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Their laughter abates in the course of a few steps. After a few moments of awkward silence Mayme inquires, “Have you enjoyed your time in Atlantic City?”

Eli is relieved that she spoke up as his brain was a complete blank on what to say next in spite of frantic mental searching. “Well no, until tonight I can’t say that I have enjoyed it. Although, I have not been miserable here, enjoyable wouldn’t be the word I would use. It has just been work since I got here. It definitely beats Camp Claiborne but still it hasn’t been a vacation. I haven’t gotten to take in the sights. I would have liked to. When I told my mom that I was going Atlantic City she said she was jealous. She had always wanted to come here ever since she saw an article about the boardwalk in Look.” They have walked a few blocks down Pacific Avenue now. There is no light anywhere that could be seen from the ocean. Even the headlights of the cars are blocked with blinders of some kind that deflect the light down but allow no light to be projected forward. There has been no conversation for a few moments then Eli asks, “Do you always go dancing with Geraldine?” Eli makes this inquiry while trying to sound like he is just

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making conversation but he is actually fishing to see if she usually has a date.

With a hint of embarrassment Mayme says, “I hate to say this but if she can’t go I won’t go either. There is such a preponderance of soldiers that it is intimidating to be alone and I don’t know anyone else that would go. This is not meant to offend you but most soldiers are just looking for a good time if you get my implication. I have never done this before so…” She pauses for a few moments then continues, “It’s inexplicable, but I am trusting my intuition about you. Geraldine is the only person with whom I do anything regularly. You mentioned Camp Claiborne. What is that?”

“Well I might as well tell you the whole path I took from Fayette.” He does not want any more awkward silence so he thinks this will be good time filling conversation to get to their destination. “Jerry and I enlisted together in Des Moines. He joined the Navy and I went with the Army. They immediately took me to Camp Dodge, which is just north of Des Moines, for processing. I was assigned to the 34th division, 133rd infantry regiment of the Iowa National Guard. After a couple days there, everyone boarded the train for Camp Claiborne in Louisiana. I did twelve weeks training there. Then at morning formation they asked if anyone had radio experience. I stepped forward because my uncle Albert has always been a ham operator and in my early teens I spent a lot of time after school with him. He had built his own set. He taught me Morse code and about electrical components. I had spent a lot of time tweaking his set. So anyway, I got assigned to the 34th Signal Company. The 34th division is the Red Bulls so if you see anything about the Red Bulls in the paper you know I am there. I had a couple days off before they started radio training then I spent

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another month there for that. When that was over they told me I was going to aircraft identification school in Atlantic City.”

“Why would they have given you radio training then switch you to aircraft identification?”

“Well, the two are tied together. There are planes from both sides flying around over there. They don’t want any of our guys shooting at the wrong planes. A radioman that can identify planes and communicate that to the anti-aircraft artillery units is valuable.”

“Did they let you go home after Camp Claiborne? Is that when you told your mom that you were coming to Atlantic City?”

“Yes,” Eli affirms. “I had an eight day furlough between leaving Claiborne and having to be here. That gave me a few days in Fayette. It was nice to be able to see my family before I go overseas. Who knows, it might be a couple years before we rout those Krauts.”

There is another short break in conversation then Mayme asks, “Oh, yeah, I forgot. You said you only had one true friend and that you signed up together. Is that Jerry? What is the difference between a friend and a true friend?”

Eli is sorry he had used the words ‘true friend’ because now he has to explain what he meant by that. I can sense, when it comes to females, he thinks he is always going to say something stupid when explaining his thoughts. He gives his answer a thought for a moment then confirms, “Yes, it’s Jerry. He is a true friend because he holds my complete trust. He would never let me down. He knows secrets about me that no one else knows and I trust those secrets with him. He wouldn’t betray me and use that knowledge to embarrass me.”

Mayme’s curiosity is piqued. “Secrets? What kind of secrets?”

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In his mind Eli is saying, Oh, no! How am I going to get out of this? Why does my mouth keep saying these things? After thinking this one through he admits, “Oh, nothing dramatic or anything. Just stupid things you do as a kid and teenage confidences that I would never tell anyone. But we grew up together and we know things about each other that might humiliate us if they got out.”

