Short Story

Based on a True Incident

(All names have been changed to protect the individuals)

"Liz, I'm going to tell you a story, you will never believe, but, I bet you will never forget." John paused as if his story were scary or amazing.

"What, John?" I couldn't imagine a story I would find that memorable.

"Well," John said, "I was at the bank when I ran into Hank Johnson."

"Who's Hank Johnson?" I was already losing interest.

"It doesn't matter, really. You're not going to believe this anyway."

"I don't know, but you're right, I might not if you keep saying that."

I hated long convoluted stories about people I didn't even know.

John continued, "I hadn't seen Hank in, oh probably, twenty years. He was my classmate in school, so today he would be about sixty-seven years old —the same as me. I was surprised to see him and I thought he'd changed a lot. He hadn't gotten fat or anything, but his lower eyelids drooped, making them red and wet, as if he were ready to go to sleep. His skin lay creped and wrinkled. He stooped, too, as he stood at the bank window. I thought, I didn't remember him stooping-he must have worked hard.

"So, I called out to him, 'Hi, Hank! Geez, when was the last… probably the alumni banquet, huh?'

"And he called right back to me, 'Hi, John! I bet you thought I wouldn't even know you.' Then he came over close and peered up at me through those watery eyes and said, 'I do too still know you, for sure!' Hank's voice-well, it was so warm."

I interrupted John, "I don't hear a big story here, just two old men getting reacquainted!"

"Liz, you hold your fire mouth! This is too big! And I'm barely getting started here. You haven't heard anything, yet."

Then, John said to me, "Do you remember where I was before you had to jump in?"

I said, "You were talking to Hank about you two knowing each other."

"Oh ... now don't interrupt me this time. Anyway, I said to Hank, 'Well, by darn, you remembering me makes me feel good!' He wasn't exuberant, and I noticed that he shifted his feet as if standing were an effort.

"'So,' I added, 'Hank, how the heck are you? Still married to Sweet Marie? I got a feeling that you two will be together forever. Right?'

"'Yes, I'm still with her,' he said to me. 'I'm surprised, though, that you remembered what I always called her.' Hank's voice softened, but he was very serious. 'I'll be with her forever, all right. Can't live a day without her. She's my rock, my friend, and my once-in-a-lifetime love. Never was anyone before her and there will never be anyone after her.'

"'You're sure?' I said back. I was being playful, because Hank was getting way too serious for me! I started to get nervous. After all, what do you say when someone gets profound like that?

"Staying serious, his face sad, Hank said back, 'Sure as the Harvest Moon.'

"And I said, 'Well, I'm right glad for you two, Hank.'

"Then, Hank interrupted me." He said, 'You don't know, John! She died yesterday. I'm out and about now getting arrangements finished. Her body will be here before the day is over.'

"All, I could say was, 'Hank, I'm so sorry.' But then, I got to thinking, and I said, 'Hank, I thought you lived on the coast?' And he said, 'Well, we do-did! I'm just bringing Sweet Marie home.'

"I told Hank again, 'I'm just so sorry. I remembered you two kids, years ago, always having a good time and always so happy together.'

"Hank said, 'That is, for sure. We always were.'"

I cut in and said, "John, that's quite a story. It's sad, but people die every day. He must be broken-hearted, though. It's such awful news."

"Liz, here you go, interrupting me again!"

"I'm sorry. I thought you were finished."

"I'm not. Let me finish, please?"

"Yes."

John said, "I left Hank, and got my shopping done. Stopped at the station, I had a bad tire I wanted fixed. Grabbed a pizza to take home ... would you believe it? I no more than got in the house and Martha said to me, 'Have you heard the news?'

"Course, I said, 'no,' being I was in and out of stores.

"Then Martha said, 'Hank Johnson died this afternoon.'

"I said, 'Can't be! I just talked to him! Not more than an hour ago.'

"She said, 'It was on the radio. Must be true.'

"'WOW!' I said. 'Makes me think… you're sure? But I have to admit it, I'm shocked.'

"Martha said, 'me, too.'

"I said, 'I just cannot believe it! How did it happen?'

"Martha said, 'We don't know much. He just keeled over right out of the barber chair. People were talking about how much he loved his Sweet Marie —but then, others said that's no cause to up and die like that.'

"I said, 'true.'

"Then Martha went on, 'Some people agreed, but I heard from Anna that one guy said he knew of a family where two sons died together, and they had to bury their Mama with them. Couldn't take it.'

"I told Martha, 'I can't believe it, but if I die, don't you go dying like that.' What do you think now, Liz?''

"You are right. It is an amazing story! Sorry, I gave you a hard time… You know what?"

"What?"

"It doesn't matter why or how Hank got up there. The good Lord knew Marie's and Hank's hearts."

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