extract from Visit to a Small Town

copyright 2007 by Eric Samuels

He ran down the street, turning at the next corner, first left, then left again following the directions Eleanor had given him. Nothing looked the same as it had during the day. The gradations in paint and care that distinguished the rows of almost identical houses were absent in the dark. A police siren wailed in the distance and then another siren started up close by. They were looking for him!  He turned another corner, and took a single hesitant step.

      A group of people sitting on a porch halfway up the street might or might not have been looking as he turned the corner. They stopped talking as he drew closer and stared silently at him. He ran by them quickly before he realized how suspicious his running must look.

      Now, he was just one block away from Ellie's house or was it still two?  Her home was only a few blocks from the lake that he knew was on his right. Even if he were lost maybe he could find her if he started again from the lakeshore.

      What luck!  Ellie was standing on her steps under a porch light when he passed the next corner.

      "Steve."

      "Ellie."

      She'd changed her ragged cardigan for a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar; a pink sweater was thrown over her shoulders like a shawl. She was incredibly beautiful.

      "I'm sorry I'm late," he said.

      "I knew you'd come. Are you hungry?"

      He thought about the hamburger and the cake he'd had at Eleanorís earlier. But that was a long time ago. "Yes," he said.

      She handed him a sandwich wrapped in wax paper. Meatloaf with a tang of ketchup and mustard inside; it was delicious. He could have eaten ten sandwiches just like it.

      "We had meatloaf for supper. I thought about you. I wanted to invite you. My dad is home," she said proudly. "But then they'd ask me how I met you, if you know what I mean."

      "Yes," he said, crestfallen.

      "Don't worry; once you live here, I'll arrange for my cousin to introduce us."  She smiled; something lit up inside of him.

He put away the sandwich, tucked the wax paper that was all that remained of it in his pocket and took each of her hands in his. They stood very close, only inches apart from each other. He was amazed how tall she was, almost as tall as he now she was standing on the step. Her eyes were brown and hazel. Behind them, still several blocks away, they could hear the sirens.

      "Are they really looking for me?" he said to her.

      "I'm afraid so. But you couldn't have been the one could you?"

      "No. I was with you."

      "I thought so. But Eleanor told them..."

      "Eleanor!"

      "Told them you'd been in the store. She even told them what clothes you were wearing. No, don't worry!"  She pulled him back to her, tugging at his hands as he turned instinctively to run. "She told me she'd told them she was sure you couldn't have done it."

      "Yes," he said. He did not want to talk about Eleanor with her. "Do you think we can still go to the movies?"

      "I don't know. Yes. No. Maybe we should go somewhere else."

      "Where?" he began.

      "Wait," she said and reached behind her on the railing. "It's my father's jacket, see. I brought it as a disguise. Try it on."

      He put the jacket on over his own and found it confined his shoulders. He took off both jackets, and then tried her father's jacket on again, leaving his own faded denim tossed over the porch rail. She seemed to enjoy helping him in and out of his jackets just as if she were a newlywed getting her husband ready for work.

       When he was finished dressing, he stepped out under the porch light so she could look at him.

      "It fits perfectly."  She stared at him hard enough to make him feel he ought to turn around or pose or something. "You're very handsome."

      A patrol car with its lights off had drifted into the street behind them; its headlights went on at that moment, and the light on its roof began to flash blue and red light alternately.

      Steven jumped down quickly into the bushes beside her stairway.

      "Ellie," a voice called from the patrol car, "is that you?"

      "It's the chief of police," Ellie whispered. "Mr. McCabe. Stay here. I'll go see what he wants."

      Up close, seen in the flickering blue and red light from overhead, the chief looked more repellant than ever. Purple lips, unshaven cheeks, his eyes narrow and pig like.

      "Get in," McCabe said patting the seat beside him.

      "No."

      "Well, then I'll come out," McCabe said and prepared to slide his bulk up and out of the automobile.

      Ellie heard the rustle of the leaves behind her as Steven moved back deeper into the bushes trying to stay out of sight. "No, that's all right," she said to the police chief. "I'll get in."