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By Jane Hale
She came to spend the summer in Hope, Arkansas with her cousin the last summer before she moved to New York. Clementine’s head and heart were full of schemes, dreams, and big city things. She lost her heart to this old country boy but never gave up on her schemes and dreams and moved on to big city things.
She begged me to go with her. She wrote to me faithfully telling me of her move up the ladder to an executive position with an important firm which filled the third floor of a ten-story building in New York City.
She wrote lovingly of remodeling her apartment.
She wooed me with words:
“Nick, you’d love it here. It may be a big city but it’s like little towns joined together to become one big metropolis. Everything I ever wanted is within reach if I reach out far enough; department stores packed with clothes, shoes, and salons. Stairways you step onto going up and coming down if you’re in too big of a hurry to not wait on an elevator.
You’d love the museums.
My boss got us tickets to a Broadway Show!
People are everywhere — on the streets, in buildings, rushing here and there. Cabs fill the streets taking people to restaurants, shows, theatres, ball games, and airports. In the subway beneath the city, trains are packed with commuters traveling to the suburbs and back again to work or to different parts of the city. Musicians set up to entertain folks and earn a dollar or two as they wait for the trains.
Little shops filled with remnants of mixed cultures are scattered throughout the city. My favorite haunts are pawn shops filled with lost dreams and new beginnings. I love this city.
I know you’re not fond of big crowds, busy cities, bums on the street, and crazies accosting you in the weirdest places but there’s one thing I know you’d love — Central Park. It’s the heart of the city where you step from the teeming crowd into countryside filled with all the things you love in Hope, Arkansas and rural America. People skate along sidewalks as couples walk hand in hand around the countryside paths. Nick, there’s a zoo, carousel, and a chess and checker house. The Obelisk, the Loch, and Shakespeare Gardens are amazing. Folks sit on park benches, relax, and enjoy the wares vendors sell. Please come and visit my city. I know if you love me you’ll love this place that has claimed the part of my heart that keeps me from you.”
I lived for Clementine’s letters.
I visited Clementine for her vacation. We prowled her city by day. We made love in every inch of her tiny apartment at night. We strolled hand in hand and stopped to watch an organ grinder’s monkey mooch money.
The city was overwhelming. People were in your face, in your space, or with hats in hand wanting a dollar or two. Others pushed or shoved as they waved for cabs you hoped to capture. I missed my horse. I missed my truck. I missed all the things that meant independence to me. The stores were linked together like one giant snake with no tail. Because I was with Clementine, I endured what I knew would never become a part of my life. I memorized every line of her body, every feature, every gesture. I feasted on her as a starving man might devour his last meal.
My last night in the city we revisited a little pawn shop near her apartment. I’d discovered a relic wind-up music box I planned to buy for her as a parting gift.
Her eyes sparkled when she lovingly wound the tiny key. The fragile lid lifted and a country voice much like I’d grown up listening to crooned, “Oh, my darling. Oh, my darling. Oh, my darling Clementine—”
Back home in Arkansas, I walked the hills, rode the trails, and inhaled the fresh country air in an effort to rid my need for the woman I loved.
Clementine still wrote love letters to me about her city life until one day they became fewer and farther between and finally stopped. The last letter I received was a formal invitation to the wedding of Miss Clementine Frazier and Mister—” I never could remember that man’s name.
Clementine’s cousin attended her wedding. A year or so later she told me Clementine and what’s-his-name had a baby girl named Hope.
I never married, although it wasn’t for lack of ladies trying. I just never seemed to forget a girl named Clementine and her big-city dreams that kept us apart. Or was it my country ways that became more set as the years passed that had kept us apart?
They say with age comes contentment and dreams are realized. One day as I sat on my porch in Hope, Arkansas, I saw two ladies riding horses coming up the hill. I recognized one who waved as Clementine’s cousin’s daughter. The other girl was Clementine. But that was impossible. Clementine died the year before.
“Mister Nick, I brought my cousin to see you. This is Hope, Clementine’s daughter. You remember Miss Clementine, don’t you?”
I nodded, unable to take my gaze from Hope’s face.
The girl moved toward me, hand outstretched, and said, “Mister Nick. My mom talked about you so much. She made me promise if anything ever happened to her I’d bring this to you.” In her hand was the tiny music box I’d gifted Clementine so many years ago.
I’d stood in respect for the ladies. I moved forward to shake the cousin’s hand and thank her for bringing Hope to me.
Instead, Hope moved forward and placed the music box on the table near my rocking chair on the porch. She turned and extended her arms for a hug. “I’ve saved this hug for a long time, Mister Nick. It goes with the music box.”
I held her close as I might have held my own daughter.
As I watched the two ride down the path together, I closed my eyes and listened to the music box as the words of the song drifted over the Arkansas hills that had kept me from the love of my life. “Oh, my darling. Oh, my darling. Oh, my darling Clementine. You are lost and gone forever, my darling Clementine.”
Please visit Jane’s page Ozark Writers, Inc on Facebook. A non-profit group that promotes writers from the Ozarks. https://www.facebook.com/ozarkwritersinc/