Do you remember, dear, the days so long ago when we were at school, and the chemistry lab where you and I worked over messy experiments and grew to know each other. Your family had just moved to our town; I learnt that your father came from a distinguished family and was a government official. My father was dead, and I lived with my mother in an unfashionable street. We let half our house, and my mother did fancy sewing for the well-to-do people in town. She did it proudly, with her head held high, but you did not know that. All you knew was that I was a dressmaker's son.
But I was taken into your crowd because I was football captain and head of the top class. When I told my mother that you were going to the school dance with me, her tired eyes clouded. She knew that my waking thoughts were mostly of you, but she knew also that the gulf between our family backgrounds was not easily bridged. Yet she did not tell me that; she said only that she was sorry I did not have a blue suit to wear. I assured her that my grey one would be alright.
Outsider. When I arrived at your house to take you to the dance, you came downstairs in a blue dress which was all frilly net round your shoulders. Your face was like a flower, pink roses in your cheeks, and there were golden strands in your hair. You stood on the bottom step and looked at me, unmindful of my cheap suit. You must have seen something in my eyes which a man reserves for sacred moments.
Then your mother came in, and I was aware not so much of disapproval as of tolerance. There was a subtle difference in her attitude towards me and towards the others in your crowd; they were of her own kind, and I was an outsider. In her presence I was awkward and inarticulate.
That night we danced together almost the whole time, and when the last waltz ended there were specks of gold in your eyes, as if you were recalling that we had heard the music of the stars.
Do you remember the little cafe on the beach? In those days it was a place where the sons of dressmakers and the daughters of clerks went to dance on summer evenings, and there was a long pier on which to walk in the moonlight. But to girls like you, the cafe was only a name until that evening in June when your crowd decided to do a bit of slumming.
You were leaving the next day for your family's summer home. When you came back you were to go away to college, and I would be able to see you only during the holidays. I was face to face with tragedy. During that evening at the cafe we left the dancing and walked out to the end of the pier. We had only a little time together, for we were all to go home on the 9.30 tram. Fifteen minutes, perhaps - fifteen minutes to make up for a whole summer.
"This time tomorrow night you will be gone," I said.
"I'd rather be here with you, Jim."
"I've got a job, starting next week," I went on. "It isn't much at first but there's a chance to work my way up. And I'll make good; I've got to."
"You will," you said. "I know that". You moved closer. "Jim," you said softly, "I want you to come to the college dance with me next year. Will you come?"
"Yes," I promised.
I reached down and took your hands. Then you put your arms round me. You raised your face in the starlight and your lips, which I had never touched, brushed against my cheek. The stars came down and enveloped us. You said, "I shall always remember tonight."
Have you remembered it? Many things have happened since that night. The town has changed. The trams are no more and the small school we knew is empty, its window staring vacantly at the new one across the road. Girls don't wait at home for escorts to a school dance; they trip to the corner of the road where lounging boys wait impatiently to greet them with studied arrogance.
Straight to College. At the end of July you wrote and told me that your mother thought we shouldn't write to each other so often. I sent you only two letters a week after that.
I wasn't earning much, but I could now see big chances of promotion, and I worked hard, thinking always of you.
Then you wrote and said that your sister had, with the cruel thoughtlessness of the very young, told your father that you were in love with me; that you mooned around all day and sometimes wouldn't go swimming because you said you had a letter to write. A week after that, when I was counting the days until you should be home again, you wrote to say that you weren't coming back - your family had decided to send you straight to college.
I wrote to you every day then, but you did not answer often. I had only the college dance to look forward to. I imagine your mother protested because you'd invited me, but you had definitely committed yourself. At any rate, I came, bringing a hired dinner jacket with me.
We had agreed that I would take the four o'clock train on Friday which arrived at your college town about six. I was to get a room at the hotel, and dress, ready for dinner. After the dance I would catch the 2 a.m. train back home since my boss said I was needed on Saturday.
The cheapest room at the hotel was too expensive for me, so I walked the streets until I found a boarding-house which I could afford.
