The most enthusiastic squirrel is still up on the bench and waiting, paws curled in over his chest as if to say, "For me?" I've eaten my last cracker myself, and I apologize. I ought to leave. I'm about to; it's almost impolite, though, to get up and walk away without a word to the man seated opposite. We've been together in the park for half an hour; he's pitching gravel into a trash can at the other end of his bench, and I've been feeding the pigeons. I haven't seen him here before, but it's felt almost like an interview, and I've gotten used to the almost-rhythm of his little rocks in the can.
It's cold; I'll only get more stiff, staying here. So I go.
Just as I'm standing straight the man looks up, just a glance, and I realize the young lady crossing the square is headed over to talk to him. His daughter, maybe. He doesn't look pleased, and he tosses another rock as she reaches him.
By the time I remember to look away, he's up and moving; their voices are blown away from me but I can see he's not as happy to see her as she'd like. He puts an arm over her shoulder, though, and as they go his eyes flicker just barely over me; he's taking his leave.
** ** **
I'd been prepared for anything, I thought, and in the end I'm sure I wasn't prepared for anything he would have done. Maybe I'd have been prepared if he'd lit up like a display rocket and run to meet me.
I was a little late, ten minutes late, and I know he saw me coming sooner than he pretended to. I walked all the way across the park, crunch-crunch, and he sat there on the arm of the park bench throwing little rocks. He looked up when I stopped moving and flicked one last little pebble, without looking, right into a wastebasket. He looked almost angry, and I swear I was this close to turning right around and leaving. I didn't.
He just nodded, and for a minute I had no idea what it was I'd come to say. He stood up slowly, like he'd have preferred not to, and tried to look friendly. I forget how tall he is, sometimes.
I had to help him out. "Buy me a cup of coffee?"
"Yup." He looked around and gestured toward my right somewhere, and when we started walking he hung his arm over me, which he didn't need to do.
** ** **
You waited maybe forty minutes: you were early but she was late. She stopped about twenty feet away, dead in her tracks, and waited. You looked up and brushed your hands on your slacks, irritated already, and she stood there like a bishop waiting for you to stand and come to her. And you did.
She smiled, all cheerful innocence, and suggested you go out for coffee. The park was clearing out, the folk singer on the far side packing up his guitar and his change, the old man on the other bench leaving his pigeons. You took her up on the coffee, took her to Reggio's, a table in a recess of the wall with a pay phone mounted up behind your own seat. The whole way there she chattered about her daily doings, her life in the city, but after you were seated she looked at you more seriously.
"It's good to see you," she said. "Thanks. For coming."
** ** **
Fields sits waiting on the arm of a park bench, tossing gravel stones at the wastecan. Five minutes still before Amelia said she'd be there, but already, his mouth is locked shut, and his left hand worries at his lapel. Why, he asks in his head, why did I bother?
I could leave now.
But he won't leave, and he knows that, and it only increases his frustration. He stays, and he barely moves; every once in a while he scoops a new handful of dust and stones from the gravel on the sidewalk, and one by one he lobs the pebbles at the trash can eight feet away, by the other end of the bench. One goes wide and stirs the grass, and one careens away from the ringing metal collar of the can, and one thrown too hard skips among its fellows in the dust beyond. When a stone falls through the center of the hole, Fields hears only the hollow slap of the plastic wall inside.
He glances in all directions, surreptitiously, watching for Amelia's approach. The the crowd in the park is thinning; the man who feeds the pigeons is almost out of crackers, and singer with the duct-taped guitar and the fingerless gloves is almost out of audience. The rest are almost out of sunlight and warmth, and Fields is nearing the end of his patience. He looks around more as the hour approaches, and comes, and goes. Ten minutes after the hour he is barely looking at all, sitting still but for the measured flips of his hand.
It is a little longer still before he becomes aware of her--something makes him look around, something in the corner of his eye, though she comes from behind him. He sits as he was, waiting, as she shuffles almost gingerly across the square. He is not watching, but the glimpse of her from seconds ago stays with him, to spite his open eyes: Amelia--the hair that tumbles unattended over her scarf, the candor and the unquenchable hope she still wears on her face, as lovely as he could have dared to remember.
** ** **
All is not lost. It is evening and winter in Washington Square Park. In the corner a street musician plays. Everyone in the park can hear him. His fingers are a bright pink. He has some money in his case, but no one is stopping now. His eyes are not focused. Two young women hurry across the center of the park, around the fountain, laughing. Pigeons perch on the arch and look all around. A squirrel watches an old man carefully. He speaks aloud to the squirrel. A young woman walks into the park from the street. She walks directly toward the old man. The old man stands. The song comes to an end. Pigeons observe vigilantly. The man nearest the old man throws a rock through the air. The squirrel wanders away and approaches an old woman. The woman sits motionless and does not see him. The young woman stops and stands. The singer sets his guitar in its case. The old man puts his hat on. The younger man stands and faces the woman. Pigeons watch, everywhere. It grows colder. The woman speaks to the man. They walk out of the park together. The old man sets off alone. The singer has already gone. The light has nearly gone. The old woman does not stir. All is not lost. All is never lost.