Callie sat on a green park bench, its paint flaking off rubbed raw by experience. The bench had seen a lot of shit sitting on this hill overlooking the university. Now it was Callie’s turn, her turn to shit tears all over the damn thing. Why is she crying? The bench wondered. Good looking girl – love the strawberry blonde hair – hell of an artist, too, with that chalk and charming as all gets out. Oh jeez, she’s crying over that dick Aaron. Not too smart, this one. I could have told her Aaron was a dick. I remember them meeting here, swapping saliva after class, interrupting her sketches. Sitting here, fuck, I could have told her that dick hardly had one. With winter coming to Stony Brook, it was one of those days the withering bench felt it just couldn’t catch a damn break.
Callie tried to stem the tide of tears with an emotional dam; a pad of paper and today, purple chalk. But she brought the wrong pad; the paper wasn’t thick enough. Its ends flapped on the breeze while dead golden-brown leaves flitted off the oak tree that canopied this pit stop on the way to…who the hell knows with most people? The college freshman took off her knitted ski hat, chalking the side of her face, and sobbed anew into the makeshift handkerchief. Well, this was all too much for the bench.
“Callie? Callie. Can I give ya some advice?” the bench said in a distinctly native New Yawk accent.
Callie peeled the hat off her eyes and looked around from side to side and then behind her. “Who’s there? Who, who, who said that?” she owled out of her scratchy windpipe.
“Me, the fucking bench. Yeah, I know that sounds funny but it’s me, the bench.” The bench knew Callie could hear it wanting to add ‘fuck’ to every other word. It was sorry for that but it wasn’t trying to be crass, it’s just how he was raised. Nonetheless, the bench was annoyed that for the first time it ever chose to speak, the young woman didn’t know what to say back. “HELLO. Fucking bench here. Do. You. Hear. Me?”
Callie looked around once more. Up, down, even under the bench. There was no one there.
“IT’S ME. THE BENCH. TALKING. ARE YOU FUCKING STUPID?”
Callie crumpled the hat and her art supplies together. She stood up with glacial speed. Her waterfall-clouded eyes shifted with equal parts anxiety and suspicion. “Um, look, I don’t know who you are but I’m not crazy. I mean, I’m really upset about Aaron right now but I’m pretty sure it’s not making me hallucinate.”
“Oh, so you’re not stupid. You know you’re not hallucinating. Glad we cleared that up. Now can I give ya some advice?”
Callie closed her eyes and waved one hand while she clutched her things like a shield with the other. “Why would a bench be talking to me?” she wondered out loud.
“Well, ya know, I’ve been here since 1967. Maybe eventually ya figure out the language,” the bench stated.
“That is not what I mean,” Callie opened her eyes. Still no one there. Callie wanted to minor in psychology and had once read that if you ever thought you were schizophrenic to try and not buy into what any voices were saying. But that’s all you could do was try. Hard to resist the temptation, though.
“Okay, if you’re really a talking bench I’ve been sitting on, tell me something only the both of us know,” Callie said. It was the ultimate Turing Test.
“Sure. I know ya come here Tuesdays and Thursdays after class, ya were disappointed with Aaron’s, eh, equipment (at least that’s what ya told your girlfriend Jasmine when you twos were sitting here), and ya often thought about Ryan Gosling when ya sat here with Aaron making out,” the bench answered. “Of course, I’m basing my statement about Ryan Gosling on the fact that your butt tenses up a little just like other students when they talk about him. I’m not judging or nothin.’ Who could blame ya? Aaron is no Ryan Gosling. Am I right? Not that I would know how big Ryan Gosling is…”
“Okay, you’re a talking bench, you know what my butt feels like and you want to give me advice. I should go home,” Callie considered. But then she thought that a talking bench wasn’t the strangest part of all this. What was stranger was that it wanted to give her advice. She was going to sit back down on the bench, thought about her butt, and chose to remain standing.
