ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN The Huntington News, August 11, 2014
By Sara Tucker, News Staff
The flags along Forsyth whip lazily back and forth in the late afternoon breeze from the harbor while the summer sun slides down the sky, like the ice cream slowly dripping down the side of a little girl’s waffle cone. She’s standing next to the reflecting pool with her dad, watching her reflection ripple and giggling as he makes faces at her in the water. She wants to hold his hand, but hers is covered in vanilla ice cream. She licks a sprinkle off her pinky before it falls onto her pants and smiles up at her dad in triumph – it doesn’t matter that a few drops have already made their way from her chin onto the collar of her pink polo.
A woman watches them from a few yards away, smiling behind a book and Ray-Ban sunglasses. She’s never met them, but at the same time, she feels likes she knows them. The man isn’t a stranger in her mind, but is instead the love of her life, and the little girl is their perfect daughter. She is not attracted to the man, she is simply imagining a life she wants for herself one day – one full of love and laughter, children and ice cream, summer days and sprinkles.
The book she’s reading is “Water for Elephants,” which happens to be the favorite book of a woman walking between the rows of trees along the sidewalk of Huntington Avenue behind her. She has read it at least a dozen times, and after seeing the woman with it, she thinks that she’ll perhaps pick it up again when she gets home. She passes The Prudential Center and its shops, Shaw’s and vacationers coming out of the Marriott. She notices a little boy walking next to the stroller that contains his little sister, his arms folded and his lips turned down in a pout. His left shoe is untied, and he smacks his foot down to the ground each time he steps so he doesn’t trip, but he refuses to stop and retie it. The woman is reminded of her son, grown with his own children now, and the way he used to pout when she wouldn’t let him push the buttons in the elevator of their two-bedroom apartment in the North End. She slows down to let them cross in front of her, and she smiles when the boy finally looks up at his mom and asks to stop so he can tie his shoe.
There’s a couple standing outside the library in Copley Square, holding hands and searching for someone who looks kind enough to take their picture. They’re on their honeymoon – a week-long adventure through the streets of the city they fell in love in back when they were in college. A man in a red t-shirt and a Red Sox hat sees them and offers to help. They exchange words and the woman smiles. She then presses up close to her husband, his arm draped across her shoulders in a way that communicates his love, but also his trust. His fingertips get tangled in her hair and he twists a strand around his forefinger while she turns her head to smile up at him.
The man snaps their picture and the couple thanks him. He walks away and the two turn back to look up at the library. They don’t see the architecture or the flags, the stone steps or the ornate message along the roof, instead they see a memory: an afternoon spent wandering through the rooms eight years before, her hand in his and a few stolen kisses behind the pages of a book. He smiles down at her knowingly and squeezes her hand as they turn to leave.
The man in the Red Sox hat walks away from the couple, east on Boylston, but when he gets to the corner, he turns back to look at them. They’re young and so in love, he thinks, just as he and his wife used to be. He lost her a few years ago to cancer, and not a moment goes by when he doesn’t think about her, but he fills his days with long walks and happy grandchildren, content knowing that he’ll see her again soon enough. He crosses the street towards the Common, where he sits each afternoon to read and watch the swan boats circle around the little pond. Sometimes people sit on the bench with him, relaxing into the cold metal, and he’ll fold down the page of his book to ask the person about his or her day. He knows his life isn’t the most exciting, but he’s happy. His oldest son wants him to move to Vermont to spend more time with his family, but he politely declines each time. He grew old on that bench, in those streets, and he’s comforted by his memories.
A young man waves to the man in the hat as he runs by. They’ve never spoken, but they see each other every afternoon in the Common. The old man stands and turns toward Boylston to begin his walk home. His life isn’t much, but he could never leave Boston. The old city with new people, the city that gave him a life and a home, and most importantly, love.