For the almost final A to Z, I decided to share a special short story of mine that was published in 2010 HERE. This story means a lot to me, and I encourage you to find time to read it through. by Sheri J. Kennedy All Rights Reserved.
I saw the ribbons as bandages. Each piece of yellow silk wrapping a memory. Covering the marred wood that stood in place of twisted visions, damaged dreams, an abandoned heart.
Once, the ribbons were a mystery. As the caretaker of Marlin Park, I found them first. Others might have dismissed them as ordinary, but to me, they were magic.
Bench cleaning wasn’t the highlight of my day. It was the essence of my work—removing the cast off, excreted what-nots of humanity. I spent the night limping around restoring the daydream—the idyllic beauty of the city’s jewel. The park was perfection when I was done. Polished railings and tidy benches ready for rendezvous, for love’s first kiss; children running, giggling in the sun. But that evening no transformation was required. The ribbons made it paradise. I saw no dreary forgotten grunge. It was beauty incarnate.
I cleaned with extra pep and zest. I whistled and saw the days of my youth—Grandpa rubbing down his cloudy-waxed Desoto. My mouth watered at the imagined taste of Grape Nehi. The ribbons did that for me.
But at the end of that glorious night, I knew I had to take them away. I hesitated before pulling the first slippery bow, exposing stained ash as the ribbon uncoiled from its embrace of the board. The clean bench looked harsh. As I removed the last extraordinary strand of yellow, I stepped back and surveyed my night’s efforts. I felt sick. The perfect park was empty. Barren.
To my delight, the next evening, the ribbons had returned. Each night I removed them. Each evening they were tied around the same boards, in the same places, with obvious care. They were a gift.
The winds of Fall pulled leaves and chill into the air. The rains came. The delicate ribbons glowed, radiant as the world faded to the icy dun of winter. Few passed through the park, but the ribbon-tier and I. And I began to wonder in earnest who was leaving these trifles and what they could mean?
I woke early one morning and stumbled more than usual on the way from my flat to the park. It had been a long time since I’d been face-to-face with so many people. The dynamic intensity of rush hour was zipping through my veins, my breathing choked off by my pounding heart. I turned off the sidewalk into the park just before I lost my resolve amongst the hubbub and terror of modern man.
I yanked my scarf up around my ears, keeping out the slice of wind that blew others away from the park’s peace. The chink in my armor, opened by fear of humanity’s touch, was filled by nature’s fresh breath of solitude. As I passed the first bench, I saw the bleak wood was not graced by its ribbon. The mysterious decorator had not yet visited.
To fulfill my quest and increase the buffer between myself and the crazy world, I went deep into the park checking bench after bench. I perched on the last and pulled down my long coat to keep out winter’s bite. This bench never had a ribbon, but I could see one through the trees that always did. I sat forward, anxious to glimpse the one who adorned my world with hope.
After a few minutes I settled back realizing it might be a long day. When the sun hid behind the trees, I got up for the umpteenth time wandering in a wobbly orbit to stave off the numbing cold. As I turned the circle again, a movement caught my eye. With an intake of breath, I froze mid-step, and then crept behind a rustic fir to hide myself and get a closer view.
A sturdy, rotund old woman sat sideways on the bench with her short legs dangling off the end. She was focused on the movement of her tattered gloves as she wrapped streaming yellow around the spot I had come to know so well. Her form rocked forward and back in rhythm to her moving lips. The shining ribbon seemed impossibly pure as it contrasted the filthy pocket she pulled it from. She completed the bow with deliberate grace—relentless until its form was perfected. Her muttering stopped as she removed her left glove, solemnly stroked the silky tie once and then covered her stout fingers again. A peaceful smile lit her weathered face.
I jumped as she broke the spell by dropping to her feet. Her dark eyes flashed in my direction, but she was again consumed in blissful muttering. She disappeared down the path. I hobbled to the place she had just blessed with her offering, but spooked by her presence nearby, I hurried home, careful to keep my scarf up and my head down.
I continued each night removing the ribbons and completing my rounds. Their beauty was tarnished slightly by knowing their origin, but as the enchantment diminished, my curiosity grew. Why would this shabby little woman perform this task so faithfully? It seemed to make her so happy. I had avoided human interaction in the last several years. There was no spark of intrigue to make me risk knowing another. Until then.
Eventually the fear that she would stop tying ribbons and leave me wondering forever, outweighed my fear of returning to the park during the day. I wound my scarf high and tight to shelter my face from the world—without the excuse of wind. By the time I entered the park, I was jittering from the proximity of the passersby and anticipation of what I might learn. Going straight to the bench I had once watched her wrap, I boldly sat on the other end.
It seemed I shifted a thousand times before she appeared on the path. I set a book before my face, creating a flimsy wall. She approached ‘David Copperfield’ without hesitation, setting her bottom on the bench from tippy toes and pulling herself around with her threadbare grip until her legs hung off the end. I couldn’t catch the meaning of her endless stream of words. She began to rock and pulled the ribbon from her pocket. She wound it around the spot it covered so many times before and freed the end from her scruffy coat. As I leaned in hoping to hear more clearly, I caught a whiff of unbathed flesh.
