They wrote. People wrote letters back then. Two or three times a week they wrote, and with luck a month later the letters arrived, his always to the tiny rental house near Love Field, hers to whatever Pacific island he was flying out of just then. They’d met two hours after he’d set foot in Dallas, and as she handed him a glass of punch, he told her, mostly truthfully, she was the very first person he’d met here. “Welcome to Dallas!” it was her privilege to say, Dallas girl born and raised, 16 years old, straight A’s in school, made most of her own clothes. He was an exotic, a Jewish fella from faraway Brooklyn, did magic tricks for her little sisters and brought flowers for her mother every time he came to the house. They had seven, eight, maybe nine dates in all? And most of those were spent on the sofa in the box-size living room, talking and holding hands. He was 20, a grown man with a year of college and lieutenant’s bars, but he seemed happy with just this, the talking. Holding hands.
She sort of knew. At least she thought she knew, and when his letter came asking her to marry him, she wrote back Yes, her heart racing a little, no more fuss to it than that, though when it began to seem like it was really going to happen, she kept waiting for someone to stop her. But her father was dead, her mother relieved to have one less mouth to feed on a cafeteria worker’s wages. January 26, 1946, they were married at City Hall with her mother and two little sisters attending. They had their wedding night at the Adolphus and the next day were on the train to New York City. First thing on arrival, they checked into a hotel on Times Square, had a quick dinner at Sardi’s, and were off to see a show, Show Boat at the Ziegfeld Theatre. Good Lord, New York was something! Big, loud, bright, bustling, all her expectations were fulfilled. He hadn’t been able to get two seats together, so he gave her the best seat, 10 rows back from the orchestra. He’d be up in the balcony. Just wait here, he said, seeing her to her row. When it’s over, just wait here and I’ll come for you.
A quick kiss—he was still in uniform—and she was alone. It didn’t strike her just how thoroughly alone she was until the lights went down and the music started. All of these hundreds of people surrounding her in the dark, and she didn’t know a soul in this place, save for him. Not another soul in all of New York City, for that matter, and pondering this she realized she didn’t know how to get back to their hotel. She hadn’t even noticed the name. That’s how much of a blur arriving had been. And she began to understand where this could lead. The real trouble she might have gotten herself into. She thought about him, her husband, what she knew of him, and how hard it was to know with any certainty another person’s heart. How you really couldn’t know, except with time, and how much had they had together? A few days, a few nights. He was a great deal more worldly than her. There had been enough time to know that.
Now she was 1,500 miles from home with all of $2 in her purse. The extent of her foolishness gradually became clear to her, and by the time the lights came up, she felt much older than 18. She waited in her seat for the row to clear, and when the aisles thinned out, she walked to the end of the row and stood with her coat folded over her arms, hands clasping her purse. She was waiting. Waiting to see what kind of life she was going to have, feeling not so much fear as the suspension of fear. All the years to come hanging in the balance. Then he appeared out of the shadows at the top of the aisle, and he was smiling, heading her way. Coming for her.
Ben Fountain’s work has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Hemingway Award, among other honors. His third book, Beautiful Country Burn Again, was published in 2018.