CABB’s 2019

April 12th Challenge

Secrets of Central Park

shakespeare knew everything

by JoAnn Baca

Inspired by the Charles B. Stover Bench

 

The air on this mid-April night was frosty and bracing. Catherine was bundled up against the unseasonable cold and enjoying the brisk pace she had set. It was more than the frigid air that was hurrying her steps, however. She had a rendezvous with someone whose anticipated company made the loss of sleep and the chill of an unusually cold spring night minor inconveniences. Meeting halfway between moon-set and sunrise was still risky, but on a night like this Central Park was as empty of visitors as they could ever expect.

Her destination was the Shakespeare Garden. It stretched across nearly four acres of Central Park, its plantings based on the writings of the man Vincent said knew everything. It had been a favorite playground of Catherine’s as a child, when her father had brought her there on Sunday mornings and read passages from Shakespeare as she ran about the garden, finding the flowers mentioned in the text. As an adult, she realized that it was a clever way for her father to teach her literature…while simultaneously wearing her out so she’d nap in the afternoon. But tonight she was not searching for floral bounty. Her objective was one particular spot within the garden: the Charles B. Stover Bench.

Of the 9,000 benches in the park, this one was unique. The granite bench was large, its twenty-foot length curling inward at its ends. It could easily accommodate a dozen adults, although tonight only two would occupy it, enjoying the silence of the park from its high perch on a rocky outcropping. And it was unique in another respect: it was a whispering bench. Whisper into one rounded corner of the bench and you would be heard by someone at the other end. It had amazed her as a child, and it warmed her heart as an adult to know that both she and Vincent had enjoyed the bench’s unusual feature as children, even if at very different times of day.

Someone was already occupying the bench as she approached. A hooded figure wrapped in a black cloak rose as she neared.

“Happy anniversary, Catherine,” he murmured as he enveloped her within his arms. She burrowed deep inside his cloak, winding her arms around his waist to pull him closer still. More clothing meant less contact, and wrapped in winter wear as they were, she could barely share his body’s warmth through all their layers. But that didn’t mean his embrace was any less warm to her heart.

When they separated, she grasped his gloved hands. “That night, all my old dreams were shattered…and re-formed into ones more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.” Tears pricked her eyes as she added, “They’re the most wondrous dreams…because of you.”

He pulled her back into an embrace, wordlessly accepting what her heart told him.

“I’m sorry for bringing you out into this cold night,” he murmured, the warmth of his breath tickling her ear, emotion making his voice so husky she knew how much it meant to him that she came regardless.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” Admitting that was simply the truth. At this exact moment just three years ago, when their worlds had collided so unexpectedly, their lives had changed forever. How perfect it was to celebrate it together in the Park where their magic began.

Vincent urged her to sit in the curve of the bench, then bent to kiss her gloved hands.

A sudden whisper pierced the silence of the night.

“’Gloves as sweet as damask roses.’ It’s Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale. Not the right season, but considering….”

Startled, Vincent turned, already in a protective stance. A figure ill-clad for the frigid weather sat at the other end of the Whispering Bench. His voice was the one that had been projected into the corner of the bench where they sat. The ragged baseball cap he wore was familiar, as was the whiteness of his teeth as he smiled in their direction. “Hi, Vincent!”

“I didn’t hear you approach,” the larger man replied, his heart beating fast from the surprise of Kristopher’s sudden appearance.

“Well, you wouldn’t, would you?” Kristopher bent at the waist to peer around Vincent. “Hi, Catherine!”

“K-Kristopher?” she said, her amazement causing her to stutter.

“I’m not gonna stay long,” he promised. “But here you are in my territory, after all, so I couldn’t not say hello. It would be rude.”

Vincent sat beside Catherine once again and addressed the apparition at the other end of the bench. “You are always welcome Below, you know.”

Kristopher laughed. “Wouldn’t that just make Father even more gray?! No, I don’t think so.  But thanks for the invitation.” He rose and sauntered toward them, one hand behind his back. When he was in front of Catherine, he whipped his hidden hand around and presented her with a flower in full bloom, lushly gorgeous and hinting at the warmth of the summer to come. “It’s from down the slope a bit. ‘Of all the flowers, methinks a rose is best.’”

