He saw her from the other side of the creek. She was sitting at a lone bench on the deserted side of the creek at the duck farm. At least that’s what Sedgewick always called the little barn and farm house with the duck pond and creek and the little antique shop that sold old fashioned candy to the sugar-loving little kids in the neighborhood.
Sedgewick was going for a walk that Saturday morning, and he just happened to head towards the secluded little duck farm. He liked to watch the ducks cavorting around the little converted chicken coup and then waddle down to the creek and paddle around the lazily swirling water. He especially liked to see the fuzzy little baby ducks, and even more than that he liked to watch the excited mothers and their even more excited little daughters as they cooed and fussed over the baby ducks.
But it was still fairly early for a Saturday morning and the subdued crowds the duck farm usually saw on June Saturdays hadn’t shown up yet. So Sedgewick had the farm to himself. Except for the young girl sitting by herself on the lone bench on the far side of the creek.
Her deep brown eyes were watching the dark creek water swirl around rocks and debris, carrying honking little ducks further downstream. Her face was contorted, her eyebrows scrunched together, giving herself a uni-brow. She didn’t smile when the ducks pecked at each other or climbed out of the creek and shook themselves like river-soaked dogs.
Her brown hair was pulled back in two, tight ponytails, the kind of hairdo a giddy teenager would wear to school on a lark. Sedgewick had a feeling it was left over from yesterday and she hadn’t bothered to do something different this morning.
Sedgewick watched the ducks a while longer, but his eyes kept returning to the lone girl. After several minutes of this he couldn’t stand it any more, and wandered over to the rickety bridge. He crossed slowly, pausing in the middle to watch a duck swim under the bridge and take another glance at the girl. He had been fiddling with a weed he’d picked up somewhere along the way and finally tossed it to the wind and watched it fall into the creek and then turn over in the water and twirl around a rock and disappear under the dark, clear water of the creek.
He stepped over to the other side and stopped a short ten feet from the lone bench. The other side of the creek was secluded and quiet. There was a small patch of mowed grass and the lone bench and that was it. An old chain-link fence swallowed up by brush and vines and bushes edged the small mowed area, and beyond the fence was a swath forest that looked dark and dreary but sheltered the duck farm from the noisy traffic and congestion.
Sedgwick watched the girl for a few moments, than took another few steps forward. She didn’t notice his presence, but kept her eyes locked on a dark swirling pool of water. Sedgewick paused again, feeling very self conscious about approaching someone he didn’t know, especially a young teenage girl.
He didn’t exactly know what he was going to do or what he was going to say, and now the terror of not knowing started to build in the back of his throat. She looked so lonely, so scared, so full of hurt and something that pulled at her stomach like a cramp. Sedgewick could almost read the pain in her face, in that furled brow, and he knew he had to do something, to say something. He didn’t know what was wrong, what had caused a young girl to come to the lonely side of the creek and sit by herself so early on a Saturday morning without doing her hair or even bothering with anything like that.
Sedgewick realized she not only hadn’t done her hair, it was still wispy and crumpled from sleeping, but she was also wearing her pajamas. She wore a pair of scrub pants like doctors wear and an old faded T-shirt that was yellowing from age. There was a pair of worn, crusted sandals on the ground next to her, and her bare feet were digging in the soft mud, turning her pasty white toes black. Her face was red and blotchy, she had a few undisguised zits, and her eyes were red and puffy. She’d been crying.
Sedgewick noticed all of this and wanted to offer this hurting girl what he could. He stepped forward again, this time slower than he had before. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and tried the best he could.
“Hi,” he said, hesitation filling his voice. A tear streamed down the girl’s face as she broke her gaze and looked over towards the voice. She saw an older guy standing there, probably the same age as some of the seniors she knew at school. His hands were shoved deep in the pockets of his baggy, faded, and torn jeans, his scrubby tennis shoe was pawing at the ground. His face was soft and gentle, sort of friendly but in a mysterious way. Yesterday’s five o’clock shadowed disguised his baby face. His eyes were deep and he was chewing on his lip. It wasn’t exactly the kind of face her and her friends swooned over. It wasn’t the kind of face she used to cut out of magazines and plaster to her bedroom wall. But there was a smile of sorts in that face, and eyes that looked deep into hers, eyes that looked into her heart and somehow could see the pain that was swallowing her whole. She didn’t say anything, but tried to blink away the tears.
