Riverside at Night
The lady is sitting on her usual bench; the one beneath the streetlamp, where the path curves closest to the view over the river. Tonight she wears a red fedora the gentleman has always liked. Its brim is tipped up on one side and down on the other, casting half her face in shadow, but the lamplight finds her hair beneath it. The same rippled silver as the full moon swimming in the Hudson. Tonight, the gentleman thinks, he will go and sit by her.
“May I?” he asks, gesturing with the curve of his cane. The hat’s angular shadow recedes as she looks up, then draws back down as she turns to consider the space beside her.
“Of course,” she says, the crisp finish of her accent as fresh and crystalline as the Autumn breeze off the river. She returns her attention to the stretch of dark water and the man, adrift in his curiosity, is almost afraid to disturb the tranquility that settles on her. Almost.
“You are English?” he asks, the words feeling loud in his mouth though he knows they are not.
“Born and raised in London, yes,” she replies.
“What brings you here?”
“To Riverside Park?” she asks.
“To New York.”
“Oh. Graduate school, many years ago now.”
“And you stayed?”
“In fact no. I left.”
“But you came back.” This is not quite so simple a thing as a question, and the slice of black shadow shifts across her face as the lady tilts her head. The man imagines her unseen eyes on him, imagines perhaps they’re the same pale grey as the wall that divides their seat from the steep fall to the riverbank.
“I found… New York never let me go. My mind would wander back here. As soon as life allowed, I gave my feet leave to follow.”
“And your husband? He was happy to come with you?” The man is not truly surprised when laughter spills from her.
“I’ve never been the type.”
“To let a man dictate what I will do.” At that, the gentleman finds strange words weighing down his tongue. He fights for a breathless moment, then gives them their way.
“I think it would’ve been something! To know you then.”
“That’s kind of you to say.” She is silent for a while, before adding, “I did fall in love in the end, as it happens.”
“And is he… still alive?”
“Oh yes,” she says, a small, proud smile slipping past her lips. Like this the pair talks far into the night. A murmured waltz of secrets and details passing between them, until they find they’ve wandered from one end of their lives to the other. And if, afterward, as they smile in farewell and go their separate ways, they fade into wisps of mist to drift out over the famous river, who is there to see them and be afraid?