“Excuse me sir, could you please tell me the time?” Charlotte asked politely. The man with the small mustache and round bowler hat did not so much as incline his head toward the sound of her voice. They always do that, thought Charlotte, when had people become so lacking in common manners. She rested against the back of the wooden bench and watched the passing crowds. Nannies with their small charges in hand walked them quickly home from a day of play in the park. Men with folded newspapers under their arms and briefcases in their hands, hailed cabs to take them home to their families or off to one of the local gentlemen’s clubs.
Charlotte turned her attention to the town clock again. There must be something wrong with it, she thought, for the hands never appeared to move. It seemed always to be four- fifty. She rubbed her gloved hands nervously as she again surveyed the crowd looking intently for him. He had promised to meet her at five o’clock. Calming herself with the belief that he would keep his word she pulled from her satchel an ivory boar’s hair brush and contentedly groomed her thick black tresses.
Mother and Father simply didn’t understand what a good man Albert was. They didn’t know him like she did. And they were much too old to remember what it was like to be truly in love. Yes, Albert gambled a bit too much and drank a bit too much, but that would all change once they were married. He only needed the love of a good woman to help him change his ways and if only her parents could see that, she could have a proper marriage and wouldn’t have to run away with him in secret.
Charlotte returned the brush to her satchel and pulled out the letter she had written to her parents explaining everything. She would post it when she and Albert arrived in Franklin. It was there he had promised to make a respectable woman of her… and of course he would. He wasn’t anything if not honest, having only once committed the smallest indiscretion with that barmaid. But he assured her that he had had too much to drink and didn’t know what he was doing and that it would never happen again. Charlotte rubbed her hands more intensely with the thought.
Again she turned her attention to the town clock looming over the square. Charlotte felt it looking disapprovingly at her and averted her eyes. Watching the women walk by she noticed their dress, such uncommonly straight skirts and large brimmed hats. Charlotte felt rather old fashioned in her hoop skirt and bonnet. And the men weren’t wearing the top hats that father wore when going out. Odd, she thought. An elderly gentleman came meandering slowly toward her. She could see his watch chain bouncing against his protruding stomach as he walked. Surely he was not in such a rush that he could not be bothered to answer her question. “Excuse me sir, but could you tell me the time? I think the town clock has stopped.”
He halted his steps and pulled the gold watch from his pocket checking the time on the towering wooden timepiece and being assured that the two were in accord he nodded his head in approval and walked away.
He must not have heard me, she thought, but surely now I know that the time is correct. Only ten minutes before Albert would arrive. She had never been so happy. To have such a handsome and charming man turn all his attention to her was more than she had hoped for. Mother and Father had tried to convince her to marry that dreary Charles. How could a mere bank clerk compare with such an exciting man as Albert? She would have done anything for him… and did. But that would all be rectified when they were married. Again that burning sensation in her hands. She rubbed them furiously and the pain subsided a bit.
Time seemed to stand still. Only the people and buildings showed any signs of change. Charlotte pulled the brush from her bag, groomed her long hair, returned it and pulled forth the letter. She requested the time from men and women only to be ignored; and always the burning feeling of her gloved hands. Her mind would wander into imaginations of Albert and the barmaid, she would see him in her arms and with all of Charlotte’s will she would push the nightmarish picture from her mind and replace it with the happy thoughts of her wedding day.
The shiny glass-walled buildings reflected the sun’s rays down on Charlotte but she felt none of the heat. As though she sat in a shadow she was chilled to the bone and wrapped her shawl tightly around her shoulders. What funny clothes the people wore, spiky heeled shoes and such short skirts. Mother would never have allowed her to show so much of her legs in public. And the men, not even wearing a tie or jacket. No one turned an eye toward her or answered her pleas for the correct time. Albert had to be here soon, he simply had to. She had many times thought to rise and search for him but could not summon the energy to move. Charlotte reached for her brush but the burning in her hands became too much for her and she removed her white lace gloves to examine what the cause might be. Turning her hands over she saw that her palms were stained a dark violent red. Charlotte’s mind reeled as she saw it all again. Albert and the barmaid embracing with such passion as he promised he had only for her! The smile on her wicked red lips as he kissed her neck! There on the counter lay a knife the tool that would end this nightmare and send it back to Hell. Charlotte’s vision was blurred with red, the red of Albert’s blood. It was all she could see, it was all there was until there was the bench.
“Excuse me sir, could you please tell me the time?”