Stories Between Friends – Joanna Kenyon

by | Oct 11, 2022 | Fiction, Stories Between Friends | 0 comments

Joanna Kenyon and I got to be friends while playing hooky from a session at the Inspire Christian Writers Conference at Mount Hermon earlier this year (now with a new name). Fancy coffee drinks, conversation, and tears offered the antidote for overwhelm and gave us the reboot our souls needed to enjoy the rest of that wonderful conference, now richer for the new friendship we were given.

Joanna is a gentle and whimsical storyteller as well as an accomplished musician and composer. Pour a fancy coffee drink and let your soul be refreshed by this delightful tale. 

What the Brook Knew


Once upon a time in a park shaded by cedar trees, with a shallow brook laughing in little curves about their roots, there was a bench. It was an old wooden bench, weathered from the rain and the seasons and scratched by the pocketknives of little boys. Behind it rose a cedar tree, grown enormous through the rain and passing seasons and carved with hearts and initials from older boys. A little path curved round both bench and cedar tree, and on the other side of it was the brook, older than the tree; and it always laughed, for the brook knew secrets that could not be carved.

It was not a bad life, being a bench in the beautiful park. And the bench did not mind the rain, for being a bench, it could never catch colds, and it rather liked the sound of it falling through the trees and splashing in the brook. Though rainy days were often lonely days, for the people who came to the park rarely came when it rained, and never lingered on the bench if they did, but hurried by under dripping umbrellas and spoke very little. For best of all, the bench loved the stories it overheard. The most interesting were from couples walking very slowly, holding hands with their fingers intertwined. Very often they would stop at the bench and admire the brook, for people have always been mesmerized by running water, and they would speak of a thousand things: silly things they believed as children, adventures they had and adventures they wanted to have, things they hoped for and things they feared. They all wanted to “do something great,” though the bench rarely found out that any of them did.

Others were not comfortable stories, like the tired woman with swollen feet crying beside the man who kept looking at his watch. The bench tried to forget these.

And then there were people like the woman who came to the park with her husband every day between five and six o’ clock. They rarely stopped to sit on the bench, for which the bench was very glad. Listening to her coming into earshot and drifting out of it was quite enough.

“…Sometimes it seems like that’s all she talks about. As if there were no more to life than looking like a fashion plate….”

“Yes, dear,” said her husband.

“…I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with him that wasn’t about money. Nickels and dimes. I think all he cares about are nickels and dimes….”

“Yes, dear,” said her husband.

“…Have you noticed how he’s never friendly unless he wants something from you? He utterly forgets he knows you otherwise. Uncanny….”

“Yes, dear,” said her husband.


The tree often listened too, and in the night when the people had all gone home, the bench and the tree talked over the people they had seen and the things they had heard. Sometimes they asked the brook what it thought, but the brook only ever laughed.

“I have to say,” said the bench one night, “Mrs. Half-Past-Five is getting very wearisome. To listen to her, one would think she lives her life surrounded by idiots.”

The tree rustled, which was how it smiled. “She is afraid of them,” it said. “Critical people are always in their heart afraid.”

“Well I hope she’ll get over her fear before she comes too many more times,” grumbled the bench. “She really does spoil the mood of things.”

“Fear is not like a hill to be ‘got over,’” said the tree, “which is why so many people carry it for so long. But perhaps the brook has an opinion.”

The brook only laughed.


Mrs. Half-Past-Five continued to come at half past five. She wasn’t the only visitor in the park to trail a string of complaints and criticisms behind her. Certain seasons seemed to turn up more of them than others, particularly around Tax Day, and after holiday family dinners.

“I wish I understood why such people persist so,” the bench sighed to the tree. “I’m sure they aren’t any happier for it.”

The tree rustled sympathetically.

But the brook spoke. “Be careful what you wish for,” it said. Never before had the brook spoken. It had only ever laughed.

“What?” said the bench.

The brook laughed.

The next day it began to rain, a heavy, unrelenting rain soaking earth and sky. It beat through the branches of the cedar trees. It coursed in rivulets over the ground, along the path, and into the brook. It filled puddles into lakes and spilled them into bigger lakes. The day after, it was still raining, and the day after that too, in sheets like billowing grey curtains. The brook was higher. Its laughter had risen to the roar of something wild. On the fourth day of rain, the brook had risen on a level with its banks, and on the fifth it ran over top of them completely, drowning the path and the ferns about the cedar trees and swirling and tugging about the legs of the bench. And the water came on higher and faster and stronger until it picked up the bench entirely and carried it tumbling down the flooded waterway. For the first time, the bench learned that there was indeed a reason for it to fear the rain.

The brook flowed into a river, and into the river floated the bench, tangled up with tree limbs and leaves and many other things that had been swept up in the flood. At first the bench was too frightened for words. The water soaked deep into its wood, cold and penetrating, and with the water came darkness, but an unquiet darkness of moving shapes and afterimages and half-guessed distances.

“What is it, what is it?” thought the bench in bewilderment.

Wonder of wonders, the voice of the brook answered.

