The Girl on the Corner

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The girl on the corner has her hands in her pockets. She chews gum as she waits for her boyfriend to arrive. The old man is shaky, with a cane, and she sees him coming from a long way off. He seems harmless enough. He shouldn't give her any trouble.

It's almost dark, and a cool breeze blows dead leaves from one side of the street to the other. The traffic is sparse for now, but soon it will pick up, and then the cars will have their headlamps lit. She hopes that Mitch will show up before then.

She expects the old man to shuffle past, but instead he stops cold just a few feet away.

"Good evening, Miss," The old man says, a smile in his voice. The girl keeps looking down the street. She hopes that if she ignores him, he'll go away.

"Good evening," he says again, a little louder, "Can't you hear me?"

The girl nods in the old man's direction, but keeps her eyes focused one block down. "Yeah," she says in a voice almost too soft to hear, "I can hear you."

"What are you doing out here all by yourself?" says the old man.

"I'm waiting for my boyfriend."

"It'll be dark soon - are you sure he's on his way?"

The girl checks her watch. "He'll be here any minute. He must be running late." She snaps her gum and continues to look down the block. She wants more than anything for the old man to move along, but instead, he moves closer.

Over the course of a full minute, maybe more, the old man slogs across the small patch of grass between the sidewalk and the curb. At the edge of the street, he eases down to one knee, then, aided only by the cane and supreme determination, settles himself backward down onto the curb.

At this, the girl takes a step away, closer to the telephone pole.

"If it's all the same to you," the old man sighs, "I think I'm going to just sit here and rest a while."

"It's a free country," the girl says. She wonders where Mitch could be - she hopes he really will come soon.

A gust of wind blows the leaves around some more. On the next block, a trash can falls over. The old man keeps his eyes fixed on the girl.

"The fellow in the store down the street told me a story, about an old lady who used to stand on this corner."

She wants to tell him to go find this old lady, and to leave her alone, but she bites her tongue. Anyway, it shouldn't be long now.

"She was waiting for someone, too. Someone who went away to war and never came back."

"That's a sad story," says the girl. The old man nods.

"So, what kind of a car does your boyfriend drive?"

The girl looks over at the old man for the first time. He looks familiar to her somehow - she must have met him somewhere before. Maybe he's a friend of her parents, or her grandparents. And she knows what kind of car Mitch drives, of course she knows, but right now, with the question in front of her, she just can't seem to recall.

"I don't know... what kind of car he drives," she says.

The old man smiles up at her. There are tears in his eyes. "A lot of things happened in the war, and after the war, too. I couldn't come back then."

It's dark now. As the evening rush hour proceeds, passing drivers catch the old man on the curb in their headlights, but some trick of the light keeps the girl hidden from view.

"I never came back," he says, "but I never forgot about you."

The girl turns her full attention away from the street for the first time she can remember. She stares at the old man. He's different, but she recognizes him at last.

"Mitch?" she says, "I've been waiting a really long time."

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