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Renewed Hope, Lost Pride, Unexpected Love
It was a dreary day outside, as if the weather had changed just to match his mood. But the weather on the east side was never perfect, someone like Al would know. Albert walked the grim, rain-soaked street of Eastern Portage, but rather than look up at the beautiful birds- which formed arrows when they flew south- as most people did in that season, he looked to the cement, as if it would show him what he longed to see most... but it was impossible. He might never see Clara again, for all he knew. And their goodbye had been so brief. He betrayed his own promise to himself, and let slip three sharp sobs and few tears.
Albert was a prideful man, and quickly pulled himself together. Crying was something for children, not a man of fifty! Men at funerals cry... and yes, he certainly felt as if he were attending a funeral. A long funeral, one that lasted for weeks, even months- a funeral that was held for the love of his old, long life. But he just couldn't afford to lose his pride, which was already so weathered, because it summed up all he had left of his dignity. He couldn't cry, no matter how much he wanted to.
Something a short distance away caught his eye. He turned his attention forward for a brief second, so as to investigate; he saw a very unusual sight- color. One bright red line stood out against the gray clouds like a single rose does among the thorns. His curiosity aflame, Al lifted his head again. A sleek, retro diner with a scarlet banister running all around it stood just meters away- adjacent to three public telephone booths. For the first time in seven days, Albert resurfaced from the pool of hopelessness he had been drowning in. He was still swimming in his reborn hope as he advanced, a new spring present in his step.
For longing he elongated his stride, his pace quickening until it became a swift trot. And after he had covered the thirty yards between him and his beloved, he swung open the booth's glass-tiled door. His gaunt hand reached out, and returned with the glossy black phone clutched between his white fingers. The odds looked promising- he really was going to talk to Clara; unless, of course, his endless bad luck got in his way. It had been four months of hardship without her, without having her near. The couple was by no means wealthy, living below the poverty line, eating crusts and drinking unfiltered water. But when Clara was around, she acted like a beacon. As long as she was unscathed and nearby, he would find the couple a way out of depression. Maybe through this conversation, Al could convince her to come home- he had tried numerous other times, and failed just as miserably each time.
A dirty coin, one that he had found a mile back in town, had been rubbed clean by Albert's fingers. He was carrying it in his worn coat pocket, and anxiously chafed off the grease and soil that had once covered it- it was an odd, hideous habit, to rub what he was holding in times of stress. He was saving it to spend at this very moment. It could have donated to a cause that was considered more necessary, like filling his empty stomach, but he couldn't at that moment think of anything he wanted... needed... more than this temporary, incomplete reunion.
'Gary Fish and Fry, this is Clara. Can I be of service?' The operator had just finished her droning questions. Al managed to quibble his way past them in record time, and was connected right to where he wanted to be- at Clara's ear. 'Clara... Clara! Oh, Clara...' He silently scolded himself for making his introduction so loud, and so sudden. It was childish. But just hearing her voice acted as a stimulant, and his gloomy surrounding vanished and seemed illuminated by the joy that burst out of him. He couldn't contain his merriment.
'Clara, I've told you from the beginning, I can't make it without you! You are my-' He was cut of by her sweet yet persuasive tone, 'Honey! Albert... You know I can't come back. I am doing this for you! I must stay at work; I miss you, too, but we need the money so badly...' she continued to contradict him ' ...if you ever plan to get the apartment back.'
Money seemed the pettiest issue of Albert's life right now. All he needed was her. His desperation was immature- like a toddler clinging to his mother.
Though their situation did have to be taken into consideration; they had been evicted from their tiny apartment back in May, and considering Albert's deemed 'unacceptable' heritage, Clara had been forced into work wherever she could find it(in this case a small diner a town away). It was vital to pay back whatever debt they were in. Ever since her departure, Al had been drawn to the little town of Gary, somehow knowing that he would find his Clara there, somewhere. He would hobble a little further every day, inching closer to her every minute. Deep down, Albert knew his efforts would prove fruitless in the end- with his ankle the was it was, mangled and crippled, he would probably perish just halfway through.
He expressed his thoughts, 'Clara, I must visit you, see you somehow. I'm on my way, but this damn leg...'
