Poetry, movies, and now a short story. I’m celebrating love with all of you! I think about it with fondness, as in a memory neatly folded and filed in my brain.
I first read this story in 1997, sent by a friend through e-mail. I would have wanted to write something like this.
Nine years later, it doesn’t have the same impact on me. I’ve grown older and more forgetful, I guess. But some of you may find this inspiring. Or entertaining.
From the Archives of my brain (or my heart):
Long Walk to Forever
by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (I read an email before that he denied writing this; but couldn’t verify. I googled it but search results weren’t helpful.)
They had grown up next door to each other, on the fringe of a city, near fields and woods and orchards, within sight of a lovely bell tower that belonged to a school for the blind.
Now they were twenty, had not seen each other for nearly a year. There had always been playful, comfortable warmth between them, but never any talk of love.
His name was Newt. Her name was Catherine. In the early afternoon, Newt knocked on Catherine's front door. Catherine came to the door. She was carrying a fat, glossy magazine she had been reading. The magazine was devoted entirely to brides. "Newt!" she said. She was surprised to see him.
"Could you come for a walk?" he said. He was a shy person, even with Catherine. He covered his shyness by speaking absently, as though what really concerned him were far away -- as though he were a secret agent pausing briefly on a mission between beautiful, distant, and sinister points. This manner of speaking had always been Newt's style, even in matters that concerned him desperately.
"A walk?" said Catherine.
"One foot in front of the other," said Newt, "through leaves, over bridges--"
"I had no idea you were in town," she said.
"Just this minute, I got in," he said.
"Still in the Army, I see," she said.
"Seven more months to go," he said. He was a private first class in the Artillery. His uniform was rumpled. His shoes were dusty. He needed a shave. He held his hand out for the magazine. "Let's see the pretty book," he said.
She gave it to him. "I'm getting married, Newt," she said.
"I know," he said. "Let's go for a walk."
"I'm awfully busy, Newt," she said. "The wedding is only a week away."
"If we go for a walk," he said, "it will make you rosy. It will make you a rosy bride." He turned the pages of the magazine. "A rosy bride like her -- like her -- like her," he said, showing her rosy brides.
Catherine turned rosy, thinking about rosy brides.
"That will be my present to Henry Stewart Chasens," said Newt. "By taking you for a walk, I'll be giving him a rosy bride."
"You know his name?" said Catherine.
"Mother wrote," he said. "From Pittsburgh?"
"Yes," she said. "You'd like him."
"Maybe," he said.
"Can -- can you come to the wedding, Newt?" she said.
"That I doubt," he said.
"Your furlough isn't for long enough?" she said.
"Furlough?" said Newt. He was studying a two-page ad for flat silver. "I'm not on furlough," he said.
"Oh?" she said.
"I'm what they call A.W.O.L.," said Newt.
"Oh, Newt! You're not!" she said.
"Sure I am," he said, still looking at the magazine.
"Why, Newt?" she said.
"I had to find out what your silver pattern is," he said. He read names of silver patterns from the magazine. "Albernarle? Heather?" he said. "Legend? Rambler Rose?" He looked up, smiled. "I plan to give you and your husband a spoon," he said.
"Newt, Newt -- tell me really," she said.
"I want to go for a walk," he said.
She wrung her hands in sisterly anguish. "Oh, Newt -- you're fooling me about being A.W.O.L.," she said.
Newt imitated a police siren softly, raised his eyebrows.
"Where -- where from?" she said.
"Fort Bragg," he said.
"North Carolina?" she said.
"That's right," he said. "Near Fayetteville -- where Scarlett O'Hara went to school."
"How did you get here, Newt?" she said.
He raised his thumb, jerked it in a hitchhike gesture. "Two days," he said.
"Does your mother know?" she said.
"I didn't come to see my mother," he told her.
"Who did you come to see?" she said.
"You," he said.
"Why me?" she said.
"Because I love you," he said. "Now can we take a walk?" he said. "One foot in front of the other -- through leaves, over bridges --"
They were taking the walk now, were in a woods with a brown-leaf floor.
Catherine was angry and rattled, close to tears. "Newt," she said, "this is absolutely crazy."
"How so?" he said.
"What a crazy time to tell me you love me," she said. "You never talked that way before." She stopped walking.
"Let's keep walking," he said.
"No," she said. "So far, no farther. I shouldn't have come with you at all, " she said.
"You did," he said.
"To get you out of the house," she said. "If somebody walked in and heard you talking to me that way, a week before the wedding --"
"What would they think?" he said.
"They'd think you were crazy," she said."
"Why?" he said.
Catherine took a deep breath, made a speech. "Let me say that I'm deeply honored by this crazy thing you've done," she said. "I can't believe you're really A.W.O.L., but maybe you are. I can't believe you really love me, but maybe you do. But --"
"I do," said Newt.
"Well, I'm deeply honored," said Catherine, "and I'm very fond of you as a friend, Newt, extremely fond -- but it's just too late." She took a step away from him. "You've never even kissed me," she said, and she protected herself with her hands. "I don't mean you should do it now. I just mean this is all so unexpected. I haven't got the remotest idea of how to respond."
"Just walk some more," he said. "Have a nice time."
They started walking again.
