The man gazed for a moment at a pond encircled by old men on benches, fishing along its banks, nestled into the contours of the hill, fixated on barely perceptible ripples. Picking his way along worn stone steps, attempts at the sun to break free from persistent clouds veered into a tangle of shafts, pale light flickering through the branches. This could be anywhere. The patch of sky widened as he emerged from trees into a clearing at the top of the hill.
Breathing with a slight labor, he found a bench and settled in. Beneath the call and response of watchful crows there was a faint chirp that registered as a first sign of spring. Eyes coming to focus, he took in two children playing in a still barren flowerbed at the center of the circle. They had shed their jackets and were digging around in the dirt with sticks. Above, a statue of a Meiji-era hero on a horse, stiff in 19th-century Western fittings.
The man’s gaze trailed past the statue. Two women sat on a bench on the far side talking. He caught a few words — a malfunctioning refrigerator, the cost of daycare…before tuning them out. His eyes flickered back to the children. The boy was still digging, the girl brushing off flower bulbs, arranging them carefully along the low brick border. One of the mothers glanced over in the kids’ direction and let loose a torrent. “Get out of the dirt! Put on your coats — you’ll catch cold.” The two exchanged glances and brushed their hands off on their pants. They picked up their jackets and trudged over to their mothers, stern voices still chiming in edgy syncopation.
The man’s gaze drifted to the bulbs left exposed on the low brick wall. He stood up and walked unsteadily to the flower bed, letting one knee sink in upturned earth. Picking each bulb and placing it firmly into winter hardened ground, he brushed soil over and patted lightly down. As if to replace life in something barren. He sat there for too long, the other early morning walkers gave him wide berth. When he finally stood up his hands and khakis were creased with dirt. This could be anywhere. It could have been anyone. The sky through the branches constricted and he felt a hint of rain. I did it. It was me.