'Albert, you stop right there! No matter how far away we are from seeing each other, we both know you won't make it! All your leg needs is rest- and a little love... which I will be happy to provide once we are out of this mess!' Her tone surprised him, as his greeting must have startled her. He knew she cared, and she meant every word she uttered, but how could he possibly survive from the love of a mere phone conversation alone? Hearing her voice was extremely soothing, but virtually nothing compared to what he would experience at the sight of her amber eyes, her wavy auburn hair. 'I will be back in October, maybe even September... you are strong enough to make it till then, I assume?' Of course, she knew him better than anyone. She would play off of his pride-fullness to get her way.
Against custom, the woman of the family was in work, rather than the man. This was due to Albert's physical flaws. At one glance of his complexion, every interviewer he dared approach sent him away. He never could understand what was so despicable about the deep chocolate hue of his skin, but it was obvious that vanilla was much preferred in his vicinity; he eventually gave up in his attempts to find a job. Clara was forced to take upon her the job of making all the money.
'Clara, I love you too much! Come back... come back... for me! You've been gone long enough, we can survive off your wages! And I will not stop, I will not give up! It is my only chance, if you decide to stay away...' He trailed off as he noticed a feeling in his eyes, a burning which indicated betrayal- his eyes were playing Judas on him with a threatening wetness. If they spilled over, in a public square... he'd rather not fathom it. He was looked down upon already, and the last thing he needed right then was to add to his current inferiority. He wiped away the potential tears with his cuff.
'Honey, I'm so sorry... I have to go. My shift, and coworkers...' Clara must have always been busy. Al understood that.
'G'by, love,' And he hated the sound of his own words.
He hung up the receiver, and fell onto his one able knee. All pride forgotten, he let the tears fall, thick and wet. 'Clara,' that was his last word before he exited the booth. A small queue had formed outside with the rush hour, four o'clock, and he walked, as fast as what was inconspicuous, around the waiting bystanders. He heard people as they spat at him, and he vaguely acknowledged the pain as others threw things at him. Albert heard mutters of 'We waited this time for that scum?' and more distinctly 'Dirt bag... thinks he can do what he wants, huh?', and still more names were called to him; but he did not heed anything he heard, but merely knew words were being said. Albert was full of numbness, as if a very solid wall had accumulated between his mind and the outside world. He was strictly paying attention only to the sound of her voice, and the recent memory he kept of it. He would not let himself forget it, as he had come so very close to the last time he had been starved of the sound.
Albert kept walking, and as he turned the corner at the intersection of Linwood and Westing he sat down on a long willow bench. The pain in his leg had resurfaced, for his previously benumbed body was regaining feeling. His head swimming with the sound of Clara's voice, he reclined and laid his torso on the damp wood. If someone hadn't known better, he would appear to be sleeping.
Al was startled by something, an unexpected sound that came from the diner. Springing up again, he bashed his shin painfully against one of the bench's two legs. Cringing only slightly, he looked up, as to clarify where the music was coming from- it might have been a bird, or a radio. But why was he spending time, trying to decieve himself, when the beautiful woman he had dreamed about for months stood meters away? Yes, he could see the slender brunette, her lips pursed, vocalizing his favorite tune. Her wavy hair fell behind her in unkempt curls, and her eyes were puffy and red- and Al had never seen something so glorious in his fifty-three years.
Then, though his leg screamed in protest, he lifted himself up, suddenly stronger then he had ever been. Elated, he surfed again through the threatening crowd. Violence and injustice were suddenly petty matters though, because all he could care about was sweeping the girl off her feet. This was the fairytale ending he had been depending upon... the only thing that could free him from his seemingly indestructible cage of despair.
'Clara... CLARA!' He had seen her sparkling amber eyes, now turned not at the dumpster, but at the hardly recognizable man running to her- and she embraced him lovingly when he finally found her arms. It was the start of a new living, and the four previous months disappeared from memory as the leaves of fall disappeared under the snow. Albert wouldn't die in the coming winter- he would spend it in the warmth of Clara's arms, which were always there to cure whatever ailed him from then on. The couple never left each other again- neither one of them would live through it. And as another couple experiences a fairytale ending on paper, I will end this story with two classic words. The End.
"Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help. You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever."
So we should know that the LORD, and the LORD is love, will take us through our hardships. Love reveals itself in unexpected ways, at unexpected times. But when it makes itself known, we rejoice in it.