“How Did He Know?”

     This piece has evoked some amazing reactions, the majority of them imparted to me privately. Yes, all of them were from men. Quite frankly, what I thought I knew about my Gentle Readers falls short of the actuality. It seems that even among our sort, there’s a lot of romantic and para-romantic misery out there.

     I’m not surprised…well, not as surprised as I might have been. I did hope it was otherwise for men as intelligent and appreciative as the readers of Liberty’s Torch. But the contemporary disease of the “war between the sexes” has penetrated even here.

     What particularly shook me was a repeated plaint that I didn’t expect to be addressed to me: “How did you know?” I must have read that a dozen times. I know because I know, damn it all. I’ve been there. I’ve been through the wringer, the same as you. High intelligence is no more a barrier to that sort of abuse than exemplary good looks or a huge fortune. Neither is it a perfect guarantee against succumbing to wishful thinking.

     I must also say this: The “war between the sexes” mentality has deeply polluted the attitudes of both sexes. Just as the majority of American women have come to regard men as little better than predators, the majority of American men have come to distrust women as a standing policy. While the malady still falls short of universal, it’s dominant among Americans today, particularly those in their middle years. It probably contributes to the low birth rate, though there’s no way to separate it from other relevant factors.

     I was about to repost this story, which first appeared here almost exactly two years ago. After consideration, I decided against it. The gesture Allan originally intended to make toward his unloving spouse would have been unwise, all but guaranteed to fail. Think about it.

     So instead, enjoy the story below. It’s of a happy tone, and we could for sure use a happy tone around here. And remember not to let the bastards – male or female – wear you down.

The Middle Years

     On the day it began, I was at work at Onteora Aviation. I was on my way to somewhere. I can no longer remember where. Once there, I would do something required by my middle management job, with indifferent cooperation or bored resistance from some other middle manager. After that, I’d return to my usual routine, which was mostly juggling figures and composing reports that had only a tenuous relation to anything in the real world.
     I was headed downstairs, with a folder of papers tucked under one arm. I reached the landing between floors, wheeled to continue down the next flight, and found myself staring helplessly at the most beautiful woman God has ever put on this sorry ball of mud.
     She was tall, about five feet eight, with a buxom-slender figure from an adolescent fantasy. She wore a navy blue skirt suit that hugged her with a lover’s fervor, and matching high-heeled pumps that transformed her already magnificent legs into instruments of erotic torment. Her dark brown hair brushed gently over her shoulders as she climbed. When she raised her face and her eyes met mine, the impact should have thrown me back against the wall. Those eyes were huge, luminous, and so kind that I couldn’t imagine her ever speaking a word in anger.
     No woman had shaken me that way since Bea left me.
     She smiled. It was enough to melt the Rock of Gibraltar.
     “Hi,” she said, and climbed on past me.
     It was some time before I realized that I’d frozen solid on the staircase. Even after I realized, it took a few seconds to make my limbs move normally again.
     Heaven had descended to Earth and looked me in the eyes.
     She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five years old. I was well past forty. I had no more business fantasizing about a young goddess like that than I had of trying to play in the Masters’, but of course that didn’t stop me.
     I should have continued down, but instead I glanced up at the flight I’d just descended. She was standing at the middle of it, watching me intently. It was a second blow, and nearly fatal.
     “Are you all right?” she said. Her concern seemed genuine.
     I forced a smile. “Fine. Just a little winded.”
     “You’re sure?” She came down the stairs toward me and peered into my eyes. “I could help you to the nurse’s office, if there’s a problem.”
     A spike of pure panic went through me as I realized that she was about to touch me. I put on a face that wouldn’t have passed muster in a wax museum.
     “No, everything’s okay. Have a nice day!” With that I trotted down the stairs and hid behind the doors to the next floor until I was certain she’d gone on her way.
     I don’t remember anything else that happened that day, but I remember that I dreamed about her that night, all night long.


