Jim Stevens and his wife Marie stood patiently in line, waiting
for it to move into the next room of Buckingham Palace. It was the first year
that the palace had been opened to visitors and Marie had badly wanted to go.
Stevens thought it was disappointing. The crowd was huge and they were not
allowed to go about on their own. Instead, they were herded like sheep, kept in
line by ropes on either side, from one room to the next.
Stevens heard some women, obviously English, talking at the head
of the line, and then a tinkling laugh that he was sure he recognized. He was
well over six feet and now he tried to look over the heads of the people in
front of him. He saw a tall woman, blonde with touches of gray, fine features,
talking animatedly to a younger woman beside her. It could be her. Yes, it
could be her.
Mary Brown. That was her surprisingly common name. When he
graduated college hed enlisted in the air force - hed always wanted
to fly - and had been stationed in Germany. On a weeks leave in London
hed met Mary, picked her up actually, and had fallen for her. She was, he
thought, a classical English beauty, blonde with fair skin and he loved her
English accent. Hed spent every moment of his leave time in London with
her and, when his enlistment was over, wanted her to come back to America with
him. She was not sure and they left it that theyd write and then see when
hed settled down.
At first, Stevens had written every week, then, under pressure,
hed joined his fathers stock brokers firm, then hed met
Marie, also blonde but petite rather than tall, and, as it seemed expected of
him, hed married her and before he knew it they had two children. Of
course, long before that, hed stopped writing to Mary. Sometimes he
wondered if it wasnt an accident that hed married a blonde whose
name was so like Mary.
Stevens, besides being tall, was sturdy and had the confident
air of a successful businessman. But hed had a heart attack that last
winter and, at age 55, had retired. This trip was in a way to mark his
retirement. Hed wanted to re-visit the places hed been to as a
young man in the air force and show them to Marie.
The line finally moved forward. They walked through still
another room with elegant furniture whose walls were lined with paintings.
Stevens hardly noticed them. When they exited the room the crowd dispersed a
little. He looked around, trying to find Mary Brown. His wife said, What
is it, Jim? What are you looking for?
Nothing. I thought I recognized someone I once knew. But I
was probably mistaken. Anyway, shes gone now. Suddenly Stevens felt
tired. Lets go back to the hotel and rest up a little. Mary
Brown. The young airman whod loved to fly. What other things in his life?
Yes, they were all gone.