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Ben And Martha
Ben And Martha
by Chuck RitenouR
Martha And Ben
Martha and Ben stood together in line at the Ziegfeld Theater's concession stand. It wasn't very long. The theater was not crowded at seven o'clock in the evening. Ben ordered a large bag of buttered pop corn and two large sodas. Martha said, "Please put lots of butter on the pop corn and just one diet soda with two straws." Ben looked at her with a quizzical expression on his face. Martha smiled at him and said, "I'll buy the first pop corn. Those drink cups are so big I'm certain we could share. Oh jeez, Ben, I hope you won't mind a diet. With all that butter on the pop corn I thought it would be a good trade off." Ben was smiling at the young girl behind the counter watching her eyes move from Martha to Ben and then back to Martha. Ben said, "That will be fine. I wouldn't want all that butter to ruin my girlish figure."
"That will be twelve dollars and fifty cents. mam," the young girl said. Martha reached into her purse and produced a new one hundred dollar bill and handed it to the girl. The girl opened her cash drawer and just stared into it. "Mam, you wouldn't happen to have anything smaller. I haven't sold enough yet to make change," she said. Ben reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a money clip with several bills in it. He pulled out a twenty and gave it to the girl. "Looks like you'll have to buy the second bag of pop corn," he said. "I'm sorry Ben. I didn't think about getting change." "That's alright, you can carry the pop corn, and I'll get the soda. I mean diet soda," he said.
The theater was dark and the previews were already on. They sat in the middle of a row of empty seats. Ben looked around the near empty theater and whispered, "I can't believe there are only a handful of John Wayne fans in New York City." From somewhere behind them someone said, "Shhhhh!" Martha giggle and sank down in her seat.
It was a triple feature. The first movie was Martha's all time favorite John Wayne movie and it also starred Maureen O'Hara. "The Quiet Man" was about an ex-patriot boxer who moved to Ireland, fell in love with a girl, and all the trouble her brother caused. In one of the last scenes, Maureen O'Hara throws a wad of money, which was her dowry, into a fire. Ben whispered, "Forty million dollars would make some big fire." Martha reached over and pinched his hand, which was holding the pop corn. In his surprise Ben jerked his hand, sending pop corn in the air. They both laughed out loud to a chorus of "Shhhhh" behind them.
At the end of the movie credits, a message came across the screen saying the concession stand was open, and there would be a fifteen minute intermission. The next show, "Hatari", would begin without repeating the previews of coming attractions. The house lights came up. Martha stood and looked around the theater. There were only nine other people, and they were all sitting together near the back. "Ben, I need to run to the ladies' room. I'll get us another bag of pop corn. Do you want anything else?" she asked. "I don't think so. This time get a medium size bag. It might be easier to hold," he said with a chuckle.
Martha walked up the aisle and disappeared through the door. Ben got up and walked back to where the nine people were sitting. "Hello, my name is Ben Delasandro. I apologize for noise. You see this is our first date, and I'm planning on asking Martha to marry me. I was wondering if I could convince you to allow us to have the theater to ourselves for the next show?" The nine people were all one family. A father and mother with seven children, ranging in ages from six to fifteen. The father stood up and presented his hand to Ben to shake. Ben gripped the man's hand and shook it. "Delasandro. Are you Jed's son, the Iraqi war hero?" the man asked." Ben answered, "J. E. Delasandro is my father."
The woman looked at her husband. It was a look of fear and concern. Everyone knew the name Delasandro. Ben reached into his pocket and pulled out his money clip. He took the money out of the clip and removed three one hundred dollar bills. He smiled and said, "The thing is, I chose this movie tonight because I thought we'd have the theater all to ourselves. I'm hoping you'll understand and help me out." He handed the man the money. "My name's Izzy Zaparoni. This is my wife Jeanna. Kids stand up and meet, Mr. Delasandro." The children stood up, and each told Ben their name. The four boys shook Ben's hand, and the girls did as much of a curtsy as the theater row would allow. "Mr. Zaparoni, you have a lovely family. Your children are very well behaved and anyone can see they have impeccable manners. I'm very pleased to meet you." Mr. Zaparoni handed the money back to Ben. Ben looked at the money and then at the man. "I can't take your money Mr. Delasandro. Come children, we're leaving." "Please, call me Ben," Ben said as he moved aside so the family could leave their seats. The children stood without a single word of protest. Mrs. Zaparoni looked at her husband as they filed past him and Ben.
The Zaparoni family had waited a very long time for a night out. The John Wayne Marathon was very inexpensive. It had cost less than the cab ride from Queens to Manhattan. Ben walked up to Mrs. Zaparoni and said, "Mam, it would ease my mind considerably if you'd accept this money to cover your transportation, and perhaps you could use whatever is left for another family night out." She looked into Ben's face and could see he was sincere. She took the offered money and said," Why yes, Mr. Delasandro, that would be lovely."
