The Bench Revisited


From a distance, one would think it was a grandmother taking her granddaughter out for a walk. From close-up, the girl still looked eight or nine years old, tomboyish, energetic, while the woman looked no older than forty, although her face was far too lined and her hair completely white. The girl was scampering around, kicking at the fallen leaves, hopscotching, the woman was almost dragging her feet, her gait uncertain. She was holding loosely a red rose by its stem, sometimes smelling it, often holding it before her eyes, looking at it. They were slowly climbing up one little hillock of the park, when the bench came into view. The woman paused. Or rather, froze in her tracks.

She stared at the bench.

From very close-up, one would be baffled by the rate of change of the emotions that the woman's eyes reflected. One moment they twinkled with joy, the next they'd look listless with ennui, the very next sombre with deathwish. The little girl, oblivious of all this, still hopped around.

She'd have to go up there. She didn't come all the way here in order to turn back. She came here because she wanted to be here. She started walking again.

The little red-headed girl was humming an indefinite ditty, while the woman kept silent. It was the latter who first reached the bench and touched its back-planks. As if on cue, the girl stopped humming. She looked at the older woman, almost solemnly.

The white-haired woman was holding the green-painted though faded wood the way a dowser would when looking for signs of water nearby or as a pilgim would touching a holy relic. She was absolutely still, always holding the rose in her other hand. It looked as if she was exerting hard self-control to not let the silent sobs that rocked her neck come out as cries. The little girl seemed used to this sight. She was just waiting it out, silently.

The woman finally came to. She opened her eyes. Turned around to look at the girl and smiled, wanly but encouragingly. Again, as if on cue, the girl broke into speech.

"Mommy, please, don't you cry. You said it yourself, this is a place of love".

Rachel nodded. "Yes, Luce darling, it is. Me… and Mommy Luce…". She didn't finish. The painful remembrance took her breath away.

"This is where you and Mommy Luce used to come to rest after work" little Luce said earnestly, finishing the sentence for her. "You have this mobile phone photograph of you and Mommy Luce drinking coffee. You both look very beautiful. You once said, that it was one of the happiest moments of your life. That's why I don't want you to cry, because you remember something good" she said, almost chidingly.

Rachel mustered a pained smile and looked her daughter in the eye lovingly. "You're right, my baby. I shouldn't cry. But you see… she isn't here with me…with you… How I wish she could see you, how you've grown, how you almost look like her…"

"Uncannily" she thought.

"Yes, it's a shame Mommy Luce is not with us, Mommy. I too wish I could look at her, not just in the photographs, but… you know…" she paused, "…alive" she uttered the last word with utter care. She knew how often her mum would break out crying at the mention of Luce's absence.

This time Rachel only nodded, her eyes, though, glistening with tears.

"But she is watching us, isn't she". The girl looked upwards into the lightly overcast autumn sky. "She can see us through the clouds, can't she? Angels can, haven't you said?"

Yes, yes, I've said all this. How else could I find comfort without sensing her all around me? I don't know if it's for real or make-believe, now I always feel her around. But it must be because you are around, my dearest child.

"And since she's an angel, she does come near us from time to time, doesn't she?" little Luce echoed her mother's thoughts.

Yes. In the whisper of the wind, in the rustle of the leaves, in the distant sounds of the city…

In the voice of my heart: "I want you".

"And when you grow so old that you won't be able to walk, I'll… drive you here, since I'll have a car… or bring you here… in a wheelchair?" Luce said playfully and Rachel couldn't help but smile. She opened her arms and the child nestled itself among them, feeling more comfortable now and certain that her mother wouldn't cry any more today. Rachel gazed into the distance.

I really wouldn't know how I could pull through the rest of my life, if it weren't for you, my little Luce. We'd decided it'd be you we'd adopt, the paperwork was finished, but not so was Fate. Luce thought our home should be flower-laden when you'd first enter it, so she went late in the evening to her shop to bring various flowers for us to decorate. On her way back she was mugged and stabbed to death. She was found a quarter of an hour later, roses and lilies scattered around, soaked in her own blood.

But what turned my hair white overnight, was the coroner's verdict that before the rigor mortis set in, she reached for and held one white lily in her hand. When found, her eyes were still open, looking at it, gazing into eternity.

That's why I visit here so often. I almost pray for death, I pray that one day my emotion will be so strong that my heart will seize. I'd like to die of love and I always carry with me a red rose, her favorite flower. I want them to find me holding it, holding her.

On the other hand, I have to live for you, to live for her.

Her face must have turned funereal again, for there was some shock in Luce's voice when she spoke.

"You are not going to die as well, Mommy, are you?"

That's all the motivation I'll ever need… No, my baby, I won't die. But I will be forever divided, one part of me here, with you, the little red-headed angel who bears the dearest name, the other part… well, it will be where she is, forevermore present but nevermore here. I'll live. I'll live with it.

Rachel took little Luce's hand and started heading towards home, walking the familiar paths, the ways of love.

The autumn air was still. Yet, a moment after the white-haired woman and the red-headed girl left the spot, a little whirlwind formed itself at the foot of the bench. A little swarm of auburn fallen leaves flew upwards knee-high, twirled for a spasm and then settled peacefully upon the damp earth.