What I’m Writing This Week
Kate Skelton waits till Spring to scatter her husband’s ashes at his favorite park pond. A park ranger faces off against the feisty Kate.
This story started as a man spotting a blue-beaked duck on a pond. It didn’t work. He morphed into she, and the duck went away, maybe for another story.
Kate Skelton looked east into a morning Spring sun that warmed her face, made it feel hotter than the air temperature. She ran a finger along the wooden bench sitting six feet back from the edge of Oak Pond. The smell of new grass and budding shrubs tickled her nose. This had been Harry’s favorite outdoor place. For two years after he had retired, he came here three or four times a week, to this secluded spot near the state’s largest reservoir. Came here because no one else did. Came here to forget. Forget the years he put in as homicide detective. Forget the evil that man inflicted on man.
Kate set her tote bag in the grass next to the faded bench. Okay, Harry. This is it. She pulled out a can of paint, a brush, a couple of rags, and a small screwdriver to pry off the can lid. She left a pewter urn in the tote. With one rag she dusted off the surface of the bench. Fifteen minutes later she was midway through painting the bench a deep hunter green when she heard a scuffling in the brush behind her. She turned to see a state park ranger staring at her.
“Mind if I ask what you’re doing?” the ranger said.
Kate pointed to the bench with her brush. “Painting.”
“That’s state property.”
“So are you,” she replied.
“Ah, I see we have a wiseass here.”
Kate looked around. “I don’t see one.”
The ranger shook his head.
“Why are you doing this?”
“The bench needed fresh paint.”
The ranger blew out his breath. “Why here?”
“Oh. That’s easy. This was my husband’s favorite spot — she waved her arm around — in the entire park. This bench and this forgotten little pond in the corner of the park.”
“And where is your husband now?”
Kate hesitated. Pointed out over the pond. “Out there.”
The ranger peered over Kate’s shoulder. He shook his head.
Kate set the paint brush across the top of the can. “My husband is dead. His ashes are out on the pond.”
The ranger nodded. “His ashes are in the pond.”
“That’s illegal, spreading human remains on public property.”
She held her hands out. “I didn’t know that.”
“Did you do it?”
Kate shrugged. “Maybe.”
The ranger reached for a notepad and pen. “Do you have ID?”
He blew out another breath. “May I see it?”
“It’s in my bag…in my car…in the parking lot.”
The ranger wrote on his pad.
Kate smiled. “Are you writing a ticket?”
The ranger nodded.
“You left your heart at home today.”
The ranger bit his lower lip.
Kate pointed at the ranger’s chest. “Your heart. It’s not there. You must have left it home.”
“I wonder where you put it. Left it on the bathroom sink. Or on the kitchen table…No, no. I got it. You tucked your heart away in your sock drawer. Where you keep all your personal stuff.”
The ranger flipped his notebook closed. “Lady, I can see I’m wasting my time with you. I’ll get a photo of your plate number off your car. What do you drive?” He held up a hand. “Don’t tell me. A Toyota Prius.”
Not even close.
“Yeah, that’s it, lady. A Prius, the model that comes without a gas pedal.”
Kate laughed, shook her head. “Not even close.”
She pointed to the can of paint. “Do I finish painting the bench? Or leave the can for a state employee to finish the job?”
The ranger said nothing.
“I could leave it half painted. It will become a state park legend. A curiosity. Who is the mysterious artist who painted half a bench? I can see the headline: What is the meaning behind the half-painted bench?”
The ranger’s Sat phone squawked. He listened, grunted.
“I gotta go. Finish the job, and don’t let me ever see you here again.”
“Yes, sir,” Kate said as she saluted the ranger. “Mission will be completed.”
The ranger spit to the side, turned and left.
Kate waited to be sure he was gone. She grabbed the brush and finished painting the bench. The can, the brush, the rags went into a plastic trash bag.
She took the pewter-colored metal urn out of the tote bag. Unscrewed the lid.
“Okay, Harry,” she whispered. “Now it’s time.” She stepped to the edge of the pond, took a final look around, scattered Harry’s ashes over the pond. She rinsed out the urn, filled it with water, and threw it out to the middle of the pond.
All her memories welled up, turned to tears, dripped down into the pond.
Kate sobbed. Shook head to toe.
She backed away from the pond, sat down on the bench.