It was a dewy Sunday morning early in summer, and George had to wipe down the park bench with a towel just to sit down. The solitude was worth the extra effort, though, and so was the break from the heat and biting bugs that would accompany the afternoon crowds.
George smiled as he settled into the weathered cedar seat and cracked open the book he had checked out from the library the day before. It was a classic mystery he had always wanted to read but somehow never got around to. This would be the day!
But before he was five pages in, George’s eyelids grew heavy and his hands struggled to keep the book upright. He shifted his body and shook his head, but he just couldn’t beat back the weight of slumber.
He might have slept all day if not for the chirp of his cell phone. He grumbled awake and fumbled for the device … its clock read 9:32, which meant he’d dozed for just under an hour. But there was no call, no text.
Then … the chirp sounded again, and George realized it was coming from down a forest path.
He stood, closed his book, and began walking down the trail as if powerless to resist the pulsing song. He passed a creek, walked through a thick stand of pines, crossed over a log, and finally ended up standing at the edge of a huge marshy meadow in front of a peaceful lake.
A small gathering of birds hopped and pecked around the ground fifty feet in, tweeting George’s beckoning song. Suddenly, he remembered.
He had stood in that exact spot before, some thirty years before. He and Janie had gone out for a stroll in the park and ended up on a dark wooded path. The little girl was scared and squeezed her father’s hand tight, but when they broke into the sunny meadow, she shrieked with joy and ran toward the lake.
Only … the earth was so boggy it sucked her shoe right off her foot. George had tiptoed his way out to his daughter, sinking to his ankles in mud, and then carried her all the way home.
George missed Janie, especially on mornings like this one, but he understood how busy she was. Job, kids — he had been there.
Something beeped, and this time he was pretty sure it was his phone, because the birds were busy picking at some object in the marsh, dragging it slowly toward the edge.
George fished the cell from his pocket and clicked it on. He squinted to see what the birds were fussing over.
“Hello?” he said into the receiver.
“Hi, Dad! It’s Janie!”
In front of him the happy birds tugged a little girl’s pink shoe from the bog and dropped it in the sun-splashed grass.