The Bench

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.

One thought on “The Bench

  1. I like the that your metaphor changed, or is changing. I had a general idea for the metaphor in my piece, but I can feel its movement and I like that I don’t know what I am writing… Not to sound too cliché, but those pieces that sort of write themselves are the pieces I get excited about. It’s a similar feeling to reading a good book, I want to get back at it and see where it goes.

    I’ll start with a bit on the content, my interpretation, my reaction to metaphor––you know, a general reader response to the “story.” I could be way off; the symbol always transcends its creator. But hopefully this insight into the way I process the story will reveal something worth while…

    A man with a rigid physical intensity sits on a bench. Someone watching imagines him watching his past, living out the rest of his days in his memories. What is going on his mind is not accessible to whoever is watching him, it’s all just an assumption. I’m completely missing the Ozymandias analogy… Maybe I just don’t know enough about Ramessess II, but I can’t make a connection. A shadowy figure enters the story. It’s another man, another old man. One of them is certainly alive. The other is perhaps just a statue, a shell, no thought but the thought the unnamed watcher imagines him thinking. The widening river serves as a metaphor for the unstoppable distance between the men and The Actual of their memories. There are physical, scientific things responsible for this, but this science doesn’t give insight into the feelings of the soul, the spirit, consciousness. These men don’t care.

    Then the narrative shifts perspective. As a reader, I leave the anonymous perspective of the unnamed voyeur and enter the minds of the men. For the first time, action takes place. This is my favorite paragraph. I can actually feel the binding of the particular to the general. The ephemeral experience of living is captured in everyday details like eating and talking about girls. The focus on the details that happened in the city and not the city itself feels a lot like the concept that the radiance of sun light which we feel is not the sun itself, but the sun still represents this radiance. They are the same and yet their own. These memories and the city are one, yet not. The rigid man has been plucked and the reverberation becomes apparent. The man is the city, and he is not. There is also a strong tone that Feelings are more important than Science. The mattress feels good despite not understanding the springs that make the mattress feel good. A touch of ignorance’s bliss.

    The theme of burden and release from burden is reoccurring, but underdeveloped. It reveals itself mainly in the waves, but is made even more pronounced by the analogy to the cubs being held back by their mother.

    Now for some feedback on specific narrative elements…

    My first impression was that the piece is strong visually, which I think is one of your strengths. I feel that if you were to continue to develop this piece one area of focus could be on strengthening the action, be it physical movements of the men or dialogue between them.

    I think that another area of focus should be point of view. Who is telling this story? Right now there are two, if not three distinct points of view. There is the solitary second-person unnamed watcher, who eventually becomes part of the first-person plural “we.” As it stands, the strongest point of view in my opinion is the third-person omniscient narration that reveals the thoughts of the men. I don’t know that this is the POV to stick to though. I think there is a lot to explore in the relationship to the person/people watching these men, but that needs to be more thought out. As it is, the second-person and first-person plural characters are not developed at all. To be fair, they are not even characters.

    In terms of unity, there is some work to be done to connect the theme of burden to the experience of the men and their memories. How does the burden of memory confine or free the spirit or soul of someone? How do science and philosophy add burden to thought? How do science and philosophy free the mind? Or do they?

    Overall, as with most stories this early in development, there are so many ways you can take it. I definitely think that exploring the narrative elements of Point of View and Action will help strengthen the metaphor and unity of the piece, and who knows, maybe even transform it into something you never expected!!!

Leave a Reply