This story was contributed by Shaun Allan and is about the eternal dance – love.
The couple sat on the park bench, huddled together. They were old and the years wrinkled their skin like the bark of an ancient tree. If one were so inclined as to cut them in half, perhaps those same years would have made rings through their bodies to mark the passing of the ages.
Her hair, usually set just so, with a whole can of hairspray lending its hand to keep it in place, was wild. It was a bird's nest of wire, pulled this way and that by the wind tugging and yanking in protest, it seemed, at the lack of hair on her companion's head. If it couldn't have its fun with him, then it would double its efforts with her.
They were oblivious. He had a tear slipping down his cheek, sneaking along so as not to be noticed. She had a smile. Or the beginnings of one. Or her mouth was toying with the idea of producing one. Either way, it wasn't a frown and it was more than a simple line of non-emotion.
For a very long time, neither spoke. The one tear on the man's cheek was chased by another and, when that finally dripped from his chin (to be stolen away by the over and ever enthusiastic breeze), a third joined in the trail to create a continuous scar of moisture down his face.
The bench had seen better days. Once it had been a shining example of varnished perfection, and the plaque commemorating the loved, departed wife of a sad and lonely man had shone in celebration of the dawning day. Now the varnish had decayed to become tarnish. The shine darkening to grime. The smooth whittling into groove as innumerable backsides and knives and spent chewing gums had visited the seat and left their mark.
To the old man, it still shone. It still held onto, somewhat desperately, its initial glory. He saw beyond the crude scratchings. He didn't notice the carved declarations of love by teenage couples that would split within days or hours of their proclamation. The faded, splintered, peeling paint was hidden from his gaze, partly by cataracts and partly by memory.
"It's been so long," he said.
His voice was a touch above a whisper. Any louder and it would have cracked open, spilling the years of buried loss at his feet. They'd be strewn across the park by the breeze, a happy puppy with a new toy, and picked apart by crows.
The woman moved in closer. There was barely a gap between them, the air and light squeezed out to enable her to hold him as close as he needed her to.
Her tone was a mix of sadness and fate. What was, was. The years had made their mark on him as much as they had on the bench. He bore the same scars and his gloss was faded and peeling. Neither of them could change that. Only one name beloved's name had been carved into him, however.
"But it's time."
"Past time," he said.
He was right.
Why had he survived? Why had he lingered on, when he was little more than a shade? He'd stopped living so many years ago and everything since had been... well, it had been a waste. The breaths he'd taken could have been someone else's. The food he'd eaten, what little there had been, could have fed other mouths. The beats of his heart were redundant, as his heart had been a hollow stone since... that day.
His hand reached back and touched the plaque. Tender. Loving.
He shook his head. Why did he hurt so much? Why couldn't he have just let go?
He spoke the question aloud.
"You have," said the woman.
She sat up and took his hand, pulling him to his feet.
"Why do you think I'm here?"
The old man shook his head again.
"I didn't think of that."
"Come on," she said, "Let's go."
They walked along the path towards the old bandstand where they used to dance on a Sunday afternoon, so many years before. Back when people did dance. Back when they felt the music in their bones and their spirit. Back when she was alive.
"When we were both alive," she smiled.
Shouts and a siren made Albert turn back to the bench. A group of people huddled around it, a couple on their mobile phones. An ambulance was parked at an odd angle, its front wheels on the grass, its rear doors wide open. Welcoming. A paramedic was bent over the body of an old man, pumping the chest repeatedly and grunting with the effort.
He shook his head at his partner. Someone cried out, a howl of sorrow for someone they'd never known and, now, wouldn't ever.
The woman pulled at his hand as the sound of a band filled the air.
"Are you dancing?" he asked, finally turning away from the sight of his body.
"Are you asking?" she smiled.
Shaun Allan is a Wattpad Star, Featured Author and Watty Winner. He has appeared on Sky TV to debate electronic vs traditional publishing, and has worked on many movie projects, in conjunction with Wattpad, such as The Purge: Anarchy, Sinister II, The Boy, Incarnate, IT and A Quiet Place. His novel Sin reached #1 on Amazon and topped a Books that get you Hooked list, above Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. He holds regular writing workshops at local schools and lives with his wife, 2 daughters, 2 dogs and 2 cats, though he is not building an Ark. Read more from Shaun here.
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