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One Last Goodbye
Herman Robinson limped down the street. He tucked his head into the wind and shoved his hands deep into the piles of lint in his pocket. A gust of wind hit him in the chest and Herman felt goosebumps break out in rashes across the curve of his back. Herman passed homeless men wrapped in shredded blankets and stray dogs scavenging for food. He hopped from foot to foot as best as he could with his almost crippled leg as he waited for the crosswalk sign to turn green and then walked across the street while avoiding the glances of other pedestrians. His neighbors had already carved jack-o-lanterns and hung their Halloween decorations over the door, even though it was only the beginning of October.
Upon nearing the park, the ground began to shake. Herman glanced up into the bright street lamps and squinted his eyes until the wrinkles on his forehead were deep like ravines. His green nature retreat was filled with teens playing boomboxes off their tanned shoulders. The trees vibrated as if they were shaking their heads sorrowfully. It was late evening and the party seemed to be just getting started.
Herman uttered a string of colorful words under his breath and shuffled over to a damp park bench. The wood was wet and it felt soggy through the seat of his work khakis, but Herman was so focused on shooting the teens death stares, he didn’t even notice. The pulsing heart of the crowd bounced up and down all night. Herman stayed on his bench; a silent observer of the underage drinking and untasteful dance steps.
Herman’s foot began to tap and he quickly slapped his knee to keep his leg still. The skin on his hand was as thin as parchment and his veins bulged like rolling hills. He used to be the life of every high school party before his leg had been injured in a firefighting accident. His leg ached as if it knew Herman was thinking about it. Herman ran a shaking hand through his wispy white hair and sighed. He had wanted to take a peaceful walk across the bridge where he and Wanda had first kissed exactly sixty-eight years ago, but it was being overrun by drunks students. Teens bounced ping-pong balls across the wooden platform in an attempt at beer pong and their shouts of victory echoed throughout the trees. A few stragglers lingered on the edge of the crowd, whispering amongst themselves and swaying slightly with the music.
Herman shook his head in disgust. This generation had no respect for nature and public parks. He leaned his head against the back of the bench, trying to position his neck comfortably. The booming of the speakers faded away as Herman drifted into a dream state. Memories of his past came to him in waves of sorrow and joy. He thought back upon the biggest regret of his time spent with Wanda.
Bang, bang, bang. Herman pounded on the door to his apartment.
“Open up Wanda,” he called, “I forgot my key again.” Herman could hear the sound of footsteps coming closer to the door. A lock clicked and the knob turned as the door was pushed open.
“Herman I was worried…” Wanda said. She sounded concerned and hurt.
“Thanks,” Herman mumbled and brushed past Wanda into the house. “I am going to go to sleep early. I have a long day of work tomorrow.”
“Do you even want the dinner I made for you? We should eat together.”
“Ehh. I’m not hungry.” Herman marched to the back of the house and slammed the bedroom door behind him. Wanda was left standing in the hallway. Her throat and lungs were sore and her heart ached. Wanda felt like she had lost her husband to his job.
Herman laid down on the soft bed and waited for Wanda to come join him. When she didn’t show up, he felt his throat grow thick with guilt. Herman loved Wanda more than anything and he knew that she understood that. He was annoyed that Wanda wanted him to express his love every day even when she knew he was busy with work.
Right when Herman was drifting off, Wanda climbed under the covers. She turned her face away from him, but Herman could still hear how she choked on her sobs. In the morning, when his alarm startled him out of a restful sleep, Wanda’s pillow was damp with salty tears. Herman went into the kitchen and found Wanda sitting at the table doing a crossword puzzle. She avoided his gaze as he walked past. Herman glanced at their table and noticed that there were unpaid pills sprawled across the clean glass top.
“Do you know the date, Wanda?” Herman asked and began to page through the mail.
“June eighth,” Wanda replied without looking up from the black and white newspaper. Herman didn't react at first and began to make his way to the refrigerator.