     Two days later, she saw me in the cafeteria and sought me out. I don’t usually eat cafeteria food—too much salt—but that particular day I hadn’t brought anything, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t ignore the demands of my gut.
     I was sitting alone, shoveling down a fairly decent beef stew, when I saw her approach. When I realized that she was headed straight for my table, my mouth went too dry to swallow.
     She smiled that bone-liquefying smile and sat down across from me as if we were old friends that had arranged to meet there. Dozens of pairs of eyes followed her. They remained upon her as she unwrapped her utensils and addressed her chef’s salad.
     “How are you?” she said.
     I swallowed my heart. “Not bad. You?”
     “Just great. I’m Angela Bowman, by the way.”
     She put out a hand. After about a century of agonizing indecision, I took it and shook it.
     “Uh, I’m Dan Lundquist.”
     “I’m in Accounting. Where do they have you?”
     “I manage the Aerodynamic Engineering Department.”
     She forked up a bite of her salad and held it at port arms. “Is the engineering stuff fun?”
     I had no difficulty believing that her interest was sincere. That guile-free face could have convinced me that black was white.
     “It has its moments.” I dredged up more stew, realized my hand was shaking, and set down my spoon before I could spill it on myself. “It had more of them before I got into management.”
     “Do you regret that?”
     The young ones always asked that. “No, not really. You can’t keep doing technical work your whole life. At least, I couldn’t.”
     Tiny Vs formed on her forehead. “Why not?”
     I shrugged. “You lose some of your ability to concentrate when you get to my age. Plus, the younger guys come to the job with tools you’ve never learned. So you let them do the math, and you make sure they know what they’re supposed to do and have enough computers and pencils to do it. You settle into elder statesmanhood.”
     I sneaked a glance around. There were between sixty and eighty people in the cafeteria that day, nearly all of them male, and every one of them was watching our table. The closest ones were listening with only the barest trace of concealment.
     She noticed my survey. “They’re watching us, aren’t they?”
     I tried to smile. “Yeah. Does it bother you?”
     A tiny shake of the head. “I just have to remind myself not to laugh.”
     “Why would you laugh?”
     A giggle bubbled through her restraint. She cut it off at the third trill. “Because it always happens.” She pushed the remains of her salad aside, knotted her fingers on the table and stared down at them, as a young girl would do while trying to cope with embarrassment. It was the first gesture I’d seen from her that wasn’t exquisite in every way.
     “They’re young men, Angela. It’s normal for them to be interested in a pretty young woman. And to wonder why she’s sitting with a man old enough to be her father.”
     She nodded without looking up. “I know.”
     “Why are you, by the way?” It took an effort to get the question out.
     That brought her head up. Yet there was nothing but warmth in her expression.
     “Because when I asked you on the staircase if you were okay, you didn’t use it as an excuse to hit on me.”
     Blood flooded into my face. My behavior had been more from the shock of encountering her than from any quality of character, but how could I explain that to her? Was it something she’d be better off for knowing?
     “Angela…” I paused to choose the right words. “I did notice how attractive you are.”
     She cocked her head. “Well, of course you did. I know I’m beautiful. If you hadn’t noticed, I’d have thought there was something wrong with you.”