“You see the memory of water, for water has always remembered, and always will. Water goes where a bench or a tree cannot, and water cannot die like a tree or disintegrate like a bench. Water carries the stories of all the earth, and water will remember as long as the earth endures. Look at the stories, woven like threads on a loom, crossing and pulling at each other, getting tangled up into knots with one another until it is impossible to see where one ends and another begins, the patterns that they weave. But they cannot see it, the people who live them. They do not see how their words and deeds race out and beyond them, how they touch and change the weave of the world.”

Nickels and dimes. I think all he cares about are nickels and dimes. The woman who a lifetime ago had sat on the bench under the tree and complained about the world and all the people in it.

     A very little girl playing under a walnut tree, picking up the shells the squirrels had left in the grass, on a chilly, grey day. Little four-year-old fingers hunting through the overlong lawn. A glint of something round and whitish. A nickel! And a dime! Riches untold for a four-year-old who lived in a mobile home. Running to the adults knotted about the house. Has anyone lost them? No? They are yours, dear.

     “I can do a magic trick with those,” said a young man.

     The little girl was not impressed. She had seen this trick before and knew how it worked. Also there was something about this man she didn’t like. But he was waiting, and she handed him her treasure.

     He performed the sleight of hand, and the dime and the nickel disappeared.

     “May I have them back now?” asked the little girl.

     He shrugged. “I can only make the magic work one way. They’re gone now.”

     “They’re not!” she cried. “And they’re mine! Bring them back!”

     “I’m sorry,” he said, though he didn’t look like it.

     The little girl tugged at his arm in angry protest. She searched the grass at his feet, just in case he dropped them. She stormed at him.

     He did not give them back.

     “I’m having a conversation with an adult,” said her mother when she ran to her wailing. “Go and play quietly.”

     The man disappeared, like the dime and the nickel, and she never saw either again.

“That was the businessman the woman complained about,” said the bench.

“No,” said the voice of the brook. “That was the woman, when she was very small. To her, all businessmen are that man.”

But there were so many knotted stories crossing in that moment on the overlong lawn between the walnut tree and the house, glimpses into tunnels of time disappearing into the future and the past, weaving with and changing one another.

     The young man with the dime and nickel in his pocket walked along the street, unusually pensive. Work had become a terrible tightrope walk of insecurity. There was talk of more layoffs. His boss made it clear that he thought very little of his projects. That dinosaur was too old-fashioned for his own good. He thrust his hands in his pockets and felt the coins there. He had forgotten about them. He hadn’t really meant to keep them, he told himself uncomfortably, but the child had run off. Still, he felt badly about it. He dropped them into the can of a one-legged man begging on the sidewalk—another story, a glimpse into a life of illness and poverty and shame—and walked on, up the elevator into his one-room apartment. He dropped into his desk chair, pushed to the side a pile of bills marked OVERDUE in red, put his head in his hands, and began to cry.

     At the same moment, the boss was pacing in his office. He worked late. He always worked late. Work was better than what awaited him at home anyway. He’d pulled himself up by his bootstraps, damn it. His old dad told him he’d never amount to anything. Well, just take a look now, Pa. Running his own business, a business he built from the ground up. His pacing turned almost frantic. A business that was losing money. The market was changing. Things were different. He belonged to an older time. He couldn’t keep up with the changing face of the world. He was going to have to lay off more employees. Don’t look at me now, Pa. You were right. I am a failure. Damn it. Damn it.

Story after story, life after life, too variegated and endless to fathom. Moments of beauty, acts of kindness, but so many wounds woven through them, too. Thoughtless actions of a moment crashing like millstones on a soul. Tiny kindnesses given at the crossroads of a life that changed the weave of the world forever.

It was too much for a little old bench to encompass.

It snarled up with the rest of the flood wreckage at the dam above the waterfall, and there it bobbed for some days while the water poured over it.


“So what did she say then?”

“She said I was trying to fix her problems instead of listening. I think she likes her problems, frankly.”

Two men in hard hats and flannel jackets had walked out on the dam, and with hooks and poles and gloved hands were removing the debris.

I know who you are, thought the bench as a hand caught at it. I see your story. I know you stopped playing piano when you were eight years old because your brother teased you, even though you loved music. I know how afraid you are of being called soft. I know that you cry at beautiful sunsets and songs. I know how hard you try to be what you think a man should be. I know what a miracle you are, and you don’t know it yourself.

“Is that a bench?”

“I’ll be a son of a gun. Still in one piece too.”

The water streamed off it as they fished it up. Dragging it up the bank, they set it up under an oak tree, facing the river.

“Always thought a bench should go there. Imagine just finding one.”

“Fine little spot for lunch breaks. Once it dries out a little.”

And dry out it did, eventually, when the clouds drifted apart and the sun broke through again to warm the world. It was hardly the bench it had been once upon a time in a park under a cedar tree. It was rougher and scarred, and warped in places. The memory of the water faded as the water steamed off it, though the memory of memory can be a persistent and mysterious thing.

Sometimes people walked along the river, and sometimes they stopped and sat on the old battered bench and talked of life, or complained about it, or talked of nothing, or sat without speaking at all.

And the bench listened.



Wasn’t that a lovely story? You can find more from Joanna here.


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