Martha was walking back into the screening room as the Zaparoni family was leaving. Ben was in his seat when she worked her way back to his side. "Well, I guess we were too loud for those folks," Martha said as she handed the pop corn to Ben, "you didn't run them off did you?" "What on Earth would make you think that?" Ben asked. "Well, it just seems too good to be true that we would have the theater to ourselves. Now we can talk instead of whispering. It'll be just like we're in a living room." "Yes, a really big living room." Ben said.
Talk she did. All throughout the movie. Martha told Ben all about growing up in Front Royal, about her parents and how much she missed them, about coming to New York and living with Louise.
Ben looked into her eyes as if his life was hanging on every word. He had never met anyone like her. Martha was a complete opposite of her sister, Louise. He had given it a lot of thought. He knew beyond a shadow of doubt he was in love with Martha.
Forty million dollars, forty million dollars has way of changing circumstances. Ben's mind was in turmoil. She sounded like the same Martha he had grown to love. She acted like the same Martha he had come to adore. He studied her face as she continued her personal history. Martha was not beautiful. She was pretty. She was not slender. She was muscular in a most feminine way. She had a habit of twirling her hair with the fingers on her right hand as she spoke. Her voice changed meter and pitch as she rambled, reminding Ben of the accordion his Uncle Michael would sometimes play at family gatherings.
"And well that's about it," she said, as the credits for Hatari were rolling down the screen. Ben had barely said a word. It was as if her voice had hypnotized him. Before the forty million dollars Ben thought he had a good chance of making Martha his own. He had thought of walks in Central Park, picnics in the country, and ,of course, introducing Martha to his parents. She would be leaving in few days. She was moving home. She would be gone. Ben felt as if his world was closing in on him. Martha was a millionaire now.
"Martha, do you mind if we skip the next show. I've seen it about, uh, forty million times," Ben said. "Okay Ben, I've got a big day tomorrow. I have a meeting with James Alcott, my new attorney, who's going to tell me what to do with my money. But I want to see you tomorrow. There's something I want to talk to you about. Could you meet me in the park at around two o'clock." "I've listened to you talk through a whole John Wayne movie. I can't believe you left something out," he said. "You'll meet though won't you?" She asked.
"Of course I'll meet you. I'd meet you on the moon if you asked." Ben replied.
As they walked out of the theater, Martha said, "Can you flag a cab down for me. I always feel so intimated trying to get the attention of a driver of a moving vehicle." "I'll do better than that. I have my father's car. Its parked on fifty-third street.I'll take you home," Ben said.
As they walked the several city blocks down Broadway Boulevard in silence, Martha slipped her arm around Ben's waist. Ben was almost as tall as she was. He had muscular build. It was easy to tell he spent time in the gym. When he walked he had a slight limp, which Roger had told her was the result of a wound he had received in Iraq. Ben never talked about Iraq. Roger said he had been awarded the Silver Star for bravery and the Purple Heart. Martha changed the gate of her stride to match his. As they made the turn onto fifty-third street, Martha was startled by the presence of a New York City police cruiser with it lights flashing sitting beside a black Lincoln Town Car. The officer got out of his car and approached. "Hey Ben, I thought that might be you. Who's that with you," he said.
As Ben and the officer shook hands, Ben said, "Martha, this is Jimmy O'Neill, one of New York's finest. We have been friends since grade school." Martha offered her hand and Jimmy gave it a light kiss. "Its a pleasure to meet you. Ben has told me all about you. So you're New York's newest millionaire." He said. "Well, yes I am, and then there's my sister, Louise." "Is she single?" Jimmy asked. "Yes, she is. Would you like me to introduce you to her. I'm sure she'd love to have someone help carry her bags while tries to buy everything in the ladies department of Macy's tomorrow," Martha said and laughed. "On second thought, I'll take a rain check. Maybe catch her before she leaves town," Jimmy said as he walked back towards his cruiser. "Ben, I know you're a tough guy, but you really shouldn't leave Mr. D's car parked on these dark side streets. I know its Manhattan, but taking a cab is safer." Jimmy got into the cruiser and eased out onto Broadway. "He's a good guy," Ben said as he opened the passenger side door for Martha, "Louise would break his heart." "I was thinking the same thing," she said as she buckled her seat belt.
Ben stared at the ceiling in his room. His mind would not let him sleep. The ever-present phantom pain coming from where his left ankle used to be was enough to keep anyone awake. He wondered if Martha knew he was a cripple. He had sworn Roger to secrecy when he learned he had told Martha about Iraq. The waitress Martha would have been easier to tell, but the millionaire Martha, it would just make the mountain higher to climb. He looked over at the clock on his dresser. It was eight-thirty. Roger would soon be arriving at the restaurant to take deliveries. Ben sat on the side of his bed and attached his prosthetic foot to his left leg.
