Back When It Was Today
by Amie Rehmann
Third Place – Level C (7th – 8th grade)
We’ve seen him on multiple occasions: around town, at a bus stop, in the park, and he’s always alone, with a worried look on his face. Despite my fears, I decided to wait at the corner for him. Everyone knew him but didn’t even know his name. I was determined to find out more.
I stood at the wall of the coffee shop, watching intently for the familiar bowler hat. Something like that in a crowd wouldn’t be hard to miss. I counted the seconds on my watch that led up to 5 o’clock. Fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine. Exactly on time, a man in a brown tweed suit came around the corner. This time, he was carrying a bouquet of white lilies, as opposed to the roses he had the other day.
Always flowers. Never chocolate? Hey, I wasn’t going to judge him. I leaned against the wall, keeping my eyes on the man as he walked by. After a moment passed, enough to create distance between us, I followed him.
This man sure walks fast for an old timer, I thought, struggling to keep up with his pace. It was difficult enough to keep him in my sight, but maintaining a safe distance at the same time was problematic. It was like trying to swim upstream with so many people in the way.
Finally, deciding enough was enough, I shoved my way through the crowd until I was walking next to the man. He cast a weary but kind smile at me while I returned it innocently. Not a stalker. Definitely not a stalker.
“Off to see your lady friend?” I asked, wiggling my eyebrows. The man looked down at me with surprise before laughing.
“Something like that. I was going to visit my wife, but I can’t seem to find the cemetery.”
I felt my ears go red. “Oh, uh.” I fidgeted with embarrassment.
He only looked down at me and chuckled. “It is alright.” He trailed off.
“Sam,” I said quickly. “My name is Sam.”
“Sam.” He echoed, as if deep in thought.
“I uh, I can help you get there,” I stammered. “It’s not too far.”
The man considered my offer then nodded. “All right, that would be very kind of you!”
I smiled at him before leading the way to the crosswalk. “What was her name?” I asked, crossing the street.
“Her name was Julia. The most wonderful and beautiful woman I have ever met.”
I couldn’t help but smile. He had such a wistful and happy look as he talked about her.
“We were fifteen when we met during the market crash. She convinced her father to hire me at their bakery. One of the few bakeries that were able to weather the economic storm.”
I frowned. “You mean the Great Depression?” I was no expert on history, but I was sure that had been a long time ago.
“Yes. I believe that’s what they ended up calling it,” he hummed, his mind elsewhere.
“Sounds rough. How did you guys manage to, you know… fall in love? While all that was happening?” I was curious.
He was silent for a moment. “Love finds a way to bloom in even the darkest of places.”
I stared at him with wonderment and decided to try and lighten the mood. “Yeah, that’s high-school for you.”
“Ah. We’re here.” The man stopped and noticed the many trees that stood like an archway past the cemetery gate. To be honest, it was a cemetery that was unlike those portrayed in the movies. A sign read New Hope Cemetery.
How much hope can you have when you’re dead?
“Ah, the name is familiar. I don’t remember it being this big last time,” he said as we walked past the gates.
“You never told me your name,” I remembered suddenly, looking up at him. “And don’t give me any sass about being correct. Sass is my thing.”
The man smiled, bemused. “How rude of me. I am Charles.” He held out his hand. I gladly took it, giving it a firm shake before resuming the walk. We passed many tombstones and trees in content silence. The chirping of birds became irreverent to our somber mood. We made our way to the back of the cemetery. I observed silently as we passed flat stones in the ground, and headed deeper into the cemetery where raised tombstones lay. It wasn’t until we reached a rather large gravestone that we stopped.
“Here it is,” Charles said, gazing down at the grave. It was about four feet tall, round, and had a cross on top. “You mind holding this, Sam?” He looked up and stretched his bouquet. I took the white flowers.
I gave him space, out of respect, and took a few steps away. I gazed at the scenery. Many gravestones were like Julia’s, with their crosses and engraved words. As I studied them, I noticed something peculiar about the gravestone next to Julia’s. Both were twin sets in height and color.
Frowning, I squatted down in front of the gravestone. Straining my eyes, I began to read the worn away words.
Charles Simon McConnell 1914 – 1983
I stared at the gravestone, clutching the flowers. My mind swirled as I saw this familiar name connected with the last name. My last name.
I jumped to my feet and spun around, only to find empty space. Charles was gone. I looked at where he stood a moment ago, holding the flowers that now felt heavy in my hands. As I looked back at the gravestone, I read the last few words near the bottom.
May our love never be forgotten.