Picture Book: "Bench"

    Photo by Emily Chow / North by Northwestern

    Saul’s car idled in the driveway, exhaust pumping out the rear pipe. His head lay forward, eyes closed, resting on the steering wheel. He sat there for several minutes, gathering his thoughts, often nuzzling the steering wheel with his forehead, the warm, unassuming leather a friend in a time of need. Talk radio slipped out of the stereo speakers, but the volume was too low to make out anything of significance. His watch beeped — 7 p.m. — and slowly, Saul mustered the strength to reach out to the ignition, grab the key, turn the car off, reach for the door handle, grab it, turn it, open the door, grab his coat and exit the car.

    He entered the house, sighing, and hung his overcoat and hat. He called out the obligatory, “Honey, I’m home,” with less gusto than usual. Martha leaned out from the kitchen, wearing an apron, preparing the night’s meal.

    “How was your day, sweetie?” she asked.

    He didn’t answer. He sat down at the dinner table and slouched forward, elbows on his knees, replaying the day’s events in his head.

    “Honey?” she asked again.

    He considered lying to her, telling her that his day was fine, a day like any other at the office, that his life was still on track.

    “I, uh … ” he started. “During my … my lunch break … I took my bagged lunch outside, where I usually like to eat my lunch at the park a block away. And so, I, uh, I enter the park, right, and there’s these two benches there that I’ve never seen before.” He paused. “Two benches. Where there was only one bench last week. Now there were two. Maybe five feet away from each other. Two benches.”

    “Two benches,” she repeated.

    “Two benches, side by side. And I just, I stood there, looking at them, trying to figure out … which bench I wanted to eat my lunch on.” He paused again. “Which bench would yield the maximum utility for my lunch, which bench would help curb the diminishing marginal utility for my chicken salad sandwich. Which bench was more in the sunshine, or more in the shade, if that’s what I wanted, I wasn’t sure. I just stood there, staring at them, trying to make up my mind. And I couldn’t. I couldn’t.”

    “You couldn’t decide which bench to … eat your lunch on?” she asked.

    “Not for the life of me. I spent my entire lunch break staring at them, fascinated, unable to choose.”

    “I don’t understand, sweetie,” she said.

    “Honey, it’s my job to choose. It’s my job to make the decisions that no one wants to make, that no one knows how to make. I’m a risk management man, darlin’. I make million-dollar decisions on a daily basis. People live and die by my decisions.” He paused for a third time. “It’s my responsibility, my duty, to make decisions. And I couldn’t even decide which bench to sit on to eat my lunch. I couldn’t even … ” At a loss for words, he put his head in his hands and let them do the talking.

    She hugged him from behind, placing her head on his shoulder.

    “You’ve had a rough day. Just relax, dinner will be ready soon, try to put it out of your mind.”


    “Maybe it’s time I throw in the towel, Midge.”

    She held him. He sighed. He looked around the cold, empty, unfamiliar living room he no longer recognized.

    “I don’t know what to do.”

    “Just follow what’s in here,” she said, patting the space on his chest where his heart usually was.

    He could only nod. They sat together for a few moments until the oven timer went off. She stood.

    “Now freshen up for dinner. I’ve got work to finish in the kitchen.”

    “Sure Midge,” he said, staying seated in his chair. Feeling tired and alone, he turned on the family television –- Gilligan’s Island. He appreciated the irony.


    “I’ve got to get out of here,” he said under his breath.

    “What, honey?” she yelled from the kitchen.

    “Nothing, sweetie … it was nothing.”


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