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“The Park” by Amanda Robinson

Character: Police station clerk
Action: Tightening a knot
Setting: A meeting for a subversive group
Prop: Decorative songbirds made from vinyl records

***

The Park

by Amanda Robinson

It had been ten years since she had disappeared. Ten years since Henry had woken in the middle of the night and felt her absence, tangible and definite. It had been ten years since the onslaught of pity from his friends and family, who attributed her sudden nocturnal departure simply to “things not working out”. They offered him solace, and smiled piteously at his assertions that they were, in fact, very much in love. They eventually left him to grieve over his failed marriage despite his protestations that something more sinister had occurred. It had been ten years since he had filed a missing persons report with the local authorities. And it had been ten years of silence. One hundred and twenty months of crippling angst, of confusion and despair. For five hundred and twenty weeks Henry had been carrying his cumbersome emotions around like a suitcase. As the days and weeks and months passed and his mind began to break Henry quietly withdrew from the world around him. He slipped slowly into reclusion, spending days at a time locked away inside their dream house at the top of the hill. The only occasion Henry would venture out from his solitude was for his Sunday evening constitutional, which he took every week, rain or shine. Every week he would make his way down the hill to the park at the bottom, his delicate frame hunched over by the weight of his melancholy. Every week Henry would walk the trails that wound through the estate, half-hoping to lose his way and be lost forever, as his wife had been. He knew in his slipping mind that his wife was there in the park. He had dreamt it.

The first time the dream came to Henry was on a Sunday night, exactly one week after his wife’s disappearance. In his dream he woke to the sound of her footsteps in the foyer. Fear and resignation seized him as he ran down the stairs, shouting after her. In his dream he knew her mind; he knew where she was going and what she meant to do. She was headed for the park. He trailed after her, calling her name but making no sound, running as quickly as he could but never catching up to her. He saw her approach the great iron gates of the wooded grounds, the rich vines and lush greenery languidly reaching for her as a baby grasps for its mother.   But when he came to the bottom of the hill he could only stand rooted to the spot, helplessly watching her retreating back cross the threshold as the eerie night fog enveloped her, claiming her forever. Not a single glance back did she spare for the life she was leaving behind. When Henry awoke from his dream he immediately dressed himself and careened down the hill and into the park, wildly searching and frantically calling out to her; such certainly this dream had given him that his wife remained cloistered within those verdant walls. Every Sunday for the past ten years had been the same: the vivid dream, the fervent search. Some nights he scoured the gardens feverishly, other nights he wandered aimlessly until dawn. Each weekly endeavor yielded the same result. He would trudge back up the hill to their dream house, defeated and despondent, and count the hours until he could ring Jack.

Jack worked at the police station, and he was the only friend Henry had left in the world. It was Jack who answered the phone every Monday morning when Henry called to inquire about any potential leads on his wife’s whereabouts. It was Jack who listened patiently as Henry retold his recurring dream and confided to Jack his theories about the park. It was Jack who, for the sake of friendship, arranged a search party to be dispatched to the area in hopes of satisfying Henry’s suspicions. But it was an obsession that could not be sated, and eventually Jack succumbed to the futility of reasoning that had isolated Henry from the rest of his family and friends. He abandoned Henry to his madness, though pity and a good heart made him maintain his outward courtesy, as loyal friends will do.

In his state of seclusion Henry fell to the usual eccentricities that a hermit is wont to indulge in. Every morning he awoke early, showered and dressed as if he were headed to the office, though he had lost his job shortly after his wife’s disappearance. He cooked her favorite breakfast, poached eggs and a thick slice of ham, and set a place for her at the table next to his own. He poured two cups of coffee, setting her mug next to the crystal vase that was perpetually filled with camellias, her favorite flower. Out of respect he never conversed with his absent companion, although he did direct the occasional loving glance at his wife’s empty chair. After washing the dishes (she would never abide a dirty kitchen), he ambled down the hallway to his study, where he sat behind the majestic oak desk his wife had picked out. Some days he would work on his novel, other days he would pass an entire afternoon listening to his vinyl records. Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Bessie Smith- those decorative songbirds of the Jazz Era kept him company while he drummed his fingers on his desk and reminisced about happier times, a pastime he allowed himself with increased frequency as he began to lose his clinging grip on reality. His musings always brought him to the same place in time, the age of innocence and hope when he and his beloved wife had just begun their life together.

It was twenty years ago that they had bought their dream house at the top of the hill. That very first evening, a Sunday, they had wandered down the hill and discovered the park. Henry remembered standing at the iron gates of the entrance, gazing affectionately at his wife as she danced from tree to shrub, delighting in the many splendors of the botanical playground. Over the years they would explore every inch of the trails that wound through the rich vegetation. The trail they had chosen that first night guided them to the very center of the park, where velvety grass-covered knolls sloped gently down to meet the edges of a glassy pond. At the rim of the water the happy couple embraced, the magic of their kiss illuminating the forest around them. Henry recalled how the starlight seemed to come down from the heavens to weave its way through his wife’s golden hair. They stood under the stars and celebrated their love, their life, and their happily-ever-after. He would never forget that first night in the park. It became a special place for them, and they would come there every Sunday evening for many years. Some nights they would stroll hand-in-hand down the hill and through the gates together. Other nights they would sneak down to the ivy-covered entrance separately just for the thrill of a secret rendezvous. Their meanderings always led them to the pond, which held court like the faerie queen Titania at the heart of the gardens.

And it was looking down at this pond, from a grassy knoll carpeted in clover, where Henry found himself tonight. It was Sunday night. He had dreamt of the park and of his wife- this time she was dressed in a flowing white gown and had flowers in her hair. She beckoned to him from the edge of the water; it was the first time in these ten years the dream had ever taken him beyond the iron gates. She held out a small, perfectly-formed hand and beams of light shone from her fingertips, reaching into his heart and warming his brittle soul. He had woken from his dream and dressed himself calmly, taking pains to comb his hair the way she liked and knotting the scarf she’d bought for him around his neck. He had stridden purposefully down the hill and through the wrought-iron gates. The trails were obscured by blackness more dense and forbidding than the usual dark of night, but Henry knew the way. He was soon standing at the lip of the knoll, gazing down at the limpid pool below. The surface of the water, usually glassy and still, trembled with anticipation. Some force unknown coaxed Henry to the water’s edge (was he still dreaming?), where he methodically took off his shoes and laid them in the grass beside him. He glanced around, for the final time taking in the beauty and magic of the park. He felt the grass under his feet, inhaled the sweet night air pregnant with the scent of pine, heard the crisp chirruping of the crickets. He turned his face towards the stars; they winked at him knowingly, having been witness to many loving encounters over the years. Henry stretched out his arms and embraced the stillness and the magnificence surrounding him. When he opened his eyes he saw her. She stood at the opposite edge of the pond, bathed in ethereal light. She was clad in the white dress from his dream and a crown of flowers sat atop her golden curls. Her eyes sparkled with stolen starlight and her skin bore the dewy radiance of dawn. Tears streamed down Henry’s face as he beheld her glowing countenance, her perfect lips forming the smile he had yearned for these past ten years. His beloved wife reached out her hand and summoned him as he took his first step into the water. “I’ve been waiting for you.

© 2012 Amanda Robinson

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