Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Man From Central Park: The Story of Coral Graf and a Bike Ride on a Spring Day

“What is Passover?” nine-year-old Coral Graf asked, riding through Central Park on a bike with her dad.

She sat on the handlebars on the front of the red bike, and he sat on the black leather seat, pedaling away. The sun shone brightly, and a light breeze blew as the New York City buildings stood tall on the spring day. 

“Well, it’s like this bridge coming up,” he said, as he pedaled twice as fast. “We are going to pass over the water below.”

“So, we miss out on falling in the river?” Coral said, peering over the side of the bike at the fish in the water.

“More-or-less, anything bad that would come near you has to pass over, instead of harm you,” her father said. 

“Do you think that’s really true? That all the bad stuff has to just leave you alone?” Coral said, crossing her fingers.

“Hope so,” her father said. “Sometimes you have to go through bad things, but there can still be miracles . . . That’s why we celebrate Passover every year in the spring, believing that hard times will leave us alone, like when the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. The Israelites were slaves, and Moses led them to freedom.” 

As her father pedaled around Central Park, Coral came across a man asleep on a park bench with a brown paper bag. 

“Dad, he needs some bad things to pass over him,” Coral said, hopping off the bike and marching in his direction.

“Wait a minute,” her father said, squeaking the breaks on the red bike. “Oh, yes, uh-huh . . .”

Coral pulled out her tin can of pennies from her backpack, which she collected from The Man Upstairs. The tin can sat beneath the heating vent in her parents’ Upper East Side apartment, and he dropped money every day.

Never once did Coral keep the money for herself, or The Man Upstairs would stop giving it to her. Instead, she used the money to cause small miracles all over New York City; a small miracle could bring a larger one.

“The Man Upstairs would want me to give this man my pennies,” she said, poking the man in the side until he woke up.

“Who are you?” The Man From Central Park said. “I don’t feel well. Leave me alone. I’m going to die in this park.”

“Oh no! Did you ever hear about how bad things can pass over?” she said. “Bad things are going to pass over you!”

“Honey, The Man From Central Park might need to go see a doctor,” Mr. Graf said, clearing his throat. 

“You might feel better after you eat something,” Coral said, handing him coconut macaroons from her backpack. “My dad owns a local deli, and you can come there and eat anytime you want. We have especially good chicken soup.”

Coral’s dad didn’t say much as his daughter tried to coax The Man From Central Park into getting off the bench. 

“Why don’t we let him have a good nap for the rest of the afternoon?” Mr. Graf said, as the stubborn man groaned.

“Dad, you just said that he needs to go to the doctor!” Coral said, pulling the Man’s jacket until he finally budged. “Let’s go!” Coral said. “The Man Upstairs is paying for your doctor bill. Follow me. I’m getting you an appointment.”

As Coral’s dad got back on the bicycle, he pedaled slowly as Coral walked beside The Man From Central Park.

“We are taking you to the emergency room at the New York City Hospital,” Coral said, holding her tin can of pennies.

When Coral and The Man From Central Park arrived at the emergency room, the sliding glass doors opened in a buzz. Sick people were pushed in stretchers and wheelchairs, and some of them were attached to IVs and beeping machines.

“Coral, we need to talk to the woman at the desk,” Mr. Graf said, wondering how much this visit was going to cost him.

The Man From Central Park stood in front of the nurse as she noticed his unruly appearance and overgrown beard.

“My name is Coral Graf, and my dad and I met this nice man in Central Park, and he doesn’t feel well,” Coral said. “The Man Upstairs is paying for the doctor visit,” she said, dumping her pennies on the desk. “Please help him.”

“Does he have health insurance?” the nurse said, grabbing her clipboard to take notes. “Have him fill out this form.”

Hours later, after sitting in the waiting room, Coral, Mr. Graf, and The Man From Central Park finally saw the doctor.

“This is The Man From Central Park,” Coral said, shaking the doctor’s hand. “I need him to feel better . . .”

“Stick out your tongue,” the doctor said to The Man From Central Park, looking down his throat, and then into his ears.

“Bad things are already passing over you,” Coral said to The Man From Central Park. “Just like with Moses . . .”

“Maybe I should just give you my stethoscope, so you can perform the doctor visit?” the doctor said, closing the curtain. 

The curtain brushed Coral’s nose, so she could no longer see the doctor examine The Man from Central Park. 

“Don’t worry, Coral,” Mr. Graf said, standing behind her. “The doctor knows best and will help him . . .”

By the time the doctor had finished the examination, Coral and her dad had played many games of Tic Tac Toe.

“Dad, did you let me win?” Coral asked, folding the Tic Tac Toe game sheet in her pocket. “I won every time.”

“I really tried to beat you, Coral,” her father said, putting his pen into his pocket and looking at the clock on the wall. 

“The Man From Central Park is going to stay overnight until we can determine exactly what is wrong,” the doctor said. “He has no health insurance, but we will figure something out. As your daughter said, bad things need to leave him.”

“I’ll be back in the morning with chicken soup from my dad’s deli,” Coral said. “I’ll try to bring extra for you, too.”

“Wonderful!” the doctor said, “I’ll be so glad to see you again. Now the Man From Central Park is asleep . . .”

“Yes, so we should be leaving, Coral,” Mr. Graf said, pushing her toward the door along with the red bicycle. 

“I knew it was time for bad things to pass over!” Coral said, walking through the sliding doors of the hospital.

When Coral arrived back at her high-rise brick apartment, she placed her tin can underneath the heating vent. She waited for more pennies from The Man Upstairs, knowing that she had the power to cause miracles.


Copyright 2015 Jennifer Waters

Sequel to "The Man Upstairs: The Story of Coral Graf and Pennies from a Tin Can" (1/3/15), "The Man Downstairs: The Story of Coral Graf and Her Missing Pennies" (7/13/15), "The Man Next Door: The Story of Coral Graf and the Neighborhood Pennies" (8/5/15), "The Man Across the Street: The Story of Coral Graf, a Hanukkah Miracle, and the Landlord with a Cigar" (9/10/15), and "The Man Around the Corner: The Story of Coral Graf and a Homeless Cardboard Box" (9/10/15).

Dedicated to my grandmother, Augusta Renner Graf Waters.

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