Brian Katz

The Pink Rose

          His grayish-blue eyes squint as he looks out into the sunset, a glimmering mix of colors that he previously considered to be beautiful but now only associates with the end of another unfulfilling day.  He thinks back on how many sunsets he has seen over the course of his 84 years and finds the number unfathomable.  A number that hits a little closer to home, though, is the amount of sunsets that he has seen in the park in which he is standing.  A suburban park near his home in the middle of Anywhere, USA, to him it represents what little sense of peace still exists in his life.  But peace is not something that he is very much accustomed to.  He looks at the bench where they once sat; it is now slightly rusted and covered with autumn leaves, but still has an aura about it that he could not explain to others even if he tried.  A breeze begins to blow in his direction and his face contorts in order to protect itself, a relatively vulnerable gesture for a man who has been through so much.  Still focused on the bench, his eyes begin to close.  He is not asleep, but deep in thought—about his life, about the park bench, about her…
The year was 1942 and he couldn’t have been happier.  The son of an assembly-line worker father and a seamstress mother, he had just become the first person in his family to ever graduate from high school.  Clutching his diploma in his hand high above his head and beaming at the sight of his parents’ faces in the crowd made him feel as if he could not be touched, as if he was on top of the world.  But as was the case, this world was about to come crumbling down under his feet.  The second Great War had begun and he knew the unfortunate truth was that, since the United States had been attacked during the previous December, it was likely that he was going to be drafted to serve in the military soon after his upcoming eighteenth birthday.  But such negative thoughts never passed through his head on that proud day.  All that he wanted to think about was his great achievement and the great sense of pride that he felt for both himself and his family. 
This sense of accomplishment, though, was very short-lived, as the realities of the current world situation were truly beginning to dawn on the young man.  His father, who had made friends with some people in high places in the military, got wind of some news about the draft.  Apparently, all of the students from his school’s graduating class who were capable of military service were to be enlisted later that year.  Although he had seen this or similar news coming for a while, hearing it from his father had a true impact on him.  It struck him as quite amazing how someone can go from feeling untouchable and invincible to utterly mortal in only a matter of days.  
            Something overcame him in the next couple of weeks that was very hard to describe, but whatever it was, he was sure that he never wanted to relive it.  It could not have been a depression, for he was not sad.  It could not have been any other mental disorder, for he believed that he was extremely in tune with every thought that went through his mind.  No matter what it was that was plaguing him, he intensely disliked the symptoms.  Essentially every night, he would have the exact same dream, more specifically the same nightmare, about himself in combat.  Every night the same nightmare.  Every night the same outcome.  This is how it went from his point of view:
            BOOM!  Bombs are landing next to me and killing my comrades left and right.  The dust from this dirt road is kicking up into my eyes, making it impossible to see if I am now firing my high-powered rifle at an enemy or at an old friend who just a couple of months ago was sitting next to me in school.  BOOM!  “But who is the enemy?!” and “Where am I?!” are some of the questions that run through my head.  “It doesn’t matter!  Stop asking yourself questions or you’re going to get yourself killed!  Just do what your commanding officer tells you that you are supposed to do! What you were born to do!  Be a killing machine!” is what I tell myself.  BOOM!  I hear a cry for help.  Someone is calling my name and I know exactly who it is.  It’s the same voice that called me on the phone just weeks earlier, crying about the loss of his latest girlfriend.  It is that of my best friend.  I have always been there for him before, so I’m sure not going to let him down now!  I run over to the spot where he is lying and see the gruesome sight of the bullet wound in his stomach.  “I’ll get you some medical help, buddy!  I promise!  Just hang in there!”  He mouths the words “Thank you” to me and even gives me the most reassuring smile I have ever seen in my life—the type of smile that made me believe that we were going to be back in the states kicking back beers together in no time.  So I tell him “You’re going to make it, buddy!  But first we just have to get to a safe place because right now we’re in the line of fi”—BOOM!
            He would now wake up screaming and crying out for help, but his cries would always fall on deaf ears, as the only people who were in the house are his deep-sleeping parents two stories above.  It continued like this for a couple of weeks and showed no signs of stopping.  He wasn’t sure if he would ever ultimately accept the horrors of war or if he would ever be simply lucky enough to stop dreaming altogether.  Either way, he knew that something had to be done in order for these horrible dreams to stop from reoccurring.  It dawned on him that he needed some passion in his life—some spark that could make him forget about his upcoming enlistment in the military and allow him to experience sentiments other than fear, heartache, and his own impending death.  The next day, his mother suggested that he go down to the local park and try to take his mind off of “all this American seriousness”.  So that he did. 
