This is a short story by Natalie Rodriguez.
It is ten in the morning and already, it’s been a long day. Too long.
I walk through the swarm of zoot suits and other business people who call themselves successful.
What is the meaning of success? Seriously, does it all come down to the flashing dollar bill that screams how rich we are and what kind of lifestyle we can afford…
I finally make it to the wooden bench, out in the middle of nowhere. Ironic…
Well, at least it seems that way. For starters, there’s bird crap plastered all over the goddamn bus stop bench. Dried up too. All white and gray just mushed together.
Trees that should have brown branches hollow over like James the Giant Peach—both James and the peach. Making any lighting from the radiant sun seep through. Literally, I am in the shadows.
But it should be no surprise. It has only been a full ten minutes since I left Dr. Ruiz’ office. I forgot how many sessions it has been—maybe thirty of forty, but that’s what happens…
That’s what happens when you are someone who is deemed as damaged or fucked up. They think I am a freak at school…none of my friends look at me literally. Instead, I am just a shadow on a bench, sulking into my forced black abyss, because nobody wants to befriend a girl with quote begin issues quote end.
I sit anyhow, curving my backpack onto my lap. I plug in my headphones and then…I just wait. All alone at the bus stop, just inches from the curb…
“Well, good morning to you.”
What the hell—
An older gentleman takes the seat next to me, smiling, even though I am sitting in the middle of the bench. Well, I guess I shouldn’t be complaining. After all, I don’t own the bench, but neither does this old geezer.
Geezer? Jesus, I’m getting old. Or maybe it’s because of this man’s outfit. That outfit…
He must be related to Dr. Seuss with a checkered overcoat and brown slacks, topped off with a gray newsboy hat. Unless, he’s a cast member from Newsies?
“Lovely day,” he babbles on.
I nod, trying to not be an asshole or as society puts it, “Spoiled/rotten teenager,” even though I am practically an adult (turned eighteen a few months ago)…
The thoughts swarm back…I…I, I don’t know how to put it, but sometimes these images come to my mind like flashing thunderbolts. Pow. Pow. Pow. I’m…I’m a bit shaky again, as Dr. Ruiz puts it, “The memories will surpass, but first you must embrace and accept what has happened, happened and no taking back.” He usually tops it off with taking it day by day or seeing that I am safe and sound (like the T-Swift song) and will find my own silver lining.
Silver lining, I used to ask, like the movie—
Yes, like the movie. We each find our own in every aspect of our life, whether it be good or bad.
Like going away to college, there’s a silver lining in that.
I laughed. How?
“Excuse me, miss,” the elderly man’s voice snaps me back in.
By the time I look at him, it hits me. First, my arm was already going up to ram in one of my earbuds; and secondly…he sees it and he sees me seeing him…
My sleeve drops ever so slightly, showing off my battle wound. An almost skin colored tone scar, thicker than blood, that stretches onward and onward, starting from the tip of my palm and ending—
“It’s not nice to stare,” I spit out and yank down the sleeve of my jean jacket. It rushes over me, starting from the feet up. In seconds, I am ten…twenty…thirty feet away. Then, I hear it again
I stop dead in my tracks, spinning around. “What do you want?!” I can’t tell if anyone is around us, but if they are…god they must think I am an asshole.
“You’d dropped these.” He opens his hand and out pops out a black snakelike string—my earbuds.
“Oh…” I receive them. “…I didn’t see them falling.”
“I’m sorry,” his voice drops ten octaves alone. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
Suddenly, his eyes lower to the ground. This look on him, pulling his cheeks down. Processing…something.
“Well, uh,” it’s all I can think of, “thanks.” And then I turn to leave, my next play to walk home, until:
“I don’t know what the story or stories are behind your scar. But, one day you’ll no longer need to take it out on yourself.”
My mouth hits the floor, stunned and I can feel my eyes sag from the heaviness that fills them up…my chest tightening…throat closing up. “You don’t even know me,” I tell him, and finally, I can breathe again. That was easier than I had thought. It felt good…feels good to address the elephant in the room, well…open in our case.
He takes a deep breather…hitting home for him. “You’re right, I don’t know you. But, I do know that you’ve survived whatever it was. Whatever hurt you.”
It strikes a chord, his words; but, my eyes well up once I see what his eyes drop to…the bouquet of sunflowers. How could I miss those?
A smile creeps on him ever so slightly, like the coo from a newborn reminding its mother that the pain was worth it. Life is worth it. “Every year, on our anniversary, I give my wife her favorite flower. But today, I think she’d want someone else to have it.” At that moment, his eyes finally meet mine.
My cheeks become hot and I find myself wiping the tears away from my eyes, but they just won’t stop. Streams of them cascade down my face and for the first time in a while…I am not running but staying. Right here in this moment with this strange, yet…kind man.
“You certainly need this more than I do.” He moves the flowers my way. I shake my head.
“I can’t. I can’t take—”
“No, no,” he says with a small smile, “It’s a gift. Really.”
“But a gift for someone else.” I smile back because he needs to know that I appreciate the gesture but I can’t just take them. But this time, he does not smile back. So I watch him, as his eyes drop down to the gold ring he caresses with his other hand. A wedding band, perfectly around his frail white left finger.
His smile…long gone forever and ever…until death do us part.
“Forty-six years today.” And there’s that proud smile that any man would wear for a woman who is irresistible and possible to love. “She was my high school sweetheart and an amazing woman.” As he meets my gaze, I see another image but a good one—this time of the elderly man, his younger self emerging with his present day as he says those next words, “I can’t believe it’s been ten years already…”
I cover my mouth, but a small gasp still escapes my lips. Oh, my God…
“I wish I could tell you,” he says directly to me, never breaking focus but readjusting his shoulders back for the big one, “that it does get better, but even I know that’s a lie. But, I can say that you’re not or never were alone. My wife…She too had a scar.”
I look away for the first time, and find myself caressing my own wrist…my warrior’s wound…my suicide scar. I sense that he is still spinning his wedding band, lost in memories of nostalgia and heartbreak, but resurfacing to the good parts of a long life of young everlasting love because a small chuckle slips out of him. My eyes return to him, and he is biting his bottom lip, probably feeling bad for even recalling a life worth living.
I should say something, but the words clog up my throat and my tongue dries up like cotton. I…I want to…speak…
But as I take a step forward, he only places the flowers into my hands. My fingers already tighten around the stems that are locked in plastic. We never break focus, until he gives a sincere and…sad smile before he turns away and retrieves to the bench. He sits back down, this time at the end of the bench, leaving room for me…
He is giving me space. But all I can do is stand there, underneath the blazing sun that seems to wrap around my body; but it feels like two warm…frail arms. Her…is it possible? In this moment, I am the strange teenager holding the bouquet of flowers for his long-gone wife, covered in her spirits.
Natalie Rodriguez is a writer and filmmaker from Southern, CA. In 2014, she graduated with her B.A. in TV-Film from CSUF. Her work has been featured on Amazon Books, “Dime Show Review: Volume 1, Issue 1 – ‘Apricots,’ Tribe section;” Zooey Deschanel’s HelloGiggles; All Day Media; AXS; Blasting News; Defeat the Stigma Project; Dime Show Review; Factual Facts; Fictional Cafe; FlockU; Girls Soccer Network; MCXV; Ranker; Render Media (“Opposing Views” & “This is Now”); ROSA Magazine; Scriggler; Short Kid Stories; TheGamer; The Huffington Post; TheRichest; Thought Catalog; WeekendNotes; Winamop Poetry; and Writer’s Weekly. Her horror story, “Inner Child,” will be published on The Stray Branch in March.