     Need I tell you I was overwhelmed by Angela’s interest and warmth? I should think it was obvious by now. I hadn’t realized I had enough fuel left in me to feed so fierce a fire. I’d been twenty years without a wife, more than a decade without a date, and I’d thought I was “beyond all that.” I could not have been more wrong.
     She’d lavished her lunch hour on me, making small talk in a cafeteria crawling with younger men, any of whom would have killed me and eaten my body for the hint of a smile from her. When we rose to return to work, she asked if we could have lunch together again the next day. I’d have said yes if it meant I’d be hanged at sunrise.
     She possessed more than physical beauty. She was as poised a person as I’ve known lifelong. She had conversational skills that were uncanny in one so young, and a sense for what directions not to take that I hadn’t won until long after Bea left me. There was nothing coquettish or affected about her. Her gift of beauty was matched in full by her gift of grace.
     I was in love.
     It was absurd, grotesque, unthinkable. It was in defiance of the laws of nature. It was the central cliche of the male mid-life crisis, enacted nightly in cheap bars and red sports cars from coast to coast.
     It was undeniable. On the strength of an hour’s socializing, Angela had me in a grip of steel.
     I was good for nothing the rest of the day, locked in a state of ambulatory paralysis. My body went through all the motions, but my mental processes had stopped. The lockdown didn’t lift until I was home, swaddled in the familiar sterility of my flat. When it did, I started to shake. Passions unslaked for twenty years rose to seize my heart and brain, and they had their way with me.
     I sat on the couch in my little living room, with the television off and only one dim lamp burning in the corner, shivering as if defending myself from frostbite, until simple weariness brought my day to an end.
     I went to my bedroom, undressed, and got down on my knees to pray. Go ahead, laugh at the thought of a middle-aged man who still prays before bed, without children to set a good example for. But I do. I have to. The once I let it lapse, just after my marriage to Bea failed, I slid so close to the edge of Hell that I could have steamed rice in the updraft.
     I don’t know that God looks out for me. I only know that I have to ask.
     So I did. I asked to see clearly, not to fall prey to vanity or wishful thinking. I asked for wisdom enough to tell what was right from the urgings of desire. And I asked for something I hadn’t asked since the night Bea left me: a sign.
     No, I hadn’t gotten one back then, but He hadn’t told me not to ask again.


     The next day, work took me away from my desk just before noon. When I returned to my office, I found Angela waiting for me, but not alone. Carl Weatherly, an engineer of mine about her age, was chatting her up. She did not look happy.
     Carl’s a nice young man, intelligent, hard-working, not bad looking and always decently groomed. He’s had his share of attention from the unattached women in the plant. That isn’t much, as there aren’t many. The typical engineering group is more than ninety percent male, and aerospace is even purer than that. Women just don’t take much interest in it.
     One of the things a young engineer has to cope with is that there are essentially no romantic opportunities in his workplace. Since young engineers typically overwork, sparing little time for activities outside the office, they can go through agony over why they spend all their Friday and Saturday nights alone. Some draw the lesson and adopt pastimes that will bring them into contact with single women, even if those pastimes are far less exciting than designing airplanes. Some close in upon themselves, and train themselves to believe it doesn’t matter. Others become…well, let’s say a trifle crude. Not vulgar, necessarily, but heavy-handed, unable to be subtle or read the finer signs.
     When Angela saw me she raised a hand, cut Carl off in mid-importuning with a curt “excuse me,” and hurried toward me as if we were lovers who’d been separated for twenty years. She actually grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the stairwell. Carl stood there at the door to my office, looking as if he’d just been mugged.
     When we were sufficiently far away, I asked her, “Wasn’t that just a little abrupt?”
     She scowled delicately. “I didn’t need to hear the rest of his pitch. They’re all the same.” She noticed my dismay, stopped and turned to face me squarely. “I get it a lot, Dan. I’m tired of it. Maybe if you spent a few years being drooled over like a nicely dressed pizza, you’d understand.”
     I nodded. We didn’t speak again until we were seated over lunch. Once again, we received an inordinate amount of attention from the other diners.
     “Did I upset you?” she asked.
     I reflected briefly. “No. I think I understand the pressures on you. But do you understand the pressures on him?”
     “On what’s-his-name upstairs?” She shrugged.
     It was the first indication she’d given that there might be something missing from her perfection.
     Was it the sign I’d asked for? How could I know? And if it was, what was I to make of it?
     “His name is Carl, Angela.” I kept my voice low. “He’s twenty-six years old, unmarried, and a fine design engineer. He spends most of his evenings here as well as his days. It’s a pattern among my younger men, though God knows I don’t ask it of them. Cut him a little slack.”
     Her eyes flared. Clearly she hadn’t expected a reproof from a man she’d deigned to lavish her time on. Perhaps it had never happened to her before. She started to defend herself, fell silent instead.
     “It’s not a big deal, dear.” I wanted to reassure her, but I’d be damned if I was going to let her think that treating me nicely could get me to overlook rudeness to others. Especially others for whom I had responsibility. “But you should bear in mind the differences between you. You’re a beautiful, charming, poised, much sought after young woman. He’s a young man who has almost nothing going for him at this point in his life except good health and a skill that might make him prosperous some day. Yet he has to seek you out and win your attention, not the other way around. So try to be kind.”
     Her mouth dropped open a little way. A lesser woman could have burst into tears and not delivered such a jolt to my heart.
     “Are you angry with me, Dan?” It was almost inaudible.
     “No.” It had taken more resolve than I thought I possessed to drop that mini-lecture on her, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. “I’m flattered beyond belief that you should want my company. I don’t know what to make of it, though.”
     Some of her composure returned. “What you should make of it is that I like you. You’re what you are, and you’re not trying to be something else. You’re courteous and dignified and accomplished, and you get a lot of respect. And you’re not a slave to your glands.”
     Aha. “I think I understand. And thank you.”
     We finished our meals in silence, the cafeteria buzzing around us.


