Copy of Spring
Margaret sat on the park bench like she did most nice days at lunchtime. She tried to focus on the natural beauty of the park, not on all the encroaching humanity. The fountain, making a lovely, rustling sound like a waterfall, not the sound of the kid’s music blasting nearby. The early spring blossoms, not the used condom wrapper at her foot. She took another bite of her neatly wrapped tuna salad with tomato sandwich, chewed slowly, methodically.
She thought about the boy who used to call her Maggie, the only person who ever caller her that. A young man she’d loved quite a lot, even if it only lasted for a single spring season. He insisted on calling her Maggie; she told him that was silly. Secretly she loved him all the more for it. She’d had her first kiss with him on a bench quite like this one, which was why she liked to return here.
That was long ago.
After he’d left, she would sit on the bench late at night, trying to recapture the feeling of that first kiss, crying, willing him to come back. She’d whisper into the wind, “I miss you so much I ache”, in hopes that the wind would carry her words to wherever he was. He never returned.
All decades ago, and now she simply came here out of habit. A daily routine.
She finished her sandwich, wiped her mouth with the cloth napkin she’d brought along and tucked all of her items back into the small lunch bag she carried to work each day.
It was an early Chicago spring day. Though the wind still had a bite, the sun’s rays cut through in such a way that made her want to sit just a bit longer. She pulled her scarf away from her neck just a bit. She knew that she only had about another five minutes before her pale skin would start to burn, but she was beyond caring about wrinkles at this point.
Finally, after bathing in the light for just a few more precious moments, she stretched her arms as big and wide as her cranky bones would let her and stood to head back to the museum.
She’d become a docent at the Art Institute because of her love of great art. Margaret had a failed early attempt at a painting career, so her job fulfilled her desire to stay connected with the art world, the textures, the colors, the storied past. Despite all of the thousands of noisy, snotty, handsy children, and the equally noisy, handsy foreign tourists, she’d managed mostly still to love her job and always the paintings.
The hardest part was the art students. Watching them sit for hours, as she’d once sat, making sketches of other people’s great art. Seeing the light and hopefulness in their eyes, the earnestness. Margaret wasn’t sure what was harder–knowing how many of them would burn out, ending up bitter computer programmers and baristas or resenting the ones who might actually find success.
As she walked into the Institute, she said goodbye to the sunlight and felt her whole world dim, readjust. While depositing her things in the break room, she realized that a pop song the kid in the park had abused her with was now stuck in her head. Something about making your booty shake. Indeed. But then, a little, nearly imperceptible smile came across her lips at the thought.
The exhibit they had right now was one of her favorite artists, particularly his piece about spring. It was a total pleasure to stand quietly in a corner and gaze at the work, protect it from the masses, and share with people what she knew. Except the art kids and their drawings. Making their copies of spring.
An invitation from a co-worker earlier in the day played through her head uneasily as she settled in for the afternoon. People were gathering for drinks after closing to celebrate a security guard’s birthday. Her feet ached already, and she really hated her colleagues. Besides, drinking more than one glass of red wine at night disrupted her sleep. She’d rather be home in time for Jeopardy! and a good cup of tea.
Margaret started counting the tiles on the floor. The cold, hard, grey ceramic tiles that made her feet hurt. As her gaze wandered over toward the bench in the middle of the room, she noticed an abandoned backpack tucked underneath.
She walked over to the bag and picked it up, holding it in her arms for a long time, like it was a baby, or a precious thing. She realized she was trying to decide whether to open it up or just take it to the front desk.
Her thoughts turned to a million possibilities, perhaps adventures, that could be inside. Money from a bank robbery. A bomb. The lost, final novel of an obscure writer.
She was fairly certain the satchel belonged to one of the art students, but her hand stayed on the zipper, toying with the little, black fabric fob that hung off the end.
Footsteps echoed on the tile. Someone laughed in the other room. The second hand on her watch ticked loudly in the spaces in between.