“Benched”

Originally featured by Ragged Edge Publishing.

Benched

by Caitlin Carrigan

Bernard sat as he always did on the third bench from the park entrance. He would sit there from eleven thirty until half past noon every day. The homeless locals had begun to take notice of his actions, but Bernard didn’t care. He was there on a mission, one he’d been forced to accept when, just a month earlier, he’d first seen Mary.

“Hey! Get a life, buddy!” Marshall the hobo called from one bench down.

“Mind your own business,” Bernard said.

“Yeah, freak. Why don’t you go hang out somewhere else?” Ginger asked as she rummaged through the nearby garbage bin for cans.

“And why don’t you get a job?” Bernard asked, feeling satisfied with his rebuttal. As he smiled to himself, blocking out their angry taunts he grew flustered.

How will it look when Mary arrives and you’re bantering with the local nuts on a park bench? Ignore them. Focus.

Mary, as he had heard someone call her, was a tall and beautiful woman. She wore silk scarves, button down blouses and a tidy brown leather jacket that tied at the waist. She carried with her a black portfolio case and a Gucci purse. On most days she wore her hair in a ponytail and very little makeup. Since the first day he had seen her he had been madly in love. In his feeble attempts to find the courage to speak to her, he had ended up on that same bench every day to have another try.

“Hello. My name is Bernard, but my friends…no, no. Don’t lie,” Bernard practiced beneath his breath. Mary would surely see through his deceit. “You have no friends.”

She still hadn’t noticed him. A full month and seven days into his crusade and all he had managed to find out was the first names of the homeless people frequenting the park. Mary had traipsed through with friends, alone, with a leashed dog on two occasions. Every time, Bernard fell more and more in love. The way she walked differently depending on the outfit, the way she smiled wider on Fridays. He knew she was meant to be his, if only he could find the right thing to say. Before she arrived, though, Bernard needed to deal with something.

Bernard had suffered from a minor head cold for a few nights previous. He took cold remedies, chewed cough drops, and managed to kick the bug. Still, he’d been left with a reminder, with which he was preparing to wrestle. It was a clump of dirt, having coagulated in his mucous lined sinuses and slid its way down to the highest point of his left nostril. In other words, he had a pesky booger in need of tending to. In most circumstances, such a concern would be saved for a private moment, but the constant irritation was distracting him from his watch for Mary.

“Maybe today, she’ll see me. She has to notice me sometime. If I am just here every day. If I am here every day, she’ll notice me,” Bernard thought to himself, between rumbling sounds from his cavernous nose.

He resigned himself to battling it out with the villainous snot. He attempted a few different methods. The twist and press, where one turns their finger to hook the culprit and presses it against the inner wall of the nose. Very affective in most circumstances, but as he pulled forth a dry fingernail, he knew a more direct approach would be necessary.

“What if I talk to her today and all she hears is my face snoring? What woman would want a man who can’t tend to a little thing like snot? It won’t do, it simply won’t do,” he thought.

The day he had first seen her Mary had been walking through the park with a friend. They had been on picnic and had chosen to lay out a woven blanket across the path from his bench. He had heard them talking, laughing, and reminiscing, about all the irresponsible things they’d done as kids. Bernard loved the story about Mary’s first driving lesson, when she had crashed her mother’s car into a tree. She’d told the story with such panache it had made him chuckle to himself from his wooden settee. He wondered if she had noticed him that day laughing at her jokes, smiling at her stories, keeping a keen ear to her every word, the way a suitor should.

“She is the perfect woman. A story teller. A romantic, I am sure. I could be romantic for her. I would be romantic for her,” he thought, daydreaming of their first date, first kiss, first intimate moments.

The next attempt on the hijacker within his face, the push and pull, consisted of taking one’s pinky finger and driving it as far into the nostril as is humanly possible. Then, drag it toward the exit and possibly flick it somewhere inconspicuous, or wipe it under the wooden beam beneath his thigh. He gave this a couple good tries before giving up, leaving the piece stuck in such a way that his nose began to squeal with every exhale of breath.

“Mary. Today, you will notice me,” he recited, casting a silent spell on his object of affection. He envisioned her by his side, walking together, lunching together, laying together. His thoughts again drifted to those intimate moments, thoughts he would have spent more time on if it hadn’t been for that damn whistling.

It was time to pull out the big guns. The powersnot, when one places a finger over the non-offending nostril and blows with all one’s lung capacity. This method had been great while in the shower, but for Bernard, this would be the first time he attempted it in public. He leaned his head forward reminding himself of the relief he would feel when, today, he would speak to her whistle free. He covered his right nostril. He blew. Fragments and air sprayed forth from the left side of his nose, but still no product. The whistling grew louder. He leaned further forward, pressed harder, blew with more strength. Still, nothing to reward him for his efforts. He was growing frustrated and time was running out.

“Will I have to forgo my prepared speech because of a lousy piece of snot?” He raged, now leaning back to allow his diaphragm space to expand, preparing his lungs for a sincere assault. Jamming his first finger of his right hand fully up his nose, he clenched his lips together and froze. A few inches before him there dangled a dainty white laced handkerchief.

Agape with sudden shock Bernard stared up into the soft and glowing face of Mary. Her brow raised slightly, she awaited his response. Neither of them spoke as Bernard finally realized he was currently preparing to introduce himself to the woman of his worship with his finger rammed entirely into his nose. He quickly removed it, smiled, and snagged the hanky from her hand. He gave a good sincere blow into the fabric and dislodged the guilty party. He glanced up from the damp embroidered M and found her gone. Quickly scanning the park path he saw the back of her ponytail, twenty yards down the way.

“Thank you!” He called out. She spun her head and waved at him, a broad smile across her flushed face.

He fingered the lacy fabric, smiled at the feel, and smelled a corner that had yet to be used. He gazed lovingly at the gift.

“She noticed me,” he murmured to himself. He gathered his things up excitedly, pocketed the precious cloth, and sped to the park exit for home. He’d be back tomorrow.

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