Finished with the morning walk, the old man slowly sat down on the one of eight wooden benches bordering the emerald grassy courtyard. The artificial knee was supposed to put an end to his leg pain, but it wasn’t living up to what the surgeon had claimed.
The seasons were changing, or at least that’s what he thought, because his leg was aching something terrible. Or maybe it was a storm rolling in or he had overdone his walk again, or perhaps it was all three.
He sighed and rubbed the 10-year-old scar. If he were honest, the knee hurt all the time.
Heck, at 85, everything hurt all the time. Often he wondered if he could get a refund from the doctor or somehow find the Fountain of Youth during one of his walks.
“No such thing would ever happen. Doctors don’t give refunds,” he grumbled. Then he laughed at the thought of being young again as he leaned back to rest for a moment longer before tackling the mile walk back home.
This bench was his favorite, the one facing the gurgling fountain, and as luck would have it, the bench had been vacant, as if waiting just for him.
An October wind gently tugged at the orange and brown leaves of the river birches framing the courtyard. The circus was about to begin at Rosemary Beach, Fla. And he sat on the edge of center ring.
First, three 10-year-old boys rode by on newly rented bikes, skim boards tucked under their sunburned arms. It was tricky steering the gray cobblestones that formed a walkway encircling the courtyard, but the boys had come this way for the last three mornings. After the first day of crashes, they had become experts in the navigation of the rough terrain single-handedly.
They were on their way to the ocean for another day skimming the surf as it crashed onto shore. But first, it was a quick stop at The Sugar Shak for Mr. Hogan’s latest sugary creation. As if 10-year-old boys need sugar to give them additional energy.
Next, six teenage girls walked passed. He overheard one say, “Like, it’s my fault I’m young and beautiful?” They all giggled at the comment as they strutted like peacocks towards the private beach. Not a one noticed him. And why would they? He was almost 70 years their senior. What could he possibly know that they didn’t?
The old man ran gnarled fingers through salt and pepper hair and labeled the group as clueless. “We all have our chances to be young,” he thought. And remembered back a long, long time ago when he too was of such a youthful and foolish age. Although lately, it seems memories of childhood had been slower to return.
Suddenly, the fountain seemed to gurgle with frothy delight as a pedal carriage rolled up. He watched and smiled as the Samson quintuplets leaped to the ground, immediately encircling the fountain. The three boys and two girls dug deep into pockets and threw coins into their wishing well.
At age 6, any fountain they came upon was instantly a wishing well. Mom and Dad watched and took pictures before finally tossing a coin of their own. She drew him close, and they kissed as the children splashed handfuls of water on each other.
The old man on the bench smiled. The Samsons’ week-long vacation was coming to an end today. He labeled the family “forever young” because their love for their children, and each other, would last through the folds of time.
The wind kicked up a small dust devil that made him cover his eyes for a moment. When it finally blew through, an elderly lady seemed to appear on the other side of the fountain. Wisps of silver hair peeked out from beneath the blue bonnet. Yellow ribbons tied in a bow under her chin helped to keep the bonnet secure. She retrieved a coin from her sweater, closed her eyes as if making a wish, and then tossed it into the fountain before turning towards the old man and giving a knowing smile.
He rose and hurried over to where she stood, all pain of the knee injury from so long ago fading with each step. As a stiff October wind whipped around the courtyard, he too tossed in a coin. They embraced as a shower of orange and brown leaves cascaded around them.
She tilted her chin up and they kissed. The leaves and time fell away.
The scene of the elderly couple faded, leaving behind a petite lady in her mid-forties and a gentleman in his early fifties, arms still wrapped around each other as they stood next to the gurgling fountain.
He asked, “Well, beautiful lady, did you get your wish?”
Her answer was a lingering kiss.
When she finally pulled away, a coy smile spread across her lips, “Did you get yours?” They held hands and walked over to the corner café. He told her of his daydream – that their love would pass the test of time and that his wish had indeed come true.
She answered, “Of course it will last, silly.” The Wife kissed me again, “But I may not survive if you don’t buy me lunch.”
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]