As I walked up to the bus stop, I glanced at my watch. 4:43 p.m. I’d just made it; the Crosstown express should be arriving within the next five minutes. Forty-five minutes later, I’d be at home and could officially call this day at an end. Thank God!
The day had been horrible. My girlfriend and I had another fight. My car wouldn’t start; AAA said it would be at least four hours before they could get to me. When I called my boss, he had said, “you better be here by 9:00 a.m., or I’ll mail your check.” And that was the beginning of a downhill spiral.
Now, all I wanted was to get home, have a drink and relax. The last thing I wanted was conversation when the old guy next to me handed me a faded photograph he’d pulled from his wallet. It was cracked and faded, edges dog-eared, the once-white border now verging on gray. A dark haired girl wearing a long, blood-red skirt and a white blouse stood in front of a liquor store. The full skirt flounced and swayed around her slim shins. I knew by the way she stood, one hip thrust towards the camera that she had a Southern accent. As I handed the photo back, I asked, “Who is she?”
He ran his thumb slowly across the surface of her picture then placed it carefully back into his wallet before saying, “She’s my wife.”
“She’s pretty. Are you two still together?”
“No. She went to live in Hollywood. Said she wanted to be in films; that acting was in her genes. She said her Daddy had been a famous film star. She didn’t know his name, but she believed it to be true.
“Has she done any films?”
“I haven’t seen her in any.”
“Do you still talk?”
“It’s been twenty years since she left.”
“Twenty years? And you never remarried?”
“But, she left you, and you haven’t spoken to her ….”
“Doesn’t matter. I still love her as much as the day we married.”
“That’s, that’s something. Hey, why’d she think that her Daddy was a famous film star?”
“Well, that’s what her Momma told her. What she told everyone. That she’d met him down in Dallas, they’d run off and got married, but her Daddy run him off and had the marriage annulled. Course that was before he knew she was carrying.”
“So, who was he?”
“Don’t know. Mary-Sue’s, that’s my wife, her Momma never would say. Just said that her little girl looked just like her Daddy and could follow is footsteps and be in the pictures.”
“That’s kind of …”
“Yeh, Mary-Sue’s Momma was a strange one.”
“So what brings you here?”
“I’m going to California. Going to look up Mary-Sue.”
“How are you going to find her after twenty years?”
“Well, I’ve got an address for her room-mate. We’ve kept in touch over the years.”
“Does she know where Mary-Sue is?”
“Yeh. She kept tabs on her and has been taking care of her for me.”
“Really. So what happens when you find her?”
“I’m going to join her.”
“Oh? Where’s she at?”
“Shady Acres in Sacremento.”
“Is that a retirement home?”
“You might say that. It’s where she was buried.”
“Has been for nearly twenty years.”
“But, didn’t you say …”
“Yeh. She was killed in a car wreck with some actor about six months after she arrived. Never had a chance to find her Daddy. Never made a movie. Now it’s time for me to join her.”
“Join? You mean …?”
“The doctor told me I had six months left to live and that was five months ago. So, I sold everything and I’m going to California. I’m going to see what she left me for, and then when it’s time, well, we’ll be buried side-by-side. “
I stared at him wordlessly.
“Is that your bus?” he asked.
Looking around, I nodded affirmatively before turning back to him. “What’s your name?”
“David, I’m Dylan Kennedy. It was a pleasure to meet you. Good luck on your trip.”
I had started up the steps into the bus when he spoke once more.
I turned back to him, and he continued, “Pride’s a terrible thing. Don’t let it stand in the way of someone you love. Before you know it, you’re whole life’s over and you’ve spent it all alone.”
For a moment, I just looked at him. Then I smiled and said, “Yeh. Thank you, David Miller.”
“Good luck, son, and good-bye.”
“The same to you.” I boarded my bus, plopping into a seat and turned to look out the window as the bus lurched away. He was still sitting on the bench, and had pulled his wallet out again, his thumb stroking slowly over something. Her picture. I kept watching him, wondering at the woman who inspired such devotion even after twenty years that a man would journey that far just to be buried with her.
As the bus began to turn the corner, I saw a smile wreath his face. A smile for the dark-haired woman wearing a full red skirt and a trim white blouse who sat down beside him on the bench.