Mayme is still not satisfied. “Would you trust me enough to confide a secret?”

Eli, still trying to squirm out of his quandary, replies, “Well, granted, there is something about you that I find compelling, but I don’t know you well enough to tell those things. A best friend is more than things he knows though. He would do anything I ask of him and vice versa.” That should get us off the secret thing, Eli says to himself.

“That is quite a claim Eli,” Mayme marvels. “What if he asked you to do something illegal or something stupid?”

“That’s the point, he knows me well enough that he knows what I would not do so he would not ask it.”

“I somehow sense that about you Eli,” Mayme observes then clarifies, “I mean that you are trustworthy. There is something about you I find fascinating also. Do you believe in love at first sight?”

Good, a change in topic, Eli thinks. And it’s a topic of interest to Eli. Since she is asking she must believe in it too. This is a conversation he wanted to have but was afraid to bring up and be labeled a nut case again. “Yes, I have always believed that when you meet that one person, you will know. I did have that feeling about you when we danced, but you are so beautiful I am not in your league. I would not allow myself to speak it. But now that you said it first….”

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Mayme stops Eli midsentence, “Well, I guess I get by, but I certainly don’t think of myself as beautiful. Besides that, I think you are handsome Eli. You have a very wholesome appearance, and a chivalrous look. Quite muscular, I might add. So you possess what I have imagined to be the qualities of Sir Lancelot. So I am certainly not in some league above yours.”

He replies with a chuckle, “No one has ever compared to me a knight. No one has ever told me I was handsome before either.”

We are now approaching the storefront of Kessler’s Pharmacy as Mayme concedes, “Well Eli, then apparently there is something affecting the eyesight of both of us. Maybe the mystical power you speak of is contagious. It may be destiny.”

The store windows have been blackened to become opaque. At knee level next to the entrance there is a dim light directed downward by a hood. Mayme stops before the door to Kessler’s to allow Eli to get the door this time and he takes the hint immediately. He removes his cap and as he pushes the door it hits jingling bells. He steps in and looks up but it is much too dark to see them. Eli holds the door open as she passes him. They enter what appears to be a dark closet like at the Knickerbocker but it feels much more confining. He shuts the outside door and we can see a dim light shining on the door handle of the inner door which does not face the outer door but is on the left. When the outside door is fully shut they open the second door and enter Kessler’s. After turning right he sees a five foot wide aisle with wood flooring running down the center of the store. On the right of the aisle are some wooden display racks with magazines, film, and other sundries. After the racks there is a four foot pharmacy counter for the dispensary and cash register. Eli scans a soda fountain on the left with

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four pedestal bar stools in front of the serving counter. Behind the counter stands a soda jerk resting both hands on the counter. He is wearing a white smock and white cloth hat similar in style to that of Eli’s hat. He gives Eli a pleasant smile which broadens considerably as he looks to Mayme and says, “Good evening, Mayme. It’s always nice to see you.”

“Always great to see you too, Marty. This is my friend Eli. Eli, this is Marty.”

Eli nods to Marty and greets, “Nice to meet you, Marty.” Eli’s eyes make a quick clockwise sweep of the store starting with the soda counter which is about ten feet long with just room enough behind it for one person to work. Behind Marty is another counter against the wall which has the soda dispenser, malt mixers and cash register. Above that are two large mirrors with a metal Coca-Cola sign between them and 7-up and Dr Pepper signs to the outside of each mirror. At the right end of the counter is the first of four booths. Hanging from the white embossed metal tiled ceiling are three brown fans, each turning slowly. The booths appear to have some people but Eli’s scan is so fast that I am left with only an impression of shapeless figures. After the last booth there is a short vacant space then in the corner against the back wall stands a phone booth with its open bi-fold door facing the front of the store. To the right of the phone booth is a fifth booth that is turned so that the side faces the front of the store. As Mayme passes the pharmacist she says, “Good evening, Nathan.” With a warm grin and a nod, Nathan waves back as he continues helping a customer at his counter. Behind Nathan are numerous shelves with an abundance of pharmaceutical products. Mayme leads the way to the sideways dining booth at the back wall and slides into the bench on the left while she

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comments, “I always sit here because I don’t like to have my back to the door.” This booth is the only one where, when seated, you would be able to look at the entrance from either bench.

