by Roland Howell
An elderly man placed a pot of flowers next to a gravestone and looked around. He saw a bench near the edge of the cemetery and decided he needed to sit and rest. There was a woman sitting at one end of the bench. He wondered if she could be someone he could remember. He had not been back since graduating from high school. The man walked slowly to the bench, stopped in front of the woman, and asked if he could sit.
“Of course,” she replied. She was reading a book and did not look at him.
“My name is Richard Hastings,” he offered. The woman looked up at once and they stared at each other for several moments.
“My God , Martie Cummings, is that you ?” the man asked.
“Once upon a time. I’m Martha Franklin now. Not Martie anymore, Richard.”
“Oh, since when?”
“Since menopause, that’s when. Nicknames don’t fit well after that.” She studied him a moment, then asked. “Should I call you Richard or haven’t you gone through change of life yet.”
“Rick’s still fine with me and I don’t remember. And as far as I’m concerned you’re still Martie Cummings to me.”
“As I said, it’s Franklin now. I married Jerry Franklin fifty years ago. We had two children, one boy and one girl both living someplace else. There are two grandchildren. Jerry died last year.” She paused before going on. “I come here when I’m lonesome, sometimes to read and talk to Jerry. There that’s about me. What about you?”
“First, I’m sorry about your husband.” Martha nodded and Rick went on. “After the time in the Army I got my commercial pilot’s license. I Flew mostly corporate jets, all over the world. I retired five years ago and settled down in Key West. That’s it.”
“Are you married? Got any kids?”
“No on both counts, as far as I know,” Rick answered.
Martha laughed. “Remember what the kids said about us in high school? I was a goodie two shoes and you were the last male virgin in the senior class,” she said. “ God, you still could be. Are you, Rick?”
Rick shook his head. “For Christ’s sake, Martie. I am many times no longer. Are you still a goodie two shoes?” he countered.
Martha did not reply. “What brought you back after so many years, Rick?” she asked.
“I needed to put flowers on my mother’s grave. She died and was buried before my sister was able to reach me. I was in the orient at the time. Funny, when you retire you have time to start going over pieces of your life and you begin to remember the things you didn’t do.”
“Like meet me at Marcos fifty five years ago. Where were you, Rick?” Martha spoke slowly, showing an edge of anger.
“At the corner of Highgate and Elmore after I got the word you wanted to meet me there. Where the hell were you?”
“Sitting in Marcos, waiting for you. I never sent word about another place to meet. Why would I? It was all planned, our big night at the cottage, alone. Our time together before you left for the service early the next morning. You chickened out, Richard.”
“Didn’t you send Dottie Comstock to tell me to wait at Highgate and Elmore because you were afraid some of the gang might see us at Marcos and try to follow us.”
“I didn’t send Dottie to tell you anything, dammit.” Martha snapped.
“Well when I drove into Marco’s parking lot Dottie spotted me and came to the car and told me about your change of plans. She said you were inside and she would bring you shortly. I drove to Highgate and Elmore and waited but you never showed up.”
“Are you telling me the truth, Rick?”
“So help me, Martie. You can confront Dottie if she’s around.”
“Oh, she’s around. She’s a permanent resident right over there.” Martha pointed to the far side of the cemetery.
“Why would she do such a thing?” Rick asked.
”God, you’re still a lousy judge of women, Richard. She was hot for you. I knew it but it never bothered me because I knew you. I’m surprised she didn’t try to seduce you in Marcos parking lot.”
Rick smiled. “I assure you I remained faithful.” he said.
Martha began to laugh. “Well, well , after fifty five years the truth is out.” she said. I’ll tell you what. I’ll forgive you Richard if you forgive me.”
Rick stood up. “It’s a deal Martha,” he said. “Now, I’ve got a plane to catch. Do you need a ride to town.”
“No, I’ve got my car.”
“Then stand up so I can give you a hug.”
Martha stood and Rick put his arms around her and bent his head to give her a quick kiss on the cheek but Martha did not accept it. She put her arms around his neck, pulled his head around, and kissed him full on his mouth holding tight for several moments before releasing him. She stepped back, put her hands on his chest, and gently pushed him away.
“There. That’s just about where we left off fifty five years ago,” she said. “Now you can go and fly away.”
Rick smiled. “Take care Martie,” he said and walked toward his car. Try to forget the “what ifs” he said to himself.
Martha watched him go. Damn Dottie, she thought. She never told me what she had done. At least now I know I didn’t get dumped. And for those last few moments I felt like I was Martie again. And that was good.
Roland Howell 2008