Two Noble Kinsmen. It’s rare to hear a quote from that one,” Vincent replied, watching Catherine reach for the offered gift. “Almost as rare as that rose flowering at this time of year. It’s called Lasting Love, and it’s too soon for buds.”

Kristopher shrugged. “Well, here it is, believe it or not.” Once he had surrendered the flower to Catherine, he bowed and twirled one arm in a great flourish.  “’Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white, nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose; they were but sweet, but figures of delight, drawn after you, you pattern of all those,’” he said, addressing Catherine.

Despite the cold, Catherine’s face grew warm and she blushed at the compliment.

Smothering a smile, Vincent said, “Now we’re into the sonnets. Kristopher, you are truly a wonder.”

Catherine inhaled deeply of the rich fragrance of the rose, its aroma already permeating the air around her so that even Vincent caught the scent. It held the promise of burgeoning delights just now within reach, with more riches in store in the not-too-distant future.

A hint of sadness entered Vincent’s eyes. “I fear no gift of mine can please Catherine more.”

With head tilted to one side, Kristopher winked. “Don’t sell yourself short, my friend.” Then he leaned down and whispered something meant only for Vincent’s ears. When he was finished, he straightened and added, “This isn’t midsummer and it’s no dream, but…you catch my drift?”

Catherine missed the shock on Vincent’s face as she watched Kristopher leave, moving away until it seemed he just dissolved into the shadows of the surrounding trees, making no sound. When she turned back to Vincent, he had already composed himself. In fact, he had a new look of resolution on his face.

“Shall we get out of this cold now?” he asked. At her nod, he hesitated for the briefest moment before adding, “Perhaps…perhaps we could meet at your balcony for the rest of our anniversary?”

Catherine wondered at his phrasing, for they were only a few hours into the 12th. But she agreed happily with the suggestion, hoping that perhaps this year nothing would prevent him from accepting her invitation to step inside, at least for a little while.

She hugged him. “In a few minutes then.” Rising, still clutching the rose in one hand, she left his side and rushed down the path.

He watched her go, the words Kristopher had whispered in his ear still echoing. Sitting for one moment longer in the curve of the Whispering Bench, he murmured to the now-departed Kristopher, “I hope to follow your advice. Heaven help me.”

A whisper came to him on the wind, “’Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, which we ascribe to heaven.’”

As Vincent left the sanctuary of the garden to follow Catherine by an underground path, he uttered as a fervent prayer, “Let us hope All’s Well That Ends Well, Kristopher.”

* * *

Kristopher’s rose lay on her dining room table. Catherine had meant to put it in water. But Vincent’s arrival, and his unexpected but most welcome gift – the first of many that night – had pushed that mundane thought completely out of her mind. Now, many hours later, when the sun was high in the sky of a perfect spring day, the odd cold snap banished, she wandered out of her bedroom and saw it lying neglected. Vincent, coming up behind her, wrapped his arms around her shoulders as she reached for the rose and inhaled its aroma.

“It’s still as fresh as when he picked it,” she marveled, cupping the velvety red petals in wonder.

“It could not have come from the park, Catherine,” he said. “These particular rose bushes are still dormant. I have reason to know.”

“Hush,” she chided. “We’re talking about Kristopher, after all.” Smiling, she turned within his embrace. Their long, lingering kiss dismissed thoughts of Kristopher for the remainder of the day…and well into the night.

‘But earthlier happy is the rose distill’d, than that which withering on the virgin thorn grows, lives and dies in single blessedness.’

 

2 Comments

  1. Also wonderful to read . Warms the cockles. I intend to look for this bench when we visit NY in September for my birthday treat.
    The image of Christopher is a strong one WTBS is my favourite episode with the best hug outside the Tunnels
    I still can’t work out why she said to him in this episode, it’s been so long .
    Lovely read

    Reply
  2. I agree, another beautiful story. I would love to see that bench too, interesting place…. and Catherine and Vincent’s anniversary spent in an unusual and romantic way…Kristopher added some magic to their celebration, one of my favorite characters! I am sincerely delighted.

    Reply

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