“Sooo, I’m going to pretend that you’re not my subconscious and let you give me some advice.” Callie used the sleeve of her free hand to wipe the liquid cobwebs from her eyes. She shook herself out like she was having a mini-seizure then settled down. “Okay, hit me.”
“Nice. Now that ya know that Aaron’s a dick, ya should date that black-haired kid in your art class; Emilio I think his name is,” the bench advised.
“Emilio? Who’s that?” Callie’s eyes wondered to the sky.
“Emilio. Ya know, kid with the lopsided black hair, dresses all in black trying to do the mopey Goth thing? Maybe his name isn’t Emilio. I think I just think of him as being emo. He’s probably just trying to find himself. Isn’t that what you kids do at your age? Anyways, super nice guy. And he’s got a huge, ah, ya know, he’s big.”
Callie shook her head, flattened out the corners of her mouth and scowled. “How…how would you know all that?” Then she remembered the bench knew what her butt felt like and how big Aaron was, presumably by them just sitting there. “Nevermind. What makes you think I care about size? Size doesn’t matter.”
“Said the bisexual,” the bench finished for her without skipping a beat.
“Uh, uh, excuse me, I am not bisexual,” Callie huffed.
“Look, I don’t blame ya. Women are beautiful creatures. But watch out for Melina, chick with the multicolored hair in your Spanish class. She wrote your name in her notebook once with hearts all around it. Other people say she’s not friends with any of her ex’s. Probably ‘cause her Latin temper. I heard her talk to her mother on the phone once. That girl is loco.”
Callie sat cross-legged on the ground and plopped her belongings in her lap. “I’m not interested in dating women. I like guys.”
“Okay, so we’re back to nice guys packing heat.” The bench was regretting starting this conversation. He should have known talking to people wasn’t going to be easy; he was a bench and that probably confused her.
“Size does…” Callie began.
“Okay fine; size doesn’t matter. But look, I’m not saying ya have to date the guy. Just check him out, maybe take a peek below the equator and maybe you’ll want to. Personally, I think the kid’s great. He’s not a little shit like Aaron, so if that’s your thing I can’t help ya.” If a voice could roll eyes, Callie imagined the bench doing just that.
Momentarily lost for words, Callie saw a plaque that read the bench had been put here as a memorial back in ’67. That may be so but she felt that over the years it hadn’t learned all that much from people. “Other things go into a relationship. How nice is the person to you? Do you get along? Do you have anything in common? Things like that,” Callie educated.
“No shit, Sherlock. First, Aaron wasn’t nice to ya; he always put what he wanted to do ahead of what you wanted to do. Christ, he never even gave ya a token of affection. Two, the two of yous didn’t get along much either because see number one. Three, ya guys didn’t have anything in common. Ya might as well have been water and oil. So why are ya crying over him?” The bench knew he sounded angry. The bench knew Callie thought he sounded angry. As things go, he might even get angrier when bitch-slapped with the young lady’s explanation.
“Why am I crying over him? To be honest, he smelled really good. I mean, like, really good.” The truth is so stupid. Everyone knows it and everyone knows there’s little that can be done about it. “I don’t know, bench. I thought maybe I could change him.”
“Callie, what am I?” the bench asked in a soothing tone.
The college freshman narrowed her eyes. “A bench?” she answered the stupid question.
“That’s right, Callie, I’m a bench,” came a light, whimsical response. “I’m. A. Motherfuckingbench!” it yelled. “Do you know how many times I’ve been painted? At least twenty! And ya know what? It doesn’t matter what color they paint me, I’m still a mother fucking bench! I’m hard, rigid, and ya can sit on me for as long as you like, I don’t get upset about it. But every once in a while someone gets a bug up their ass about how rough around the edges I’m looking. Then I get a fresh coat of paint. It doesn’t change who I am, though.”
“So you’re telling me that you can’t change the essence of a thing?” Callie gleaned. “I can’t change a person, can I?”
“Why would ya want to?” the bench quizzed short of breath. “It’s hard enough to change yourself when you need it the most.”
