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Four Strangers Near the Weathered Statue in a Downtown Park

J.J. Steinfeld | Cara Lynch

On an overcast afternoon—the morning news’s weather forecast had mentioned only a 30-percent chance of light rain today—in front of the weathered statue of a fearless-looking, bronze-handsome explorer who first set foot in the area three centuries ago, a self-appointed downtown park prophet, jabbing his closed umbrella toward the sky as if to get the attention of some celestial meteorologist, is the only one of the four people, strangers to each other, standing near the statue to have an umbrella. “I am a prophet if I like it or not,” he says in a rich baritone, first toward the sky, then to the statue, and finally at the other three people standing near the statue. “A prophet’s job is to prophesy, rain or shine,” he continues, and laughs at his own remark.

The park prophet seems to be appropriately dressed for a movie about wild-eyed prophets set several centuries ago, say around the time the explorer was redefining the area, at least that is what one of the other people in the park, an unsuccessful local filmmaker, is thinking as he points his cellphone camera at the park prophet, who announces in his impressive voice that the world will end tonight, or the night after, or the night after that—the point, the prophet declares, is the world will end sooner or later and we will need to be filled with humility and thoughts of love or else oblivion and worse would be our everlasting confinement. The park prophet steps closer to the statue and taps with the umbrella at the explorer’s legs and backside, a rhythmic secret message of sorts.

“As far as prophets go, this guy sure isn’t the coolest one I’ve ever seen,” a teenager who has had his share of apocalyptic visions says to an elderly woman who is attempting to recall the names of her grandchildren and wondering what God has forgotten, her name included. Suddenly she remembers that she was on the way to buy a birthday card and a present for her oldest granddaughter who she guesses is about the same age as the teenage boy standing next to her near the park statue. The teenager is in the park to research the statue and its historic plaque for a high-school history essay that is due tomorrow morning and he hasn’t written a single sentence yet, but is confident he can write the essay in three or four hours tonight. In fact, he always puts off doing his school assignments to the last possible minute and is quite pleased to the point of boastfulness of his ability to get schoolwork finished under difficult time constraints.

A light rain starts to fall and the park prophet opens his umbrella, offering it to the elderly woman. She seems confused by his offer, and the teenager takes the umbrella and holds it over the woman’s head. “I like the rain,” she says to the statue, and the teenager wonders how his parents will behave when they are as old as the woman he is attempting to shield from the rain.

The local filmmaker, who never believed in God or the end of the world, is catching the prophet on his new cellphone camera for a possible experimental film about a park prophet on an overcast afternoon turning rainy. He had been earlier contemplating doing a film about the explorer but the park prophet suddenly seems to have more creative possibilities, then decides that the park prophet is a direct descendent of the explorer, and starts to call a friend to tell her about his new idea for a film. He is already thinking of where he can get funding for this film project.

Then the unexpected overtakes reality, a heart attack or stroke, the prophet falling like the night or a night to come. The statue seems to gasp, an ambulance is called by the local filmmaker, the teenager drops the umbrella and starts CPR, the elderly woman recalls a prayer she said as a girl, and it starts to rain more heavily than predicted on this morning’s news.

About J.J. Steinfeld

Canadian fiction writer, poet, and playwright J. J. Steinfeld has published fourteen books, including Should the Word Hell Be Capitalized? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Would You Hide Me? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), An Affection for Precipices (Poetry, Serengeti Press), Misshapenness (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions), and A Glass Shard and Memory (Stories, Recliner Books). Over 300 of his short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals internationally, and more than forty of his one-act plays and a handful of full-length plays have been performed in Canada and the United States.

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