Henry spent most of his time on the front porch.
Sitting. Standing. Pacing.
He knew in his heart that what – or rather who – he waited for wasn’t coming. He’d had his chance and he’d blown it. And at 73 years of age, he wasn’t going to get the chance again.
“Or at least, that’s how it seems, huh?”
Henry almost jumped out of his own skin at the sound of the words. He turned around to see a man sitting on the porch swing.
It took the Henry a moment to speak. “Who are...how did you...?”
The man didn’t answer him. He simply stood up and walked to the edge of the porch. He took his hat off, slowly rubbed his forehead, and leaned over the railing. He looked first to his left, and then – after a very long pause – he looked to his right.
“Must get pretty lonely around here.”
Slowly Henry returned to his usual state, the one in which the word ‘loneliness’ described him so well. He sighed. “Yes. Lonely.”
Max returned to the swing and sat back down, the chains that held the swing made a clanking, almost stretching sound as he did so.
”What happened, Henry?" Max asked as he patted the vacant seat next to him. “With Elizabeth?”
Henry walked over to the swing and sat next to Max. He sighed again. And he remembered.
And he told Max the story...
“It was the Forth of July. We had a picnic spread out before us.” He smiled as he leaned into Max. “She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.”
Max smiled back.
Henry continued. “I had it all planned...the dinner on the ground, the fireworks. And then...”
Suddenly, he got out of the swing and dashed inside the house. The screen door slammed shut behind him. Soon he was back on the porch, this time with something in his hand. He handed it to Max as he sat back down on the swing. “I was going to give it to her after the fireworks display.”
Max opened the black velvet box. Inside was a diamond ring. Max closed the box and handed it back to Henry.
“What stopped you, Henry?”
Henry lowered his head. He seemed deep in thought. Finally...
“I guess I got scared.” He looked straight ahead as he spoke. “Told myself there was always tomorrow.” His slow and purposeful breathing was evident as his mind played the past over in his head. “She and her family moved the following week, and I never saw her again.” He stood up and walked over to the railing. “Tomorrow...hmmm. What a joke.”
“What if you were to get your chance at tomorrow, Henry?”
Henry turned and looked at Max. “I’m not sure who you are, friend. But I don’t think even you could manage that.”
Max smiled as he got up from the swing. He walked over and put his arm around Henry. “You never know, Henry.”
Suddenly Henry found himself alone on the porch, but Max’s words rang in his head as if Max were standing right next to him.
He shook his head back and forth, trying to make some sense out of what had happened. Giving up, he opened the door to go inside the house. He was about to close the door behind him when he heard the sound of a car coming down the street. Henry turned and watched as an old Ford turned into his dirt driveway.
He couldn’t make out the person in the driver’s seat, so he made his way toward the car. With each step he took it became more and more clear who it was. She had aged, it was true, but there was no mistaking it...
“Elizabeth,” he said under his breath.
Suddenly he heard Max’s voice. “Was there ever a more beautiful name?”
The tears started to flow as Henry opened the car door.
A little way down from Henry’s house, a man wearing a hat was walking down the middle of the road. He stopped for a moment and looked back in the direction of Henry’s house. He smiled. Good assignment, this one, he thought. He looked to the sky and silently thanked the Master.
He started walking again, whistling a familiar tune as he did so...
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