     Angela kept seeking me out. She developed a sense for my free moments and made sure to share them. Lunch every day. Coffee breaks early and late. After a couple of weeks, Happy Hour at The Black Grape, a local watering hole where our colleagues often went to wind down from the tensions of the workday. Shortly after that, dinners and movies, not as dates but as if foreordained.
     She had my absolute attention every second we were together. What little I had to offer socially, I gave to her. She listened to my stories and my japes with complete and unfeigned interest, and returned her own as appropriate. At first, it was baffling, even frightening. At last, it was exalting.
     She kept me captivated from first to last, with never a hint that she expected anything but the pleasure of my company. She touched me often, at first with the carelessness of the casual conversational gesture, later with a far more evident significance. I had to work harder than she knew to control my body’s response. Controlling it was mandatory, for whenever there were others present, all eyes were upon us.
     For some time, I regarded the match as absurd, destined to come to nothing. From the admiration with which Angela spoke of her father, I inferred that I was just an approximation to him, someone she could trust to be protective and gallant without demanding anything of her. Once she’d found a young man of suitable quality, she’d wean herself from me and go on.
     Yet it persisted. Days became weeks, and weeks became months, and her devotion lessened not one iota. We grew closer with each hour together, every step as natural as April rain. My resistance to her all but disappeared.
     I came to realize that I was more than I’d allowed myself to be. Angela was the instrument of my reacquaintance with myself. Her affection restored me to a stature and a sense of value that my years alone had leached away.
     I stood straighter and groomed myself more carefully. I watched the way I spoke, pared away the fuzz that had accumulated around my diction. I bought half a dozen shirts and two pairs of shoes. I lost nine pounds.
     My reaction at being noticed with Angela on my arm evolved from embarrassed incredulity to confident pride. The twenty years between us ceased to concern me. I was more than an aging bundle of comfort-seeking, pain-avoiding nerves, more than a cog in a corporate machine, more than a node of production and consumption. I was a man. I was her man.
     I was reborn.


