Short Stories

The Mark of The Best

“The most pathetic thing in the world is someone who has sight but no vision.”

                                                                                                   Helen Keller


    Lisa stepped off the curb just before the “walk” symbol lit up with its almost abstract representation of a man walking, a bow by the politicians to the multi-cultural, multi-lingual nature of America’s largest city. Crossing Broadway this far downtown was not too difficult, although there was always the Yellow Cab menace to worry about anywhere in Manhattan. On almost any street in this area, Lisa did not hesitate to jay walk like most native New Yorkers, taking her chances in this little game of chicken between the hulking metal monsters and the teeming flow of pedestrians. Now avenues, being wider and usually much busier, were another matter. And, Broadway was the mother of all Manhattan avenues – not quite conforming to the grid of all but lower Manhattan, but close enough. Broadway is Main Street, or as close as New York City comes to having a main street


    Dealing with these sometimes mean but always exciting streets had already become second nature to Lisa. She walked down Waverly Street through the urban campus of NYU toward Washington Square Park with this line of thinking occupying only half her mind. Her real focus was on meeting her parents later that day. She’d been a student here for nearly three semesters and this would be the fifth time they had flown in to see her. She loved her parents and all that, but hey, she needed space, room to grow, freedom to make her own friends and her own decisions. Of course there was the money thing, but she was not the only rich girl on campus. Besides, no one here knew or cared about that. She feared no Lindberg kidnapping scenario. That was just movie stuff. Still, she could understand the concern her parents must feel. Maybe the news had been big when they first learned they had won, but that was back in Tennessee. And over three years had already passed. Things had settled down, mostly.


    Without that lottery money, she wouldn’t even be here, she thought. She’d be just another student at Middle Tennessee State University, like most of her high school graduating class. It’s not that MTSU was a bad school, but this was Manhattan! So what that she didn’t get into Columbia? All Ivy League schools are hard to get into when you don’t have the family history or connections.


    Maybe someday her own children … but that’s okay. It’s not like she needed to go to Columbia in order to make the right friends so that she would have the right contacts after graduation. Besides, NYU was right up there with the best, maybe even better than Columbia. It’s just that Columbia had been her dream. She already had all the money and more that those students at both schools were hoping to make in the future. After three years, thoughts like that still seemed strange

    New York University had been great so far. And had she not come to NYU, she would have never met David. Dreamboat, wonderful, thoughtful David! Was he already at Washington Square Park waiting for her? She should not have stopped at that little home furnishings store. It’s not like she needed anything, or even like anything else would even fit in her little apartment! What time is it anyway? Was she late? She picked up her pace.


    David looked at his watch still again. Typical. She was late. He’d have to think up some slick way to get the point across to her that his time was valuable. After all, he was the catch; she was no beauty. Patience, patience, he told himself as he took a deep breath to relax. Things were right on track. He’d be meeting her parents for the first time today and it was all planned out. He’d done his homework. His lines were well rehearsed, but still he’d have to be careful. Earn their trust and admiration without revealing that he had any inside information – that was the key. He had her, no question about it. He’d learned early how to make his dark eyes twinkle as he flashed that irresistible toothy white smile. But good old country mom and dad still could overrule him. His plan had to work. He would not be poor and unknown forever, and this was his one great chance at grabbing the double golden rings of money and fame early in his life. He would not fail.


    Arthur felt overwhelmed. All his life, he had felt deep inside that he had something good and important to do, something to give, but every time he thought he was right there ready to make his mark, it always came crashing down. Like now. How could they just fire him? Sure, the economy was not great, but why does the little guy always get cut? He’d heard the talk at work about the raises the big guys got. A fraction of that raise the CEO took last year would have paid Arthur’s wages until retirement! Too bad college had been out of the question for him. A better education could have made a big difference. He understood by now that life was not fair, but just the same, Arthur had been given misfortune in abundance, and he’d be glad to share it. No, he thought. That was ugly. He didn’t mean that. He didn’t wish his bad luck on any poor sucker. Still, he could use a break.


    Lisa passed the Arch in the park. Still under renovation, she thought. Kind of like her life was under construction. How exciting to have so many opportunities stretching out before her! Funny how money does that. She’d always heard that money can’t buy happiness, but she was finding that it surely smoothed the path she traveled in search of happiness. She’d also heard that money corrupts, and she hoped to avoid that pitfall. In fact, her family was already working on setting up a philanthropic trust. She wasn’t quite sure just what she wanted to do with her life, but she felt strongly that she wanted to play a role in administering that trust. She and David working together disbursing that money could do so much good!


    David eyed a cute student walking by who he’d seen a couple of times around campus. She smiled, of course. He smiled back, but made no move. He was going to play this smart. There will be plenty of time for the beauties later, he told himself. He had to stick to the plan. Libido lingered and taunted but it could wait. There was money to make first, and then satiation, sweet satiation would certainly follow.


    How lucky that he had come across that newspaper article in his online research! One of the biggest lottery winners of all time. And, the family name and location had rung his bell. Was it coincidence or his fate that on that first day of class the instructor had every student stand up to give his or her name and from where they hailed? The only child in that backwards, rich family was that plain girl sitting quietly in his Basic English class! He’d immediately started laying out his plans. Sweep her off her feet. Win the parents. Marry money. It would be so easy! And so right.