Ben had lost his left leg from the knee down. His team in Iraq had come under enemy fire as they were being transported to an area north of Baghdad. The chopper took a hit from a hand- held rocket launcher and crashed. The pilot was wounded badly. The co-pilot was dead. Using the helicopter's radio, he called for a medivac and a fire strike. While Ben's squad provided covering fire, Ben carried the pilot about five-hundred yards to a rock formation for cover. He left the pilot and returned to the chopper. One by one, Ben's men made their way to the rocks while the others stayed and provided covering fire. The last of his men, a private Jackson from somewhere in Oklahoma, made a dash for the relative safety of the rocks. He was struck from behind by a round from an AK-47. Ben heard the man scream. He ran to the fallen man, lifted him up onto his back, and ran for his life towards the rocks. His men were providing covering fire from the rocks. He was within ten feet of the rocks when his lower left leg was shattered by a fifty-caliber machine gun round. Ben was behind the rocks lowering Jackson to the ground when he realized he was hit. Five Apache helicopters were soon hovering above them, raking the area where the Iraqi rebels had been. At some point, Ben lost lost consciousness. He spent six months rehabbing in Walter Reed hospital. He and Private Jackson were the only two men to escape the skirmish with their lives. During the inquiry, Jackson testified that they would have all died had it not been for Sgt. Ben Delasandro's actions. Ben was awarded the Silver Star for valor and received the Purple Heart for being wounded in action. Ben didn't like to talk about it. He saw nothing courageous in losing the lives of so many men-men, he had come to regard as his brothers. He still had nightmares about it. He wondered if they'd ever go away.
It was two in the afternoon. Martha was sitting on her favorite bench surrounded by cooing pigeons and squirrels begging for peanuts. Ben stopped and watched her from a distance. She hadn't seen him as of yet. He watched her as she scattered corn on the ground. He changed his direction of approach so that she could not see him. "Don't be such a pig, Amos," Martha scolded one of the pigeons. A squirrel hopped up on the bench beside her and took a peanut from her hand, then scampered off.
"Which one of those fat birds is Amos," Ben asked softly. "Goodness, you startled me. Where'd you learn to sneak up on someone like that?" Martha asked. Her face was consumed by her smile. "Come sit down beside me," she said, as she scattered the last of her corn on the ground. "Are you sure you have room for me on that bench? I think those squirrels might get a little jealous. They may even attack me." Ben said. "Don't worry Ben darling, I'll keep you safe," Martha said as she patted the empty space on the bench beside her, "I've got some things to say and then you and let me know what you think." "Okay," Ben replied as he eased himself onto the bench beside her, "You talk, I'll listen."
It was a warm September day. Martha and Louise had left home only thirteen months ago. To Martha it seemed like just yesterday. Martha was wearing a blue, flower printed summer dress that came down to the middle of her calf and brown sandals on her size six-and-a-half feet. Her long brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She was wearing an inexpensive pair of sunglasses. She took the sunglasses off and turned to face Ben. She studied his face. Ben thought her eyes were changing color from green to brown then back to green.
There was silence between them as they looked into each other's eyes. Time has a way of standing still when magick is in the air. Magick is always present where love is present. Martha did not turn her gaze as she started to speak.
"Ben, I've decide what I want to do with the money. I've always loved animals. I'm going to move back home and buy fifty acres of land. I going to build a modest three bedroom house on that land and an animal shelter. I want you to come with me." She said.
Ben sat there, his mind racing. "Martha, I couldn't leave the restaurant to work for you in Virginia. I don't know anyone in Virginia. I don't think I'd enjoy cleaning up after dogs and cats," he said.
"Oh Ben, you fool I'm not asking you to work for me. I've loved you since the very first day I saw you. I didn't come over to your restaurant to help Louise. I came over to see you. I came over to spend some time with you. Ben, I love you. All this money will mean nothing if I can't have the one thing I really want, the one thing I've stayed in New York to get, the only thing I desperately need. Ben, I've seen the way you look at me. I think I know how you feel. I'm running out of time. I need to know. Tell me I'm wrong and I will say good-bye. We'll part as friends. I'll go home without you." As she spoke her eyes searched his, looking for clues, looking for answers.
It looked as if all the blood had drained out of Ben's face. As he stood up, she feared the worst. She closed her eyes as tight as she could and braced herself for the blow his rejection would bring.She sat there in her self-imposed darkness, waiting. There was only the sound of the pigeons cooing in the distance and the occasional chatter of a squirrel. She waited. Ben had crept up on her so silently, maybe he had moved away in the same manner without a word. She opened her eyes. Ben was on one knee in front of her. Ben reached up and took her hands. "I have loved you since I first laid eyes on you, Martha. I have dreamed of this moment ever since we met. I am not a rich man. I have never lived in the country. I've never been very good with animals. I only have one good leg. If you can accept that, I swear I'll love and cherish you beyond death's cold grip. Martha Parker, would you honor me by becoming my wife."
Martha was smiling and crying at the same time. "Yes, Ben. I'll marry you. I dreamed we'd be married and raise a family. Together, we'll make our dreams come true."
"Martha", Ben said softly, "one more thing." "What Ben. What is it?" she asked. He replied, "Could you start by helping me up."