Note. I’ve heard that fiction should stand on its own. OTOH, I can’t let this go without explanation. I see the middle as 8 – 12 interrelated mini-stories. This is a start. (Photo)
First park worker: “Hey Judson, where did this bench come from?”
Second park worker: “What do you mean, it’s always been there.”
First: “Nay, this is a style C park. You can tell by the double slide. Those get three benches.
Second: “Who knows, maybe they had an extra they didn’t want to take back to the depot. You don’t expect Central to make sense, do you?
First: Truth. Where do you want go for lunch?
A homeless man slept on the bench. It was a good night. He’d found a copy of the Sun-Star newspaper. Much better than the Herald. More pages. He’d gotten the good bench as well. It was set back among the trees. If the neighborhood patrol was feeling lazy and didn’t get out of the car, he could usually get thru the night uninterrupted.
The bench saw a lot of kisses. Some good-bye. Some hello. Some tentative. Some tired. Many from dogs.
A woman sat on the bench reading a book. Next to her stood a baby carriage. The woman and the occupant of the baby carriage were both wrapped in woolen hats and sweaters and mittens. The baby was covered with a heavy blanket.
Another woman slowed down as she walked past. She looked disapprovingly at the pair. “Seems a bit cold for a baby.”
The seated woman pinned a smile to her face. “She sleeps better in fresh air. The doctor says it’s fine as long as she’s warm.”
The seated woman kept the polite smile pinned to her face until the other woman walked off. ‘Must be new,’ she thought. ‘Most of the neighborhood knows us.’
A jogger went past. “Still napping outdoors?”
A smile, this time legitimate, “Yeah, we think one of us must have some Scandinavian heritage that we didn’t know about.”
Murray hid behind the bench. You could see through the metal seat. Hiding behind it was a empty gesture. He hoped it was enough of one.
This was a crap time to be at the park. Everyone knew Kelly and her people had the park on Wednesdays after school. You didn’t go to the park on Wednesdays without an invite from Kelly.
A girl walked over. One of the lieutenants.
“Watcha doing here?”
“My mom’s got a Zoom call. She told be to come here.” He held up his phone. “I have to,” he pleaded, “She’ll check.” He huddled closer to the bench. “I’ll be real quiet. I promise.”
Conference. Much looking over at him. He practiced his most harmless look. He hoped Kelly understand about parents and GPS.
The lieutenant returned. “Kelly says you have one hour, you have to stay under the bench, and she gets first choice from your lunch for a week.”
He nodded vigorously in Kelly’s direction and crawled under the bench. His mom would be annoyed at the mud on his clothes, but he’s gotten off light. He’d have to be sure that put good stuff in his lunch next week.
The seventh annual Friends of the Park Festival featured the usual run of vendors and food trucks. The art competition was judged by the curator of the city museum.
Middle of the night. A bodyless voice: Scout. Report.
The legs of the bench telescope down as the metal of the bench ran together: Scout Zirr here.
Voice: So. Humans. Do we invited them to join us or do we sterilize the planet?
Zirr: It’s complicated.
=== curtain ===