Dave sits alone on a decaying, paint-stripped bench — the only bench in this desolate park — and stares at his scuffed brown leather shoes. He wonders if this time, she’ll come.
The flowers he picked today, like every other day, are tulips — yellow ones. Yellow because that is the colour of her hair and of absolute happiness: so warm, bright and inviting. And tulips because of what she’d told him on the night they first met.
They were both waiting in line to watch a movie. It was one of those sad soppy dramas where you’re bound to sob uncontrollably in intervals of fifteen minutes. She’d dropped her ticket whilst desperately fumbling for something through her bag and he’d picked it up for her, noticing that she was alone. He was also alone but only because he secretly liked these kinds of films and held far too much pride to let anyone who might know him see his tears. He tried to figure out why this captivating woman, one with hair the colour of starlight and eyes like the ocean after a storm, was on her own at the cinema, watching a movie that would most certainly make her cry. He deliberated a while and wondered whether it would be too forward of him to ask if she might be waiting for someone. But maybe she was just like him. Maybe she was there on her own because these kinds of films tore open her wounds for everyone to see and she hated being so openly vulnerable, especially in front of those who wanted her to be.
As the fallen ticket was exchanged from his cold, calloused hands into her tiny warm ones, an image coursed through his mind. Her body was intertwined with his on a bed too small for them. It squeaked a little when he moved his arm just so, careful not to wake her as he shifted closer so that he could feel just that tiny bit more of her skin on his. She didn’t move in the slightest, but her mouth let out a small sigh that seemed to say, in a single breath, every possible word for relief known to the speaking world. It had just turned morning and the sun had begun to force its first light through the tiny gaps in the blackout curtains he’d purchased solely to keep the world away. But when those thin rays entered, they set her hair alight so that she glowed on that bed next to him in that small dark room, as if she were the only source of light his world would ever need again.
Unable to shake the urgent feeling that this daydream had given him, Dave set aside all reservations and asked if she’d like company in the theatre tonight. She seemed startled, eyes searching for the person behind her whom this handsome man was obviously directing his attention towards. Surely it wasn’t her. But as she peered around in a confused and clumsy daze, he caught her eyes; those grey-blue eyes that flashed with something hidden far within her— the storm inside her heart. She held his gaze a moment and smiled in a way that could only be likened to sepia-toned memories of childhood; with the sun kind and warm on your neck and shoulders during a late summer afternoon. There would be lemonade, sparklers and fairy bread and these were all of the things that her smile would make you see.
But instead of answering his question, she told him of how one day she’d like to visit the Netherlands and see the tulip festival because “how great is that? An entire festival — a whole season — dedicated to one pretty little delicate thing like a flower!” Sitting together in the theatre he thought about those words, and how she’d said them—almost whispered them — in a way that seemed as though she believed it a crime to wish for something so outrageous. Something just for herself. He let her cry with abandon onto his shoulder in that tiny theatre while he did exactly what he’d come to avoid. He let her see him as vulnerable.
This is the third time this week he’s come to the park. He only comes to see her while it’s raining because that is when he feels lost. He’s fine every other day when the sun is out and the sky is cloudless and blue enough to make you think that if you jumped high enough, nothing would stop you and you’d just keep going up, up and up. Endlessly. But when the clouds roll in fast and dark; when the sky becomes an impenetrable fortress of grey; when the thunder begins to roar and lightning tears open the sky so that water, endless water crashes upon the earth; her image comes to him.
During the rain is when he remembers her as clear as a figure through a freshly cut pane of glass, and that is how he feels — forever on the outside, no more than an inch apart, but never closer.
They were supposed to meet here on that day, four years ago.
When they first started seeing each other they would often come to the park after a day spent revelling in the excitement of how easily and wholly they had fallen, and they would sit on this very bench.
At the time, it was freshly painted in a dark green colour like the leaves of an oak after the sun went down, and all around them the leaves of those very oak trees would rustle gently and it smelled so calm and so cool. The two of them would do nothing but simply sit in each other’s company, hands held so tightly that it was as if one of them was afraid they’d float away. They each seemed to bask in the other’s presence and that was truly enough.
