Saying the same thing
We’re sitting at a metal park bench, the kind wrapped in soft, protective plastic. We aren’t touching.
Children play, a couple argues quietly, not wanting to draw attention, a calligraphy class paints unknown words, a dog chases a frisbee and after catching it, takes it to a stranger, wagging. It’s as if reentering the world has made shared settings idyllic; we longed for a park while we couldn’t have it.
This isn’t real, you tell me. Or maybe you’re telling everyone else, though no one else hears.
I light a spliff and we pass it back and forth. We used to smoke joints, but it was too much for you, went to your head, gave you violent dreams. A buffer is the key.
There’s a spot on the picnic table where the plastic has torn exposing the metal beneath. I finger it, thinking. One-in-three of these people are not who they claim to be, you say.
I can’t imagine where you got that statistic. Maybe you scrolled through study after study, researching on your phone while we sat silently at dinner. Maybe you gleaned it from that true crime podcast I refuse to listen to. Maybe you made it up. I have no way of knowing for sure.
I wriggle my finger under the plastic. The metal is cold beneath the outer coating despite the sunny day. I begin to pull and a strip comes off in my hand.
Why? Why would you do that? you ask, appalled. Destroy something that isn’t yours?
I pass the spliff back but you don’t smoke it. You rub it out on your side of the table and a synthetic burning fills the air. I doubt anyone else in the park can smell it.
I pull again at the plastic coating and it begins to come off in sheets. I suddenly feel it’s very important to expose the cold metal.
You shake your head and move to stand away from me but close enough to the others that you can see their scraped knees; close enough you can see the liquid strokes of the calligraphers, moving like a collection of symphony conductors; close enough the arguing couple might grace you with a knowing half-smile, hands now clasped, clinging even; close enough you might have to stoop and pick up an errant frisbee.
I don’t move to join you. I keep peeling and peeling until the whole picnic table is uncovered and lit up in the sun, so bright you can barely look at it, so hot no one will be able to touch it.
Evan James Sheldon’s work has appeared recently online in American Literary Review, the Cincinnati Review, and Anti-Heroin Chic, among others. He is a Senior Editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Director for Brink Literacy Project. You can find him online at evanjamessheldon.com.