            It was one of those warm summer afternoons where one feels lucky just to be able to be outdoors.  The sun was shining, the trees and flowers were in full bloom, and the ambient noises of barking dogs and laughing children were everywhere.  It’s impossible not to enjoy that type of day, right?  Not for him, it wasn’t.  He felt as unhappy as ever, especially when he looked down at his clothes and thought about the fact that he will soon be trading in his t-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap for a camouflage uniform, helmet, and a canteen.  At this point, he found an empty bench, sat down in it, and buried his face in his hands.  He remained in that position until, a couple minutes later, he heard a voice.  It had a song-like quality to it, a ring that he had never heard before.  It was almost as if an angel was speaking to him.  He looked up to see the source of this most beautiful sound and his eyes lit up.  She was the most gorgeous thing he had ever seen: brown hair, blue-green eyes, just a couple of freckles, and a radiant smile that must be visible for miles. After remaining dumbfounded for a couple moments more, he finally regained awareness of his surroundings. 
            “I don’t know if it’s worth asking you again, but is the seat next to you taken?” she asked him with a slight chuckle.
            “Um-um-N-n-ummm-No! No, it’s all yours” he stammered, his face as red as it could be. 
            She thanked him and sat down next to him on the bench.  He wasn’t sure what to say or do, for he had never in his life seen, let alone talked to, a girl as beautiful as this one.  But he was very curious about something pertaining to this mysterious girl, who was undoubtedly about the same age as he.  She was wearing a red shirt with a pink rose attached to it, right near her chest.  For one reason or another, he had always been interested in flowers, so this gave the two a topic of conversation.  She reciprocated his interest and before long, they were having a great conversation that eventually strayed into the fields of art, philosophy, culture, and more.  In fact, they had so much to talk about that they decided to meet again the next day, and the next day, and the next after that, and so it went.  Every day they would meet at the same bench and talk for hours on end, never running out of topics of conversation.  Every day she would also wear a pink rose on her shirt, regardless of whatever else she was wearing.  Soon after this, they were hanging out everywhere together, just a couple of big kids who were looking for some guidance in a chaotic world.  One of the best things about it, in his opinion, was that he would go home every night and have a very peaceful night’s sleep.  The nightmares were gone.  No more having second thoughts about going to sleep in the first place for fear of his own death.  It was safe to sleep as much as he wanted to and as soundly as he always hoped to.  She was the solution to this problem.  He was very thankful that she came along at this point in his life, for she brought along with her the answers to so many of these problems.  The couple of months that he spent with her were the best of his life.  In many ways, she saved him—from possible depression, from his nightmares, from his constant fear, and from his mounting disillusionment with the world around him.  For that period of time, she was his escape, his tool to escape the harsh realities that he had ! previous ly let consume him.  She was the best thing that had ever happened to him.  He was on top of the world once again. 
            Then one day, he got a letter in the mail that brought him back down to Earth.  He had been drafted to serve for the United States Army in the South Pacific.  Before thinking about anything else, whether it be the danger he was going to be in or the fact that he will be almost 10,000 miles from home, he thought about the fact that he must say goodbye to the girl with whom he was in love.  Over the next couple of hours, he played out the conversation in his head hundreds of times, and none of these simulations ended well.  It was then time for the real thing; they met at the same park bench and he explained to her the situation.  But by the time that he was done talking and she was already crying, she revealed that she had bad news of her own.  Her father’s job required for them to move far away from their suburban town.  She reluctantly stated that she did not believe that they would ever see each other again.  After heartfelt goodbyes from both sides, they parted ways.  The last glance that he got of his angel was a singular tear falling from one of her glittering eyes and landing right on the pink rose on her chest…
            He opens his eyes.  Nothing has changed.  The sun is still setting, the leaves are still swirling in the breeze and, after a minor self-inspection, the wrinkles on his forehead are still there.  Yet at the same time, he feels different.  For years, whenever he thought about his past, his mind immediately jumped to his six years in the army or his two failed marriages and lack of a steady job afterwards.  But now, looking back on it, he began to think more and more about the girl he met at the bench.  She had been there for him at a time in his life that had been so crucial.  She did not allow him to succumb to many of the pressures that would have overwhelmed him had she not been there.  This is what he should think about when it comes to his past, for the girl represented all that was good and positive for him in a time when nothing else was.  With these thoughts in mind, he sits down on the bench, his mind very tired from all of this reminiscing.  Then it happens.
            An elderly woman walks down the park path and takes a seat next to him.  She has these distinct blue-green eyes that he would have recognized from a mile away.  Her smooth freckled face has been replaced with wrinkles, but he is still amazed by the brilliance of her smile.  Something bright on her shirt then catches his eye.  It was a pink rose that she had attached, just like old times.  She then opens her mouth to speak and he yearns to hear her angelic voice after all these years…
            He awakes with a jolt.  He had dozed off, not uncommon to him at his age.  It took him a moment to regain his surroundings.  He casually takes a look next to him, and there is no one there.  Of course, he had been dreaming.  Yet he is not the least bit upset that his true love had not actually joined him on this autumn evening, for the thought of it was satisfying enough.  At that moment, he looks next to him and finds a petal from a pink rose lying where she used to sit.  Oddly enough, there is one tiny drop of water on it.  Without another word or thought, he clutches it in his hand and goes back to watching the sunset, his wide-open eyes focused intently on the beautiful colors of the sky. 


All rights belong to its author. It was published on by demand of Brian Katz.
Published on on 02/10/2009.


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