This piece of flash fiction appears in the August issue of The Wagon Magazine.
The man sat on a long wooden bench, watching a little boy no older than two play in the grass. He saw him kick a soft blue ball and thought the sight should have made him smile. But he only felt despair, an aching emptiness that had hardened his heart long ago. He’d lived a long life, had expected so much and received so little. He had no spouse, no family, no friends. He’d spent the better part of his life drifting from one thing to the next, always in pursuit of something better, a dream only half glimpsed, always on the edge of the horizon and forever out of reach. Now his life was like his eyes, blurred and unfocused in his old age.
The boy chased after his soft blue ball. When he caught up to it he laughed, drew back his right leg and kicked. The ball rolled along the dewy grass, cut across the asphalt path and skittered to a stop just below the man’s worn brown shoes. He looked down at the boy, and he tried so very hard to smile. Instead he sighed, gave the ball a light kick and watched as the boy took off after it.
The boy picked up his ball. Returned to the man. Eyed him curiously and smiled.
The man said, “Hi,” tried to make his voice light and playful. He succeeded only in a tone that was dull and flat.
The boy frowned and waddled closer, cradling the ball in his arms. He peered into the man’s eyes, tilting his head slightly, and extended his arms outward, gesturing with his soft blue ball.
“Ball?” The boy dropped the toy into the man’s lap.
His eyes brimmed with unexpected tears. “For me?” he asked, pointing to himself with a finger that trembled only partially due to old joints.
The boy smiled in reply.
Such kindness. For what seemed the first time in a very long life, the man cracked a smile, thin and awkward as it was. The boy had given him a gift greater than anything he’d ever received. A tiny spark that had lain dormant in the man’s heart for many years ignited, and he let the awkward smile bloom into a broad grin.
The boy saw the change in the man’s face and giggled.
That was when he realized he too had a gift to give, a gift he’d almost forgotten, a gift he’d never expected to give himself.
The man said, “Come,” and the boy came.
“For your kindness, I give the oldest gift, the oldest and the greatest.”
He extended his right hand, laid it atop the boy’s head. A sudden gust of wind scattered strands of the boy’s light blond hair.
The man closed his eyes and turned his gaze inward. He peered into the boy’s heart, examined the boy’s future. He saw all that the boy was and all that he would become.
“You will hold this gift in your heart always. I pray that you treasure it and that you never let it die. Most of all, I pray that you’ll have the opportunity to share it with another.”
The boy frowned, comprehending nothing. No matter. Knowledge would come when the boy was ready. Knowing was its own gift, one that gave itself in its own time, one that could be accepted or rejected when the boy came of age.
The man muttered a string of words he’d once thought himself incapable of articulating, and for a brief moment the space between the boy’s head and the man’s hand seemed to glow, a brilliant gold that highlighted the boy’s blond hair. A moment later the light died and the man opened his eyes.
The man said, “Go.” He said it gently, smiled warmly.
The boy took his ball and ran, bobbing awkwardly as he kept the toy clutched against his tiny chest.
The man exhaled deeply, content. Finally, he’d given what he himself had received so many decades ago, a light he’d turned away from when he was a young man. He hoped the boy would pass it on. He was strong, and the man had seen great things in his future.
His life’s work, he now realized, was complete. He’d done what he came into the world to do, and now it was time to go home. His eyelids grew heavy and began to fall. His breathing slowed, and he fell into a permanent dreamless sleep.
He was free now, and he would never be unhappy again.
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This text is copyrighted by Jeff Coleman. All rights reserved. For reproduction rights, please contact the author (who happens to be a kind and eminently reasonable man.) Unless otherwise stated, images are copyrighted by various artists and licensed by Shutterstock.