“Wait! That means yesterday was…” Herman gasped and stopped walking towards the fridge. His stomach churned. Wanda glared at him. “I’m so sorry, Wanda. I was so caught up in work and I just forgot. Please. Let me make it up to you.”
“Go. you don’t want to be late for your very important job.”
“I love you,” Herman said as tears sprang into his eyes. He couldn’t look at Wanda without shame. “I’m so sorry.” Herman walked to the tube in a solemn daze. He knew that Wanda could never completely forgive him. He had forgotten their anniversary.
That evening when Herman arrived home from work, he washed the dishes, paid the bills, cleaned the kitchen and took out the trash. On top of the piles of homemade food in the trash bag was a long letter in Wanda’s loopy handwriting. She had written over three pages of reasons she loved Herman. The last line read: “I love how you never abandon me and are always loyal to our relationship.” Wanda did not talk to Herman that night and his chest ached for her to forgive him. Herman wished that he could go back and redo that day correctly.
“Get up, you can’t sleep here,” a man with stubbly cheeks yelled into Herman’s face. Herman blinked his watering eyes and raised his head, groaning at how stiff his neck was. The real world came back to focus as his dream faded away.
“I...I’m sorry, I drifted off.”
“The park closed half an hour ago,” the young man said forcefully.
“Okay,” Herman rubbed his eyes and stood up. He swayed on the balls of his feet and rocked back and forth. The ground in front of him was littered with red Solo cups and empty glass bottles. His bridge seemed to glow in the distance and Herman made a step in its direction.
“Sir? The exit is this way.”
“Oh, I know. I was just…”
“I have to call authorities if you don’t leave the property immediately.”
“Can I please walk across the bridge,” Herman begged, “just once?” The park ranger seemed to consider Herman’s request.
“Once…” he said, “and then you leave.” Herman stepped up onto the first wooden plank and felt the wood grown under his weight. A magical air surrounded him as he slowly walked across the bridge. He paused in the middle and looked out upon the black lake. He remembered days full of bags of bread, barking geese and canoes under the natural candles in the sky.
Herman felt her delicate hands cupped in his large, rough palms as she rested her head on his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her small frame as they swayed to the beat of the music. Herman melted into Wanda he pulled her closer to his body. He felt her heart pumping above her left breast and the warm puff of air that escaped her lips onto his neck. The danced as the stars watched over them and the moon created a path of white light. Herman felt safe with the cover of darkness blanketing him on that cool October evening.
Herman slowly unwound his hands from Wanda’s hair. He opened his arms, letting her spin away from his embrace. He gazed into her hazel eyes with love and lead her away from the crowd of other students dancing. The headed towards a beam of moonlight that touched the ground and walked across an old wooden bridge. Herman followed the rash of freckles that stretched from cheek to cheek on Wanda’s flushed face with his eyes and leaned closer. They locked lips and pressed their bodies closer together. They fit like puzzle pieces. Herman and Wanda danced across the creaking old bridge until the sun began to rise above the horizon.
Seventy-one years after their first kiss, Herman stood at the same stop on the bridge. This time, he was alone. His clothes were dirty and wrinkled like he hadn’t bothered to iron them in months and his fingernails were caked in dirt from an unknown source. Herman hadn’t bought shampoo or soap for as long as he could remember and was barely making by with the toothpaste he found in the back of his medicine cabinet. Herman couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten anything other than take-out or microwaveable meals. He had transformed from a sharp looking gentleman into the slob of the town in the just the short period time that had passed after Wanda’s death.
The park ranger tapped his foot impatiently and constantly checked his watch. He sighed heavily and occasionally cast meaningful glances at Herman. Herman reached deep into the pocket of his sweatshirt and pulled out a cool metal lock. The lock was open, but the key was missing. Herman had written in thick black Sharpie across the face of the lock: Herman & Wanda. He wrapped the metal around a wooden post and pushed the lock until it fit into the corresponding hole. Once sealed the lock would never be opened again. Their love would be forever orbiting through the smooth silver. Herman held the lock in his palm and whispered a quiet goodbye.