Sitting on the park bench, feeling the wooden planks eating into the mound of flesh that was the bare underside of her thighs, Nora watched the birds of gray and speckled black and white mutations chasing each other around in circles, kissing , and looking for crumbs. The fading light told her that it was time to go, but she stayed wondering about how common the pigeons painted like Dalmatians were becoming. She had never seen one like these in her childhood. Now they were prolific, popular with their peers.
The shift in the light was subtle, a thing one takes for granted in most cases, but Nora was accustomed to sitting on this precise bench from 3:30 to 4:30 each afternoon. For her, the shift in the atmosphere was quite noticeable as 4:30 rolled along. Usually it signaled her departure when the sky took on that desperate last gleam of brightness. On this day however, she remained, slightly enchanted by it. It was late spring and the days were longer and warmer. It would not be dark until 8:00.
There were very few people in the park. An older woman sat upon another bench further along the walkway. From where Nora sat, she could see beneath the bridge. A couple stood beneath its shadow, kissing. Two wrinkled old men were finishing a game of chess at a table situated 20 yards behind Nora, near the shade of the trees. Occasionally, their excited voices, as brittle as dried leaves and raucous as the cawing of crows, reached her ears.
A man that had once been a tiny speck far off on the path was drawing nearer. He glanced furtively here and there. As he drew closer she could see his peanut shaped nose resting over a fine brown cookie duster of a moustache. His brows were nearly as fine and thick, and they stretched out over his brown eyes like furry black caterpillars. If he had dared to don a cane and black suit or travel with an identical twin he would have been a Thompson and Thompson look alike straight from the pages of a Tin Tin comic book. He stepped passed her, stopping a yard away to peer into the distant shadows beneath the bridge. Then he returned to where she was seated upon the bench.
“Excuse me.” He said. “Excuse me, but I’m looking for someone and I wonder if you might have seen her. She’s a little bit taller than me and has short dark brown hair. Very slender, brown eyes.”
“Uh…” Nora’s eyes rolled around as if she would have to look backwards into her brain in order to remember. She squinted and nibbled her lip. She was fairly certain that she had seen the woman he was describing. When she had first arrived an hour ago, a woman that fit the description had been talking to the man that usually strolled through the park selling helium filled balloons. They had talked and laughed together and eventually strolled away in the direction of the bridge. Nora liked the man who sold the balloons. He was young and handsome with blond hair and a smooth broad face. He usually dressed in a uniform of white slacks and a sleeveless white dress shirt while selling the balloons and had an easy friendly manner. She wondered what this strange man’s relation was to the woman in question. Was this her father? Her husband? Would he be angry to learn that she had left with the man of the balloons?
“I’m not really sure.” Nora answered noncommittally, shrugging her shoulders and shaking her head slightly.
“Wait.” The man said and dug into his back trouser pocket. “I have her picture here.” As he withdrew the wallet, Nora could hear the cackling of the old chess players growing louder. She could hear their syncopated footsteps crunching upon the gravel pathway.
“You didn’t have to marry her!” one crowed.
“I did if I wanted to do what I wanted to do with her!” the other proclaimed and they booth hooted and slapped their knees.
“Here.” The man was saying, extending his open wallet for Nora’s inspection, “This is her.” But Nora was glancing behind him at the two old men who were endeavoring to pass behind him. The one nearest to them was laughing so hard that he careened on one foot and bumped into the mustachioed man. The wallet fell at Nora’s feet.
“Ah, ah, ha. Oh, excuse me.” The old man apologized.
“Don’t.” the other quipped, “There’s no excuse. At his age he should know how to walk!”
The strange man smiled over his shoulder at them while Nora bent and retrieved the wallet. She stood and handed it back to the man.
“I’m sorry I can’t help you.” She told him “I’ll be late for work if I don’t hurry. Good luck.”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks.” He said waving his wallet with a quick flick of the wrist and a nod.
Nora smiled. Pulling the strap of her purse over her shoulder, she started off ahead of the old men in the direction from which the stranger had come.
Hurrying up the path, she could hear him asking the older men,
“You wouldn’t happened to have seen this lady here today?”
“No. Sure wish I had. Pretty lady,” one answered and the other whistled. Then the pair laughed their raucous laugh together. As she keep on walking and they stayed behind, she couldn’t hear anything more, not even the sound of laughter.