March Flash Fiction
Genre: ghost story. Setting: tulip field. Object: key.
It had been a long night shift. I handed over my patients to the morning nurses, grabbed my stuff and scurried out of the hospital. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and for the first time there was a hint of crisp autumn breeze. Without conscious thought, I turned off the footpath and walked into the park. I hadn't gone in there for many months. Not since Dean.
I picked my way down the walkway that led through the tulip field. Set amongst the flowers at the edge of the lake was our bench. I paused, my heart pounding, before taking a seat.
A heavy sadness wrapped itself around my heart as I took in the view. I stared at it for a long time.
"It won't always hurt this much." The voice startled me. I'd been so engrossed I hadn't noticed I wasn't alone anymore. I looked at the man sitting next to me. Tall. Slender. Handsome, angular features. Shoulder-length black hair. A shirt unbuttoned enough to show a chest thick with dark fur. And laying amongst it, a silver pendant of a key, set with amethysts. "You're mourning." His voice was gentle.
"That obvious, eh?" I gave him a slight smile. "This was our spot. We used to come here for lunch all the time."
"Bit early today, then?" The glint in his eye forced a small chuckle from me.
"I started working nights after he died. Couldn't sleep. I'm actually on my way home from work now."
"Well, I'm glad I caught you. I'm Paul." He smiled warmly.
"Bradley. Nice to meet you, Paul."
We gazed out at the small lake together, watching the ducks. They converged near the opposite edge when they saw a redheaded man approach. He spread out a picnic blanket and began to eat a sandwich, throwing bread from a bag out to them.
"I know what you're going through, Bradley. I lost the man I loved, too."
I looked at Paul and saw the pain in his eyes. I nodded, but couldn't speak. I didn't want to cry.
Paul stood and smiled. "Time for me to go, Bradley. Maybe you'll join me again sometime."
Each day that week I returned to the tulip field. Each day Paul showed up. And each day, we talked as we watched the redheaded man set up his picnic blanket, eat his sandwich, feed the ducks, then leave.
Paul was easy company. I even laughed. He never pressed me for details about Dean and I liked that. By Thursday I felt a little stronger.
"Dean killed himself, you know." Paul didn't react, just nodded solemnly. "We had an argument." My voice wavered. "I was going to try and make up for it that night, but when I got home I found him—" A huge sob cut me off. "It's my fault. I was just so worn down by all his anger and negativity." Pain tore through me as I shook and wept.
Paul waited patiently before he spoke. "Dean would have hated himself for acting that way, Bradley. But often you just can't stop." He caught my gaze and slowly pulled up his sleeve, revealing a criss-crossed pattern of scars on his forearm. "Never blame yourself. Dean did what he felt he had to do."
We both stared out over the lake. The redhead was long gone.
"There's a support group at the hospital this evening, Bradley. I'd really like you to go." Paul got up, smiled sweetly, and left me with that thought.
I went. I was late, because it took me thirty minutes outside the door to quell my anxiety.
"Welcome… come in!" The counsellor smiled; a sea of eyes turned my way. "It's nice to see a new face. Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself...?"
"Ah… Bradley." Shit. "Um, OK."
I stared at my hands as I laid myself bare in front of a roomful of strangers. My voice shook but I held it together.
Afterwards, a hand touched my shoulder. I looked around. It was the redhead. His eyes were green and kind. "I've seen you in the park. I'm Eric." I shook his hand. Strong, welcoming, masculine. "Say, Bradley, do you want to join me in the cafeteria?"
Eric radiated warmth and friendliness. We talked about life. "My partner died in the park two years ago," he said. "Deliberately overdosed and drowned. I go there every morning for him.”
I took Eric's hand. It meant more than empty words.
At his car, Eric brought me into a tight hug. I'd forgotten how good that felt.
He climbed in and wound down the window. "Hey Bradley… I love it how you sit alone and talk to Dean like that."
I frowned. "What?"
"I mean how you're so animated, chatting and laughing away on that bench. I don't think it's crazy." Eric seemed to panic at my expression. "It's OK—I talk to my man, too. He's always here." He patted his chest. "I used to say he had the key to my heart." He reached into the neck of his t-shirt. "I had these made for our anniversary." He pulled out a silver pendant. A rustic, heart-shaped padlock set with amethysts.
Paul joined me again the next morning. "You met Eric. He's beautiful, isn't he?"
I smiled. "Yes, he is."
"He's coming now." Paul pointed. I saw Eric in the distance, waving, making his way over. "He needs you, Bradley. You take good care of him." Paul stood up. He smiled at me, his eyes filled with tears. "Have a wonderful life together."
I wanted to call out after him, but a hand was on my shoulder. Eric pulled me into a hug. "Are you OK?" His brow furrowed as he noticed me crying.
"Yeah... I'm fine." I laughed it off as Eric slid beside me, arm around my shoulders. "You know how it is."