“Mary Martha Jeanie Jo heart and sinew broken bone. Hope shall reach you. None shall know. Fear won’t take you. You won’t go. No more needed. None to care. Only my eyes see you there. Tie a ribbon. Make you whole. Not forgotten. Never, no. Not forgotten. Ok now. I’ll be with you. Show you how. All is well now. Come to me. I’ll remember till you’re free.”
She stopped, and I held my breath as she gently stroked the precious bow. My heart fluttered madly as I tried to appear distant and focused on my book. I grew terrified she would address me. My trepidation was needless, as she finished her ritual, dropping to her feet and leaving as if I didn’t exist. I was relieved, and then a wave of regret washed over me. I missed my chance to speak with her and end my aching questions. I vowed to myself to try again tomorrow.
I awoke with a vision of the woman placing the ribbon and a replay of the strange verse she murmured. I had stroked the ribbon, much as she had, before I removed it that night. The touch left an uncharacteristic ache in the spot I had so carefully guarded since I left my past behind. I’m not sure I could have gone through with seeing her again if I hadn’t promised myself I would.
On my way to the park, a thrill of fear shot through me as I almost bumped into a man—just missing a confrontation. I couldn’t take this crowded trip again, so I resolved to speak to her. I went to the second bench she adorned each day hoping a different bench would avoid my hearing that same disturbing verse. I settled in with my book to wait.
To my surprise, I felt the sun on my face and relaxed enough to notice the tiny buds on a nearby rhododendron. Pleasure penetrated the place that had grown tender when remembering her strange words and my own hurts. My brows knit as I squinted into my novel.
Right on cue, she approached the bench. My breathing became quick and shallow. Her plump form bobbed on the bench as she produced the silky yellow substance to the sing-song of another verse.
“Mary Martha Jeanie Jo dancing turning to and fro. Grace in movement. Reaching star. Tumbling over. Falling far. Top is bottom. Music gone. Fleeing from the coming dawn. Tie a ribbon. Make you whole. Not forgotten. Never, no. Not forgotten. Ok now. I’ll be with you. Show you how. All is well now. Come to me. I’ll remember till you’re free.”
I sat paralyzed as she finished tying and touching the cloth. My mind ran to my own fall. My heart ran from the memory. Next thing I knew, she was smiling away down the path. Caught inside my thoughts, I let her get away. This new prick of pain left me desperate to know why she left the ribbons and why she seemed so at peace.
I got up and shuffled ahead on a shortcut I knew. I arrived at her next-to-be-decorated place with my book before she rounded the trees. I tried not to breathe too hard as she pulled herself onto the bench and started her chant.
“Mary Martha Jeanie Jo bosom blossoms romance grows. Menace woos you. Bluebird sings. Springtime opens. Storm comes in. Sun forgotten. Barren stone. Winter finds you all alone. Tie a ribbon. Make you whole. Not forgotten. Never, no. Not forgotten. Ok now. I’ll be with you. Show you how. All is well now. Come to me. I’ll remember till you’re free.”
I held my breath for her moment of silent contact, scrubby glove barrier gone—bare touch on satin from finger to soul. I felt it with her. I remembered—my anguished heart. My tear pushed open the new window in my center, and as she hopped smiling from the bench the warmth of the sun shone through me.
“Wait,” I called in an even tone.
She turned on her heel, her pungent scent blowing over me as I struggled for more words. Cheer shone in her wild eyes as they found me.
“Can I…May I…” I faltered.
She stayed rooted to the spot, grinning as her eyes wandered about.
“Um. I just wanted to say thanks for the ribbons,” I squeaked out.
Her eyes peered at the space I was in. “Mary. I am honored. Tie a ribbon. Make you whole. Not forgotten. Never, no.”
Her smile eased to bliss. I paused but tried again. I didn’t want to lose my chance.
“Do you write your verses for a purpose?”
“Not forgotten. Ok now. I’ll be with you. Show you how.”
“The ribbons are beautiful. They make my day.” I felt a sudden need to reach out to her.
“All is well now. Come to me. I’ll remember till you’re free.”
“Ok, then.” I gave up; realizing conversation was perhaps beyond her.
“Remember,” she said.
I nodded and smiled.
“Remember,” she insisted.
“Yes, I will,” I assured her.
“Remember!” she cried urgently.
“Yes,” I fervently promised. “I will.”
I quaked as she approached me, slipping off her rag-of-a-glove. My breathing steadied as her wild eyes focused—so openly—on mine. Her stubby hand rose, easing its cherishing touch along the scarf that covered my so sensitive heart. She untied the scarf like a ribbon from a gift.
Joy lit her eyes, transforming her smudged face with radiance. “You’re free.”
Note: To those who may not know the tradition of yellow ribbons, they are generally tied in hopes of someone gone to war returning home. In this story, they are in hope that the pieces of human heart lost to abuse or life’s painful turns will be restored and ‘come home’ through healing.