Alan had always loved Ethel. From the moment he stumbled out of Murphy’s and saw her face, he knew that he loved her. Usually, he didn’t just walk up to beautiful women, but with Ethel it was different. He had liquid courage in him and he had gone for it. He ran across the street without looking for any traffic and asked her out. She blushed and turned to laugh with her friends, but eventually she gave in. He had taken her to a movie and had spent over five dollars on her, which was more, than he usually made in a week. She was worth it though.
They dated during the year of 1931, so neither of them had much money, but they’d been happy. As the years went on Alan thought about proposing many times, but backed out because he was too ashamed to do so without a ring. He hadn’t worked a steady job since before the depression and he didn’t think it right to commit himself to her, when he couldn’t even support himself. Still Ethel had stayed around for several years because she loved him, but times only got worse. She told him many times that he only mattered to her and that she didn’t care about money. Eventually, she grew impatient of her pleas falling on deaf ears and left him. His pride had always been his downfall and forced him to watch his love walk away from him down Broad Street.
Ethel dated many men after Alan, but for awhile she refused to settle down, hoping, deep in that secret part of her heart, that Alan would make a grand gesture and propose. It never happened though. Her parents began to badger her after she turned twenty three and she settled down with Mark right before he was shipped off to Germany. It was a marriage of convenience, but she believed that she could learn to love him. Alan received an invitation to the wedding in the mail, but he didn’t go. He could have stopped it, if he had been able to afford a ring, but he was still bouncing back and forth between any odd jobs he could land.
During the Battle of the Bulge he was kept warm by his memories of Ethel, while he sat in the dark frozen mud of the trenches. The bombs exploded around him, like some perverted version of the Fourth of July and he vowed that if he made it back to America he would tell her how he felt. Surely, Mark couldn’t also survive the war.
The first day he was back in Hempstead he drove his car to Ethel’s house. He waited outside, in his parked car to work up the courage to see her. He thumbed the simple gold band he had finally been able to afford. Just when he had gotten up the courage to walk up to the door though, Ethel and Mark walked out. Ethel cupped her swollen stomach and Alan had driven away.
He bided the years by focusing solely on his career, determined to outlive Mark and finally be given a second chance. Years turned into decades and Ethel’s family continued to grow. Occasionally, Alan would drive past her house, just to see how she was, but he never went to the door. He didn’t know what he would do if he had. He couldn’t proclaim his love; it wouldn’t have been fair to her.
Decades turned into half a century and Alan knew that his second chance was just around the corner. They were both in their seventies. Alan felt evil for wishing Mark dead, but the years had turned him into a bitter old man. He’d never married and was satisfied to stay faithful to Ethel and forever alone.
It was a Wednesday when he got the call. He always screened and had let them go to voicemail.
“Alan, its me. I looked your number up in the phonebook. I know we haven’t spoken in decades, but I still love you. I just got home from the doctor. I don’t know how to say this, but I have cancer. I don’t have long so I just wanted to say goodbye,” the voice echoed through his empty house. Alan was paralyzed in his chair. He should have gotten up and picked up the phone, but he couldn’t.
Surely, she wouldn’t die. It’d be to cruel of God to have allowed him to survive for so long and never having the chance to be with her again. He’d lived his life for her, although it seemed she would never know. He put off calling back for weeks. He knew he was probably hurting her, but he couldn’t bear to say goodbye.
He finally picked up the phone on November 15th, the anniversary of their first date. He slowly punched her number into the phone and then waited as it rang. No one picked up and he was forced to leave a voicemail. How he had wished he would hear her voice one last time.
“Ethel, its me. I know I should have called sooner. I should have called years ago, but I couldn’t do it. I still love you. I never stopped loving you. I thought about proposing hundreds of times, but I never could afford that damn ring. I’m sorry. I hope you make it because I can’t imagine life without you existing in some way…” he was just about to hang up when the phone clicked to signal that some one had picked up.
“Who is this,” said a gruff voice.
“I’m Alan,” he responded.
“My wife died this morning, Alan. I’m sorry that I won’t be able to pass on the message,” the voice said twinged with emotion.
“Oh… that’s alright. I should have called sooner. I’m so sorry,” Alan said after a moment’s hesitation.
“The service will be this Sunday at St. Mary’s. I hope you come.” The voice said.
“Sure I’ll be there…” Alan’s voice trailed off. “Well I have to go. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Me too,” said the voice and then he hung up.
Alan slumped back into his chair. He felt hollow inside. He couldn’t muster one tear, but instead sat in his chair in a daze. It was over. He would never be with her. He slowly got up and walked to his bedroom. Opening the closet doors he pushed aside what little clothing he had and opened his safe. He kept the German luger he found at the Bulge inside and all of Ethel’s letters. He pulled the shoebox out, which he stored the letters in. He grabbed one and pushed it to his nose. It still smelt like her. Lifting the shoe box over his head, the letters rained down on him until they blanketed the ground. He placed the luger in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Perpetual darkness followed as his blood soaked the love letters through.
His body wasn’t found for weeks and no one claimed it. The only item of value that was found in the apartment was Ethel’s engagement ring; it was used to pay for his burial.