by Art Cerf
If you were looking for a single word to describe Lester Duncastle, it would be annoying. He wasn’t bad or evil, just annoying.
He’s the fellow who stands too close to you, speaks too loudly, tells rambling, pointless stories and laughs at his own jokes. If you had a middle seat on a plane and he was seated next to you, you might bolt to the emergency exit and try to jump out of the plane. Â People who would enjoy his company probably also like mosquitoes.
As you might imagine, he had no male friends. He had no girlfriends. He had no friends, period. All of which means he was a very lonely person.
And when the pandemic hit, he had to stay in place in his studio apartment, the only place he could afford in the city.
Driven out of his mind by the isolation, he started going to supermarkets in an attempt to strike up conversations with elderly shoppers. But of course, they backed away. Then he tried the stock boys and the checkout ladies but to no success.
Store after store, it was the same. Â No one wanted to be close enough to have a conversation.
As he sadly ambled home, he stopped by a park bench, placed his head in his hands and started to sob. His crying was no more attractive than his personality but he couldn’t help it.
Suddenly, there was a soft touch on his shoulder. When he looked up, there was a young woman asking, “Are you all right?”
Snuffling back some mucus, he said, “No, I am not. I’m so damned lonely.”
She nodded and said she was lonely, too. She had just moved into the city and knew almost no one. Â She added, “I’m Cynthia.”
He smiled, saying, “I’m Lester.” He thought that she wasn’t really pretty but also realized that he was no prize either.
They talked and talked and finally he asked if he could have her number.
She said that she didn’t have a new phone yet but he might reach her by calling her flatmate’s phone.
Lester almost flew home. He hadn’t been this happy since he hit a double in Little League almost 20 years ago.
The day wore him out so he settled in for a nap. But when he awoke, he had a pounding headache and a fever. Hours later, the fever spiked and he feared that he had contracted the coronavirus.
He hurried out of the building heading for the hospital but collapsed on the stairs.
Three days later, he awoke in a hospital bed, breathing through a ventilator. A doctor looked in and said, “Ah, you’re awake…the worst is over.”
Still, he remained in the hospital for another eight days before he was released.
Once at home, he hurried to his cell phone which he had left behind in his fevered rush to the hospital. And he found Cynthia’s phone number.
He called and a stranger’s voice answered.
“Hello,” he said. “May I please speak to Cynthia?”
There was a pause on the line and then the voice said, “Who’s this?”
Lester explained how he and Cynthia had met in the park almost two weeks ago but he had been hospitalized since.
Again there was a pause. Then the woman said, “I’m sorry to tell you that Cynthia caught the virus. She died last week.”
Lester dropped the phone and then fell down beside it.
They say a broken heart can’t kill you.
They were wrong.