3rd Place – February 2018

Franklin’s Secret Garden

Robert Taylor

 Franklin’s back aches. With each step his arthritic knees send the painful message to his brain. You’re an old man, Franklin Hobbs.

Taking a seat on the old familiar bench, Franklin allows the comfortable phenomenon of nostalgia to ease his tortured mind. He looks around in awe at the cemetery that used to be his secret garden. As a teenager he would come here, to be alone, And this bench served as his make-shift altar. He would pray, and sing his favorite hymns. A tear slides down his cheek as he recalls the serenity he felt back then. With the dew glistening on the blades of grass and the wind soughing through the trees, he would try to imagine himself as Adam, alone in the garden, before God placed Eve beside him for comfort. Franklin recalls wondering if Adam had trouble conversing with Eve, the way he did with girls.

Back then, Franklin’s introverted nature made it difficult for him to make acquaintances. But here, in this secret place, he had found a friend. In the solitude he would converse with God. He recalls sitting on this very bench, when he asked God to accept him as one of his children. He had expected some miracle, maybe a bolt of lightning, a signal assuring him that his request had been accepted. No such miracle happened, not outwardly. The miracle took place inside, the peace, like cool healing water that at the time he knew was God’s spirit taking up residence in his innermost being.

Franklin came to grips a long time ago with what he experienced that day. He was a naïve child, a dreamer. He realizes now that what he experienced was no more than an emotional upheaval. He had been so lonely, so alienated that he created himself a friend. When he met Sandra the loneliness dissipated. He had someone he could converse with, and to love, his very own Eve. He no longer needed the imaginary and invisible friend. But now, after fifty-one years with Sandra, she took her last breath. So, once again, well into his twilight years, Franklin is alone.

Suddenly, Franklin is jolted out of his reverie by the realization that he isn’t alone. He spies a young girl, clad in a bright yellow sundress, making her way from one tombstone to another, heading directly toward him. She appears to be very young, maybe eleven or twelve. In her hand is a brightly decorated tote bag. This is odd, he opines, a child that young, alone here in this remote abandoned cemetery.

Franklin curiously observes the girl as she continues to move closer and closer, until she is standing directly in front of him.

“How are you, Sir?”

“I’m fine, thank you. I just came here to be alone with my thoughts.”

She takes a seat beside him, and smooths out her dress, making sure it’s covering her knees. Placing the tote bag beside her, she sits without speaking, her hands folded in her lap.

Feeling awkward by this odd turn of events, Franklin initiates the conversation.     “My name’s Franklin, what’s yours?”

“Let’s see, uh, Ruthie. Yes, that’s it, my name’s Ruthie. Nice to meet you, Mister Franklin. Do you have a loved one buried here?”

“No, I don’t. My wife Sandra passed away, but she’s buried up in town, at Rose Hill,”

“It was a trick question, you know,” she says.

“What was a trick question?”

“When I asked if you had family buried here. I knew you didn’t.”

“How could you know that, Ruthie? We’re complete strangers.”

“Because nobody is buried here, Mister Franklin, only their dead bodies. There are no souls in this cemetery. Well, except for you and me.”

“That’s true, I suppose. Do you live close by?”

“Not really, no. How about you?”

“I live about five miles from here, up in town. What brings you here, Ruthie, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I’m here on official business,” she replies with a childish giggle.

This remark elicits a smile from Franklin, the first one since he entered the cemetery. “That’s a good one, Ruthie. But seriously, why are you out here all by yourself?”

“I’m waiting on my transportation. What did your wife look like, Mr. Franklin? Was she pretty?”

Noticing his hands trembling, Franklin realizes that for some unknown reason he is fearful of this beautiful child sitting beside him.

“My wife was very pretty, the prettiest woman I ever met. I miss her so much. If it were up to me, I’d arrange it where two married people would always die together, at the same moment. That way there would be no one left alone.”

“Rising to her feet, and smoothing out her dress, the girl peers directly into Franklin‘s face. “You’ve been crying, Mister Franklin. You sure you want to be alone as sad as you are?”

“I’ll be fine, Ruthie, and I appreciate your concern, but yes, I very much desire to be alone.”

“I’ll leave you alone with your thoughts. But first I want to give you something.” Reaching into the tote bag, and extracting a beautiful yellow rose, she carefully inserts the stem in the buttonhole of his sport jacket. “Nice meeting you, Mister Franklin,” she says, walking no more than fifteen feet, she hops up and takes a seat on a rather large upright tombstone.

Franklin wants to ask the girl how she knew yellow roses were his wife’s favorite flowers, and tell her that fifteen feet is not adequate distance to be considered leaving him alone. He thinks better, however, of eliciting another conversation. Closing his eyes, he attempts to let his mind wander back, once again, to reenact that day, to feel and experience again that serenity he remembers from so long ago. But with the girl sitting so close, he feels too self-conscious to pray aloud or sing the hymns. Probably wouldn’t work anyway, he muses. He thinks about Adam, how he must have felt when driven from the garden and not allowed to return.

“She doesn’t want you to be sad.”

“What are you talking about, Ruthie?”

“Your wife, she doesn’t want you crying. She never liked seeing you cry.”

This statement un-nerves Franklin, but he pulls himself together. Looking back toward his car, the distance between the bench and the old gate seems much farther than when he walked from the gate to the bench. He dreads the walk, the pain in his knees and back, but his car’s not going to come to him, and putting it off won’t make it any easier.

Just as he painfully and with much effort rises to his feet, he once again hears the girl’s voice, singing as she sits atop the large tombstone. “Pass me not oh gentle Savior. Hear my humble cry.”

Turning in her direction, his shyness and self-consciousness are gone. Taking a seat, once again, he sings along, their voices harmonizing perfectly, the words seeming to bounce off the tombstones in the abandoned cemetery. “While on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.”

They finish the song, and Franklin stares in awe at the little girl. “That was my favorite hymn,” he says. “I used to sing it, alone, right here on this bench.”

“I know.” she says.

“How could you know?”

“Because you weren’t alone. I was here. I’ve always been here.”

She once again starts to sing. “Don’t it make you want to go home, now, don’t it make you want to go home?”

Again, he joins her in song. “All God’s children get weary when they roam. Don’t it make you want to go home?” The peace he experienced so long ago, like cool living water, flows so freely through his being, soothing his pain, and washing away his grief.

After they finish the song, he turns once again toward the beautiful girl, his face covered in tears.

“You said you came her on business. What business?”

“I’ve come to take you home, Mister Franklin.”

Hopping off the tombstone, the girl walks over and extends her hand. “Come, Mister Franklin, you’re wife is waiting for you.”

“I can only assume, Ruthie, that you must be an angel, but why would God accept me now? I’ve lived a sinful life, even to the point of denying his very existence?”

“When God forgave your sins back then, he forgave all of them, all the way up to now. You’re sins are forgiven, Mister Franklin. All you have to do is accept it.”

Epilog.

Harry and Ben, two local police officers, stare in awe at the deceased man, sitting slumped over on the old concrete bench, with a peaceful look on his face.

“How long do you think he’s been here?” Harry asks.

“Couldn’t have been very long at all,” Ben replies. “That yellow rose on his lapel appears to be freshly picked.

 

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