“I-I was watching the ducks,” Sedgewick started, gesturing to the other side of the creek. “And I saw you sitting over here… by yourself. I thought maybe you needed something.” It was a lot for Sedgewick to get out. He finished as quickly as he could and bit his lip, waiting for her response.
But she didn’t say anything for a moment. She just looked at him, studying him, trying to keep herself in this moment instead of slipping back into her memories like she’d been doing all morning. This was the very duck farm where she’d been kissed for the first time. Jackson Davis kissed her in the summer after sixth grade on this very bench when the sun was going down and the moon was coming up like a giant melon. She’d thought to herself that any girl would want to kiss a guy named Jackson, but Jackson would only kissed her that summer.
Of course when her and her little pack of friends strolled out of Henry H. Miller Junior High School on the first day of the year she watched Jackson necking with another girl and she cried and dropped her books and ran home to the comfort of her mother.
She came back to this moment in time to feel a tear roll off her cheek and land in the middle of a growing wet spot on her pajamas. Sedgewick saw that tear fall and it triggered a memory back in the depths of his mind, a memory of lone tear falling from his grandmother’s face.
“My grandfather died when I was seven.”
Unlike his previous stuttering speech, Sedgewick managed to say these words with a little more confidence, a little more assurance. The girl noticed it, and looked up to meet his eyes when he began speaking.
“I was raised by my grandma and grandpa, it was just me and them. But one night when I was seven years old I couldn’t sleep and I dragged my blanket into my grandparents’ bedroom and I was going to crawl into bed with them. The moon illuminated their room and I could see my grandfather sitting and rocking in the corner. He couldn’t sleep either and he motioned me over and then pulled me up into his warm, comforting lap. I burrowed my face in his chest. I could smell his Old Spice deodorant. I fell asleep almost immediately and awoke to the warm rays of the morning sun and my grandmother’s face. I remember the look on her face like it was only yesterday. Grief and pain clouded her eyes. But she smiled as my eyes slowly opened, a smile that knew pain and loss and joy and love. She carried me downstairs and we sat down in another chair and rocked and rocked and rocked.”
Sedgewick wasn’t looking at the girl anymore, but was staring at the dark creek water. He had never told anyone this story, and he couldn’t believe it was flowing from his lips like the call and response at church. The girl hadn’t taken her eyes of Sedgewick.
“My grandfather died that night while I slept in his lap.” A single sob rolled through the girl as Sedgewick finished. He stood there silently, still staring at the water, and the girl continued to stare at him.
“I don’t know why you’re sitting here by yourself, staring at the water, but I guess I thought you needed to know that,” Sedgewick said, trying to figure out why he had told this stranger his story. He felt naked and exposed. He pulled his hands from his pockets and crossed his arms, trying to hide his percieved nakedness. He looked away from the water, but still didn’t want to meet her grief-filled eyes.
Instead his eyes fell on a fiery yellow dandelion growing in a tuft of grass on the edge of he creek. The girl noticed it too, and lowered her gaze to the dandelion. Sedgewick slowly stepped forward, and then crouched down, his knees feeling the cold earth through his jeans, and he plucked the dandelion and looked at it.
“You just looked so lonely, and I wanted you to know that you’re not,” Sedgewick said. He didn’t know what else to say, and he had a feeling it wasn’t his place to sit there on the bench with her and be a shoulder to cry on. He had been that shoulder for friends in the past, and needed such a shoulder himself. But a stranger is never the person you turn to for such comfort. And so he knew that he could only impart so much, and what he did impart would serve this girl better if he left it at that.
So he handed her the dandelion, and she gingerly took it, and then watched him walk away, back across the rickety bridge, past the waddling ducks and the farm house, past the barn and back towards the road and back to where ever it was he’d come from.
When he was finally gone she looked down to the fiery yellow dandelion. It was the color of a bright yellow crayon, the kind she used to use to draw pictures of dandelions for her mother. For the first time that morning she smiled. The hole of grief and pain became a little smaller, and she noticed the ducks and the sparkling patch of sun in the creek.
The smile spread as the tears started flowing, warm tears that were full of a deep hurt and a deep love at the same time. That morning her mother had finally succumb to a long battle with cancer and died.