While sliding in across from her Eli thinks of making a joke of her phobia by saying, I’m not the only nut case here. But he doesn’t want to risk changing the subject away from destiny so instead he asserts, “So you are saying maybe both our visions our blurred by fate? Well, I know there is nothing wrong with my vision even if you say you are not beautiful.”

I could tell the compliments were making her uncomfortable but I think Eli is missing that. “Thank you for being so flattering but you are embarrassing me. I guess modesty prevents me from saying I am beautiful. That word is too audacious.”

Mayme has plainly stated her uneasiness so Eli allows, “Okay, I will concede because gentlemen don’t argue with ladies. I want you to know my mother has raised me to be a gentleman and I hold women in highest esteem. Also, I want to believe fate has intervened so I definitely don’t want to argue that point.” Mayme doesn’t respond so Eli lets silence ensue as he studies her face. This is the first opportunity he has had to try to understand what it is that so captivates him. As they’re eyes lock together it appears as though Mayme is taking the same moment to study Eli. I feel as though they are looking into each other’s souls. As they reflect in silence I just noticed something else that I find remarkable: the absence of Muzak. It is so prevalent today that I don’t hear it anymore but its absence is very noticeable and pleasing. All I hear is the low murmured conversations of other people in their booths. Their talking is much more subdued than in public places today. I guess they don’t have to speak over all the background

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noise. I find it so pleasant. Eli’s hypnotic spell is broken as he hears someone loudly clear his throat a second time. He turns to see Marty, the soda jerk, standing with is hands on the end of counter, who is glaring at Eli as if to say Well, are you going to order something? Eli has realized his faux pas in sitting before ordering. “Please forgive my ill-mannered behavior Mayme, what would you like?” Eli asks as he points to the counter.

“I would enjoy a lime phosphate, please.”

Eli goes to the counter and asks Marty for the phosphate and a Coca-Cola for himself. Mayme’s destiny remark has intrigued Eli. Thoughts of his father have been going through his mind since her ‘love at first sight’ comment. He is remembering his father’s advice when he was a teen, that fate will lay out a course for his life but, using intuition, he must recognize which turns and events are plotted by destiny and which are random. The soda jerk and counter disappear as a vision of his father appears before him. This memory is vivid to Eli. He is sitting opposite his father at what appears to be a kitchen table with a chrome strip around the edge of the top. Eli’s eyes look down at the table top which has a pattern of small trapezoidal shapes with varying shades of gray to white. His father says, “Eli, I sent your mother away because I want to have another talk with you that my father had with me.” Eli raises his head to intently focus on his father. In his hazy peripheral vision behind his father I can see a refrigerator, the type with the louvered compressor on the top. Above and to the left, on the light blue patterned wallpaper is a black object and a calendar to the right. His blue eyed father has salt and pepper gray hair parted just slightly to the left of center. He sports a narrow mustache in the style of Clark Gable on his thin, tanned, rugged face. He continues,

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“Sensing the presence of your life’s partner is the most important intuitive act you will ever have. Most people are married to the wrong person and they end up being miserable. Fate will give you a proclivity for certain physical traits to help you recognize your wife. Nature has given you a penchant for all beautiful women. Beautiful women are an enjoyable vision for sure and that is okay. But in your search you must ignore this inclination. To find your wife look for what you think is your type. She may be a beautiful woman so do not eliminate them from your search. But no matter what, if she is the ‘the one’ you will automatically find her attractive even if she is not beautiful. After you get to know her, you will know for sure if she is the one. Then she will be become the most beautiful woman to you. For example, if you have a tendency to like dark haired, shorter, heavy women then that is what you should be looking for. Nature, who’s only interest in this endeavor is procreation, may lead you to an unhappy life. But if you follow fate’s choices for you it will lead to ecstasy. The one hitch in this is that you must hope that she, at least subconsciously, is aware of destiny’s plan and will be waiting for you.” Eli’s eyes focus on the black object on the wall. It is a cat with a clock on its belly. The eyes are going side to side in unison with the swinging pendulum which shaped like a cat’s tail. The clock reads 7:10. His father says “Fate can control your life by….” and his father suddenly vanishes as the soda jerk loudly repeats, “Sir…. Sir….Sir”. Eli blinks his eyes as the impatient soda jerk reappears and says, “Please take your drinks, sir” Finally! I can’t wait to get back to Mayme Eli thinks as he slaps a quarter dollar on the counter. With drinks in hand, he pivots and strides toward Mayme. Sliding back into the bench opposite Mayme he thinks

