by Hans Ragas
The metaphor is not developed here. And it actually changed during the writing of this rough piece of fiction, which usually makes for confused stories. The image is based on some scenes I used years ago in a still-unfinished (there’s a lot of those) story “Poste Restante,” but I intentionally did not read that back. It’s typically one of those short stories that I personally like while it utterly fails to capture the imagination of any mind but my own. So it goes.
The waves of the river seemed to grow for a moment, no longer content with lapping at its rocky shore like cubs at a tit, but teenagers now, hungry, gnawing away at whatever – old, barren – dared to hold them back. Their splashing and hissing grew louder, here we are, see what we are capable of, then they fell back. For now.
Mossy rocks ran steeply upwards for a few feet, away from the water, crumbled into pebbles, sand eventually, a foot path of ground sea shells, a bench, overlooking it all. The weathered hands of the man lay against its wood.
His small frame hunched forward. Sudden movements – rubbing some weed from his shoe, nodding his head as nostrils flared at some memory – betrayed not the burden of years to be the cause, but rather an intensity that kept his whole body strung and if you could strike it just right, would produce an amazing chord, reverberating all across the river towards the gleaming miniature skyscrapers and buildings of the city’s skyline on the other shore.
Watching his silhouette from behind you were unable to say what he was doing. Perhaps waiting for something, someone, perhaps dying in the midst of the memory of an old lover, rigor mortis already upon him, perhaps he was nothing but a gimmicky statue carved from rock by a foreign artist now long gone, leaving a stamp of his post modernist opinion no one would remember. Ozymandias on the Bench.
A gull cried somewhere. The waves were frolicking, once more unburdened.
Another figure approached. From a tiny black smudge approaching beyond the light house it grew into human form. Dead shells were crunched as it deliberately put each foot down, careful, assured. The human became a man, an old man, who sat down, two of them now, next to each other on the bench.
Every year the river widened the distance between them and the city. They knew it as we all know it to be, though they knew not how or why. Tectonic plates slipping off each other underneath its murky bottom, pairs of ragged claws scattering as subsonic trembles widen the shores. Or the ever hungry water’s briny tongue rasping on the rocks, eating it away into the ocean as the sand it once came from. Or.
They cared not. Never had, as we never have.
Day after day, come weather or cold, they sat there, lapels of coats touching but nothing else. Staring towards the city without seeing its skyline, for in their mind they walked its streets, went into its pubs to play cards, entered its dancing saloons to make a fool of themselves, and cry, and kiss, sometimes. They argued vehemently while dining, philosophy, morals, goals. Girls, too, which was all those rolled into a tight ball of constant attention. While everything was still dipped in the blue of a moon fearing the nearing sunset they ate steaming breadrolls and slowly nodded while chewing, staring ahead, thinking of who knew what, everything but the city, they didn’t see the city, you didn’t look at the salty air you breathed, the springs under her mattrass.
Again the seagull cries. Or maybe another.
The old men sit on the bench, every day. Imagining, remembering, dreaming, every day. If for a moment they get separated, one mind browsing the library while the other reminiscents standing still near the fountain, watching the girls cover their hands when they giggle, they know they will meet again in a favourite restaurant, bluff each other away in a smoke filled poker room, hold each other upright when the pubs close, no, for real this time sir, please sir, please now, yes sir funny sir, please now.
They do not see us standing behind them. A small distance. Watching.
They never do.
We never will.