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A Visit To London. By Martin Green.

Jim Stevens and his wife Marie stood patiently in line, waiting for it to move into the next room of Buckingham Palace. It was the first year that the palace had been opened to visitors and Marie had badly wanted to go. Stevens thought it was disappointing. The crowd was huge and they were not allowed to go about on their own. Instead, they were herded like sheep, kept in line by ropes on either side, from one room to the next.

Stevens heard some women, obviously English, talking at the head of the line, and then a tinkling laugh that he was sure he recognized. He was well over six feet and now he tried to look over the heads of the people in front of him. He saw a tall woman, blonde with touches of gray, fine features, talking animatedly to a younger woman beside her. It could be her. Yes, it could be her.

Mary Brown. That was her surprisingly common name. When he graduated college he’d enlisted in the air force - he’d always wanted to fly - and had been stationed in Germany. On a week’s leave in London he’d met Mary, picked her up actually, and had fallen for her. She was, he thought, a classical English beauty, blonde with fair skin and he loved her English accent. He’d spent every moment of his leave time in London with her and, when his enlistment was over, wanted her to come back to America with him. She was not sure and they left it that they’d write and then see when he’d settled down.

At first, Stevens had written every week, then, under pressure, he’d joined his father’s stock brokers firm, then he’d met Marie, also blonde but petite rather than tall, and, as it seemed expected of him, he’d married her and before he knew it they had two children. Of course, long before that, he’d stopped writing to Mary. Sometimes he wondered if it wasn’t an accident that he’d married a blonde whose name was so like Mary.

Stevens, besides being tall, was sturdy and had the confident air of a successful businessman. But he’d had a heart attack that last winter and, at age 55, had retired. This trip was in a way to mark his retirement. He’d wanted to re-visit the places he’d been to as a young man in the air force and show them to Marie.

The line finally moved forward. They walked through still another room with elegant furniture whose walls were lined with paintings. Stevens hardly noticed them. When they exited the room the crowd dispersed a little. He looked around, trying to find Mary Brown. His wife said, “What is it, Jim? What are you looking for?”

“Nothing. I thought I recognized someone I once knew. But I was probably mistaken. Anyway, she’s gone now.” Suddenly Stevens felt tired. “Let’s go back to the hotel and rest up a little.” Mary Brown. The young airman who’d loved to fly. What other things in his life? Yes, they were all gone.

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