     Carl took to dogging my steps, asking inane questions, making small talk, telling me jokes I’d first heard before he was conceived. Out of pity, I restrained my urge to tell him to let me be. He wanted Angela as desperately as man has ever wanted woman. It screamed from him.
     His contemporaries wisecracked about it at his expense. He struggled to hold his tongue. Apparently, he was the last of them to happen upon my young goddess. The rest had already discovered her, made their plays, and been turned away.
     He probably thought that association with me would render him more eligible in her eyes. Engineers are like that. When it didn’t happen, he became sluggish and remote.
     To her credit, Angela remained polite to him, though reserved and impervious to his advances. I loved her all the more for it, though it still hurt to see his look of envious yearning, so easily translated: Why him? Why not me?
     I struggled with the guilt for awhile, until I realized it was unearned. Then I struggled with the irritation from his unwillingness to accept Angela’s lack of interest.
     One day when Carl was following me like an imprinted duckling, babbling about some design decision which I knew he needed no help with, we chanced by Art Marsden’s office. Angela was there, in pursuit of a report Art had promised her. He was habitually late with such things, but she wasn’t inclined to let it slide.
     I braked before they could see us, stuck out an arm to block Carl’s progress, and showed him a finger to the lips.
     “You know, Art,” Angela purred, “the business side of the building doesn’t think as well of you technical guys as you deserve.”
     “Really.” Art was being his usual dour self, making it plain that his thoughts were elsewhere and he was waiting for his visitor to notice. If he weren’t the top hydraulics man in the country, I’d have shipped him to Siberia long ago.
     “Uh-huh. And it’s all due to trivia like this. But Dan tells me you never miss a really important deadline, so I know your priorities are good.” I bit my tongue. She leaned forward over his desk and looked into his eyes at close range. “Help me convince my boss?”
     Angela had a knack for getting the attention of a middle-aged man. Art straightened in his seat and held himself with some dignity. “What do you need?”
     “If you’ll just copy off your costings worksheets and staple them together for me,” Angela said, “I’ll write the report myself. Just let me have the numbers, so Phyllis can see that you’re not a subversive and I’m not a goldbrick, okay?”
     No, I couldn’t see her bat her lashes at him. But I could hear it.
     “Okay,” Art rumbled. “I guess I can type it up for you. It’s just, with the whole EL-17 program on the line—”
     Angela held up a hand. “No need to explain, Art. And really, if it’s too much of a bother, just send the pro forma costings over and I’ll pretty them up. I really do appreciate your help.”
     Art swallowed and smiled. I’d have sworn it would fracture his face.
     “It’s no trouble, Angie. I’m sorry to be a drag.”
     I was too close to insane laughter to stay for the denouement. I grabbed Carl by the arm and routed us around the back of Art’s cubicle before I could lose control.
     Presently, Carl said, “Phyllis would kill her if she saw that.” He said it with a hint of anticipation.
     Phyllis Lefkowicz, the Comptroller, was sixty-three years old, all business all the time, and battleship gray down to her underwear. She probably didn’t remember how to spell sex. She was Angela’s boss.
     “You think so? She got the job done, didn’t she?”
     I fixed him with a glare. “You think Phyllis has to know about it?” He turned an embarrassed red.
     “You’ve got to use the tools you have, Carl. If you have a forceful personality, you use that. If you have a silver tongue, you use that. If you’re blessed with Angela’s brand of charm, you use that. There are only three rules in business: Don’t lie, don’t steal, and don’t promise what you can’t deliver.”
     He said nothing more, but I could hear the gears grinding in his skull, and I didn’t like the way they clattered.


