Two kinds of fish swam in the muddy water. The bright orange fish were nearly a foot long and stayed near the surface while the much smaller dark fish darted about lower down, only coming to the surface to feed as the seventeen-year-old boy threw the last pieces of bread into the water and then slid the sandwich bag into the pocket of his jeans. Squirrels and robins drank at the water’s edges as they searched for food, the muddy water barely cresting at and flowing into a rusty grate. The boy thought, but where is the source of the water and where are the two ducks? He looked around at the green, wooded park surrounding the water, but he did not hear or see the ducks. Sitting down on one of the sun warmed stone benches, the boy began to daydream about his future…
He wondered how long the young woman had been standing there. He wondered how long she’d been standing there watching him like that. She walked over and sat down beside him on the stone bench in the afternoon sun.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hello,” he said.
She said, “You were a thousand miles away.”
“I come here to think,” he said. “I start Pitt in the fall.”
“Oh,” she said. “I’m a grad student there. I’ll be in my final year in the fall.”
“Do you like it?”
“Do I like it? Yes I like it. I love it.”
He saw her look toward the water.She took a deep, ragged breath. “It’s not very big,” she said. “I could throw a rock over it.” She looked at him. “So, what do you want to be?”
“I’m not sure yet,” he said.
“I know what I want to be. I’m doing it now. I’ve always known since I was a little girl. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be. Now I have to make a decision.” She looked out at the water again. “You work at something so hard for so long and it’s so close and nothing’s ever guaranteed and you may never get this chance again but you have to pay a price, a price you don’t want to pay.”
He studied her face. She was still looking at the water. He looked to see what she was seeing.
She said, “What’s your name?”
“Sal,” he said. “Sal Rondenelli.”
“Do you have a girlfriend, Sal?”
“Well,” she said, “one day you will. And you’ll really care about her a lot. It’s wonderful when you care about someone. It’s even more wonderful when that person cares about you. And you would never want to do anything to hurt that person. Never.”
He looked at her.
She turned her face to him.She said, “Sometimes you care so much for that person that life feels so good, so sweet it’s almost like a dream and you never, ever want to wake up. Ever. But it’s not a dream. It’s real. It’s so real that it seems what you thought you had control over really has control over you. You try to be careful and you try to be smart but sometimes that’s not good enough. Sometimes you have to be lucky, too.” She turned her face back to the water and said, “Or unlucky.” She stood up. She reached her hand down to him. “Well, Sal, good luck.”
He held her hand. He said, “Maybe I’ll see you on campus.”
She smiled down at him.
He liked her smile. He released her hand. She turned and walked away. He stood up and watched her walk deeper into the park. He kept watching until she was gone. When Sal turned back to the muddy water the two ducks were paddling side by side.