The Art of Nothing

“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” Old Art eased himself onto the park bench beside me. Draping an arm across my side of the bench, he drawled, “You look just plain down in the dumps, like you haven’t got a friend in this world. Come on, you can tell Old Art all about it. I won’t tell a soul, cross my heart. No, ma’am, mum’s the word.” He zipped his lips shut. “Now, what’s troubling a pretty girl like you?”

I studied my white-knuckled hands folded in my lap. Old Art had been part of our town’s landscape for a long time and had a knack for showing up whenever there was trouble. Lots of people talked to him, but I had always wondered just how discreet he really was.

“Aw, don’t be shy. It’ll do you good to talk about it, get it off your chest, so to speak.”

“Well…,” I began, twisting my fingers around each other.

“That’s my girl,” he grinned, leaning back. “You just tell Old Art all about it, then everything will be better. You’ll see.”

 I concentrated on keeping the wobble out of my voice and speaking softly so my bitterness wouldn’t poison the telling. When I was through I just sat there staring at my green shoes swimming beneath unshed tears. I felt Old Art’s hand patting my shoulder. I wanted to shrink, but I knew that would be rude.

“My, my,” he was saying, “that is a sad state of affairs. Not everybody has to deal with things like that, and that’s good, because most people are not nearly as strong as you. You know that?” He craned his neck around to look me in the eyes. I didn’t meet his gaze and instead tried to see fish swimming around my teary shoes.

“You know,” Old Art leaned back and I started breathing again, “when you’re hurting, it always feels like you’re the only one in the world with problems. Know what I mean?”

I nodded.

“But there’s no problem on the face of this earth that hasn’t happened to somebody else before you. And they got through it, so you will, too.” He slapped his knee. “Confidence, my gal, it’s confidence you need. There, now don’t you feel better already? You just got to stand up on your own two feet and face life. Don’t give in, no, don’t you ever give in. You hear me? You’re made of strong stuff, I can see that.”

“Now look at that,” he pointed to my friend Julie as she approached with her dog on his leash. “Here comes your best friend in all the whole wide world. Now, what’s better than a friend whose got your back when the chips are down? Huh?”

Old Art patted my shoulder. “You go along and enjoy some quality time with your friend. In no time at all your world will be just fine and dandy, you mark my words!”

Julie waved and I held out my hand for her dog’s leash as I fell into step beside her.

“I see Old Art found you,” she grimaced. “He can smell trouble a mile away! What did he say to you?”

I tried to think. “Uh…nothing!” I exclaimed. “Absolutely nothing.”