     We’d gone to The Black Grape after work, and found the usual knot of our colleagues, laboring to remind themselves that life existed beyond the office. As had become usual, Angela stayed close to me, always with an arm around my waist or draped over my shoulder. A little circle of admirers formed around us to swap banter and gentle irreverencies about management above our heads. It was all light and inconsequential, until Carl showed up.
     He looked flushed and tousled. He walked with a hitch, as if he’d begun his evening somewhere else and had come there to finish it. As he came through the door he scanned the crowd, found Angela and me, and headed directly for us, trapping us against the bar. I tensed.
     “Well, lookee here,” he said with a crooked leer and a hint of a slur. “OA’s super stud of the month. How’s it hangin’, boss man?” He groped with one hand, found the bar and propped himself against it. He looked straight into my eyes, pointedly informing Angela that she had fallen beneath his notice. “Gettin’ it ready for later?”
     I clenched my jaw and forced back a reproof. Angela’s hand closed on my arm and squeezed strongly.
     “Carl—” she said.
     His eyes swerved toward her as if she’d risen out of the ground that very moment. “It talks! I wouldna guessed!” He swept an arm at me. “How long did it take to train it, Danny boy?”
     What the mind might detoxify can still poison the body. I saw red. Adrenaline flooded through me.
     I’m not a brawler. I’ve never raised a hand in anger. Still, if Angela hadn’t stepped between us, Carl would have gone to the hospital and I’d have spent the night in jail.
     She knew what she was about. She slipped between us and faced me squarely, put both hands to my face and compelled my attention. We stood that way, her fingertips against my face, until the blood haze had cleared from my eyes.
     “Let’s go, Dan,” she said. It was enough. We shouldered past Carl and made our way out to the parking lot.
     Instead of getting into the car she settled her arms around my neck and pulled me close, and we kissed. I clasped her against me, let myself bathe in her magnificence, and silently prayed for strength.
     “Dan,” she whispered, her face warm against mine, “can we make love tonight?”
     The remnant of my anger dissolved, and my fear surged to its full height. I began to tremble.
     Though I’d grown accustomed to Angela’s affection, I’d never allowed myself to think about what might lie beyond the present. I’d tasted the agony of loss already, and had no appetite for a second helping. As ingenuous as she was, beyond the door she’d opened was a place into which I could not see.
     Was it only fear for myself?
     Angela was as generous of heart as she was beautiful of face and figure. She’d put no price on anything she’d given me, from her companionship to the offer of her body. She might not know what she stood to lose by her generosity. I did.
     I could not take what she’d offered without paying for it in full, and I did not know if I had the price.
     A thump and a flash of flapping cloth pulled my gaze toward the door of the Black Grape. I winced, pushed Angela back a little way, and looked into her eyes.
     “Can you wait for it a little longer, Angela?”
     Her eyes compressed with disappointment. “If I have to, but why?”
     The night seemed packed like the Coliseum of old on a Roman holiday, a crowd of thousands eager for the emperor’s signal that the games begin.
     “I have to do something first, love. It’s not…not optional. Believe me that I want to?”
     She frowned and studied me closely, but at last she nodded.
     I squeezed her against me one more time. Over her shoulder, staring at us from the entrance to the bar, was the disconsolate, fury-twisted face of Carl Weatherly.


     The following morning, I summoned Carl to me as soon as he arrived at his desk. Without explaining, I led him upstairs to where Alfred Kinkead, vice-president for Aerostructures, awaited us in his office on Mahogany Row. I sat in one of the two guest chairs, and Carl settled uneasily into the other.
     Al’s a good man. He knows it’s no kindness to hang a man slowly. He smiled formally and said, “Mr. Weatherly, I’m transferring you to the Structural Analysis group in plant 17. Ed Forger will be your new supervisor. He expects you over there this afternoon. Will you need any packing materials for your personal possessions?”
     Carl turned white. For a moment he worked his jaws like a beached fish, gasping for water and unable to reach it.
     “Why…why am I being transferred?”
     Al gestured at me. “Dan asked for it.”
     Carl turned to me, a portrait of outrage.
     “This isn’t about anything professional, is it? This is about her.
     I nodded. “It’s both, Carl. You’re obsessed with her. You take up my time on the slightest excuse, just hoping you’ll be there when Angela comes by. Your productivity is down by nearly half. You’re the butt of every joke told in the department. After last night, I can’t have it any more, but I know you’re a capable man, so I’ve arranged to put you out of the way of your problem.”
     He spat a jolt of bitter laughter. “Out of your way, you mean.”
     “That too. Didn’t I just say so? Look, you’re not the first man in history to fix his sights on a woman who doesn’t want him. No one’s going to fault you for your pain. But your conduct on company time and company grounds is company business. You’ve posed me a problem I cannot abide.”
     He clutched the arms of his chair. “What about your obsession with her?”
     I allowed myself some severity, then. “My conduct,” I said flatly, “is for evaluation by my supervisor, just as yours is for evaluation by me.” I waved at Al Kinkead. “There he is. Do you think you have anything to tell him that he doesn’t already know?”
     That stopped him. He looked down at the floor in silence for a long time, then rose and left to pack his things.
     Al shook his head. “It’s a pity.”
     “No argument, but what else should I have done?”
     A rueful smile. “Nothing.”
     “I’m going to need the rest of the day off, Al.”
     He nodded.


