Literary Hook: Prose contest runner-up announced

The Rock River Times is pleased to present the runner-up in prose from our contest. We liked “The Park Bench” by Lisa Paulick because we thought that our readers would easily relate to the personified park bench since Rockford has many parks and hundreds of park benches. The short piece traces a day in the life of a park bench, complete with symbols, literary allusions, and a vast array of characters who use the bench. Although Lisa Paulick did not elect to send us her bio, it’s clear from her story that she is a good writer—someone to watch for in the future.

Here, then, is “The Park Bench.” Enjoy.

The child with eyes of aqua is agile in his approach. He jumps onto it with the greatest of ease, a benign smile enveloping his clamorous demeanor. He walks across the wooden slats like an acrobat on his tiptoes, while his mother looks on with the last of her exhausted patience. As the slight patter becomes a pronounced thump (the boy is now stomping with all of his might), the bench groans in agony, wondering why it is so conducive to acts of mischief by little elves. “Jonathan, let’s go now!” yells his mother. She had to intercede at some point. With one last hop, Jonathan is off and running, this time to terrorize the pigeons innocently eating their breakfast.

A symbol for solitude, self-reflection and appreciation of nature, the park bench remains unchanged in the microcosm of fluctuating cities. Like an oasis in the desert, it provides relief for those who seek physical or mental support. And it continues to do so: day after day, month after month, year after year.

As the sunlight wanes, the bench loses its cordial veneer and desperately waits for the sun’s blistering rays. The dictim of: I will provide solace for your mind and body is easier to project under the protection of light, warmth and crowds of friendly people. The bench does not like what it sees and feels during the night. It has witnessed alienated street people pathetically struggling to find shelter, violent arguments, and murders in cold blood.

But as the sun returns in the morning, so do the bench’s hopes: to inspire, comfort and connect human beings with nature and each other. If only all of these things could be incorporated into the soul of each visitor; that is the bench’s goal. For all are welcome: artists, professionals, students, transients, parents, children, the self-assured, those needing direction, those running to something, and those running from something. The bench does not discriminate.

It wishes some visitors would come more often and stay longer, for it worries about them. It remembers the young woman who was crying while reading The Hours, then took off unexpectedly. And the young man who spent a whole afternoon engrossed in The Catcher in The Rye. They both haven’t been seen since. Although the bench hopes they haven’t suffered the fates of Virginia Woolf and Holden Caulfield, it knows the weight of sadness and despair all too well.

Other visitors won’t leave soon enough—like those two grumpy elderly men who come to the park almost every day. Why couldn’t they disappear for a while? They sit and complain about everything from the weather to their aches and pains, which accumulate by the minute. But the bench knows these are defense mechanisms to contain their real pain; they both have been widowers for over 10 years.

It is dusk. The sun is beginning to set. The bench is safe for a while; there is extra police protection in the park. It has been a good day. Sad but good. Today the visitors were a grandmother and her 5-year-old granddaughter. It was the grandmother’s last time with her. She told her granddaughter, as well as the rest of her family, that she wouldn’t have any more chemotherapy. Soon after, a nervous first-time mother arrived. She cautiously took her baby out of the stroller to hold her and give her a bottle. To remain a constant in the ever-changing circle of life is no small feat. The park bench proudly thinks: I am the past. I am the present. I am the future.

Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet who has written several books of poetry and formerly wrote a column called “The Writer’s Garret” for this newspaper.

From the July 19-25, 2006, issue

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