“A Summer Love Story” – Friday Fiction by Gary Picard

I’m refinishing an old park bench. Hunched over my crate I feel like one of those artists you see at the Big E. I’ve got the beard and glasses but the pipe is replaced with an occasional cigar. It’s late summer and the squirrels and jays are busy and noisy in the trees. Working in the garage with the door open, the radio plays oldies on one cinder block and my coffee sits on another. This has been a surprisingly relaxing summer of projects, but what I thought would be a two week job has now entered its second month. It’s rapidly becoming “The Summer of the Bench.”

The bench was dismantled, the slats sanded, bound tightly together and soaked in my bathtub to straighten out some that were warped. Primed now and covered with four coats of red paint they have been put aside so that I can work on the backplate and sides. Intricate patterns of basket weaving and  fleur-de-lis in wrought iron have slowed my work even more. But that’s all right. I’m using an artist brush for the glossy black paint that will cover the dull black iron. I want to get it just right. Maybe it will be done in time for Thanksgiving.

My wife likes to keep both of us busy around the house with projects of her devising. That’s why I found it odd when she pulled up a canvas chair and joined me in the garage one day. Not sharing a love for my music she turned it down so we could “talk.” “Uh-oh, I thought to myself, this can’t be good.”

But I was wrong. We had a wonderful time. Since that day it’s an unspoken ritual that after dinner is cleaned up we meet down in the garage. The dog is in the yard harassing the chipmunks and the new puppy next door, the sun has ignited the tree tops, and Kathy and I talk and drink our coffee. Progress is being made but it’s not just about the bench anymore.

What started out as an individual project has become a family affair. While I paint she talks. We’ve discussed family and friends and the importance of keeping in touch with each other. We talk about plans for the future and upcoming vacations. There’s even a rumor of a pool in my future but I’m not holding my breath for that one. Tearful reminiscing  of a favorite aunt gone ten years now and end of life decisions regarding our older dog have floated around that garage. We trade stories about our day at work and how much I spend on my cigars. I mention the eighty five dollar miracle facial cream she bought isn’t working and she counters with the growing size of my bald spot, which I don’t have. I think she still digs me though.

Our projects are winding down and now I know what people mean when they talk about enjoying their home.

I’ve repaired a bench this summer, and a whole bunch more.

(Note: the photo is of the actual bench – and cigar – taken by the author. –  Ed.)

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