Old Hope This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

October 6, 2012
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For Leo Stansky, things had never been quite so unclear. He was used to an itinerary, a plan. Never before had he experienced this sort of aimless day. He was inclined to think such phenomena a waste of perfectly valuable and ever fleeting time - but then, of course, he remembered her. She had green eyes that could make a planet feel meek, and the loveliest red curls to match. It was her insight that had inspired him to take his first vacation day in nearly thirty years, and her smile that drew him to the library this Tuesday morning.
As he walked towards the center of town, listening to the vague creaking of his knees, Leo found himself unable to recall the last time he’d been outside of the office at midday. In his mind, he glanced at his invented itinerary " 11am, draft documents for client number three. He pushed the thought away and continued on his trek. In his palm, Leo cradled a thick book with a worn spine, a classic he knew to be her favorite. He wondered what she’d say if she knew he was coming. Would she tell him to turn back, to not dwell on a woman so out of his reach? She was beyond him, he knew, but his mind ached of her. The final words of their last conversation "nearly two weeks ago now " rattled his brain. “You’re a self-absorbed old man consumed by work,” she’d said with a forlorn shake of her head, “…the world is waiting just beyond your blind monotony, but you won’t look past your own nose to see it.” With a sad smile, she passed him the novel she’d been holding and walked out of the library, leaving him in the classics section with a book in his hand and a furrow in his brow.
This day would be his attempt, he’d decided, to see the world outside of his own. He felt he owed her that. Around him, the world appeared quicker and more crowded than it had in his youth. Leo remembered when the convenience store to his right had been his uncle’s barbershop, and felt old and worn as he did so. Over the past few decades, he had missed a good deal of growth in his quiet Virginia town " new buildings had been erected, once-children had grown up and moved on " but Leo had solemnly remained. She had always called this town home, leaving him nowhere else to go.
He clutched the book more tightly as he approached the library entryway. He was pleased to see that the building was nearly empty and headed straight to the back of the bookshelves. Against the back wall, amongst Dickens and Twain, he found her. Her deep eyes, seemingly faded, did not see him. He sighed and sat down on her bench. “Hello, my dear,” he murmured. He looked into the picture frame that rested on the wall above his head. The woman in the picture smiled into the distance, red curls falling into her green eyes. “I brought your book,” he said softly. He opened the cracked pages to the one she had marked with blue ink, and began to read from Gone With the Wind. When the passage came to a close, he gently shut the book and looked back to her photograph. Under the picture, a small bronze plaque read,

“In loving memory of Mrs. Martha P Stansky, devoted wife and adoring friend; July 10, 1941 " September 2, 2012.”

Leo lingered on the bench for only a moment before rising from his seat. Standing, he faced her picture once again, and disdained the lack of depth with which a photo could display such an intricate woman. With a shaky breath, Leo put on a brave smile and said, “Thank you for showing me the world, my dear. I will miss you deeply.” He then slid the library receipt out of the book and checked the due date - September 12, 2012; just on time, he thought to himself. As he placed the book in the drop box, Leo thought again to the itinerary in his mind. Turning towards the door, he realized for the first time in nearly thirty years that he had the afternoon free.

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