    Lisa smiled. There he was, sitting on their bench. How cute he looked! He didn’t see her yet. How sweet, how perfect he was! She couldn’t wait for her parents to get to know him. They had to love him. They just had to. How lucky she was to have found him so early in her college life. She understood and believed what many college girls thought but said only to each other in private: That college was mainly meant to find a man. Oh, maybe without the money, the career contacts and the degree would be more important. But for her, finding her true love was simply what was next for her life. It made perfect sense.


    Eyes locked between David and Lisa. David flashed his best smile. Lisa grabbed him at his waist and gave him the best hug she could give appropriate to the public space they were in now. David bent down and planted a kiss on her lips. Not too long, but just long enough to be sure that he stirred her to further interest. He understood her sense of propriety and certainly didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable. It wouldn’t be smart. Hand in hand, they started towards Sheridan Square and that little Thai restaurant they liked there. It had been christened, of course, “their restaurant.”


    Arthur approached the confluence of streets in Sheridan Square with his mind still mulling what he was going to do now. Rent was already past due. His car was making some new and strange noise. Why did life have to be this way? He was approaching middle age and what did he have to show for himself? He wanted to accomplish something in life – to be useful to somebody. It seemed such an unselfish desire. And yet so unattainable. Why would God put this desire within him and then withhold its fulfillment? With eyes suddenly wet, he glanced upward, as if to heaven.


    David stopped abruptly to admire a real beauty sitting in a restaurant they were passing. She sat near the window in a little red dress with her gorgeous legs crossed. But what really commanded his attention was the way she was kicking at the air as she spoke in animated fashion, waving both hands at her table partner. She was just so stunning in form and movement that David forgot himself for a moment. Lisa, not realizing he had stopped, stepped off the curb and into the street. It was a crazy intersection, like many others in The West Village. Streets here were built before the grid took over as areas farther uptown were settled. They radiated out at odd angles, with five of them merging, or diverging, here. She didn’t see the car quickly approaching.


    David caught himself and hurriedly looked up to make sure Lisa had not seen that momentary lapse into character. His mind was already spinning out details of a possible lie that would best explain what had just happened.


    Instantly, David took in what was about to happen. His breath stopped. “My dinner ticket…” was the incomplete thought that flashed across his mind. He leaped after her, shoving her violently and knocking her down.


Arthur tried to focus his tear filled eyes back on the road, but the stinging salt of his own hot tears forced his eyes closed. He meant to hit the brakes, but his foot just tapped the worn edge of the brake, slipping off and down hard onto the gas pedal. He never saw a thing. But certainly, he heard and felt it. There was a strange thud heard simultaneously with some kind of almost inhuman half-scream, half yell, like some banshee screaming in pain or in heat. He felt the bump and on impulse, he swerved the car, causing it to flip, landing on its roof against the brick wall of a nearby cafe. Instantly, he now opened his eyes and saw the horrified faces of two young women looking down at him. They were saying something, but they seemed to be standing at an odd angle, and their voices were trailing off into the distance. Were they moving away, or was he?


     Lisa rolled, and rolled. It seemed like forever before she stopped moving and was able to sit upright. As she regained her sense of equilibrium, a horrible scene came all too clearly into focus. She learned later that David had pushed her out of the way of a speeding car. Falling as he shoved her, he was then unable to get himself out of the way. But what she saw in the aftermath was a sight she would want to forget, but knew she never could. She saw the car turned upside down, landed halfway into a wall, wheels still spinning. Smoke or dust was floating like the fog in her mind. There were screams. Was that her? Was it David? Or were the screams coming from that crowd quickly gathering?


    David? David! Where was David? Then she saw him. He was lying in the middle of the street between the overturned car and her with arms and legs oddly angled about his body. Unmoving.


    Lisa’s ambulance ride to NYU Downtown Hospital seemed long. And not long. It was as if time were no longer relevant. Things were happening around her, but she was only an observer. Nothing mattered, yet she felt vaguely curious about all the strangers lingering, hovering around her, and saying things that she could not quite grasp. It was all a confusion of sirens, bumps and turns. Soon, it all melted into a blinding darkness.


    She woke up in the emergency room with her parents present. Only she survived. Her recovery was complete. At least, physically it was complete. But, she would never forget the loss of the love of her life. And, she would never marry. How could she ever marry having lost her soul mate?


    The pattern of her life was forever fixed that day of her youth in Sheridan Square. She would go on to become a great philanthropist. Her sense of generosity and her acumen at finding and supporting worthy causes would become legendary. She would find her voice and the will required to spur others of great wealth to even greater acts of charity. She would come to be known as the Lady of Coeur. And she would dedicate it all to the memory of her one great love, that young man who in the prime of his life had given it up to save hers. He would not be forgotten. Indeed, he would be famous. His name would be carved over the doorways of schools, libraries and community buildings across the region. People he would never meet would utter his name in thanksgiving. And all this was possible because she would dole out millions of dollars in the name of the David Destiny Memorial Trust of New York City.


    Goodness is not always a well-studied course of action. It does not necessarily come from a careful weighing of alternatives. Yet, goodness has a way of appearing when and where it is needed.


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