The first time he saw her, it was love at first sight. He was in a bar and it was the forties, in Butte, Montana, and women unescorted by men in bars were rare. Which is why the woman’s uncle, when he saw her there with her sister, got up and chased the pair of them away. Good girls did not spend time in bars.
The uncle was a friend of his. They’d been drinking their high balls when suddenly the uncle got up, all six-foot-four of him and lumbered toward the two girls. Like a bull spying a red cloth. It didn’t take much bluster or threats to get them to leave. The whole thing was, to be honest, quite a regular matinee for the three of them – they each had their own part to play in it and they all knew how it would end.
The sisters were marvelous opposites of each other. The older sister was so blond her hair looked white, with lips that pouted with a movie star’s sultriness. She had an unfortunate appreciation for bad boys who only led to ruin. Cowboys. Pilots. The kinds of men who lived fast, drank often and a lot, and liked their women saucy and drunk, too. But not lippy – they never appreciated that.
The other sister was a dark-haired raven beauty. Where her sister was all hard angles and high cheekbones, this sister was plump and darling. Shorter, rounder, softer in all ways. Where her Norwegian goddess of a sister looked like she just stepped off the ski slopes for a nip of brandy in her coffee, this sister looked like she’d just come back from milking the cows, with birds alight on her shoulders, the sun up in the sky shining down only on her. For this sister, a cloudy day was actually just a sunny day waiting to happen.
It was that brightness, that spirit of loving the big big world – and the big big world loving her right back – that the man in the bar saw. It called out to him. It pumped so loudly and so soundly through his body that one thing lead to another and he was up on his feet, running after the uncle who was running after the girls, chasing them down the street, yelling, “Get home with you, before I tell your mother!”
Although their uncle was a big tall man with a face that easily turned red at the smallest of physical effort – such was the English ancestry that came through him, pink-skinned, fair-haired, always with a tinge of red – the girls didn’t take seriously for one minute the waving arms and the gruffness of his voice. They sauntered down the street, making it quite easy in the end for the other man to reach the dark-haired beauty that had already made his heart beat faster, harder – thumping right through him so that he wondered if she could hear it as clearly as he could.
He stammered. He hawed. And men, I love this about you, when faced by a woman of extraordinary beauty, you simply become undone. He couldn’t speak. He simply stared.
What a first impression. But something obviously left its mark. They were married for 50 years.
Toward the end of his life, he couldn’t hear and he couldn’t see very well. He also didn’t know the faces of the people who checked on him, asked how he felt, how he was doing. He looked puzzled at all of them trying to place them, trying to make out their faces, trying to hear their words. With them, he always looked befuddled and confused.
But he always knew her. Every time she walked into the room his face lit up like the moment he met her was fresh before him, standing on the sidewalk, face to face with the woman who had undone him, falling in love with her again and again and again.