“Lucy Mae, the stars shine for you, and the night sky is as endless as my love. I’ll be home soon. I never break a promise.”
Short story by
I noticed her as soon as I sat down at my table. The first thing that caught my eye was her choice of jewelry. There had to be at least six chunky silver and black bracelets on her right arm. Her hair was a perfect shade of gray, and it framed her fragile face. Her make-up consisted of dark purple eye shadow, thick mascara, and bright red lipstick. The other arm was bare, but her manicured fingernails made up for the ordinary. I figured her shoes would be sensible penny loafers considering her elderly age, but her black stiletto boots complemented her dark skinny jeans rather well. I wasn’t too sure if it was her mesmerizing gray eyes or the leather bound journal she had on her table, but I just had to talk to her.
“Hi,” I said.
She looked around as if she couldn’t figure out where the voice came from.
“Hi,” I said again.
This time she looked right at my smiling face and said, “Oh! You’re real, and here I thought I was hearing voices again.”
She continued to smile as I glanced at her journal.It looked extremely old. The leather was worn down and the stitching was coming out.She noticed my obvious curiosity and gestured for me to sit in the seat across from her. Once I was comfortable, she handed me the journal.
“It’s my husband’s,” she said. “That’s whom I’m waiting for. He’s always late. Even on our first date, he was thirty minutes late to pick me up. It seems like the older he got the longer I had to wait for him.”
She was reminiscing. That’s what older people do. They have lived their whole lives and now it’s replaying over and over again in their minds. I felt sorry for her, and felt I couldn’t just leave her. She looked like a lost puppy waiting for someone to come, so I had to listen to what she had to say.
So there I was, reading a journal about a complete stranger and listening to a live commentary.
I opened the cover and the photograph blew me away. A young man and woman were standing in front of a little cottage in the woods. The house looked like it had come out of a fairytale and the man and woman were just as unreal. They were attractive—extremely attractive. The man had slicked back hair with subtle sideburns, a chiseled jaw, and looked athletic. The woman was wearing a dress with a pattern of flowers and leaves. Her hair was almost to her hips. She was laughing, and he was smiling at her. I didn’t recognize the area, but the woman looked familiar.
“Is that you?”
“Why, yes indeed. That was the day we met. I was eighteen and he was twenty. Handsome, wasn’t he?”
I nodded in complete agreement. “Whose house is that?”
“It was my parents’, and they gave it to us after we married. We weren’t together in that photo, but we had become friends almost instantly. I never thought about marriage until he asked me to go on a date with him. Right then, I knew—I just knew we were soul mates.”
I smiled. The photo was in black and white, but her dress seemed brightly colored and I imagined the house being yellow. I turned the page to find the same man on the previous page in a military uniform. He looked even more handsome. I admired the photo for a few minutes, forgetting she was still right next to me. I looked up to meet her eyes boring into me.
“I had the same look as you when I first saw him walk into the house with that uniform on. He looked so official and so handsome, but I knew what that uniform meant. It meant he was going to be gone for a really long time.”
“World War Two?” I asked.
“Hitler had just taken Poland when Max enlisted.”
“I bet you were heartbroken.”
“Oh, I was. I cried myself to sleep that night. The next morning, I was baking him some cookies and he was packing some last minute items into a big green bag when he turned to me and said, ‘Lucy Mae, I will come back to you. I promise that, and when I come back I will make you my bride.’ And he was gone. Just like that.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. I received a few letters from a couple different places for the first few months, but then he stopped writing. The days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years. I lost count of how many lonely days I spent wondering whether he was alive or not.”
The next few pages were of Max covered in mud, crawling, shooting a rifle. Lucy’s eyes filled with tears when I turned to a handwritten letter. It was crinkled, torn in a few places, and the corners were yellowing. I started to read it, but then realized that this letter was not addressed to me and started to turn the page, but she stopped me. I kept reading.
My Lucy Mae, a day does not go by without me thinking of you. The moon would be jealous of the love I have for you. I just want to hold you, and hear your laugh. I keep your picture in my chest pocket, right next to my heart. When I feel like giving up, I pull it out and remember that I there’s a beautiful woman I have to marry when I get home.
I have gotten all of your letters, but whenever I start to write you, I have to start walking, or crawling, again. I have not forgotten about you, so don’t you think about that for one minute. In fact, you’re on my mind almost all day. I feel you next to me when I sleep. I feel you when I’m walking through the trenches. I feel you everywhere, Lucy.
I have to go. We’re moving out. I can’t tell you where, but I can tell you that it is safer than the place we are at now. I love you, my darling, to the moon and back. The stars shine for you, and the night sky is as endless as my love. I’ll be home soon. I never break a promise.
Love always, Max
I wasn’t looking at the journal. I was watching the tears roll down her face. I watched as she stood up and walked to the window. There were a lot of cars out for this time of night. Their headlights glared from one side of the window to the other as they passed. The streetlamp flickered. She seemed mesmerized by whatever caught her eye outside.
“Was he alright? Was Max hurt?” I almost regretted asking these questions as soon as they left my mouth.
She turned around. “No, he was perfectly fine. He made it home safe, and…” She turned the page. “… we got married!”
I couldn’t help but smile as I looked at their wedding photo—she in a long and lacy white dress, and he wearing his uniform. They looked so happy.
“That day was so hectic, but you can’t tell from that photo. The bridesmaids’ dresses were the wrong color, my shoes got dirty, and, of course, Max was late.”
We lingered on that picture for a few more minutes, then turned to the next, and the next. Every picture came with a story from their life together. There was a picture of her holding two beautiful girls, her daughters: the oldest, Mary Francis, and the younger, Gertrude Penny. There was a picture of Max and Lucy at the beach, holding hands and walking towards the water. That day, she told me, Max was actually on time. With every picture and story, she laughed and cried as she led me through her life with Max.
I don’t know how long we sat there, drinking coffee and talking, but the owner had to ask us to leave soon.
“Oh wow! It’s already eleven. I have to go. It’s really late!” I started to pack up my books when I noticed Lucy hadn’t moved a muscle. I walked back to the table and sat down. “I had a really nice conversation with you, Lucy. I really appreciate you sharing your life with me.”
She looked up and smiled. “I hope we see each other again soon dear.” She stood up and swung her purse over her shoulder and tucked the journal in the crook of her elbow. “Not very many people have the patience to listen to my story. You are a very special girl. Max will be so happy when I tell him about you. One day, you’ll have an exciting story to tell everyone. I promise.” She hugged me tightly and said, “I never break a promise.” And she was gone. Just like that.
I couldn’t really understand what just happened, or why it happened. All I could do was sigh to myself and finish gathering up my things. I was doing a mental checklist of what I brought to the coffee shop. I packed my History book, my Sociology book, and my notebook. I checked one more time before I slung my back pack on.
I returned my coffee cup and was heading towards the door when I noticed a piece of paper on the floor right where Lucy was standing before she walked out the door. I walked over and picked it up, examined it, and decided that it was a newer piece of paper, and definitely did not belong in Max’s journal. My curiosity got the best of me again, so I unfolded it and read it. I read it again. I collapsed onto a chair and looked around to see if anyone else noticed my reaction. I was alone. I was alone with this piece of paper that changed everything that just happened.
I could not believe my eyes. I blinked a few times, then a few more times. I looked out the window expecting to see a ghost, but all I saw was my reflection staring back at me with a shocked facial expression. I turned back to the piece of paper.
It was Max’s death certificate.
Photo source: public archives