Author: Eve Noble – First Place Junior Division 2024

Every second of every day I sit here. No matter the weather, sunny, snowing, or thunder, it doesn’t matter, I never move; I can’t. I watch as people have fun and be happy all around me; I can’t help but be sad. How could I not be? As everyone gets to run around and play, I have to sit here as the dust slowly collects on my rusty metal arms. No one really notices me anymore. I don’t blame them, though; not many people pay attention to the bench in their neighborhood park. It’s just one of those things you pass every day without a single thought.

People used to stop and look at me when I was younger. When I was shinier. When I was first built in this park. Families used to admire my freshly painted black legs and armrests that bend into an elaborate flower shape as they move down to my sturdy European Oak seat. They used to sit on my smooth wooden seat. Now my legs’ and arms’ paint has chipped away in patches, the shiny gray peeking through; the rust grows more and more every day. Vines grow up my legs, flowers peeking out from under my feet. The surface of my seat is now rough and weathered; what used to look like a beautiful glossy wood is now nothing more than a splinter waiting to happen.

Some days I try to find enjoyment in the small things. That’s all I really have, the small things. A mother bird had her babies in a branch of the tree sitting next to me. They were just learning how to fly, and they would land on my wooden back. Whenever they did this, people from all over the park would point and stare. It feels nice to be noticed. I know they weren’t looking at me of course, and I couldn’t blame them. The birds were really beautiful.

* * *

Today was going to be a day like any other day. As the sun slowly rose, people began to flood the park. It’s usually the joggers first; I watch as one goes by after the other. Sometimes I wish I could run away from this place like them, but I know that could never happen; the most I can do is move the slivers on my wooden seat. Then the normal people started coming in; couples on a date, high schoolers hanging out, and the children. As I watched the children playing on the playground that sat in front of me, I saw a familiar face standing behind them. This same guy came and sat on my seat every now and then. He came rather irregularly. He usually sat alone on my seat drinking what seemed like coffee from a mug. I could tell he was like me, never really happy; he always wore the same apathetic expression on his face.

This day was different, though; he wasn’t alone. There was a woman with him, and he didn’t have his mug. Together they seemed like all of those people who come to the park on a date. “This is my favorite spot to sit and drink coffee. Here, take a seat,” the man said. He sounded different; he sounded more cheerful? Every time the girl smiled, he did too. Seeing him happy made me feel weird; I don’t know if I was happy for him or if I was sad to lose the only person I have ever met that was like me. They sat in silence for a long while; the sun started to go down.

“Finney, this place is really nice, but we should probably start heading back because it’s getting dark,” the girl sitting next to him said. That was the first time I ever heard his name. Finney, so you’re the one that has been keeping me company all these years.

“You’re right, it’s getting pretty late. I’ll walk you home,” Finney said to the girl as they stood up and started to walk away. There I was again watching the sun go down by myself. Little did I know I wasn’t going to see him for a long twelve months.

* * *

After two very uneventful months passed, Finney didn’t come back. One day, I was watching a kid and his mom walking through the park. Then all of the sudden, the annoying music was back. This same music plays every time this big truck pulls in; the kids from the park always run up to it and walk away with some kind of food. “Mom! Can I get ice cream? Please, please, please, please!” the kid started to say, pulling his mother’s arm.

“Not right now, Honey, we should be getting home now,” the mother said to her child. The child began to cry; he cried so loud it was somehow even more obnoxious than the ice cream truck. The little boy then fell to the ground and started flailing his arms. “Fine! Go get some ice cream; then we are going straight home,” the mother said in a voice that could only be explained as exasperated. She gave him three dollars from her purse and sat down on my seat waiting for the kid to come back.

When the little boy got back with a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone, he sat down next to his mother, licking the side of the cone as it melted.

“Hurry, we have to be home in forty minutes,” the mother said to her child, trying to hurry him. He licked his ice cream for about three more minutes. Then all of a sudden, “plop,” and the top of the ice cream cone was all over my seat. It was so sticky and cold!

“James, you got it everywhere!” she said to the child as he started to cry again. The ice cream started to melt and spread over half of my seat.

“My, my, my ice cream!” he screamed. It was sinking into the cracks of my weathered wood.

“Honey, stay here, I am going to get napkins to clean this up,” his mother said, getting up and going back to the ice cream truck to ask for napkins.

