Short Stories

Six minutes to six, said the clock over the information booth in New York’s Grand Central Station. The tall young Army officer lifted his sunburned face and narrowed his eyes to note the exact time. His heart was pounding with a beat that choked him. In six minutes he would see the woman who had filled such a special place in his life for the past 18 months, the woman he had never seen yet whose words had sustained him unfailingly.

Lt. Blandford remembered one day in particular, the worst of the fighting, when his plane had been caught in the midst of a pack of enemy planes.

In one of those letters, he had confessed to her that often he felt fear, and only a few days before this battle, he had received her answer: “Of course you fear…all brave men do.” Next time you doubt yourself, I want you to hear my voice reciting to you: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of Death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me.’….He had remembered that and it renewed his strength.

He was going to hear her voice now. Four minutes to six.

A girl passed closer to him, and Lt. Blandford started. She was wearing a flower, but it was not the little red rose they had agreed upon. Besides, this girl was only about eighteen, and Hollis Maynel had told him she was 30. “What of it?” he had answered, “I’m 32.” He was 29.

His mind went back to that book he had read in the training camp. “Of Human Bondage” it was; and throughout the book were notes in a woman’s handwriting. He had never believed that a woman could see into a man’s heart so tenderly, so understandingly. Her name was on the bookplate: Hollis Maynell. He got a hold of a New York City telephone book and found her address. He had written , she had answered. Next day he had been shipped out, but they had gone on writing. For thirteen months she had faithfully replied. When his letters did not arrive, she wrote anyway, and now he believed he loved her, and she loved him.

But she had refused all his pleas to send him her photograph. She had explained: “If your feeling for me had no reality, what I look like won’t matter. Suppose I am beautiful. I’d always be haunted that you had been taking a chance on just that, and that kind of love would disgust me. Suppose that I’m plain, (and you must admit that this is more likely), then I’d always fear that you were only going on writing because you were lonely and had no one else. No, don’t ask for my picture. When you come to New York, you shall see me and then you shall make your own decision.”

One minute to six…he flipped the pages of the book he held. Then Lt. Blandford’s heart leapt.

A young woman was coming toward him. Her figure was long and slim; her blond hair lay back in curls from delicate ears. Her eyes were blue as flowers, her lips and chin had a gentle firmness. In her pale-green suit, she was like springtime come alive.

He started toward her, forgetting to notice that she was wearing no rose, and as he moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips. “Going my way, soldier?” she murmured.

He made one step closer to her. Then he saw Hollis Maynell.
She was standing almost directly behind the girl, a woman well past 40, her graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump. Her thick-ankled feet were thrust into low-heeled shoes. But she wore a red rose on her rumpled coat. The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away.

Blandford felt as though he were being split in two, so keen was his desire to follow the girl, yet so deep was his longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned and upheld his own, and there she stood. He could see her pale face was gentle and sensible; her gray eyes had a warm twinkle.

Lt. Blandford did not hesitate. His fingers gripped the worn copy of “Of Human Bondage” which was to identify him to her. This would not be love, but it would be something special, a friendship for which he had been and must be ever grateful…

He squared his shoulders, saluted, and held the book out toward the woman, although even while he spoke he felt the bitterness of his disappointment.

“I’m Lt. Blandford, and you’re Miss Maynell. I’m so glad you could meet me. May–may I take you to dinner?”

The woman’s face broadened in a tolerant smile. “I don’t know what this is all about, son,” she answered. “That young lady in the green suit, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said that if you asked me to go out with you, I should tell you she’s waiting for you in that restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test.”

Related by: Sister Helen P. Mrosia, …..He was in the first 3rd grade class I taught at Saint Mary’s School in Morris, MN. All 34 of my students were dear to me, but Mark Eklund was one in a million. Very neat in appearance and that ‘happy-to -be-alive’ attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful. Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him often that talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed me so much though, was his sincere response every time I had to correct him for misbehaving…”Thank you for correcting me, Sister.” I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but before long, I became accustomed to hearing it many times each day.

One morning, my patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often. At this point, I made a novice-teacher’s mistake. I looked at him and said, “If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!” It wasn’t 10 seconds later when Chuck blurted out, “Mark is talking again.” I hadn’t asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it.

I remember the scene as if it had occurred this very morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark’s desk, tore off two pieces of tape and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing! The class cheered as I walked back to Mark’s desk, removed the tape and shrugged my shoulders. The first words out of his untapped mouth were, “Thank you for correcting me, Sister.”

At the end of that school year, I was asked to teach junior high math. The years flew by, and before I knew it, Mark was in my classroom again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to my instruction in ‘”new math,” he did not talk as much in 9th grade as he had in 3rd.

One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all week, and I noticed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves and edgy with each other. I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. I asked them to do something out of the ordinary. They were to list the names of their classmates, leaving a space between names. Then I told them to think carefully and write down the nicest thing they could say about each student. I allowed them the remainder of the class period to finish this assignment and, as the students left the room, each one handed me their papers. Charlie and Chuck were smiling. Mark said, “Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend.”

That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday, I gave each student his or her list which consisted of two sheets of notebook paper. Before long, the entire class was beaming with smiles. I heard them whispering……..”Really?”……”I never knew that meant anything to anyone”….”I didn’t know others liked me so much!”

No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The assignment had served its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and with each other once again. Eventually, that group of students moved on.

Several years later, I was returning from vacation and my parents picked me up at the airport. On the drive home, Mother asked me the usual questions about my vacation…the weather, the sites, etc. When there was a lull in the conversation, Mom gave Dad a quick glance and simply said, “Dad?” My father cleared his throat as he always did before saying something important. “The Eklunds called last night,” he began. “Really?” I said “I haven’t heard from them in years. I wonder how Mark is doing.” Dad responded quietly, “Mark was killed in Vietnam. The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like it if you could attend.” To this day, I can still point to the exact spot on Interstate 494 where Dad told me about Mark.

I had never seen a serviceman in a military casket before. Mark looked so handsome, so mature. All I could think at that moment was, “Mark, I would give all the masking tape in the world, if only you could talk to me.” The church was packed with Mark’s friends. Chuck’s sister sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Why did it have to rain on the day of this funeral? It was difficult enough at the graveside. The pastor said the usual prayers and the bugler played Taps. One by one, those who loved Mark took a last walk by the casket. As I stood there, one of the soldiers who had acted as pallbearer came up to me. “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the casket. “Mark talked a lot about you,” he said and he walked away.

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates headed to Chuck’s farmhouse for lunch. Mark’s parents were there and it was obvious that they wanted to talk to me. “We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.” Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had been taped, folded and refolded many times over the years. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him.

“Thank you so very much for doing that,” Mark’s mother said. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.” I did not realize that Mark’s classmates had gathered around us. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.” Then Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album” “I have mine too,” Marilyn replied. “It’s in my diary.” Finally, Vickie, another classmate, reached into her purse, took out her wallet and showed us her worn, frazzled list. “I carry this with me at all times,” Vickie said without batting an eye. “I think we all saved our lists.”

That is when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him on this earth again.

The End


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