Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Old Man (Lil Ditty Bout Jack n Diane)

He wasn't there today.

The man in the cemetery on the road I pass everyday at the same time was missing. Not missing as in “ we found his car idling on the side of the road and him no where in sight". He just wasn't there.

But I know his story.

I read it in his demeanor. The way he drooped as he leaned against his late-model Ford. The way his neck was cricked to the side, just so.

Jack had met Diane fifty or so years ago in a small café in Philly while there on business. She had slipped up to his table, youth swaying in her hips like an a cappella tango, and set the steaming cup of hours-old coffee on the table in front of him. The tiny white apron was snuggly tied at her waist, which was small for such a tall girl.

She looked down at him, hazel eyes meeting his with a smile, "Would you care to try the Shepherd's pie? It's the cook’s specialty, and we've got a little left."

"Yes. Yes, that sounds perfect, thank you", he smiled back, handing her the tattered paper menu.

That was all it took. Jack was married with three lovely kids, but the weekend he spent with Diane would change him forever. He hadn't had the courage to touch her, though her eyes invited him many times before he quit her, and one kiss as they parted ways left a taste on his lips sweeter than a ripened mango.

He left her with only his card, and the knowledge that they wouldn’t meet again.

One day months later when his secretary laid his mail amidst the piles on his worn mahogany desk, among it was a letter from her. He silently slit the envelope and pulled out the neatly-folded paper. It was the most moving and heartfelt letters he'd ever received.

They began to write and wrote back and forth for many years, rarely going more than a few months without some correspondence. Stories, poems, and rattlings of day-to-day events were shared with a flowering of words and thoughts that neither'd known they possessed. Jack saw her only once more, in a photograph she sent years later. Her hair had become dappled with gray, and the smile in her eyes had spread from their corners and down her cheeks. Though there was something romantically desolate about the picture, he found her lovelier than ever.

After his youngest child married, and his wife passed, Jack decided to find her. He needed to see her again. Feel her breath on his cheek again. Read to her as she fell asleep, and name every nuance in her eyes. He hadn't heard from her in a few months, but since his retirement, the letters had been necessarily less frequent.

He traveled to where she lived, and imagined the surprise she would find to see him at her door. She'd never married, though against acceptance, had had children by a man long gone. Stepping up the stone stair to her front door, he wondered for a moment if the time for this had not already come and gone, if he was too late to come back for her. He forced a quick rap at the door before he lost his nerve.

A woman, mid thirties, answered the door. She was tall and thin, and in everyway familiar except for the blonde hair that fell neatly onto her shoulders.

"May I help you?"

"Yes, miss. I'm looking for Diane Johnson".

"Can I ask why?" she said, the features of her face hardening almost imperceptibly.

"Well….I am an old friend, and I've come to town hoping to visit her. Can you please tell her Jack is here?"

"Jack?" She stood staring. A tear trembled on her eyelid and then slowly rolled down her cheek. "You're him, aren't you? You're the one she waited for."

Jack smiled, "She talked about me? Well, I guess I'm one and the same."

"But……well…..I'm so sorry. My mother passed away a month and a half ago.”

Jack spent the rest of the afternoon with Emily, talking about Diane, looking at the photographs that illustrated the story of her life that'd she'd been sharing with him all along. They went to her grave together and he traced the words on her headstone with his fingers. He knelt and wept.

A few months later Jack moved to the town where Diane was buried. He'd spent his whole life wanting to be near her, and living to be what he was supposed to be. He spent every sunrise and sunset at her grave. They were her favorite times of the day. The times he'd only once spent with her in life, and only for two days. For a couple years he did little but read, write, trek the few hours to visit his grandkids, and visit Diane.

Until finally the sun waned, and its setting would last forever.


Char said...

and thus endeth the lesson about waiting, no?

Periodically Consistent said...

Aye. But it's so gray.....doing what is right for everyone else, and doing what is right for yourself. If you are too late, at least you gave someone a melo-romantic story to tell :)