I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was boiling with rage at this point. The child sat on my seat crying with the ice cream sitting next to him. I mustered all my strength, moved the slightest bit of a sliver of my wooden seat, and pushed it into his finger. He threw the rest of the ice cream cone up into the air, “My finger!” he yelled. The ice cream landed on my arm then exploded all over the rest of me. That’s what I get for trying to get revenge, I guess. His mother came back with the napkins and attempted to clean the ice cream from his shirt. Then he shoved his finger in her face, “Mom, my finger! The bench attacked me!” he yelled.

She looked at her child’s finger, “Oh James, you got a splinter? Let’s go home and I will get the splinter out for you,” she said to her son. He got up, still crying, and they both walked away until I could no longer see them.

As each day passed after the ice cream incident, my sadness grew worse. I watched as people had picnics with their families. Sometimes I wished I could have a family; I know that could never happen, though. I am a bench after all. I don’t even know who made me. Though, sometimes I like to imagine what it would be like to have one. I would have freshly painted arms and legs with a beautiful and smooth wooden seat; someone would sit on my seat every day. We would be happy together. But that’s all just a dream. It would never happen.

* * *

Finney eventually came back. He hadn’t been here since about a year ago when he came with that girl. It brought me some joy to see him again after all this time. He was holding a bouquet of beautiful red roses in his hand. Finney was dressed much better than usual; he was wearing a black suit and red tie the color of the roses he was holding. It was usually just the occasional businessmen that I saw wearing a suit. I had never seen him dress like this; he had always worn a T-shirt with sweatpants and sometimes a pair of jeans. He sat on my seat, carefully avoiding the now dry ice cream, so as to not ruin his suit. After a few minutes, the same girl who had come with him a year ago was standing in front of him in a beautiful red dress that flowed down to just below her knees.

Finney looked nervous when he saw her. “You’re here! Take a seat,” he said, patting the empty space next to him that wasn’t covered in ice cream on my seat.

“It looks just like it did when you took me here for our first date,” she said while taking a seat next to him.

Finney handed her the flowers “For you m’lady,” Finney teased. She blushed and they both laughed. She brought the flowers to her nose and smelled them. They continued to talk for the next hour, then Finney stood up from his seat, got on one knee and reached into his back pocket.

The girl looked shocked. “Finney, oh, my gosh,” she gasped.

Finney just looked at her and smiled with a warm and loving expression. “The day I met you was the day my life started. I had fallen into the deep darkness of life’s never-ending sadness, but you are my shining light who led me out of the darkness. Without you I would still be lost,” Finney said looking her in the eyes. She started to cry. Still trying his best to make eye contact, “Monika Jean Guilbert, will you marry me?” Finney said, pulling out and opening a small black box from his pocket to reveal a beautiful gold ring with a brilliant diamond.

The girl stood up, “Yes, one hundred times yes!” she screamed. He took the ring out of the black box and put it on her finger. Everyone in the park began clapping their hands. Finney and the girl embraced in a tight hug. As everyone cheered, I couldn’t help but be happy for Finney and his new fiancé. Soon after this, though, they left and took all of the happiness they had lent to me with them.

* * *

As the days went by, I was again depressed. Finney had not come to visit in a long while, and I was losing hope that he would ever come again. One day it was like any other day; it always starts like a normal day. I watched a tall man with a long beard that fell all the way down to his stomach and wearing a black beanie on his head, walking a dog; the dog was a small Pomeranian. They both walked up to stand in front of me. The man was talking on his phone. “What do you need from the store? I will stop there on my way back,” the man said into his phone.

The man continued to talk on his phone, but I just zoned him out. I could only focus on one thing at a time, and that one thing now was the small Pomeranian sniffing me. The dog was sniffing my left leg which was much taller than him in comparison. Why was he sniffing me? It made me feel kind of self-conscious; did I smell weird? The small golden dog walked over to my other leg and began to sniff that one too. The dog lifted his leg and peed, right on my foot! All I could feel was disgust and anger coursing through me. I wanted to prick the dog with a piece of wood, but I learned my lesson when I pricked the child. The big man walking the dog was now off of his phone. “Come on, Teddy.” He said, pulling on the small dog’s leash. As they walked away farther and farther from me, I was left there, my anger turning into sadness.

* * *

After months just watching, a group of five boys, who looked like high schoolers, stood a few yards in front of me. They were carrying a large container, but I couldn’t tell what was in it. One of the high schoolers had short, light gray hair; it was the color of the moon during the night. He was carrying a camera. He put the camera down in front of all the boys, pointing at them. He pressed a red button on the camera. All five were standing in front of the camera when the guy with gray hair started to talk, “What’s up guys?! Today me and my friends are going to be playing dodgeball with water balloons. But these aren’t any normal water balloons; these water balloons are filled with paint!” he said in a loud voice, almost yelling.

