The visitor follows a worn, slate path around and about a local park, and there he encounters a couple of lovers sitting on a wooden bench. At first, he hesitates and thinks to turn around and away from what he assumes must be one of their private moments together. But the couple beckons him closer and begs the visitor to forgive them their inability to move.
“We lean on this cane for eternity,” they whisper as one voice to him.
“My cap no longer smells of perspiration, and my lover’s shawl fails to flutter when the breeze runs through this place,” the still man says to their visitor. “We long ago grew as quiet as the oak tree that lives behind us, although we own no memories of when our changes first began to occur.”
“I don’t mean to pry,” he thinks out loud. “But might you tell me how it feels to be old?”
“You might tell us the same if you were willing to admit to us and to yourself that age is but one vague factor when it comes to growing old.”
“I see that your wife’s purse sits idle beside her. What of the valuables it contains?”
“Take the purse if you want it. It’s as empty as we are full.”
“Your poetry sounds a maudlin note, old man. I suppose you mean to say that the two of you are filled with love, whereas your wife’s purse . . .”
“You may leave us now if our rhythm and our rhyme displeases you. The choice is always yours to make.”
But the visitor stays. He takes a few steps forward, turns his body leftward, bends himself at the hips and knees, and sits beside the two lovers. There he waits to become a part of them.
Inside his mind he sees the shack. Unpainted, except for the blue, salty tones the ocean winds have washed into the clapboard walls. Stuff, reads the crooked sign above the shack’s door. The air smells like old fish. The old building leans toward the coastline, like a tree bent on finding water. Netting serves as a curtain against the inside of the hut’s only window. A jumble of nameless objects crowds the porch, a colorless urn, a splintered two-by-four, thick and knotted rope meant for the bow of a dying sailboat.
As he stares, he wonders if all the late-night arguments were necessary, or if they were perhaps unavoidable. The shoving insistence that love could be forced into clarity of definition. I’m right and I’m wrong and I’m guilty of all the sins you accuse me of committing. Romance back then, at the time of our beginning, back before our changes occurred and we were forced to sit still on this bench, back then romance was sex, yes the smell of perspiration mixed with that of blood and waste. And now? Now romance is the vision we share of this clapboard shack, of the stuff we’ll leave behind for the next couple to care about. Take the purse if you want it; just please leave the rhythm and the rhyme.
When he realizes the danger of discovery that the old shack must contain within, he turns and leaves in order that he might survive his life for at least one more day. He trips and stumbles over cracked and crushed cement, circles round the shack and behind himself he finds the boat, the same boat that always drifts inside his dreams. Moored, yet knocking loose against the wooden dock, no rope strong enough to hold her steady, no sail to catch the breeze. His stomach turns against itself, a sour taste invades his mouth, his sense of balance falters.
She was tender and I was callous to her needs. We set our boat to rocking, let her drift, then overturn for lack of courage. Must lovers always quarrel before they either drown themselves beneath the weight of inexorable fatigue, or sit down quiet and still on a park bench hidden from the havoc of a self-defeating war?
The visitor falls, face-down in the mire, and there he falls again to sleep. When he awakes, he has forgotten time. The mud that covers him feels refreshing, and the floating boat has disappeared. Salt water ripples like a lake and laps against the shore. The visitor feels hungry, and so he reaches out and wraps one of his arms around the couple’s shoulders. If wars are to be won, tempers are to be tamed, sailboats are to be moored and shacks are to be painted; then he will simply watch as he savors the shadows beneath the oak tree that lives behind them.