The young man’s work had gone badly. For three days, he had labored deliberately and carefully over the words. After three hours, he felt he needed a break and went to lunch.
When he came back, he saw it all was trash.
He stood looking out the window of his flat. From his window, the city of Paris spread all along the horizon. The sky was brightly torn. The distant hills were blue. Far off, somewhere at the outskirts of the city, black smoke was spreading form a lone factory stack, and it reminded him of a black stocking being stuffed back into a thin tube.
He tried to cheer himself up – after all, twenty eight is no great age.
It was late afternoon when the rain stopped, and he decided to go out and walk. The feeble sun was out now, the pavements drying after the spring rain.
He finally reached the Seine. What a beautiful city! He stood and looked out at the dull, dirty green river, a great garbage-flecked drift, watching a discarded tire wallowed weakly in the water. The broad banks of the river displayed the faces of quaint, crooked buildings or high narrow houses, most of them half hidden by the green blur of latticed trees. He watched a beateau mouche, full of sightseers, slowly go past, the banks of the river drawing together in the distance.
At last, he felt footsore and began to head back. The sun, as it sank, reddened the walls of the houses, tinting pink each pane of glass. He went past people with determined faces, walking with a purposeful air, the women carrying brass buckled handbags while a few of the men had a manila envelopes under their arm or who held sleek leather briefcase in their clenched hands.
Clearly, the day’s work was over.
. Ahead, he saw a low stone wall. The greening trees and black-green shrubs shut out the view from the street, but he saw an opening between the trunks. Passing between the tall gate posts, he looked up, letting his gaze wander easily over what lay before him. It was a small city park, and, suddenly seized by wonder, he stopped.
Everything waited for nightfall.
In the empty, graying, silence, the statues stood still and mute. A trash fire burned quietly in the corner of the park. No one was nearby. As he stood there, he couldn’t believe how quiet it was. He stopped and listened. The traffic noises of the town did not carry this far: you could have heard a petal fall from a flower. Nothing moved. No one was to be seen on the paths.
Then he saw them.
A few yards down, they sat as still as stones, old men, some who had big, wood canes slanted between their knees. Their bleared eyes looked weary and worn out. Their seamed, wrinkled faces had buckled like old tin. They dressed poorly. The April day had not been cold, but they were bundled up in worn out coats and scarves.
He carefully sat down on a bench at the front and stayed still. Minutes passed. A thin trickle of people suddenly walked through the small park, office workers, school kids, the school kids walking with a certain swagger, certain of having a special and exceptional destiny in life.
He sat still and watched them pass. The passing people never looked at the old sitting men on the benches, sitting with their meek shoes placed together on the gravel path. Then a young couple came in, two Americans, holding hands, and they walked slowly and carelessly. The pretty young woman was saying, "I want us to begin to live a unique life, our life. I know it’s difficult to do if you’re a nobody, but I just want us to go somewhere brand new. I want to live now." Her partner again quietly told her go talk more softly.
She began to whisper, but then said loudly, “They give me the creeps.” Her partner urged her to not talk so loudly. “Well, they do.” They talked some more and then she said again, “Well, they creep me out.”
He was still sitting after the couple left, thinking, no young person ever thinks that they will a draw a blank in life. It never enters their minds. He sat and thought for a long, long time, and then finally got to his feet. As he was going past the tall gate posts, he halted to cast a sad look back at them: each of them left alone with all they did not do.