Mark sat on the bench – one of those seats normally blocked by the concession carts – staring at the southwest entrance of the park. It was a brisk Monday morning in the middle of February and, though it was bit too cold to be sitting still, it was unusually warm for the season and people were making their way into the grounds to enjoy the brief recess of winter’s frigidity.
This was to say that there were people entering the park. At such an early hour most folks were clinging to the last remnants of rest before the workweek (unless they were those admirable fitness enthusiasts making their way to the gym), and Mark hadn’t seen more than five different people the past month since he’d begun this routine — the quiet, cold isolation within the nearby urban surrounding was important for their exercise. He began to worry that the sudden rush of traffic — all four of those intruding individuals — would cancel this week’s meeting.
Those fears dissipated when he saw the man, who looked five years his junior dressed in a gray pea-coat several sizes too big, walk through the southwest entrance and approach him. In addition to the coat, he was wearing green gloves and a green wool ski cap. Green was his favorite color.
“Hi Mark,” the man said with a friendly smile, approaching him.
“Abe, I was starting to worry you wouldn’t show up,” Mark said rising from his seat, eyes glancing towards the pedestrians who’d begun walking down the path.
“Nonsense! Now, where should we go today?”
Mark gave a chuckle. It was a joke because the route had always been the same: one clockwise loop around the perimeter of the park.
Once they began their walk Abe started with that first question, “so Marky, what good has happened?”
Mark looked forward. The barren trees lined along both sides would lead them to the pond (the first marker) in a few minutes. The process was as follows: Abe would ask Mark to describe three good things that had happened to him or that he’d observed. Mark would think of his answers before their meeting and describe them as they passed by the three designated markers.
“I saw a woman pick up an elderly man’s glove after it fell out of his pocket and run over to give it to him. He looked so relieved, then took her hand and started thanking her profusely. She was surprised at first but realized it was genuine and later continued her walk beaming. I was on the other side of the street so I couldn’t get a good look at it, but I think she was carrying a Saint Laurent bag.”
“Returning the glove is nice, but why the detail about the bag?”
“Because I normally assume rich, beautiful people are jerks.”
They walked along the curve, past the pond covered with little islands of thin cracked ice. Soon, they would come to the meadow.
“What else have you got?”
“A couple of college kids were playing instruments by the big fountain downtown. One was on drums providing support to the other’s saxophone melody. The fact that they were playing outside in such cold weather was nice enough, but I liked the fact that they didn’t have their cases open in front of them and were still so upbeat, like they were just there to share music and brighten peoples’ days. Proving that point, a group of schoolchildren in parkas were laughing and dancing.”
“I might know those guys. Was the sax player tall and black, and the drummer short and Korean?”
“That’s them! They’re cool dudes.”
Mark and Abe were finally approaching the playground. The air stirred as the morning matured, more vehicles had entered the streets and their hum reverberated quietly throughout the park.
“What’s your third thing?”
“Last night there was this parked van that had a number of people by it. When I walked by I realized that they were giving clothes away to homeless people. The volunteers were being friendly and making sure that they gave clothes that fit properly and even tried to get peoples’ favorite color.”
The final curve came and passed. They would be back at the entrance in a few minutes.
“Well Abe this was—“
“What’s another good thing Mark?”
“What?” he asked incredulously.
“Another good thing.”
“I didn’t think of an–”
“I found a dollar bill on the way home from work!”
Mark paused in his tracks, “I can’t think of anything…”
“Now!” Abe yelled, continuing his pace towards the exit.
Mark struggled and began to breathe heavily. It was happening too fast, he could hear the city starting to rumble awake, the cacophony of movement as all these people started to crowd the streets. He foresaw his morning commute; the long, slow, torturous and cramped commute. He’d go through this struggle just to get to that office with all the dull and meaningless work illuminated by fluorescent lights and computer monitors. The walls were caving in as he felt that fear of finality, of the mediocre life predetermined, take hold as it had before.
Before…before he’d begun seeing Abe…
The therapist seemed so far away now. But he was a light, an anchor that Mark refused to lose.
He sprinted to catch up.
“I—I, there—there was cake at the office last week,” he panted, hands on his knees, “it was chocolate.”
His breath returning, he added, “Also, I started drawing again. I’m thinking of submitting a portfolio to a couple of art schools. I’m really excited about that. And I called my parents. They were glad to hear from me and I’m happy I talked to them.”
Abe smiled at Mark proudly.