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"One Evening in St. Paul"

Guesswhat1_2
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"One Evening in St. Paul"

I guess it wasn't fair to him. Or funny either, as I hoped it would be. I thought being funny would make it easier, maybe take the edge off. Oh, that card! I still chuckle when I remember it. After what happened that night, sending the card just seemed like the right way to tell him. Breaking the news that way seemed right at the time, though now I realize it was the wrong thing to do.

I surely wasn't out looking for a good time, or not that kind of good time, if you know what I mean. At first it was just me and Hettie, out for a perfectly innocent stroll on the promenade along the river. It was a pleasant evening, warm but not hot yet, with none of that sticky air you get later in the summer. As Hettie and I walked along the water, the sun was slowly setting in the sky, with beautiful bands of orange light streaming out from behind purple clouds on the horizon. Though it was getting dark, it was still early, maybe six or six-thirty. It was May, you see. In the fading light, I never saw him coming.

Hettie was chattering away about her latest beau, Will, a dry-goods clerk at Hemmingsen's, and how he was always trying to get fresh, but then just a minute later she was saying he was never affectionate enough. I shook my head, which she probably took to mean that I shared her perplexion over Will, when in fact I was perplexed over her own behavior. Make up your mind, honey, I said to myself, do you want affection or do you want him not getting fresh? Hettie made no sense sometimes. That's just how she was.

I was about to say something reassuring, that Of course there's no explaining men, when he suddenly appeared, coming out from around the corner of Hegel's Mill and striding toward us. Our eyes met for a second, but I turned away, embarrassed. But what I saw of those black-brown eyes was so deep, so intense, so handsome, that I had to look at him again. I stopped listening to whatever Hettie was saying - she ignored my silent pause and went right on - and kept my attention on him.

As he passed, he smiled and tipped his cap, saying something about lovely ladies and a lovely evening - I can't remember his exact words, as if my hearing wasn't working right - and Hettie and I walked on together for a few more steps. But then I stopped, apologized to Hettie and, nodding back toward him, told her I had to go. I knew she'd understand what I meant.

~

His name was Frank, and he was new to St. Paul, and was just so, so...oh, I suppose I shouldn't go on gushing about him, especially since we were only together that one time, on that lovely evening in May. But despite what came of it, and what you might think of me, I'm still too much of a lady to tell everything that went on. Not that I can remember many of the details, anyway - most of it, other than watching the sunset, his first sweet words, his urgency and the strange discomfort that came after, was a blur.

But one thing I do remember is that mother cat. As Frank and I began walking together - those first sweet words coming out of his mouth - a chubby cat cut across our path, followed by four tiny kittens. The kittens were colored completely different than the mother, and Frank joked that, tonight, somewhere in St. Paul there was a happy and proud tomcat. I laughed, and as he laughed too it was if the ice had broken between us, the dam gave way, and our conversation became more intimate, and then our actions.

~

When I got the word - the doctor said there was absolutely no doubt - I was calmer than you might expect. But, after all, it was something I wanted for myself eventually, if not right at that time and not with him. I guess I was calm because I knew I'd make the best of things, just like I've done every time anything unexpected happened to me. I was a fool for letting it all get that far, falling for those black-brown eyes and sweet words, and I have only myself to blame.

But even though I didn't blame Frank, I still thought he should know. Not that I expected him to take responsibility or anything - he was a young man with big plans for his life - but that he should know. Maybe he'd even be proud, like that tomcat.

I found the post card in Miller's Drug Store, in a rack filled with cards covered with pictures of flowers and Gibson Girls, none of which seemed right for the occasion. Then I saw this funny one, with cats - a mother, four kittens, and an eager male - and thought it was perfect. At the counter I fretted over what message to write but finally settled on a simple "Guess what!" and began to address it to him - Frank Haedeker; I only guessed at the spelling - before I realized I should be more discreet. So instead I put the card into an envelope, addressed it to him at the hotel where I hoped he was still staying, and dropped it in the mail-box on the corner.

The news must have shocked him, for he never responded. In fact, I never saw him again, or even heard anything about him. Once, out of curiosity, I stopped by his hotel, but the desk clerk said he moved out months before, and left no forwarding address. But the clerk also said there wasn't any mail waiting there for him, so I know Frank got my message.

At least he knows, and I hope it makes him proud. I'm not angry with him - I only blame myself, after all, and everything worked out as well as I could have hoped - and I only want him to know and remember.

As he goes through life, I hope he remembers what he left behind here in St. Paul, and that every now and then it gives him a smile.

September 1, 2007 in Fiction | Permalink

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