A Short Story by Niels C. Quackernaeck
MR. LOWFIELD ON A HIGH
“Have a nice one, Mr. Lo!”
“Oh, shut up.” What did that slick manager know of nice ones? Had that boy spent thirty-five
Mr. Duke Lowfield wasn’t a nice man. He
“Oh, my little rose,” he whispered, gazing right through the cloth in his hands, “was it all just a dream?” She disappeared like the sun behind the clouds. And all the fun disappeared with her. The only one on earth who could bring a smile on his face—gone.
They went to law school together—Ella to please her successful-judge-mother; Duke because he hoped for romance. The silly man he was. Duke wanted to believe they were madly in love, and that a natural force would hold them together—like the strings that keep the moon circling around the earth. He lowered the uniform shirt and rested his hands on the ironing board. Then came the war. That all-destroying force that left none untouched.
While he was fighting
“Thirty-five years … Wasted.” Duke felt like a wet cloth draped on a branch—sick of everything. Only a few more years and he could retire—but to what end? He would still be his own grumpy stumpy self. Nothing was
* * *
The day before yesterday he made up his mind. And yesterday, in the early morning, he collected his spirits and traveled to New-freaking-York to find the one who never left his heart. In the bus to the airport his fingers began to
Duke stumbled out of the bus and looked around once or twice, then headed to the ticket counters in the Departures Hall. The line was long. There were about a hundred times more people than he would have liked. But he practiced his patience. It was only a few minutes added to decades. Duke chose the queue in front of counter 9, because that window showed a dark-haired beauty who didn’t seem particularly unfriendly.
“Where to, mister?” she said, observing him from behind the counter.
“To New York Airport, and I want to be back tonight or early tomorrow, if possible. I need to get my pills at the pharmacy in the morning.”
“Well … Let’s see …” … minutes passed by, and just when Duke’s nerves were running low in leftovers, she
* * *
The bus drove from New York Airport, through Brooklyn, over the steel structure of the Williamsburg Bridge. Duke felt like a leprechaun in a forest of oaks as the towers doomed up before him.
What if she’s not available?
To the love of my life …
The vehicle brought him close to his destination, just a minute-walk from the tower in which the law firms were collected. He went
“Hello?” A loud echo followed; he ducked his head. He continued softly, “Does—perhaps—anyone by the name of Ella Winter work here?”
The receptionist grimaced, tapped the desk with his fingers and thought for a while. He pulled up his shoulders and filled his lungs with air.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news,” he said with raised eyebrows, “Dr. Winter passed away about three years ago. You can visit her grave in the State Cemetery if you want.”
Duke looked at him, shoulders low, a lump in his throat, ready to start whimpering.
“I’m sorry,” the man said.
Duke hauled himself over to the cemetery—his eyes moist and a posture like he was carrying a day’s worth of laundry on his shoulders. In the third lane, next to a full-grown poplar in the back of the cemetery, he found what he was looking for. He stood curved, looking down at the grave of his beloved, his hands in his pockets and his forehead showing dozens of tensed wrinkles. He whispered the words on the stone:
Brackston 1933 — New York 2010”
He kneeled in front of the grave, his frail kneecaps on the painful gravel, picked the letter out of his pocket,
“Yes,” he said, “gone, just like that …”
He put the letter in an envelope against the tombstone. Duke tasted the salt of his tears in the corners of his mouth, and, with his face buried deep in his big hands, he gave in to sobbing.
* * *
Between his shaking fists,
Duke gazed sternly ahead. “Mr. Low-FIELD,” he said, “Low-FI— … Oh, the humanity.”
He raised his head again, this time
He went back to work, shaking his head. But then … A shockwave went through his body when his eyes met his hands.
Something was wrong; he felt it ever since he was at the cemetery. He put the uniform down on the table and cracked his brain, heavily frowning, bumping his fist softly on the fabric. Something didn’t add up. But what was it?
He buried his face in the shirt. Numbers, numbers, numbers …
“Duke, stupid,” he shouted, “she wasn’t born in the thirties!”
In his hands—right in front of his face—the nametag on the shirt unfolded. He was shocked to silence when he read the words:
Sweetest Duke, I love you, too!
He looked up right into sweet green eyes. His beloved stood on the back of the manager’s scooter thing, holding the crumpled and teared letter in her hand. Duke looked at the manager, eyes opened wide.
“I visit my mother twice a week,” Ella said, her beautiful silky timbre caressing Duke’s ears. “Yesterday I found this letter on her grave.” She
Duke recognized his handwriting. His heart beat in his throat like the bombs of Vietnam, and blood rushed to his cheeks and ears.
“Duke, my love!” Ella jumped off the scooter and into Duke’s embrace, her eyes
And for the first time in years, Duke smiled.