“This is going to be epic!” one of the guys with long, black hair standing next to him said.

I thought this could be amusing at least. All five of the boys took two balloons each out of the container and ran in opposite directions. The one with gray hair looked at one of the boys who was wearing a green beanie, “You’re going to be first Ryan!” he yelled at him from a distance.

“You wish!” The guy screamed back. All of a sudden, they all started throwing the balloons at each other.

All of them dodged the balloons but one. “Aghhh, I have been hit! Man down, man down!” he yelled dramatically. When the balloon hit his chest, it exploded all over him, splattering into his dark green hair. You could see from outer space where he got hit by the balloon, red paint dripping from his bright, yellow shirt. They all started to laugh then began throwing the balloons again as the guy that was hit laid on the ground. After a while the only two people left were the guy with gray hair and the guy with the green beanie.

“So much for ‘you’ll be first,’” the guy in the beanie said.

“You may not have been first, but I will get you!” the gray-haired guy said. After their brief conversation, the one wearing the beanie ran behind me for shelter. The other threw two balloons at once right at me! One exploded into a mess of red paint. It was all over. The second balloon went through the hole between my seat and back and hit the guy wearing the beanie. The beanie guy fell back as if he was hit by a gun. Everyone started standing up. “Ha! See I told you I would win!” the gray-haired guy said.

“Yeah, yeah, Richie,” the guy with the beanie said standing up. They turned off the camera and picked up the rubber scraps of the balloons.

The guy with gray hair turned the camera back on, after all the rubber scraps were in the large container, to record an outro to what I am guessing is a YouTube video, “You all probably guessed it, I won!” he said into the camera.

“Yeah, they know you won,” one of the other guys said in a bored but teasing tone. They all laughed again.

“Anyway! Thank you all for watching and see you all next time,” the gray-haired boy said in an influencer voice. The boys walked away; I could no longer see them. I was left there to sit in the mess they had made.

How could anyone ever like me again? I doubt even Finney would want to be near me now. I mean look at me; I’m a mess. My seat and back are weathered, my arms and legs are rusty, I am covered in ice cream and red paint, and not to mention I smell like dog pee. Even if there was ever the slightest bit of hope that I could be happy, maybe even have a family, it is gone. Now I won’t just sit here and be ignored. People will stare at me with disgust and avoid me at all costs.

* * *

A few years passed after this event, and I was the saddest I had ever been. But that all changed when I saw Finney again. He was with the same girl, but they both looked older and there was a child with them who looked about six years old. “Oh my gosh what happened to the bench?” Finney’s, probably now wife, exclaimed, looking at me. I was happy to see them again but sad to know even they thought I was disgusting.

“We should clean it up. This place is part of our history,” Finney told her. So, they left, and came back an hour later with some cleaning supplies. After two hours of cleaning, I felt amazing. I looked amazing! The ice cream and paint were gone, my seat and back were smooth again, my arms and legs were freshly painted black.

The little girl, probably their daughter, picked up a bottle of perfume and sprayed me with it. It was rose scented like the roses Finney had given his wife on their first date. I finally felt good again; I was happy to be with this family. But it was getting dark, and they had to leave. I would miss them.

* * *

The family came back two weeks later. I was so happy to see them again, “I can’t believe we finally got permission to do this,” Finney said.

“I know; this kinda feels like a dream,” his wife agreed. The two of them picked me up by my arms and put me in the back of a truck, the little girl following close behind. I didn’t know where I was going, but, honestly, I didn’t care. I was moving! As the truck started to move, I could feel the wind. I could see many new things; it was amazing. Everything was happening so fast. Is this how the joggers feel when they run through the park? Once the car stopped moving and everyone got out, Finney and his wife lifted me out of the bed of the truck. We were at a two-story white house. They walked with me in their arms around the house and put me in the backyard. I stayed in that backyard for the rest of my life, never being depressed or unhappy again.

Finney comes and sits on my seat every morning as he drinks a cup of coffee from the same mug he used to drink from at the park; sometimes his wife even joins us. I wasn’t just a bench anymore either. Some days I was a pirate ship, and the little girl would be the captain traveling the dangerous sea in search of treasure, or I would be a spaceship taking her to weird undiscovered planets and meeting aliens. After all these years of sitting alone, watching, I was finally part of the fun. My dream came true; I was finally part of a family.

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