"How did you expect me to react?" she said.
"How would I know what to expect?" he said. "I've never done anything like this before."
"Did you think I would throw myself into your arms?" she said.
"Maybe," he said.
"I'm sorry to disappoint you," she said.
"I'm disappointed," he said. "I wasn't counting on it. This is very nice, just walking."
Catherine stopped again. "You know what happens next?" she said.
"Nope," he said.
"We shake hands," she said. "We shake hands and part friends," she said.
"That's what happens next."
Newt nodded. "All right," he said. "Remember me from time to time. Remember how much I loved you."
Involuntarily, Catherine burst into tears. She turned her back to Newt, looked into the infinite colonnade of the woods.
"What does that mean?" said Newt.
"Rage!" said Catherine. She clenched her hands. "You've no right --"
"I had to find out," he said.
"If I'd loved you," she said. "I would have let you know before now."
"You would?" he said.
"Yes," she said. She faced him, looked up at him, her face quite red. "You would have known," she said.
"How?" he said.
"You would have seen it," she said. "Women aren't very clever at hiding it."
Newt looked closely at Catherine's face now. To her consternation, she realized that what she had said was true, that a woman couldn't hide love.
Newt was seeing love now.
And he did what he had to do. He kissed her.
"You're hell to get along with!" she said when Newt let her go.
"I am?" said Newt.
"You shouldn't have done that," she said.
"You didn't like it?" he said.
"What did you expect," she said, "wild, abandoned passion?"
"I keep telling you," he said. "I never know what's going to happen next."
"We say goodbye," she said.
He frowned slightly. "All right," he said.
She made another speech. "I'm not sorry we kissed," she said. "That was sweet. We should have kissed, we've been so close. "I'll always remember you, Newt, and good luck."
"You too," he said.
"Thank you, Newt," she said.
"Thirty days," he said.
"What?" she said.
"Thirty days in the stockade," he said. "That's what one kiss will cost me."
"I -- I'm sorry," she said, "but I didn't ask you to go A.W.O.L."
"I know," he said.
"You certainly don't deserve any hero's reward for doing something as foolish as that," she said.
"Must be nice to be a hero," said Newt. "Is Henry Stewart Chasens a hero?"
"He might be, if he got the chance," said Catherine. She noted uneasily that they had begun to walk again. The farewell had been forgotten.
"You really love him?" he said.
"Certainly I love him!" she said hotly. "I wouldn't marry him if I didn't love him!"
"What's good about him?" said Newt.
"Honestly!" she cried, stopping again. "Do you have any idea how offensive you're being? Many, many, many things are good about Henry! Yes," she said, "and many, many, many things are probably bad too. But that isn't any of your business. I love Henry, and I don't have to argue his merits with you!"
"Sorry," said Newt.
"Honestly!" said Catherine.
Newt kissed her again. He kissed her again because she wanted him to.
They were now in a large orchard.
"How did we got so far from home, Newt?" said Catherine.
"One foot in front of the other -- through leaves, over bridges," said Newt.
"They add up -- these steps," she said.
Bells rang in the tower of the school for the blind nearby.
"School for the blind," said Newt.
"School for the blind," said Catherine. She shook her head in drowsy wonder. "I've got to go back now," she said.
"Say goodbye," said Newt.
"Every time I do, "said Catherine, "I seem to get kissed."
Newt sat down on the close-cropped grass under an apple tree. "Sit down," he said.
"No," she said.
"I won't touch you," he said.
"I don't believe you," she said.
She sat down under another tree, twenty feet away from him. She closed her eyes.
"Dream of Henry Stewart Chasens," he said.
"What?" she said.
"Dream of your wonderful husband-to-be," he said.
"All right, I will," she said. She closed her eyes tighter, caught glimpses of her husband-to-be.
The bees were humming in the trees, and Catherine almost fell asleep. When she opened her eyes she saw that Newt really was asleep.
He began to snore softly.
Catherine let Newt sleep for an hour, and while he slept she adored him with all her heart.
The shadows of the apple tree grew to the west. The bells in the tower of the school for the blind rang again.
"Chik-a dee-dee-dee," went a chickadee.
Somewhere far away, an automobile starter nagged and failed, nagged and failed, fell still.
Catherine came out from under her tree and knelt by Newt.
"Newt?" she said.
"Hmm?" he said. He opened his eyes.
"Late," she said.
"Hello, Catherine," he said.
"Hello, Newt," she said.
"I love you," he said.
"I know," she said.
"Too late," he said.
"Too late," she said.
He stood, stretched groaningly. "A very nice walk," he said.
"I thought so," she said.
"Part company here?" he said.
"Where will you go?" she said.
"Hitch into town, turn myself in," he said.
"Good luck," she said.
"You, too," he said. "Marry me, Catherine?"
"No," she said.
He smiled, stared at her hard for a moment, then walked away quickly.
Catherine watched him grow smaller in the long perspective of shadows and trees, knew that if he stopped and turned now, if he called to her, she would run to him. She would have no choice.
Newt did stop. He did turn. He did call. "Catherine," he called.
She ran to him, put her arms around him, could not speak.
A fine work of fiction, if I may say so. It doesn’t only happen in the movies, folks. It first happened in books. And sometimes, it happens in real life.