The calm water of the Allegheny River flowed at a steady rhythm. Two elderly men sat on a bench next to each other on the riverfront watching as the sun made its grand decent below the horizon. Its orange beams reflected off the water creating a warm summer glow.
“Ay Bill. Lemme ask ya somethin’.”
“What’s that, Dennis?”
“Why ya suppose we come here every Sunday like this?”
Bill pulled his eyes from the water and looked at Dennis curiously. “What ya gettin’ at?” He tilted his head at an angle and tried to find the answer on his friend’s face. “We’ve been comin’ here for what? Five years now?”
“Yeah. But why do we come here?” Dennis kept his gaze focused on the tiny waves smacking against the concrete wall below.
Bill’s curiosity turned to quick annoyance. “What the hell you talkin’ ’bout? It’s a,” he paused to find the right word, “tradition.”
“But do we come here because we want to, or because we have to?”
At this, Bill sat up straight as an arrow and looked hard at his friend. “Ya ain’t goin’ nutty on me, are ya?”
Dennis remained distant and answered as if he were talking about the weather. “We’ve been comin’ here for five years. But I’ve been thinking,” he stopped to collect his thoughts. “What if we didn’t choose to start comin’ here.”
“Is this some kinda riddle?” Bill’s agitation was showing on his increasingly reddening face.
“Look,” Dennis cleared his throat and finally looked at Bill, “I’ve just been thinkin’. What if the only reason we come is because all the choices we made in life make us? What if—”
“‘Now you ain’t makin’ no sense!” Bill interrupted.
“Hold on. Hold on. Just hear me out.” Dennis leaned back on the bench, taking a more relaxed position. “All I’m sayin’ is, what if us coming here has already been predetermined by all of our past actions? What if we don’t really have the freedom to make the choices we do?”
“Dennis, I ain’t following none of what yous sayin’.”
“Okay, lemme explain it a different way. You woke up today and knew you had to come meet me here in the evening. Right?”
“Yeah,” Bill answered.
“Was that a choice? Could ya have decided not to show up today?”
“What? We come here every week. I mean,” Bill tried to figure out what Dennis was getting at, but he came up empty-handed. “I guess if I was sick or somethin’ I wouldn’t of come.”
“That’s not what I mean. I’m sayin’, if you felt fine and it was like a normal Sunday, could you just not come here? No excuses. No reason. You just stay home.”
Bill chuckled. “That would be a real asshole move. But I suppose I could stay home if I wanted. Not like your old ass could make me come here if I didn’t want to.” He guffawed loud and hard.
“Right. But would that be a choice? Or would every decision ya made up until now be the reason why ya didn’t show up?”
“Dammit man, yous talkin’ sideways now. Ya ain’t makin’ no sense.”
This time Dennis was the one chuckling. “Maybe not. I just get to feelin’ that I ain’t always in control.” His gaze returned to the water. “Like maybe the choices I make in life aren’t really my own.”
“Well, I know the choices I make are ALL mine. And I’m choosing to talk about somethin’ else.” Bill smiled ear-to-ear. “So, how ya think the Stillers gonna do this season?”
“Hard to say,” Dennis answered. But he wasn’t thinking about the Steelers. And as he gazed at the river, he couldn’t help wondering if his life had been like the flowing water in front of him; reaching its final destination through a series of predetermined movements caused by a single movement that made it flow to begin with.
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