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to himself, Yes she is definitely my type. He questions Mayme, “Do you have a feeling of fate’s involvement with me?”

“Like I said Eli, I have an intuitive feeling about you. I must explore this more to make a final ruling,” Mayme explains with reservation.

Eli is feeling elated that he is at least still in the running. “Have you ever had a feeling of destiny about another man?”

“No, Eli. All the men I have met are far too impetuous and bold if not outright rude. I can tell you are a tad shy and yet you were daring enough to overcome that. Your shyness trait gives you enough restraint to make me feel unthreatened.”

Eli wonders if she is aware of fate’s method of helping you find your partner. “So, do you have a preconceived notion of what your husband should be?”

“Yes, I do. Maybe not in appearance but in the qualities he must possess. I have always wanted a true gentleman. Someone who is not pushy and more importantly, who senses what I want. I want a man who is completely in charge but whose decisions would always be based on considering me first. I want a man of unyielding rectitude. I want a man who would protect me. I must have read too many fairy tales Eli, because I want Sir Lancelot.” There is a pause while Eli ponders whether he possesses the qualities of her ideal man but before he can finish his evaluation Mayme asks, “Do you have a girlfriend?”

“I have never had a girlfriend if your definition is someone I dated regularly.” Eli pauses while he re-thinks that statement and just how honest he wants to be here. He thinks to himself, If this is the one then total honesty is essential. If it puts her off then I might as well know

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now. “Mayme, I hope you don’t think I am weird but I have never dated anyone before.”

“Well Eli, I do think that is a bit unusual,” Mayme comments with her brow furled and her head cocked to one side revealing her bewilderment. “Every man I know is on a constant prowl. Is there some reason why a man your age has never dated?”

Eli knew the reason was that his intuition hadn’t detected any girl that complied with his father’s advice enough to force him to subdue his bashfulness. He didn’t think he could explain the involvement of providence as clearly as his father did so he just went with, “For one, my shyness has always gotten in the way. Truth be told, were it not for the constant badgering from my buddies I may have never gotten the gumption to walk over to you earlier. It’s not that I haven’t found some girls attractive, and girls have shown an interest in me before too but, um,” Eli stumbles for a moment then continues, “I have never found the one with the qualities I desire strongly enough to make me overcome my timidity to approach her. I guess I have been waiting for fate to show me the right one. I have never made a conscious decision to not date, I guess I just haven’t had a strong enough incentive to date.”

With eyes wide in awe Mayme questions, “You mean you haven’t ever been out with a girl in your whole life?”

To Eli, it is sounding as if she thinks there may be something wrong with him so he stammers, “Ah, yes, er ah no. I mean I haven’t asked a girl out on a date but I have been places with girls but never formally asked one to go with me. I would just end up at a place and a girl would sit with me. I guess I have had girl friends but never a girlfriend.” Immediately after this statement Mayme, apparently in

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deep thought, is kind of staring right through Eli. He gives her time to absorb their last discussion and looks around Kessler’s. There are three soldiers sitting on the pedestal chairs at the counter who are talking with the soda jerk. The booth next to the counter is occupied with a soldier facing Eli and an older couple with their backs to Eli. The next booth has a young couple in their late teens sitting next to each other on the bench facing Eli. The third booth has a couple in their sixties with the man’s back to Eli and the woman is facing him. Eli’s eyes meet hers and she gives him a warm smile. He smiles back with a nod of greeting then continues his surveillance. The fourth booth is unoccupied. This is a relief to Eli because he is sure no one has heard his dating confessions. There are two people at the pharmacist’s counter.

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