If Love is a Labor
He played as if he were dying.
It was strange, being on this park bench again. The same bench he sat in—comfortably, more than peacefully—the day he got down on one knee and proposed to her.
She agreed, said yes to his request.
He strummed a little harder.
He began singing. Words of scars and showing the worst ones first.
Scars. She'd scarred him, alright, from her smile to her laugh and everything in between.
He didn't want it to end.
She did. He guessed that's where things went sour.
"Let's unwrite these pages and replace them with our own words..."
He wished he could, but she was his inspiration, his muse. He hadn't written a song in six months, much less thought of anyone else but her.
An old woman approached him. He turned away, continuing to sing. But even still, he heard her voice.
"Is there something I could do for you?"
He blocked out the words, kept singing. Words of slaving to the end for the sake of love; protecting those you care about with a gentle embrace of the hand.
The old woman took a shuffling step forward, cane tapping against the ground as she stepped up to him.
"Young man? I'd like to have a word or two."
He finally looked over, saying nothing except for the music his guitar was making.
She pointed to her cheek. "You've been crying," she said. "It's not every day you see someone crying while playing the guitar."
She tried to offer him a smile; he didn't accept it. He cleared his throat, ran a hand through his hair. Anything to distract himself from the deafening silence.
He couldn't say he was fine. He couldn't say anything. He just watched, glancing up with his hand still in his hair, as the woman took a seat next to him, setting her cane against the bench.
"When someone sings of scars, I know they've been hurt," she said in her raspy voice. "So... Who was it, dear?"
The love of my life, he thought, unable to reply. Unable to do anything except think of her face. He looked away, looking up at a tree beside them.
"I'm nothing to her." The fact stung. He didn't ignore it.
"And at one point in time, you were?"
He nodded and looked down between his feet.
"Yeah." Tears floated up to the bottom of his vision, dropping down onto the concrete. Painting the space between his feet in tiny little dots.
A worn-down hand was placed on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," she said, "but there's only one thing to do."
He closed his eyes, shut them tight. Even still, a few tears leaked out just before his eyelids met. The old woman continued on.
"When I was young—younger than I am now—I once knew a boy named Jack. He was handsome, unique, suave... And he broke my heart."
When she spoke again, he could tell she was looking at him. The direction of her voice changed just slightly, the amplification increasing just a bit more.
"Over time, I learned my own worth. That's what the heart does; it breaks so it can rebuild. Only from fire does the weapon get crafted."
He looked up, towards the tips of the trees far away.
"I can't go on," was all he said.
A tear slid down his cheek as the old woman tsked.
"It brings to mind a quote: 'We can't go on, we go on.' You still have the strength to live, boy. There's just a matter of finding it."
He wasn't sure what to say to that one.
His stare dropped to the guitar, to his fretting hand that was still clawed into a chord. She always did like his guitar, his voice. Was this new guy a musician, too? Was he better? Is that why she left?
We can't go on, we go on.
He decided it then: he couldn't let himself get kicked to the curb twice. He'd made a home out of his pain, and it was time he moved out.
He looked up to the old woman.