What We Wrought
My great-grandfather built the bench. He was an ironworker, one of many tradespeople hired by federal public works projects to rebuild parks after the war. He shaped the metal and laid out the planks, and saw it installed on the banks of the river. When his labors were complete he sat upon it to rest. Next to him sat the woman who would become my great-grandmother, a florist assigned to help with the landscaping.
My grandmother was sitting there in the winter when the man she’d given her heart to callously let it drop. He was a lothario, a rake, notorious in various circles throughout town, and he left her there with an ear full of silvered promises and a belly full of developing life. The cold of the iron soaked into her bones, her tears lost amongst the mist and dew thrown up by a river running pregnant with the seasonal rains. She never saw him again, and instead married another, a man of similar disposition, though less inclined to wander.
My father slipped a ring around my mother’s finger while seated there. They were young, their feet wet and dirty from a springtime wade as they playfully splashed one another while feeding stale bread to the gathered ducks and geese. My father’s hands shook with nervousness as he slid the cool band over my mother’s pale knuckle. In later years his hands were steady as he slipped them under the shirt or up the skirt of one extramarital conquest or another. Sometimes he was alone, and sometimes one of my siblings or I played in the shade of the nearby trees or explored the length of the river’s edge. He thought us too young to understand, but when threatened with exposure his hands moved swiftly, raining blows upon our bodies.
In early summer the metal is warm under my touch, the air filled with the susurrus of water slowed to a languid flow and insects busily pollinating the blooming flowers. Here and there one specimen of waterfowl or another paddles lazily atop the water’s surface before bobbing down to root for food in the soft silt below. A dedication nameplate, a late addition to the bench, bears the names of my great-grandparents. In the scratches and dings and weathered surface lie the gathered stories of my family, of the lives they built and the lives they broke. I sit upon them, on this warm bright day, the box resting in my hand. I sit, and I wait for you, to see what our tale will become.