I was sitting on a bench by the river studying on a perfect April day, the sun was shining warm upon my skin and a gentle breeze occasionally rifled the pages laid out around me. Engrossed in the course-work laid out before me I was unaware of the little old man wandering along the pathway until he was beside me on the bench.
“Morning,” he said cheerfully as I glanced up at him from my books.
“Morning”, I replied and watched as the little old man sat down on the end of the bench, a beautiful bouquet of roses wrapped in twine filling his withered hands. I moved some of my books to allow him more room but he never moved and seemed happy just to sit in his spot watching the river glide past. After 10 minutes, the old man stood and walked towards the little bridge going over the river but instead of stepping on it, he made his way down the pathway and ever so gently placed the flowers in the water and watched them drift away down the river. Once they were out of sight, he made his way back up the bank across the little bridge and away.
I stared after his disappearing form, my mind trying to understand the strangely beautiful sight it had just witnessed. The flowers must have been fake, I thought. When he disappeared from view I returned to my books and soon the moment was forgotten.
As the beautiful weather continued, I returned to my favourite study spot as often as possible. Exactly one week after the first incident, the old man appeared once again. I struggled to suppress my excitement when he sat down beside me with the most beautiful flowers once again with the same greeting as before. My eyes focussed on the flowers, they were definitely real.
“Those flowers are beautiful”, I stammered trying to encourage conversation.
“Thank you, I grow them special for my wife, her favourite is the roses”, the old man responded and then turned his head towards the water. His eyes glazed over as he stared out and despite nothing else being said, I understood that the moment was private and his own. Once again after a brief period he stood and made his way to the water, delicately placed the flowers and watched as the water took them away.
This continued every week until my exams were over, we said little to each other apart from the same greeting and I understood the moment was his. Then summer started and I forgot all about the little old man who made the trip to the river each week.
In September, school restarted and I returned to my same study spot, I couldn’t deny my excitement when I saw the crooked figure walking towards me, his routine remained unchanged. Yet, this time, my eyes couldn’t stop staring at him, his step was much slower, his back was now a lot more hunched and his eyes looking deep and sallow in their sockets. I returned to my books as he sat down, trying to stop the staring but I couldn’t help my eyes returning from over the pages.
“Hi Kayley,” he said towards me.
“How did you know…” I started but his withered hand stretched out and returned to the notebook on the bench, my name in bold on the cover. I laughed in response.
“My name is Arthur.” I sat upright and leaned towards him taking his old hand gently I gave it one short shake.
“Pleased to meet you, Arthur”. He nodded then stood up to leave, but after struggling to catch his breath he landed back heavily on the bench.
“Are you okay, Arthur?”. I threw my books down and fled to his side, picking up his roses that had fallen heavily onto the floor. A few of the stems had broken and as I handed them back to Arthur tears fell from his eyes.
“Oh no. I have broken my promise.” He mumbled under his breath.
“It’s okay Arthur, they aren’t that bad and you only put them in the river anyway.” I said trying to soothe him, but his eyes turned dark and hard as he looked at me, the pain glistening through the tears.
“I don’t put them in the river. I send them to my wife.” Confusion filled my face and I tried not to question him as I could see he was getting more and more upset. He slowly got control of his breathing, then looking at my anguished face continued.
“When my wife agreed to marry me I promised her flowers every week for the rest of her life. She was taken from me far too young and it was her wishes that her ashes be scattered in the river.” I nodded understanding and watched as he outstretched his arm. “It was that bridge I proposed to her. But once I scattered her ashes I had nowhere to send her flowers, then I realised the river would take them to her for me. I have sent her flowers every week since until I can be with her.” At that, he gave a hefty cough. “I don’t think that will be long now. And look at those flowers, I cannot send her those.”
I followed his gaze down to the sorry looking bunch of flowers. In a moment of inspiration I carefully untied the twine and removed the broken flowers, there wasn’t much left but a few strong roses remained. I stood up and wandered from the bench selecting some long grass stems, some ferns and some purple flowers from a tree and some big white daisies. Returning to the bench I selected the best from my collection and structured them by height with the roses featured prominently in the middle. Carefully taking the twine I wrapped them back up and handed them to Arthur’s trembling hands.
“Will she accept these, Arthur?” I asked cautiously.
“She will love them.” I nodded and slipping the rest of my books in my bag stood and helped him up.
“Why don’t you let me walk with you, Arthur? I think I have been sat too long.” He nodded and I eased him off the bench. We walked arm in arm to the riverbed where he placed the flowers then I walked alongside him, to his front door just over the bridge.
“Thank you, Kayley.” He said as I stepped away from the doorway.
“Arthur, what was your wife’s name?” I asked.
“Rose.” I nodded just the once then left, knowing I had intruded on his personal space enough.
The next week I sat by the riverbed but Arthur didn’t return. I waited and waited but he didn’t show. Eventually, I stood and made my way over the bridge towards his home. As I did I searched the river for a sign he had been and I had missed him. My heart caught in my throat as on the opposite bank the bouquet I made stood caught in reeds. It hadn’t floated down the river. I reached over into the water and pushed the dying flowers on their way but once again they got stuck. I pushed them once more and finally they floated off down the river. Walking to Arthur’s house I could see people stood outside in a huddle. I stopped to listen and it turned out Arthur had been found in his greenhouse that morning.
I smiled as I walked away, my heart finding peace in the sadness. Arthur was taking Rose her flowers.
The next week I returned to the bench but my mind couldn’t focus. I kept looking for Arthur to appear, knowing that he wouldn’t. Frustrated, I looked at the crumpled pages before me. Ripping the page from the book, I began to fold and fold my mind lost in the motion. With my masterpiece complete I stood up and walked to the small pathway beside the bridge. Leaning carefully towards the water I placed the paper rose in the river and watched as it floated away. So, if you ever see a paper rose in the water, you know it’s just me saying hello to Arthur and Rose.
Originally written in response to this week’s photo prompt for Sue Vincents #writephoto challenge. A bit of a risk but I hope people enjoy it; romance isn’t really my genre but sometimes a story just wants to be told.