     That night I took Angela out to Grucci’s, the finest restaurant for hundreds of miles in any direction. She was surprised, and a little uncomfortable about being dressed in business attire among so many evening gowns, but I hadn’t wanted a change of clothes to blunt my momentum.
     I ordered for both of us. No one in America makes osso bucco to match Ogusto Grucci, and the wine he brought to accompany it would have made the Olympians forswear ambrosia forever.
     The meal and the surroundings unsettled her for the first time in our acquaintance. From end to end, she said next to nothing. She was visibly unsure of herself. She certainly wasn’t sure of me. But then, neither was I.
     Dessert was strawberries zabaglione, and why the condemned don’t order it with their last meals, I’ll never know. Angela finished her sweet and laid down her spoon with a look of mystical transport.
     “Dan, none of this was necessary!”
     “Don’t you think the occasion warrants it?”
     “Just because we’re going to make love later?”
     I smiled. “But we’re not.”
     Her mouth fell open and the color drained from her face. Diners all around us took notice of her distress. She must have been radiating on some universal band.
     “Don’t you want me?” she whispered.
     “Desperately, dear. So much that I can barely stand to wait. But I can stand it for another three months, and I think you can too.”
     Her hands clenched and unclenched on the surface of the table. “Why three months?”
     “Because,” I said as I rose, “that’s the soonest Father Schliemann could get us the church. We’ll make love for the first time on October third. That is,” I said as I sank to one knee before her and took her hand, “if you will do me the honor of coming to Our Lady Of The Pines that day, joining me at the altar and becoming my wife.” Under the eyes of two hundred elegantly dressed strangers, I fished the jewel box from my jacket pocket and showed her the engagement ring. “Will you marry me, Angela?”
     There is a perfect face, for it is her face. There is a perfect silence, for it was the silence in that place as she comprehended what I’d said.
     “Can we have children?” she whispered.
     “As many as you like.”
     Her eyes brimmed over. “Then, yes.”
     I slipped the ring onto her finger, rose and took her in my arms as the crowd burst into applause.
     There is a perfect joy, for it was mine that night, and has remained mine ever since.


     In his middle years, a man learns not to accept the unearned, that it will carry a higher price than he can imagine. He looks for the strings on a free gift, and prunes them away or declines the package. Above all, he learns how unlikely is the true second chance, and how precious. But if it should come, he takes it, and gives thanks, and reflects on how wise God is in not letting us see too far ahead.


Copyright © 1998 Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.


Skip to comment form

    • jwm on March 13, 2024 at 9:24 AM

    I remembered the story about half-way through. Even so, I continued to the end again. This was a good counter balance to all the bad news and BS. Definitely lightened up the otherwise grim tour through the bookmarks.



    • FJ Dagg on March 13, 2024 at 1:06 PM

    Superb, Fran. Absolutely superb.

    • FeralFerret on March 13, 2024 at 4:34 PM

    Fran, another excellent story.   I also remeber seeing it before.

    It is wonderful to see a character who has real character.  So many in today’s world lack the character and backbone to do the right thing when the wrong thing is so readily available.

    1. An editor to whom I sent that story objected strenuously to the closing segment. He wanted it deleted. I simply retracted the submission and thanked him for his time and attention. What I couldn’t bring myself to tell him — something I’ve regretted ever since — was that without those last few dozen words, the story would be pointless. It was about then that I realized that conventional publishing houses and magazines would never be interested in my fiction.

      A dear departed friend once said to me, in another context, that “wisdom is often born of pain.” But these days, who thinks of pain, except as something to be avoided? Who looks at what it has to say to us? It’s seldom just an indication that you should pull your hand out of the fire.

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