September 14, 2014
“He lived all by himself in that big house all these years,” said the mailman to those around him at the funeral reception. “He was the richest man in town, maybe in the entire state, but he never left that house. Lived like a hermit. He sat out on that porch and shoo’d everyone away. Shoo! Shoo! I was the only one who could talk with him. I remember asking him one day, ‘Henry, why don’t you take a trip around the world? You’ve got the money.’”
“And what did he say?” I asked.
“He said, ‘I’m waiting.’”
“I beg your pardon?” I looked at the others now clustering closer.
“You heard me right. He said he’s waiting.”
“Waiting for what?” I turned back to the mailman.
“’For her,’” he said.
The others pulled in tighter.
“But Henry didn’t say anything after that. And I felt that I couldn’t pry. So after that whenever I saw him out on his front porch, I’d say kiddingly, ‘Did she come?’” And he’d answer, “Not yet. But she’s coming.”
Was the mailman going to tell me who she was? Was anyone? I looked around. The old lady living next-door to the old man volunteered. “He was crazy about her, couldn’t take his eyes off her ‘cause she was truly an eyeful. He took photographs of her all the time, he was an amateur photographer, and she loved being in front of the camera. Maybe that’s what did it. The girl wanted an acting career in the movies. He never took her comments about Hollywood seriously; he humored her. ‘Give it a shot. Go to Hollywood.’ She did. She took off. And he never got over her.
“Henry knew she’d never get anywhere because she didn’t have an ounce of talent. She’d do her little number out there, then come running back to him. In the meantime, he put her photographs up all over his walls so that when she came back disillusioned she would know how much he loved her. Some of the pictures were even large enough for a movie house marquis. But she never did come back. Well, that’s not quite true. She became a movie actress all right, one of those young ingénue types, but when she reached a certain age she was out. Eventually, years later, she returned.”
“How many years later was this?” I asked.
“Twenty-five, thirty. Thirty years of hard living in Hollywood, of ups and downs, of partying and drinking, of dyed hair and too much sun on her skin. She was no beauty when she came back, when she drove straight to his house. She dressed up like the girl she had been at the time that she left: big straw hat, filmy chiffon silk dress, dainty high heels, lots of jewelry and perfume. She walked up the steps, her heels clicking along, and there he sat, out on his wide porch waiting for her, just as he had all those years.
“Before she could say anything, he took one look at her and barked, “I’m not buying, lady. Go away. Shoo, shoo.” He raised his cane and she turned around and fled down the steps.”
“He didn’t recognize her?” I asked.
She screwed up one eye. “Your guess is as good as mine.”