On account of the weather being exceptionally muggy and because I had the afternoon to myself, I went out and bought a paper. How novel it is, these days, to buy a paper with the intention of sitting in the park and reading it. I felt like a throwback, one of those gentlemen who smokes a pipe and wears a tweed cap, not one of those new, stylish tweed caps that pop stars wear, but a cap with a snap on the front that might have been worn by a gentleman's father. Yes, I felt sensible with my paper. The air was thick enough that it might have begun to rain at any moment, and if so, I could have used the paper to cover my head as I scurried for shelter. Not that I minded getting wet (being rained on is somewhat enjoyable this time of year), only that I would rather have gotten wet along with a companion, and seeing that I was alone at the time, if I had to be alone, I would prefer to be dry. I think I'd once run through the rain with a pretty dark-haired girl who became prettier the wetter she became, or at least I imagined such a scene, and so the idea of being wet and lonesome was far less appealing. I suppose if it did rain, and I was wet, I could have held my paper over a new girl's head (maybe a dark-haired one) and kept her dry while I accepted the full force of the storm, but then again, if I didn't find that girl, or if she carried an umbrella, or even worse, if she already had some bloke to hold his paper over her head, I would again be wet and lonesome. Anyway, it hadn't started to rain.
After several minutes I laid the paper on the bench beside me. Not much in it, really. I guess only a handful of people still read the paper, but that's no reason for the paper itself to hang it up. If business is slow, the paper must improve, must write better, must take better photos. The articles provided me with little information I hadn't already obtained from a myriad of other sources and it made for a lousy umbrella, should it come to that. The old-time papers must have been something. Everyone had one. I imagined the twenties as a time when the streets were teeming with chaps in charismatic hats, a paper under one arm and a sweetheart on the other. We were supposed to have taken great strides since then, yet I'd lost interest in my paper in less than five minutes, and now I sat hatless and alone on a bench under a sky that could possibly rain, or possibly not.
I flung my head back and stared into the converging grays of the clouds, and so it was with a bit of a shock that I felt the pressure of a hand on my knee. I perked up to find a man bending over me. Where he had come from I couldn't say, and though he was short of breath, I liked that he felt comfortable enough to place his hand on my knee and hold it there. Despite our affinity for touch, our longing for it, we are also terrified of it. This man was desperate for my attention and because of his need, I was glad to give it to him. He leaned close to me and whispered, though there was no one in the vicinity.
"Please, Friend, find her and deliver this to her," and he slipped a folded note into my pocket. He then stood up, glanced around, and bolted from the park.
I was startled, and excited. The man ran off in a panic, as if fleeing a myriad of outstretched hands. He kicked his feet out to the sides and pumped his arms high in front of his face, and after several seconds he vanished around the block, leaving the park as quiet and still as when he'd suddenly appeared. No one chased him.
At any moment I expected a crew of police officers to come tearing across the green, or perhaps simply another man running as awkwardly as the first. Nobody came. A number of customers sorted through the produce under the awning of a nearby fruit stand, but that was it. It was as if I was the only one who'd even seen him.
I fished the note from my pocket and unfolded it. The paper was thick and textured, an adult version of the thin, lined stuff from a notebook, and the penmanship, written in deep black ink, was superb. It's a lost art, penmanship; it's no longer necessary, and those who have mastered it can turn a note left on the fridge into a piece fit for a frame. This man's letters were flowing yet not grandiose, his commas curved in wonderful crescents, and I read the note several times for the beauty of his words, for the weight of the paper, and for the finality imbued in the dark pen strokes. It said,
I have left. I shall not return. And yet I long for you.
A single drop of rain landed on the final word. It smeared the black ink into an undecipherable cloud, the penultimate word hanging there without its mate, and I, alone on my bench with my discarded paper, began to cry. I cried as if I had been left, or as if I had been forced to do the leaving, and I very much wanted to chase after the awkwardly fleeing man, place my hand on his knee, and let him know that I felt him too. It was a gorgeous note. I imagined it took him hours, perhaps days to write, to find those simple words which had to be conveyed while the nearby waste bin overflowed with crumpled drafts. He'd written it out of need and bestowed it upon a stranger in faith, and as more raindrops began to fall I realized the hopelessness of my charge. Find her and deliver this to her, he'd said, and that was all. No names, no clues, no direction, just find her.
I refolded the note and scampered for shelter beneath the awning of the fruit stand. The few drops turned into a strengthening sprinkle and as I remained there for a minute or two, hoping it would subside, I noticed a woman to my left doing the same. She wore a long coat and one of those lady's fedoras that are so popular all of a sudden, yet she wore the hat appropriately. It rested on her head like the cream on a cupcake. It was black with thin pinstripes and suited her straight dark hair, and she peered out into the rain, searching the sky for presumably the same break as I. Damn this awning, I thought, without it I could swoop in and shield her with my paper, guide her to a dry spot and tell her I had been waiting for her for far too long, that this rain had brought us together and that if she would have me I would spend the rest of my life making sure she remained dry and happy. I might not be much, but I could do that; I would exhaust myself to do that. For her, with that straight dark hair and that worried, wrinkled brow, I could do anything.
The rain did not taper. We stood there, the woman and I, not together of course but in the same predicament, though the worry on her face appeared deeper than that of the weather. She was truly concerned. I took another look at her coat and her hat, items worn in preparation for such a change in the skies, and I realized this was her. I'd found her, and she was waiting.
Quietly I stepped beside her, placed my hand on the small of her back, and slipped the note into her jacket pocket as I whispered,
"This is for you, my darling."
I didn't wait for a response. I spun around, raised my paper over my head, and sprinted out into the downpour, kicking out my heels and pumping my one free arm as I turned the corner and headed home, soaked and running to escape what I wanted most.
Ben Bellizzi has published works of fiction and nonfiction in various domestic and international magazines. He has completed two novels pending publication and has written for several nonprofit organizations both in the US and abroad. He is a graduate of the California College of the Arts MFA Program in San Francisco.