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A Park Bench on Death Row

by Jude Coulter-Pultz

They’re coming to take me away. I know this because my neighbor (a good, solid bench, who never once complained, though it had suffered more than its fair share of bird droppings) disappeared yesterday. Two fat men in stained overalls lifted it up and marched it away. They came back minutes later to nail a metal one in its place. Its chic, cast-iron curves gleamed in the afternoon sun. I have no doubt they will replace me next. They’d exchange the trees for steel if they thought they could get away with it; no roots to worry about, no need to trim the branches.

As far as I can tell, I am the last of my kind. Why the men stopped before they reached me, I have no clue. Maybe it was time for their lunch break and they got distracted. But I can’t shake the notion that they derive sadistic pleasure from making me wait and dread the future in solitude.

What do they do with old park benches? I had never bothered to think about it before. Somehow I doubt we get donated elsewhere. Do they chop us up and turn us into paper? Burn us, scatter the ashes, and say a prayer? Or do they dump us in a landfill and leave us to rot?

I’d ask the iron bench where it came from, where it thinks the rest of us are going, but it hasn’t learned to talk yet. It hasn’t learned how to feel the vibrations of the earth and translate them into words. It hasn’t yet discovered, as the rest of us did, that if you concentrate, you can send little shivers down your legs and into the ground. It takes years of practice, but with discipline and the constant encouragement of others, you eventually see how it’s done. There are even some of us who could sing through the dirt, and the sound was more beautiful than any bird’s call.

I remember when I first learned how to make sense of the vibrations. It was just after I got my first coat of paint. I wasn’t fully sentient yet, but I was aware of a sizzling turmoil enveloping my entire being — I was panicking. Until then I had lived out my existence in a dull, peaceful hum. Occasionally someone’s bulging buttocks would make my planks creak under their weight, but that was nothing compared to being painted.

I remember the viscid globs creeping all over, oozing into my body, suffocating me with toxic fumes. I must have screamed then, because a veteran bench on the other side of the fountain took notice and tried to comfort me. Though I couldn’t understand what was being said, I could feel the sympathy and the hope tucked inside each word. I knew then that it would be all right. Sure enough, the paint dried and became a shell to defend me from the world without. It became a part of me. And when it began to peel and fade, I actually found myself looking forward to the next paint job.

The bench on the other side of the fountain continued to guide me through my early years as my personal mentor. It taught me how to control the vibrations, what each wavelength meant. Each day, from when the first rays of morning shot through the trees to when the last puddle of light slipped into the evening shade, the old bench would rumble: “Sun.” Then there were days when the sun did not come out at all, but the rain poured down on us and we soaked it all up like miserable sponges. “Rain,” the bench would say, with an ironic chuckle. “Rain.”

That bench was the first among us to disappear. It’s almost inconceivable that it was only one week ago. We were all admiring how the spring breeze was stirring the dogwood blossoms and barely heard the truck idling nearby, barely noticed the men sidle up beside the bench. It was in mid-sentence when they plucked it from the ground, silencing its voice forever.

At first we were too disturbed to react. It was so immediate, so senseless. The cries began when the first of the iron ones appeared and we realized the old bench wasn’t coming back. It was dear to all of us; I was not the only one it had ushered into this world. I’m convinced it had countless other insights it was waiting to reveal. It seemed to draw its wisdom from the earth itself, as if through a deep, hidden well.

Every day they carted more of us off. We could not fight or run, and no other entity — no man, or bird, or blade of grass — showed any sign of comprehending our pleas. Now, a week later, I am the last. Two hundred and seven have gone before. Counting them and holding each one in my memory has been my only available means of resistance.

I keep telling myself this isn’t the end. I believe somehow we’ll be reunited. Perhaps we’ll be buried in the same landfill, or become pages in the same book. If they incinerate us, I pray our ashes will find each other.

But if I’m wrong, I cannot allow our legacy to perish. So if you are listening, whoever you are, know that I am broadcasting this message through the earth with all of my being to tell you one thing:

We were here.

Two hundred and eight of us.

We were here.

Copyright © 2009 by Jude Coulter-Pultz

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