An April Bard Hall Entry.
|Oregon has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. It can be rugged with towering rocks, or soft with a sandy beach. It even makes sand dunes that would make any desert jealous. It doesn't really always rain, either, that's the story the locals tell to keep people from relocating. Come winter, though, the rainstorms that come off the ocean are magnificent. Most people stay high and dry watching from windows, but there are those few who just choose to be out in it. Brave souls. One of those, on this particular wet day, was Chester Johnson. He lived in a small place he'd bought long before real estate prices on the coast became exorbitant, and on this day decided to take his bright red umbrella. That would seem normal to people unaccustomed to the Pacific Northwest, but outside of the metropolitan areas, umbrellas are rarely used. If you aren't carrying something important, you just put up your hood.
Chester Johnson was a simple man. He was born and raised near the area, and after high school, fought with valor in the Korean War. He came home without being injured in combat, unless you count the mental damage of any war, and married a local girl he'd loved for a long time. He loved her still. When the man finally got to his destination, a bench overlooking the ocean from atop a hundred foot cliff, it had an occupant. On one end of his usual resting spot sat a young girl in her early teens, and she was soaked to the skin.
"Would you like to share this big ugly umbrella?"
"No." She looked him over. "In fact, why don't you find another bench, Creepy?"
"Well, actually, I come to this bench most every day. So really, you're on my turf."
"Turf?" She snorted.
"Ground. My home ground."
"I know what it means, it just sounds weird coming from an old... guy." She hesitated with the last word.
"I do believe the term was coined in the 1930's, the decade I was born." He gave a wry smile.
"Why do you talk like that?" She asked.
"Like what, precisely?"
"That... precisely and coined and all that." She shrugged hard at him. "No one I know talks like that."
He waited a couple of beats. "Well, I write as a hobby, but I'm trained in linguistics. I can't help it."
"But, why?" It might have been a shrug, but the girl was shaking and chattering with cold.
He closed the umbrella and set it aside. He idly wondered why he'd brought it at all. He pulled off his outer coat, and even though it wasn't frigid, it was quite cool. She resisted his first attempt, but on the second, she accepted the insulated coat. He took a step back and opened the monstrous umbrella most Oregonians wouldn't ever consider using. Yet, the older man opened it, sat closer on the bench, and held it over both of them. They were quiet for a few minutes, and listened to the waves crashing on the rocks below. It sent up a hint of salt that you could taste in the wind, but the ocean was too far down to spray them.
"So why are you being nice to me?" She was warmer and had cover.
"Well, you were on my bench, I guess." He smiled.
"I'm not here for the view, uh..."
"CJ, most people call me CJ."
"Well, CJ, I'm going off that cliff in a minute, so you'll have your bench back." She said quietly.
"That's ironic, I was going to jump as well."
"What? Why?!" She stared at him.
He chuckled a bit. "After all the things I've had to keep stored in my brain, I get dementia? That sucks."
They commiserated for awhile, had some light conversation about their backgrounds, but eventually it came back to the same thing. They were both on the bench, they both had intentions, and they were just flat done with the world. But they did talk, and had fun doing it. The girl was being tortured by schoolmates on social media. The man knew much about many things.
"So you were really Secret Service?" She gave a hint of a smile. "Like guarding the President?"
"Well, I never got that high up the chain, but dignitaries and such. Sometimes we covered from distance, but mainly we watched the internet. Why?"
"It sounds wild! I've never done anything."
"Oh, I'm sure you have." He countered, "You just don't know it yet."
"Well mister..." She dipped her head. "How about we just hold hands and do this?"
"Well, maybe, but how about something else?"
Johnson laid it out. He could easily erase the problem the girl had with his contacts and experience. In fact, he could make her prom queen, which she promptly declined. Getting through and getting into a college in her field was all she wanted. He ended up making sure no one ever gave her any problems, and she was accepted to her first choice, Cal Tech. Johnson really did know the right people, but merit was the ultimate factor.
She visited him religiously, and kept her end of the bargain. In his last years, she only had to read aloud what he'd written, scores of stories, and most of them held the truth of his youth. She was never sure if he really understood what she was talking about, but he always smiled when she read his work back to him. Once, she could have sworn he winked. How would he know to wink?
She changed the world with scientific discovery, he passed quietly with her by his side reminding him of good times.