Wednesday, March 15, 2017
After Twenty Years
With apologies to O. Henry.
The writer moved along the street, looking tired and bemused. This was the way he always looked. He was not thinking of how he looked. There were few people on the street to see him. It was only about ten at night, but it was cold. There was no wind and the stars were out.
He stopped at doors as he walked along, wondering what lay behind them. He dared not rattle a knob because people were touchy if you meddled with their doors at this time of night. He was a suspicious-looking writer, as most writers are.
People in this part of the city went home early, mostly to avoid the stink in the air. Someone in the neighborhood was a neat freak, burning springtime weeds. The smoke hung in the air, drifting like an invisible fog. Now and then you might see the light behind drawn curtains or lowered shades, but most of the windows were dark, with people abed or cozy at their computer screens.
Then the writer suddenly slowed his walk. Near the door of a squat, square house with a dusty white porch railing, a woman stood. As the writer walked toward her, she spoke quickly.
“It’s all right,” she said. “I’m waiting for a friend. Twenty years ago we agreed to meet here tonight – though how we knew it would be here I don’t remember. It sounds strange to you, doesn’t it?”
“I’m a writer,” he said. “Sounds pretty normal to me.”
“I’ll explain if you want to be sure that everything’s all right,” she said. “About twenty years ago, there was a wedding. The people who lived here weren’t involved. I’m sure that sound strange, too.”
“Again, I’m a writer,” he said. “Last night I dreamed I was in a sitcom with Bea Arthur. We were newspaper journalists covering a nerd convention. Nothing sounds strange to me.”
The woman near the door had an oval face with bright eyes. She had a large smoothie in her hand.
“Twenty years ago tonight,” said the woman, “we were married. Do you know we went out only a few times before he asked me to marry him? I told him he was crazy. I told him no. But my mother –“ she rolled her eyes at this “—my mother said, ‘Oh, he knows what he’s doing.’ ‘No, he’s an impetuous young man,’ I said to her. She wouldn’t budge. Then we were married. The pants for his tuxedo were too big. They almost fell down during the ceremony.”
“We agreed that night we would meet here again in twenty years. We thought that in twenty years we would know what kind of marriage we had, and what future waited for us.”
“It sounds interesting,” said the writer. “A long time between meetings, it seems. Have you heard from your friend since then?”
“All too much it feels, some days,” she said. “Lately, it’s been Dad Jokes. They get worse every day. Today’s joke? ‘You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law,’ he said, with that stupid grin on his face. ‘Yes,’ we said. ‘Have you heard of Cole’s law?’ And the stupid grin gets wider. ‘Oh, that took me a second,’ our oldest said. Isn’t that terrible?”
The woman sipped at her smoothie.
“Three minutes before ten,” she said. “It was ten that night when we said we’d meet here at the door to this house.”
“You’ve been successful?” the writer asked.
“I believe we have,” she said. “I hope he says the same. He was a slow mover. Homebody. I’ve had to fight for my success. He said he was the kind of man who didn’t change much. But he changed. In life, you learn how to fight for what you get.”
The writer took a step or two.
“I’ll go on my way,” he said. “I hope your friend comes all right. If he isn’t here at ten, are you going to leave?”
“I am not!” said the other. “I’ll wait half an hour, at least. If he is alive on Earth, he’ll be here by that time. Good night.”
“Good night,” said the writer, and walked away, wondering at the doors as he went.
The smoke now hung more thickly in the air and a scud of clouds obscured some stars. Mr. Goof, the neighborhood cat, sauntered past. Down the street, a porch light went out. And at the door of the house stood the woman who had come a thousand miles to meet a friend. Such a meeting could not be certain. But she waited.
About twenty minutes she waited, and then a tall man in a long coat came hurrying across the street. He went directly to the waiting woman.
“Is that you, Michelle?” he asked.
“Is that you, Brian?” cried the woman at the door.
The man took the woman’s hands in his. “It’s Michele! It surely is! I was certain I would find you here if you were still alive. Twenty years is a long time. And it’s funny we agreed to meet at this house, where we live now. Who knew back then we’d own this place? But up the street, there’s a restaurant,” he said. “We could go there. A twentieth wedding anniversary calls for china – I can at least buy you Chinese food.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Michelle said. “I’m hungry.”
“Oh really?” Brian asked with that dumb grin on his face. “Hi, Hungry. I’m Brian.”
She hit him with her empty smoothie cup.
Happy 20th Anniversary, dear. I promise to cool it with the Dad jokes.