiful body and long black hair, she had a dimple on one cheek and it deepened when she laughed. George had been the quiet studious type, and was amazed when Elizabeth made it known that she was attracted to him, and after a whirlwind courtship they had married in the local Registrar’s Office.
They bought the flat in 1972 and had lived there ever since. When they first married they had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, but as the years passed, most of them had either moved away or died. They still kept in touch with a few friends, but mostly they kept each other’s company. They were kindred spirits, and loved each other with a passion that never died.
She had only gone in to hospital to have a benign cyst removed, but had suffered a heart attack on the operating theatre. George was devastated, and retreated into himself. The only time he left the house was to go for shopping and to the park each day for his smoke of his pipe, he wouldn’t smoke in the flat as Elizabeth had always hated the smell of his pipe, and although she was gone now, he felt she wouldn’t have liked him to smoke in the flat.
It was a beautiful, sunny day and the park was busy. Children running past laughing and shouting, courting couples, arm in arm, gazing into each other’s eyes, fractious babies crying, Ice Cream Vendors Chimes and harassed Mothers and Fathers, scolding their children.
As he sat there in the warm sun smoking his pipe, George folded his paper and leaned back on the bench, his mind wandered back to sunny days in the past when he and Elizabeth had first met at university, the endless political meetings, the demonstrations, the music and the tender nights of youthful passion. He remembered her joy when he had got them tickets to see Bob Dylan, and they way she threw her arms around him and told him, she loved him up to the sky. They had walked through this park many, many times, so much in love, with the world before them. Once she had found an injured bird, and took it home and nursed it to health. Then when they were told they could never have children, Elizabeth had come to the park he followed and found her on the bench quietly crying, he had put his arms around her, and her face wet with tears, he had kissed her gently and said it will be OK but the pain remained in Elizabeth’s heart. It was also here she had come when she found out about the lump in her breast, they had both sat on the bench crying with a feeling of dread, and then the joy when they were told that the lump was benign and that Elizabeth only needed a small op to remove it. He thought about the wonderful holidays in Greece, they always went to the same place, a beautiful out of the way village where over the years they had gotten to know the locals very well, he remembered the tender sweet intimacy he shared with her on hot, balmy Greek nights.
The night before she went into hospital she had said to him, “don’t worry George, I’ll be OK” and even if I’m not I’ll be waiting for you. He had thought that strange at the time, but shrugged it off.
The Sun was getting hotter, and George fell into a Reverie, he could see Elizabeth’s face, she was beckoning him, he felt warm and happy, he walked towards her and took her hand, he experienced a peaceful calm comer over him,he knew now what she had meant and felt sublimely happy, Elizabeth was smiling her dimple deepening.
George remained on the bench, and the children running past smiled at the old man sleeping on the bench, the Ice Cream Van was still chiming and the Mothers and Fathers were still scolding, but George couldn’t hear them.