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Part 6: Why the Willow Weeps
by Jonathan Shute

Time seemed to move in lazy loops from Fred's perspective on the park bench in his mind. If he enjoyed the splashing Labrador chasing a stick he could see it over and over again as though he was rewinding the favorite scene in a movie. Thoughts and people would come at his bidding, some that he recognized as familiar but most of them were strangers, people he had never met in his other life. When he had a pleasant conversation with a denizen of the park it would last as long as he pleased, never interrupted by business or obligation.

The linear locomotive of the real world, the one that was hurtling toward a chasm, felt foreign and unnatural. The lilting arc of the willow's limbs embraced him and provided a sense of well being that he had never known in the waking world. The warmth of the sun and the serenity in the park gave him solace just as th opiatese soothed his hopeless counterpart. Nighttime never seemed to fall on the park in Fred's mind.

He struck up a particular friendship with one of the children in the park and their open-ended conversations were his favorite diversion. The boy sat in the crux between two of the larger branches in the willow tree over his left shoulder and spoke with the assurance of a sage across the vocal chords of an eight-year-old.

The boy seemed content to sit on the branch of that tree and talk to Fred for hours, in no rush to abandon their conversation and join the other children playing by the lake. There was something odd about the child, in that Fred could engage him in conversation as though he was an adult, yet he was entirely naive about certain things that every little boy would know. Fred once asked him if he wasn't bored, just sitting in the tree shooting the breeze and the boy didn't understand what the word "bored" meant.
"You know, when things get dull and you'd rather be playing tag or kickball with the other children."

"Why would I be talking to you if I'd rather be playing kickball? That doesn't make any sense."

Fred realized for the first time that he had never once moved from his own spot on the bench; it had simply never occurred to him. He remembered his other self, confined to the bed and wondered if he mightn't be immobilized in this world as well. To test the hypothesis he stood and walked to the lake's edge on strong legs, apparently unemcumbered by fragile bones and feeding tubes. He bent down, picked up a stick and threw it into the lake with vigor that his arm hadn't possessed for some seventy-five years. The eager Labrador dove in after the stick, as he had a hundred times before but instead of splashing into the water, the stick made a sound like shattering glass.

Fred was stricken with a terrible dizziness and collapsed at the lake's edge.

(To becontinued in the next issue)


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