DJ Asson and Cheryl Leibovitz

Cheryl Leibovitz
Inspiration Piece

The Bench
DJ Asson

Jason heard the rhythmic smacking of flip-flops on the wooden planks behind him. He jerked around to look. It wasn’t her. He wondered if she would come tonight. He slouched back down into the bench. The backrest was hinged so he could face the boardwalk shops or out to the beach. He moved it to face the ocean. He wanted to watch the sun burn through the clouds that nuzzled the horizon.

He turned his head from side to side, stretching out the sore muscles in his neck. He’d been waiting here for over an hour. He looked out at the choppy ocean. It was chilly as the late May sun sank further down in the sky. He pushed down the sleeves of his gray sweatshirt to keep warm. He kept his ears tuned to the sounds behind him.

He had moved to the beach last year. He came because this place held such magic and possibility to him as a child. Every summer growing up, his family came here. It wasn’t the camaraderie he cherished, but the vast ocean, the sound of its rhythmic waves, the smell of the salt water, and even the seaweed that laced the waterline. Like icing to the water’s cake, he also relished the sand. He warmed his feet in it and drew ideas on its limitless canvas. Ceaseless waves could erase each of his creations, but then, so could he. In that moment before the wave returned, he was in control. With the sand, however, that control was muted. He could shape it throughout the day, but in the end, it always returned to its unblemished original form.

He found a small apartment on top of Kosmos, a coffee shop two blocks from the beach. During high season, the place bustled from sunrise to dusk. At night, it was subdued. Couples huddled around the tables, escaping the more raucous environment outside. It was perfect for him. He would get up late, dress and stumble down for coffee with Samantha, the shop owner and his landlord. It was here that he met Claire.

She arrived just as the tourist season was winding down. She would come in most mornings, order a large latte with a biscotti and sit at a small table near the front window. She would sip her drink, scan the morning paper and watch people walk by outside. She never looked up when customers entered the store. Jason watched her when someone came in: she’d drop her head smoothly and focus on the newspaper. She furrowed her brow and twirled strands of her shoulder length jet-black hair. When the interloper left, she’d sip her drink and resume watching the outside world.

She initially treated Jason this way. He assumed she was trying to avoid contact. To put her at ease, he would rise early and be at a table before she arrived. He made an effort to talk with Samantha each morning. He hoped this would make him seem less strange and certainly not dangerous. After two weeks, Claire didn’t turn away when she caught him staring. They began to share quiet glances. He finally worked up the courage to speak to her. They talked about things two familiar strangers talk about in a beach coffee shop. Each tiny interaction would buoy him for the day.

Jason sighed, shifted on the bench, and thought about how much he missed those early days. The boardwalk was quiet now. The crowds, which had littered the beach earlier, were gone. The sun dangled above the horizon. Deep reds flowed out from its surface, slowly bleeding into oranges and then purples. The sky above stood in opposition: cloudless and bright. But the sun gradually siphoned off the sky’s intensity and energy. Its battle of attrition, while slow, always prevailed.

Nearby, two people huddled on a bench identical to the one Jason occupied alone. Claire and he used to sit like that, after their relationship grew beyond the confines of a cup of coffee at Kosmos. It was like a small ember in a beach fire. It looked like it would stay lit, glowing red and sparking. Then it would smolder. Finally, it would glow blue-orange and catch again, one flame joining others in a caustic symphony. It always looked like it would go out, but it endured. For a while, at least.

They had started coming to the beach at sunset, to luxuriate in the spectacle of light and water. They listened to the waves crashing in front of them and the seagulls squawking above. They never spoke but always sat close, almost touching. He tuned out the world, save for the sky’s majesty and Claire’s warmth. He never wore long sleeves when they came here. He wanted to feel the heat emanate from her, especially as the night air turned colder.

A strong wind blew up from the ocean, kicking up loose grains of sand that littered the boardwalk. The sun was gone. A subdued band of red straddled the horizon. The once bright sky was now a purple dusk. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. Shorts were fine earlier, but now he was cold. Looking around, he saw that the nearby bench was empty. This was going to be a long summer, he thought. He’d return to this spot again and again, to watch and to wait. He’d think of Claire.



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