Sitting on that bench now, he can do nothing but think of that day, all those years ago and all that he could have done to keep her here with him. If only he’d believed her when she’d say out into the damp and growing silence between them, ‘I’m so tired, Dave’. And when it rained and stormed and she’d remark, so casually, as if it was just a passing thought and not something that had plagued the darkness of her mind for weeks, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to go for a swim in the river now, Davey? Wouldn’t that be lovely?’ She would smile a half-hearted smile that would no longer keep you warm, and the stormy sea in her eyes turned into a quiet, calm ripple.
But he never noticed.
He’d been too busy with his new promotion at work; the one he’d been slaving away every day for most of their married life to acquire. With this new job, they’d finally have enough money for all of the things that they’d dreamed of doing together and soon, their real lives could begin. That’s what he always told himself.
The job kept him out of the house between the hours of the sun, so he never did have a chance to look up at the pure blue vastness and contemplate jumping into that endless sky. He’d felt terrible about never having enough time to see her; leaving her alone in that house every day. So finally, he’d arranged a date with her; an outing in the park like they used to do when their love was new and light in their hearts and life hadn’t yet gotten in the way. He’d arranged to get some long-needed time off work after a tireless back and forth with his boss.
“Meet me at the park tomorrow at two, on that same bench, like always. I have a surprise for you.” He whispered it softly into her ear before he left that morning.
As he was walking out the door he realised that he’d been so caught up in the excitement of his plans that he’d forgotten to kiss her goodbye like he always did. It’s okay, I’ll see her later, he thought.
He was driving to the park that day when the rain came crashing down and darkened everything between the sky and the ground. Traffic moved slowly. He was already half an hour late, but he knew she’d still be waiting there on that bench despite the heavy rain because it was her. She was the goodness of everything he knew and she would be there no matter what.
He pulled up to the edge of the park and quickly grabbed the bouquet of yellow tulips and an envelope he’d placed carefully on the passenger seat. He nervously and excitedly rehearsed the way that he would reveal his gift and how he would tell her that the tulips were yellow because of her hair, her kindness and her beauty.
Their bench was just a short distance away but he found no sign of her. No sign of anyone. For a moment he thought she might really have gone home. After all, the rain was so heavy you almost couldn’t see a thing. He was about to head back to his car when he spotted something out of the corner of his eye, something floating in the river.
He thought it could be nothing more than a discarded piece of someone’s picnic, but made his way over despite himself. The sun peered through the darkness and the rain at that moment and set aglow a mass of hair so that it shined bright like stars that had fallen from the sky.
She was face-up below the water in the shallow bed of the river, but even if he hadn’t seen her face, he would’ve recognised her from the glowing halo of hair floating on the surface; its light beginning to fade. There was a large, heavy rock on top of her chest, pinning her to the bottom of the river and he knew how hard she must have clung to it, afraid that she might float away.
As he stared at her porcelain face, distorted by the ripples from the raindrops, the envelope fell from his hand, spilling its contents. Two plane tickets to the Netherlands were carried out gently by the rain into the river, left to float among those thin yellow strands.
Dave didn’t cry or shout or scream into the sky. He simply chose not to believe. Walking slowly and silently through the rain and back to the bench, he sat with the tulips wilting in his hands, and waited for her to come.
‘It’s not her,’ he said softly into the endless open, shaking his head. ‘It can’t be. She’ll come back to me.’
And so he sits here, waiting, whenever the rain pours down and the sky goes dark. Waiting for the day that she’ll return to him.
If only she knew, she might even say, ‘how great is that? A whole life—an eternity—dedicated to waiting for one pretty little delicate thing like me.’
Sasha Beekman is a writer from Darwin who moved to Melbourne (mostly) to escape the heat, and to chase all the dirty wonders that only a big city can bring. She’s currently studying Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT. You can find her on Twitter @sashabeanz or her blog.