The Reunited Family
The Man and the Bronze Statue––Contest Winner
Photo by Deborah Hayn
This winning story, General Fiction, Ridgefield Library Adult Writing Contest
Christine stole a glance right, then left, from inside the screen door before she pulled it open and stepped out onto the sidewalk. She took a few steps and walked through an open door to the restaurant that fronted the building that she called home. There was a coffee cup sitting on the bar—hers. She picked it up, nodded at the barista, and reversed back onto the sidewalk.
A quick glance at the sky confirmed what she already knew—a crisp blue highlighted the dawn of another prefect day. She walked north on the east side of the street, her leather heels making a clean, confident sound. The heels were low and sensible, but they were still heels, and she’d be on her feet all day.
Further ahead she walked to the early-20th-century façade of her library home. The lines of the building were classic, the green of the copper roof its most appealing feature. To the left of the path was a bench, set under a mature maple whose leaves were like the wings of a monarch butterfly. Both bench and tree were still in shadow, but Christine knew a dappled sunshine would soon be dancing in the leaves and across the features of the young mother and daughter, who each and every day sat in bronze on the bench. They were discussing a book, which lay open in the mother’s lap, and Christine imagined a new title each day as she passed them on her way in.
Today she saw the open pages of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and wondered how the mother would ever get that girl, sweet as her disposition seemed, to eat mushrooms after reading Alice’s adventures. A tall, thin man, older but of indeterminate age, sat opposite them at the other end of the bench. He nodded to Christine, his sandy hair flopped over his eyes. He pushed it back with a practiced motion and returned his gaze to the mother and her daughter as if engrossed in their conversation, but not before fixing his soft-blue eyes on Christine, in a way that made her blush. She picked up her step and strode through the copper-filigreed double doors.
She walked straight to her workstation at the adult circulation desk and nodded to the older librarian. “Helen,” she said to the woman who sat at her side. “Did you notice that man sitting on the bench with the mother and daughter bronze?”
Helen glanced up from her task, hand suspended over the mouse as she pulled her gaze away from the computer screen. “No, dear, I didn’t. And I came in the front door, too, not long before you did this morning.” Her tone was pleasant and warm.
The rest of the day passed quickly. Christine did not see the bench and its bronzes until she left for the day. The man was still there, and he looked up from his book as she passed by, raising a hand in greeting. He’d added a jacket since the morning as if he intended to spend some time there.
As the days shortened over the next couple weeks and fall came with its musty smells of downed leaves, Christine’s days settled into a comfortable routine. Most mornings when she strode the main walkway to the library doors, the man was sitting with the mother and daughter bronze. His clothing remained unremarkable: corduroy pants, a windbreaker, a sweater or flannel shirt.
She began to worry about him. He seemed to gray with time, looking wan and transparent, the way old people begin to vanish with the passage of the years. They never spoke, though he often raised a hand in greeting. She had come to suspect that he was there to see her. And she found that both thrilling and disquieting.
One morning, so cold she had gone back to her room for gloves after a bracing welcome to the day, she discovered he was not there, and the disappointment was painful.
The next three hours crawled by, and Christine’s thoughts returned unbidden time and again to the man. Finally done for the day, she walked up the path and approached the bench from the other direction, toward the backs of the mother and daughter, as if eavesdropping—then caught herself with a start.
He was there! And watching her approach. She hesitated and then purposefully walked forward, opening her mouth to speak, just as he reached out his hand as if to touch her.
She responded with her own hand and as their fingers touched, he was gone. A chill filled the air and crept along her hand, her mouth still open. Her hand went to her face and stifled a strangled cry.
She dared not think. She went home. It was unnaturally early, but into bed she went. And she slept, fitfully and full of dreams of the man, which were pleasant, and of the bronze figures, which were somehow unsettling. She woke to a high sun filling her windows, which meant it was after noon.
She got up and showered, dressed, and descended to the restaurant, but it was closed. That wasn’t right; they were always open. She turned down the street and saw children in shorts, women in sundresses. The trees were in full foliage and at their summer zenith. She ran up the street toward the library with the same abandoned fright she had running from it last night.
As she came around the heavy branches of the maple hiding the bench from her view, she saw him. He was rising from the bench to meet her, the hand of a young girl in his. His smile was broad and he began to laugh, a rich and happy sound. His skin was pink with health, and the gray in his hair had melted away. The two of them opened their arms to her and she raced into them, knowing this was where she belonged. The young girl was giggling and Christine was crying as they embraced and she saw, over the girl’s shoulder, that the bench was empty.
The Ridgefield Library held its Adult Writing Contest as part of its day-long Love Your Library celebration on Saturday, October 1, 2016. There were four categories. A group of Ridgefield judges selected a winning essay for each category. Prizes were awarded, with one overall grand prize. The grand-prize essay was read by poet Ira Joe Fisher at an October 1, 2016 ceremony.
And the Winners Are ...
“The Reunited Family,” by Robert Ellis of Ridgefield
“A Song of Ridge and Field,” by Andrew Salchert from Avon
“Not Wisely But Too Well,” by Melissa DeMeo of Ridgefield
“The Book,” by Catherine Massa from Redding
“Not Wisely But Too Well,” by Melissa DeMeo of Ridgefield