by John McDonnell

Copyright© 2011 by John McDonnell

Romantic Story: A man visits the grave of a little-known silent movie actress, as he has been doing for years. She was not his wife, but he has a history with her. There is a twist at the end.

Tags: Heterosexual   Tear Jerker  

He parked the car where he always did, at the end of a row of gravestones near the back of the cemetery. He got out slowly, holding on to the door frame for support. He reached over and grabbed his cane, then closed the door and started across the grass toward the last gravestone at the end. He was shakier than usual today, and he had to stop and steady himself, to get his heart to slow down.

"I'm coming, Miss Whetstone," he said, starting off again. This was a big day, and he was trying hard not to get too emotional about it.

He shouldn't be doing this, he knew. He wasn't supposed to be driving. If his kids found out they'd be furious. Damn old age. More complaints than ever, and it was getting worse. His body felt so creaky and old, he couldn't stand it.

He shuffled down the row, and came to his familiar spot. The low gray stone said, "Sarah Conners b. 1900 d. 1960". There were a few dried up flowers scattered around it, plus some weeds stubbornly growing in the Autumn soil.

He sighed and said, "It's an endless job, isn't it? Well, we can't stop Time, can we?". Bracing himself on the gravestone, he dropped his cane and lowered himself slowly to his knees. He began to pull weeds and clean up the area in front of the stone. He whistled a song, and tried to remain cheerful even though his hands were shaking.

"It's fifty years today," he said, trying to control the trembling in his voice.

"I remember like it was yesterday. There were no mourners, because you wanted it that way. Just me and the priest and the pallbearers from the funeral company. You remember? It was an Autumn day like this. The breeze was coming off the lake, and there was a tang to it, a smell of cedar. I thought this would be a good spot for you, with the lake so near. I remember the stories you told about summers with your family, how you sailed boats on a lake like this.

"Southern California wasn't like this. Too dry, always too dry and hot. You used to say that's why the people got so many wrinkles, from going out in that harsh sunshine.

"Remember? I'd drive you around in that old Packard limousine with the shades drawn. You always wore sunglasses and a big hat to protect your skin. It worked, too -- you had the skin of a woman half your age."

He had a pile of weeds and dead flowers now, and he pulled a plastic bag from his coat pocket and put them in, then sealed it up and put it back in his pocket. He pulled a small whisk broom from his other pocket and brushed the gravestone till it was clean, then put the brush back in his pocket.

With great effort, he shifted into a sitting position. It was time to tell her.

"I have some bad news," he said. "I'm moving into a senior citizen home. My daughters have insisted. I have all these health problems, and they're worried about me living alone. It's for the best, I guess."

His eyes misted up. "I won't be able to come back, though. They're taking my car away -- I'm not supposed to be driving even now, but I sneak out once in awhile. When I move, though, I won't be able to come here unless I get somebody to drive me. You know I can't ask my daughters, for obvious reasons. No, I never told them about you. How could I? They probably wouldn't believe me anyway -- that you were a movie star and we were lovers. Me, their old Dad, just regular Joe -- how could I have fallen for a movie star? I never told them, because they wouldn't understand."

He looked off at the sun setting over the lake. "They'd wonder, too, if I loved their mother. Sure, I loved her. Helen was a good woman, and we had a lot of good years together. Raised three fine daughters, and I'm proud of that."

He sighed. "I was just a kid when I met you, Miss Whetstone. Just a wide-eyed kid."

He pulled his wallet out, opened it and took out a small black and white picture of a young man in a black uniform standing next to a limousine. Next to him was a woman in her 50s wearing a hat, sunglasses and a flowered dress. On the back, there was a signature, and the words, "To the best driver ever, from Sarah Whetstone."

"You were so glamorous!" he said, looking at the picture. "I was thrilled to be around you. It was a crime, what happened. I'll never understand why your career didn't progress more."

"You didn't understand either, I know," he said, putting the picture back in the wallet. "We spent so many nights driving around, the lights of Los Angeles glowing like fireflies, the air filled with excitement, with the dreams and hopes of millions of people. We all need hope, that's what you always said. We all believe in a bright future where everything will turn out right.

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