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The Elderly Couple
The elderly couple sat together on the couch. It was a cheerful sort of room in which they spent the good bulk of their time, the lady knitting a blanket for the latest grandchild, the gentleman catching up with The Times. On that day, they sat doing these activities, just like on any other, chatting as they did so and remembering fond memories of a younger time.
“Don't you remember,” began the elderly gentleman quite suddenly, “how it was that the two of us came to meet?”
Quite uncharacteristically, the lady's knitting needles fell to an abrupt stop, and she gave an involuntary shudder. “How could I forget?” came her cold reply, quite a change from her usual cheeriness.
The gentleman peered over The Times, not at all shocked with his wife's reaction. “Come now, Annie,” he said with a hearty tone rich in reassurance. “That was all so long ago. I think it's high time that you came to accept the circumstances.”
Annie gave another shudder. “I don't believe,” she said slowly, choosing her words with care, “that an acceptance will ever come. I shall always remember the day we met, Laurence, and the weeks leading up to it. They were my unhappiest.”
“Naturally, Annie,” replied Laurence with an exasperated sigh. “Nonetheless, those morbid days ultimately brought the two of us together, did they not?”
“Ye-es,” was Annie's response, and she picked up the knitting needles once more, intent on forgetting the conversation that had just occurred. And in a few moments, the living space began to grow cheery once more, as fonder topics were brought up.
But the conversation had succeeded in shaking Laurence, who continued to stare at the newspaper with unreading eyes. He was remembering the day that had brought he and his wife together. He had been a young boy then, just about sixteen, but even at his current old age he was able to remember the events perfectly.
The young Laurence had been pushing his rusted mountain bike through the woods, on a trail that had been well worn by he and his brothers. The woods had been silent that day, not a bird chirping, not a leaf rustling in the fall breeze. The only sounds to be heard, as a matter of fact, were the two deflated bike tires flattening dried leaves. But just a few moments into the trail, the young Laurence became vaguely aware of moaning. It was a deep, unmistakable sort of moaning, the kind only uttered by a creature the most miserable agony. At first, Laurence was certain a bird or some other creature was lying somewhere nearby, wounded beyond rehabilitation.
A final bend in the trail revealed the moaning's true source. A young girl lay sprawled across the path, sobbing in pure agony. She was skinny, skinny being too kind of an adjective. The emaciated form lying on the path looked as though no food had gone into it in a good number of weeks. Her face was a pale white, and twisted into an immeasurable expression of pain. The poor girl's hair was wildly unkempt, with little twigs and dried leaves stuck in the masses of red curls. Her clothes were dirty and torn. Frankly, the girl looked as though she'd been through hell.
The young Laurence had dropped his bike to the ground at that instant, and ran to the miserable girl's side.
“What's happened to you?” was all he could utter, as he struggled to get the girl to her feet.
“What, it hasn't been all over the papers then?” she managed to mutter between her agonized sobs. Neither said any more. Words seemed unfitting on the occasion.
The girl couldn't walk much. Her ankle, it seemed, was sprained or broken in various places. That, and she was too weak to walk more than a step effectively. Without a second thought, the boy scooped the girl in his arms, and proceeded to carry her to the nearest road. The rusted bicycle was left behind and never retrieved.
The girl was so light, that Laurence could carry her a good mile without breaking a sweat.
“What's happened to you?” Laurence repeated again, a good few minutes' into the journey.
“Look at me,” the girl muttered. “Do you really think I'd like to talk about it?”
For the remainder of the trek, Laurence refrained from asking anymore questions, but uttered whatever soothing thoughts he could think of. They didn't seem to affect the emaciated girl.
“Laurence!” the elderly lady said sharply.
“Yes?” the gentleman responded, shaking his head in an effort to rid himself of the gruesome flashback.
“I was asking you when do you suppose Linda's baby will be born?” said Annie impatiently. Linda, their youngest daughter, had been with child nearly nine months now.
Instead of answering his wife's question, he said suddenly: “Annie, even after all these years, you never did tell me exactly what happened to you when you were held captive all those weeks. You never told me how he treated you.”
Again, the knitting needles came to an abrupt halt. “How kindly could a kidnapper treat his victims?” she finally scoffed in reply.
“Annie, you know that's not what I meant. I know the incident affected you. Naturally. It would affect any young girl. But it continues to do so. And I think, by telling me about it, it might help just a bit.”
A long silence followed the elderly gentleman's statement. Finally, the lady called Annie responded. “Did I ever tell you I never saw his face?”
“No,” said the gentleman slowly, “you did not.”
“The police asked me, of course,” Annie continued. “But I clammed up. I never did give them any details about the case. I suppose that's why they never caught him.”
Laurence shuddered. “It kills me how such a wicked man could escape after what he did to you. . .”
Annie shrugged. “His being in jail or not never would have affected me. What bothers me is that I never saw his face. I could have bumped into him at the grocery store a good many times and never even noticed that it was the very man who had tortured me so.” Annie took a deep breath, before continuing. “Ever since I was sixteen years old, I have been unable to trust anyone.”
“Terrible,” Laurence muttered.
“That is, except you. I've always been able to trust you, Laurence,” said Annie solemnly. “And that is the only reason I've been able to live my life in such pleasantness. Thank you.”
“So then,” said Laurence after a momentary silence. “You are at least grateful for those weeks, as we met because of them.”
“No,” Annie disagreed. “Those were the most miserable weeks of my life. I'd give anything to erase them from my memory. Anything.”
And so the knitting needles picked up once more. Laurence was wise enough to never again mention the incident. In consequence, he died a happy man, and his wife a happy woman.
Corpus Christi, Texas
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