The two had grown up in a small suburban town, next to a beautiful grove lined with brick cottages. He left when the war broke out; they hadn’t seen each other for three years.
But one day he stopped by her door and rang the bell. She opened the door.
“Dewey!” she exclaimed. She was wearing a cucumber facemask and had curling pins in her hair.
“Hi Jenny,” Dewey replied. He was looking off to the side of the house, as if his mind was elsewhere. “Care for a walk? It’s a nice day.” He was carrying a small suitcase with bits of shirt sleeves sticking out the seam.
“You’re back? Are you on leave?
“I got discharged. Walk with me.”
“I … I don’t … I’m really busy Dewey. You caught me at a bad time, do you want to come in?”
“No I want to walk. It’ll get dark soon.” Dewey leaned against the porch ledge and started sifting through the mailbox next to the door. “Bridal Guide Magazine?”
“I’m getting married”
“I know. My mom told me.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t send you an invitation, I didn’t know you were coming back.”
“No need. I’ll be gone soon anyway. I’ll send a gift though. A nice one.” Dewey started leafing through the magazine. “These look nice. I’ll send over a silverware set. They’re supposed to last a lifetime you know.”
“Dewey … ”
“With proper care obviously. I don’t know if silver ever goes bad. Does it? Like rust? I was never good at chemistry.”
“Dewey, how long has it been?”
“Remember Mr. Hartman’s class? He really hated me. Wow, these ones look really nice. Pretty patterns.” Dewey continued leafing through the pages without looking up. “Let’s go take that walk now. Like we used to.”
. . .
The two were walking in the grove now.
“Dewey, what are we doing?” she asked.
“Just walking,” Dewey replied.
“No, I mean, where are we walking to?”
“Hmm. I don’t know. Wherever. Let’s keep walking.” Red leaves scattered with the wind as they walked the trail. Jenny clasped her coat tightly while Dewey tried to light a cigarette.
“It’s too windy,” said Jenny. Dewey didn’t look up as he continued trying to light his cigarette. Jenny took her hands off her jacket to shield his lighter from the wind.
“Thanks,” said Dewey. “Care for one?”
“I stopped,” said Jenny. “Your mother was worried sick. You never wrote her. We were all worried actually. Some people thought you had been killed.”
“Well I’m fine as you can see. Still have my health.”
“That’s not funny,” she replied. “You look nice by the way. You’ve grown up.”
“I never killed anyone,” he said. “Never even fired my gun in action.”
“You know, most men would reply ‘You look nice too,’ or something like that.”
“I love you Jenny.”
“Try saying I look nice.”
“I’ve always loved you.”
“Let’s keep walking.”
Dewey and Jenny followed the trail out into a clearing. They sat down on a bench across from an old brick cottage. Ivies had grown in between the bricks, while purple Morning Glories painted dots on the wall.
“Won’t you come to the wedding? You and David would get along,” she said.
“No we wouldn’t,” he said. “How many flowers do you think there are?”
“I’m not doing this.”
“Won’t you count them for me? Like you used to?”
“How long have you been back?”
“I don’t remember there ever being so many flowers. Do you?”
Jenny didn’t respond. She stood up from the bench and walked away a few steps. “It’s the cracks. The bricks are cracking, so the vines fill the gaps,” she said. “We shouldn’t be here you know. I’m getting married in a week. I mean, what if someone we know sees us here?”
“You asked me how long I’ve been back.”
“You’ve been back since Thursday?”
“Since two o’ clock.”
“Jesus Dewey,” said Jenny. She took off her coat and hung it over the bench. “I’ll have that cigarette actually.” He offered her one and lit it for her while it was in her mouth. She took a slow drag, turned around, and started walking towards the cottage. Dewey waited on the bench as Jenny finished her cigarette.
“What are we doing here?” she asked as she walked back. There were tears in her eyes. Dewey placed her coat over her shoulders.
“Just taking a walk. That’s all,” he said. She was crying now. Dewey did what he had to do. He took her in his arms and kissed her.
. . .
The two were in each other’s’ arms.
“We shouldn’t have done that” Jenny said, wiping tears from the corners of her eyes. “You shouldn’t have come back like this.” She finally pulled herself away from Dewey.
“I won’t apologize,” he said. “That was nice.”
“Sit down next to me?”
“I won’t do anything,” said Dewey. Jenny sighed, and sat down.
“Tell me about the war,” she asked.
“I never killed anyone. Never shot at anyone. None of my friends got shot or fired either. It was actually very nice. I learned how to play solitaire. We smoked a lot of cigarettes and watched Captain Kangaroo reruns. Like being back in camp.”
“When will you go back?”
“I lied. I didn’t get discharged. I deserted.”
“Dewey!” She was taken aback. “Why would you do that?”
“I wanted to come see you.”
“You need to turn yourself in. They’ll come find you.”
“No I don’t. I don’t have to do anything.”
“Why did you lie?”
“I don’t know. Didn’t want you to worry I guess.”
“Well congratulations. I’m worrying. What will you do?”
“Go north. Illinois. I’ll find a job as a janitor or something. If I lay low no one will come for me.”
“Or something else. I don’t mind anything really. I’ll have a nice life and you won’t have to worry about me. Work during the days. Dress up and go out to town. Simple life.”
“You don’t know anyone in Illinois. You’ll be all alone, how would I not worry?”
“I’ll make new friends. And I’ll have plenty to do.”
They sat together for a moment longer. He kissed her again. Jenny rested her head on Dewey’s shoulder. Off in the distance a school bell rang.
“Ashton High School,” Dewey said.
“Mhmm,” Jenny said.
“School’s out. Better go back home.”
“Mhmm.” She laughed under her breath.
“I’ll tell you what’s going to happen,” she replied. Jenny stood up from the bench. “I’m going to walk back home, and you’re going to go back too. I’ll call a cab for you. And when I walk away you’re not going to call out to me.”
“But I like it here.”
“What the hell are you going to do here?”
“This. Sit here and count the flowers.”
“Goodbye Dewey,” Jenny said. She started to walk away.
“Good luck with your marriage. I hope you’ll think of me time to time. Good thoughts. Never worry Jenny.” Dewey lit another cigarette. The wind was gone. Jenny was far down the trail now.
“Jenny!” Dewey called out. “Will you marry me?” Jenny turned around. She was in tears again.
“Don’t bother counting Dewey. Don’t count the flowers anymore. There’s fifty-one. Fifty-one forever now.”
Contact Jihoon Park at [email protected]