by Jonathan Talley

James sat on the park bench, his breathing calm, the winds around him still as the sea. It was a pleasant day, nothing much going on. No babies crying, no people talking, no dogs barking as cars flew past. It was just a normal, quiet day. As James sat there, he could hear the faint sounds of the birds chirping, leaves rustling in the gentle autumn breeze. It was a good day, nothing to distract him from his thoughts. No one to interrupt his peaceful tranquility. Just him and the lonesome park bench.

A laugh pierced through the silence, disrupting the entire world around him. The birds and the leaves grew still as the entire world seemed to watch what happened next. James turned to see a little boy running across the path, carrying a picnic basket, his mother a mere few feet behind him, following along as her son ran through the park without a care in the world, no regard for the blissful day he had just disrupted.

James watched as the mother and son came to a stop, removing a blanket from the basket the boy carried and making their place there on the meadow. Had these people no dignity? No sympathy for the world around them, that they would destroy the peaceful harmony of nature? Never in his many years had James ever held such disregard for another.

As James watched on, he saw the boy remove one item after another out of the picnic basket. Bread, cheese, butter, jam, berries, and many more delicacies. They probably wouldn’t even be able to eat all of that. What a waste of food that would be. But such a thought would surely never cross the pair’s minds. They knew nothing of the world and its hardships, would surely destroy everything in its path for the sake of their own happiness.

James wanted so desperately to say something. To tell the mother and her child to go back to their home and leave this place in peace. As he made to get up off the park bench, the mother pulled a small something out of her purse. It was hard to tell what that something was from his spot on the bench, yet the more James looked, the more certain he became. It was a little stuffed bear.

James breathed deeply as he looked at the bear. It was a simple little bear, brown with a blue ribbon tied around its neck, and yet it looked just like the one he’d had as a child. He remembered how much he had loved that little bear. It had meant the entire world to him, back when times were simple. Had it truly been so long? How could he have forgotten all of the blissful days spent in ignorance of the world around him? The blessed days of his youth in which he never had to worry about where his next meal would come from or how he would afford to pay his rent. It was a simpler time back then, living in complete seclusion from the ways of the world.

The little boy took the bear from his mother, laughing as he made the little thing dance across the picnic blanket. A bright smile lit up the boy’s face as he played with his new toy, his mother watching with a gentle warmth. What James wouldn’t give to see his own mother smile like that once more. To hold her in his arms and tell her he loved her with all his heart. No, this boy knew nothing of this world. But then, who was James to take that innocence away from him?

James smiled fondly as the boy glanced in his direction. He waved at the boy, and the boy waved back, whispering something to his mother all the while. The mother nodded gently, gesturing for the boy to go ahead with whatever he had planned. James watched as the boy got up and, filled with an energy as bright as any star, bounded over to the little park bench where James had made himself at home. With a bright grin, the boy reached out his hands, the little brown teddy bear clasped tightly between his little fingers.

“Teddy wanted to say hi!” the little boy exclaimed.

James smiled at the boy. “Hi, Teddy. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

The boy giggled. “Teddy also thinks you look sad,” he said. “Why are you sad, mister?”

“Well, son, it’s been a long day, and I have had no one to spend it with,” James told the boy.

The boy’s face lit up with what was no doubt the beginning of a brilliant scheme. “Why don’t you come spend it with us? There’s more than enough food for the three of us!”

James shook his head. “I really shouldn’t.”

“Please,” the little boy said with a frown on his face.

James sighed. “Very well.”

With a gleeful shout, the boy grabbed James’s hand and dragged him up and off the park bench, over to the spot he and his mother had chosen for themselves.

The mother smiled kindly at him as James allowed himself to be plopped down across from her. “How do you do?” she said.

James smiled politely. “Just fine, ma’am.”

“Might I ask your name, kind sir?” the mother asked.

“James,” he replied with a nod.

“Sarah,” the mother replied. After a short pause, she continued.

“Would you care for a bite to eat?” she asked.

“No, thank you,” James responded graciously. “I really can’t stay.”

The boy’s mother seemed calm. Tranquil, just like a gentle autumn breeze. Her hair flowed smoothly around her face, its brown waves resting peacefully against her shoulders. Her soft brown eyes stared back at him warmly, a hint of admiration clearly evident in the vast expanse of their beauty. Whether that admiration was directed at him or at her son was as of yet unclear, but James desperately longed to find out.

“Well, if you’re sure,” the mother responded.

James hesitated as he looked out at the park around him. Beyond this park was a life filled with tears and heartbreak, but here in the park were only joy and peace. How easy it would be to allow himself to fall into the wistfulness of times past, the simplicity and innocence of his youth. But such a thing could never be.

“He’s quite the lad, isn’t he?” James said.

Sarah nodded, smiling fondly as her boy played silently nearby.

“He’s been growing up so fast. Soon he’ll be his own man.”

“What’s his name?”

Sarah hesitated only slightly. “Billy,” she responded.

James sensed a hint of sorrow in her voice as she spoke. Almost as if she had already begun to mourn the loss of her boy before he’d even been gone. A tear slid down her face as she turned to James, the sorrow he had sensed now clearly evident on her face.

“The doctors say I won’t be able to be around for much longer. All I can hope is that my boy will have the strength to stand without me.”

James felt a pang of sympathy for the two, something inside him crying out to comfort the young mother, yet no words came to him. He knew exactly the hole her loss would leave in the child’s heart, and he knew that there was nothing he could possibly do to ease that pain.

“It will hurt at first, but I am sure that he will be all the stronger for it.”

Sarah smiled sadly at him. “I’m sure he will.”

Silence fell between the two as they watched Billy dance around the park, his little bear clutched tightly in his arms. James watched as the boy turned and waved to his mother. Sarah smiled and waved back, and the boy turned away to continue playing with his bear.

“You have raised him well,” James told her.

Sarah turned to him in surprise. He smiled reassuringly at her and, ever so slowly, her body relaxed. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“What for?” James asked.

“For listening,” Sarah responded.

James nodded as he stared off into the distance, watching as Billy tossed his teddy bear into a pile of leaves before jumping in after it.

“You know, it’s funny,” Sarah commented, “I almost feel as though I know you.”

“I feel the same,” James replied. Something about Sarah reminded him of his own mother. If they were at all similar, he was sure that Billy would be feeling her loss for years to come.

“I should probably be getting back,” James told Sarah.

Sarah nodded solemnly. “Of course. My apologies for interrupting your day.”

James smiled. “Not at all,” he said. “I wish you and Billy all the best.” As James said goodbye to Sarah and Billy, he couldn’t help but feel that he had lost something of himself all over again. As if the death of his own mother had come back to haunt him once again. As he left the park, he sent a silent prayer, asking that the Lord would be with Billy and his mother through their trial. Somehow, as he looked back at the two playing and enjoying themselves in the park, he felt that his prayer had been answered.