Ms. Sullivan sat down on the park bench across from the big yellow tents. It was a day like any other during the past week; sunny, a few puffy clouds, warm, and not too dry. She looked up at the two sparrows building a nest, perched on the grandfather maple that lay between her and the tents. Her eyes were drawn to the horizon- a light turquoise which grew deeper towards its pinnacle high above her where a troupe of birds circled. She had always been fond of large gatherings, she thought, and coming from a small family she had never really participated in many. When large families threw weddings and reunions in the park, she would spend more time on her bench than during a usual day. Every now and then, a young woman or man or sometimes a couple would venture over to Ms. Sullivan’s bench and invite her to join the reception. She always accepted and upon occasion she would make up stories about some of the guests just for fun.
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She was still circling with the birds when the gentleman wearing a dark pinstriped suit walked over and sat down next to her.
“Oh my dear! You scared me.”
The man just smiled oddly and said nothing.
“Hello, I’m Ms. H.A. Sullivan. I was just looking at the birds above when you snuck up on me.” She paused for a moment and then added, “Are you alright, you haven’t said anything?”
The man pointed to his mouth and said, “Hello. Haven’t anything said.”
“Said haven’t.” he replied anxiously. “My dear birds scared.”
“Do you think the birds are scared of you?” She wasn’t too sure what this man in the dark pinstriped suit was talking about. She sat motionless looking into his eyes. He was in a silent panic.
“Are you lost?”
“Lost…lost. Haven’t said”
Ms. Sullivan looked towards the big yellow tents and took a deep breath. ‘This might take a while’ she thought as she brushed her feet against the gravel path. Her legs barely touched the ground when she sat on her bench and she often made little gravel clearings as she kicked her feet. They looked like the dugouts underneath the swings at the other end of the park. She began to wish she had stopped by the swings to watch the little girl with the curly red hair that she had passed earlier. She didn’t want to be here with this man. But then as a relief, her attention found the tents again, and the smell of the potluck picnic food that reminded her of the Fourth of July when she was a little girl.
She tapped the man on the shoulder and pointed to the tents, “Did you come from there?”
“Haven’t.” he replied with a drop in tone. He sunk his head.
“I would guess you were foreign but you talk with an American accent.”
He looked up at her with enthusiasm.
“Do you speak another language?” she said noting his bright face.
“Language lost. Language lost!”
“Have you forgotten how to speak?” she began to feel the excitement.
“My language foreign. Haven’t language.”
“Well dear, I just don’t know what to say. Are you playing a joke on me?”
He shrugged and shook his head. He was starting to panic again. Ms. Sullivan looked down as his feet began to shuffle.
“You’ve lost your language, is that it? If that’s it then how can you talk to me?”
His feet came to a complete halt and he leaned against the back of the bench. Reaching into the front pocket of his pinstriped jacket and pulling out a handkerchief he turned towards Ms. Sullivan. “You speak language. My language lost. You’ve speak language.” He demonstrated with his handkerchief by putting the handkerchief in her hand then retracting his arms and then reached out again and taking the handkerchief with a gracious bow.
“Do you mean that I can give you back your language?”
The man nodded.
“Well I just don’t know what to say. How can I give you your language?”
“Speak,” he said.
“But I don’t know where to start. How do I know what you’re trying to say? How am I supposed to give you the right words?”
The man looked away. Ms. Sullivan watched him as he looked far down the path. The distance started to grow between them, but now she felt a certain responsibility for this man. Throughout this odd conversation she recalled that he had looked the most excited when she asked him questions. ‘Maybe that was it!’ Her shoulders and neck began to stiffen. She looked over at the man sitting a few feet away and he was deeply removed. Perhaps he was waiting for her. She didn’t like her new responsibility. What a pain it was to have to express this man’s voice. She had only met him 5 minutes ago. Then her mind drifted back to a question she might have asked had this man been able to speak.
“What do you do?”
“Right language.” *
“You mean you write? You’re a writer?”
He nodded and it was then that she realized she hadn’t given him “yes” or “no” to use yet. She spoke to him again, “I will ask you questions and you can just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Ok?”
“Yes,” and he smiled at her. She was beginning to understand.
“What a strange thing to happen to a writer. Why did you come to this park to look for your words? Maybe you should have gone to the library. My dear, are you still able to read?”
“Well I don’t know where the library is but there’s a bookstore on the other side of the park. I’ll take you there.”
She stood and motioned for him to get up. The man with the dark pinstriped suit followed her down the red gravel path. He looked a little uncertain and constantly spun his head around as if to leave her for another. Ms. Sullivan, on the other hand, kept looking straight ahead. Today she had only spent half the time she had anticipated spending in the park. The blooming dogwoods were overcoming her senses and she felt drawn to the petals as they gently fell all around her. A fragrance arose that smelled authentic compared to the young woman’s perfume who had just passed by. Long ago, Ms. Sullivan had learned to feel the texture of flowers from their sent. It amazed her how coarse they looked at times, and when she would reach out her hand and rub the petals between her finger and thumb their ridges were as soft as her skin.
They reached the edge of the park before the sun had risen to its noon perch. There across the bustling street was “Pierre Pierre’s” book store. She grabbed the man's arm and crossed the street with him dragging a little behind. The shop door opened heavily and the little slay bells on the door jingled. She smiled at the clerk and he nodded back at her.
“Welcome Ms. Sullivan. Can I help you find something?”
“No thank you” and she continued to the back of the store with the man tagging along. She stopped in between two shelves. On one were fiction and on the other rested poetry. The man looked unsure of his whereabouts and paid no attention to the books around him. He stared at Ms. Sullivan. She turned towards the poetry and pulled out a book from the shelf entitled The Wit of a Rainless Spring Shower.
“Now, let’s start with this. You’ll have something to say by the end of this book. I’ll have you talking in poetry my dear.” And she giggled to herself. Perhaps this wasn’t the best way to address the problem but she was beginning to enjoy her new found challenge.
“Lets see who this is by.” She said as she turned to the back cover. When she saw the picture she dropped the book and gasped at the likeness between the man with the dark pinstriped suit and the man in the picture. It was him; his book. She recovered quickly and pulled his arm.
“I found your book.” And she pointed to the book on the floor. He picked it up and turned through the pages. Then he looked up at her and took a deep breath. Slowly he turned the open book towards her. The pages were blank. There weren’t even page numbers.
“Oh dear how can this be?” She started pulling other copies off the shelf, and flipping through the pages, found that they too where blank. Her stomach grew tight and she looked at the man who had now grown pale.
“That’s no problem dear. There are plenty of other books on the shelf.” She turned towards the fiction and pulled a book at random. Quickly looking through the book she spoke, “This one has words. There are plenty of words.” She turned the book towards the man in the dark pinstriped suit but he wasn’t there.
She looked throughout the store but there was no sign of him anywhere. Meaning to put back the book she had dropt, she returned to the shelf. She picked up the book and slid it into its place. Just as she heard the book knock against the back wall she felt a pale curiosity come over her. She quickly flipped through the blank pages passing some black streaks that caught her eye. As she turned a few pages back she found that there were some words written on the page:
Language snuck up on me
Through the companion of my lips
And falls with petals as soft as Sparrow’s skin to this empty leaf.
What a strange thing to happen to a writer
By the wit of a rainless spring shower.
She closed the book and stuffed it into the front of her pants underneath her shirt. Casually she walked out of the store. The air was getting warmer and she slowly made her way back to the shade of the park.
"Give me immortality or give me death"