Callie tilted her head sideways, perplexion in her eyes. “I think my grandmother used to say that. Did you know my grandmother? She went to school here, too.”
The bench didn’t reply immediately. An unseasonably cool breeze swayed the trees. A leaf let go its grasp on its lifeline of a branch and drifted half-dead through the air. It came gently to rest on the bench.
“Yeah, I knew your grandmother. She’s the one who turned me into a bench,” the bench said evenly. It was simply a matter of fact, nothing more. Then the bench’s voice seemed to light up. “Did you know your grandmother was a Wiccan high priestess? She was pagan way before it was cool.”
Callie brought her fingers to her lips as her eyes welled up again. “You really did know my grandmother. Oh my god.” Her grandmother, a boy, a bench; the memory almost bowled her over like a wave. Callie’s grandmother tried to tell her a story about trying to change people when she was a very little girl but she wasn’t old enough to understand. She was starting to understand it now. Like her grandmother also said, everything is understood eventually.
“I’m so sorry, bench. Why…why did she do this to you?” Callie needed to know if her grandmother had a good reason. Or was her grandmother a monster?
“I think she was upset that I wouldn’t change for her. We were just twenty, but I was already set in my ways. So was she. Let me tell ya, when you’re that young and your emotions aren’t tempered by experience yet, that’s a fucking recipe for disaster. ‘Specially after I slept with her best friend.” The bench shrugged its shoulders in its voice. “Ya know how girls talk. Your grandmother had told her bestie ‘bout how big I was and let me tell ya, her friend would not stop comin’ after me. Eventually I gave in ‘cause that’s who I am. When she found out, your grandmother turned me into exactly what she thought I resembled the most. Personally, I wouldn’t have thought of a bench first. But, whatever, right?”
Callie’s stomach was a storm of uncertainty. She wasn’t sure how to think about her grandmother now. What a thing to do to someone! Okay, so he cheated, but what a horrible fate. What do you say?
“Is it bad? Being a bench, I mean. You sound angry but I feel like you should be even angrier about it. I think I would be.” Callie consoled the bench with a hand while trying to deal with this wild revelation. This, on top of the fact that a bench could talk in the first place. Her grandmother had always said the world was a place beyond fiction but she never fully grasped those words until now.
“It’s not as bad as ya think. I get to be me and don’t ever have to worry ‘bout changing for nobody. And I don’t have to worry ‘bout no one else unless I want to. You seemed worth it, though, kid. Maybe I got a soft spot for chicks who get treated like shit.”
Lost for words, Callie set her eyes upon anything but the bench. Eventually she had to come back to him. Her eyes came back first to the plaque. She pointed to it. “Says you were put here in memorial of Gerald Fitzgerald.”
“That’s me,” the bench grinned from arm to arm.
“Grandma passed away a few years ago. But maybe I could find a way to turn you back?” Callie shrugged and gave half a smile.
The bench was glad to hear that the girl’s grandmother had not passed down her thirst for vengeance. But he was still a little bit annoyed that Callie was losing sight of the moral of the story already. “What did I tell ya about tryin’ to change people, Callie? I’m good. I don’t need to be changed. And don’t let nobody try to change you. Be yourself. And if people don’t like it…”
“Fuck ‘em? Fuck em, yeah!” Callie finished and jumped to her feet.
“That’s right, fuck ‘em. I’m a bench and I’m motherfucking proud of it.”
“And I’m Callie and I’m motherfucking proud of it! Fuck Aaron!”
“Hey, hey, tone it down. Have a little class, will ya?” the bench hushed. Pleased that the young lady had learned something, the bench took stock of the angle of the sun. “Ah, we still got time before your next class. Anything else you want to talk about?”
“Um, not really,” Callie answered as she juggled her belongings in her arms. “How about I take a seat here and just draw for a little while? Can you try not to feel my butt or anything, though? Let’s not make this any weirder than it has to be.” She turned her back and lowered her body.
“I can’t promise anything, Callie. I’m a motherfucking bench after all.”
All Right Reserved © 2016 John J Vinacci