At dinner you introduced me to your friends, but I couldn't think of appropriate things to say to them. You sat next to me, but you didn't talk much. I became aware that my dinner jacket was old-fashioned; that grey shoes were not proper with evening clothes. Somehow I suffered the hour through. Then the girls went upstairs for their wraps; the men donned black overcoats and pulled white gloves from their pockets. My brown tweed overcoat was pretty conspicuous.
You came down wearing a white evening wrap embroidered in silver, and looking more beautiful than I had ever seen you.
"Some of the girls are taking cabs, but I'd rather walk," you said. "Is that all right, Jim?" I should have ordered a cab in advance, but no one had told me about that.
The gymnasium where the dance was held wasn't far away, and we walked through the moonlight, your hand beneath my arm. During the first dance I noticed that all the other girls wore flowers. I hadn't bought any for you; I hadn't known that I was expected to.
"I'm sorry about the flowers," I said. You looked at me with a hint of tears in your eyes.
"The flowers don't matter," you said.
You pressed your head against my shoulder. I held you close for a moment, sensing that this was the beginning of the end. But I carried on through the evening as best I could, trying to talk to your friends in their own language, and if I failed it was not for lack of trying but because I wasn't good at small-talk.
You and I danced together, but not to the music of the stars this time. When it was all over you said you were coming to the station with me. On the way I told you - wanting you to know the worst - that I hadn't registered at the hotel but I had dressed in a boarding-house, that I was wearing hired evening dress, and all the rest of it.
When I had finished you said, "Oh, Jim, I wanted you to have a good time tonight - and you didn't."
"No," I said, "it was a mistake having me here. I just don't belong."
It was only a minute or two after we got to the station that the headlights of the train gleamed far down the track. I put my hands on your shoulders and said, "If in years to come you should think of me, will you remember that I love you very much?"
And you closed your eyes, swaying towards me, and said, "Oh Jim - don't say that!"
I thought you meant that I shouldn't say I loved you, but I opened my arms, for this was our last minute together, and you came into them. I kissed you and you smiled up at me through your tears.
On Sunday I wrote you a restrained letter, thanking you for inviting me to the dance and explaining that I would understand if you did not care to reply. All that week I waited for an answer, but it did not come. One week followed another, and I had only my memories of you.
My firm sent me out of town; we were expanding, and soon things really began to come my way. Mother stopped her dressmaking and came to live with me.
Do you remember, dear? The years have gone by - 26 in all - and tomorrow we shall celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. For I came back to find you soon after you had left college. By chance we met, and the golden specks were in your eyes again. Standing there in the street, I began to repeat what I had said to you that night when I left you at the station after the dance: "If in years to come..."
Interrupting me, you reached out your arms (with half the town looking on!) and said, "I do remember, and I love you!"
We kissed each other, and a hurdy-gurdy on the corner ground out some impossible music that sounded sweeter than Schubert.
You are worried now, dear, about our daughter - as your mother once worried about you. She is 18 years old and thinks she is in love. I am asking you to let the young man have a chance. You can decide about him after you have read his clumsy attempt to recreate our own romance. It is my anniversary present to you.
Perhaps we can ask him to our dinner at the Country Club. He will probably be ill at ease with a famous biographer, a government official and our other distinguished guests. He will probably wear hired evening clothes and may not know what to talk about.
But a long time ago you invited a poor boy to a college dance. Do you remember?
- By Earl Reed Silvers
I read this story in Reader\'s Digest sometime in 1988. I still have the printed copy of the same, but the paper is now yellow due to aging. This story is my personal favorite and has a special meaning for me. I will be happy if many people read this story and enjoy it as much as I do. Otherwise the old book will be lying in some unknown corner of a library.
I tried to find the copyright owner for this story on Google and in local library. However I was not successful. If anyone knows the copyright holder, I would like to take his/her permission to publish this story here. Please contact me. All copyrights acknowledged. Please do not use this story to profit out of it unless you have the permission from the copyright holder.