“I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on Earth!” That was what I said to Lewis, the moment before I threw a drink into his face.
We were at Freddie’s Place (in Columbus, Ohio, if you must know) and we were on a blind date. The year was 1945, and Lewis and I were sitting at a big table by the window.
Anyway, before the drink-throwing incident, the date hadn’t been going well. Lewis was a handsome fella, (still is) but he kept getting on my nerves.
Wait a minute, though, (as Lewis keeps saying to me) I have a tendency to keep getting ahead of myself.
I’ll go back to the beginning of our date. Lewis walked into Freddie’s (all tall and suave, and debonair) and I almost swooned. Emily, my friend who had arranged our date, told me that he was a looker, but I just wasn’t prepared.
When he sat down, (all twinkling blue eyes and cleft chin) I decided to play it cool.
“Did you know you look like Errol Flynn?” I said, lowering my chin and looking up at him through my lashes, just like I’d seen Bacall do to Bogart in The Big Sleep.
“Who the devil is he?” said Lewis. He finished sipping his lemon water, and carefully placed his empty glass on the table.
“Don’t you go to the pictures?” I said, and waved the waiter over to our table.
“Don’t you mean the cinema?” Lewis replied.
“And what would the lady like to drink tonight?” said our waiter. He was blonde, and had carefully arranged his hair so that he looked a bit like Randolph Scott.
“I’d like a martini, please,” I said, smiling.
“Excellent choice,” said Randolph’s twin.
Lewis frowned. “I’ll have a glass of whiskey, please.
“What kind, sir?” said our waiter.
“Umm…I’ll have the most expensive kind you’ve got,” said Lewis.
“Right away, sir,” said our waiter. “I’ll be back with those drinks faster than you can say Jimmy Stewart.”
“Thanks Randolph,” I said, not thinking.
“You’re welcome, miss,” said the waiter. (I could have sworn that he winked.)
“Who is Jimmy Stewart?” said Lewis.
I took another drink of my water. “Oh, just another star of the silver screen,” I said. “You wouldn’t know him.”
“I should hope not,” said Lewis, lighting a cigarette. “At any rate, I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.”
“I’m Margaret,” I said, “but everybody calls me Maggie.”
Lewis smiled for the first time, and I saw that his teeth were white and even. “I’m Leonard Lewis,” he said, “but everyone calls me Lewis. Easier that way.”
“Mmmm,” I said. What can I say? I’ve always been a sucker for accents.
“Indeed,” he said, removing a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbing at his forehead. “It seems to be very warm in here.”
“Yes,” I said, trying very hard not to drool on the tablecloth.
“Drinks!” said Lewis.
“What?” I said.
“One martini for the lady, and a glass of our best imported bourbon for the gentleman,” said our waiter.
“Thank you,” I said.
“All in a day’s work,” our waiter said, as he placed our drinks beside our silverware. “Would you like to hear our specials for the night? We’ve got a lovely lobster bisque.”
“No, that will be all for a while,” said Lewis, looking at me. “We’d like to get better acquainted.”
Our waiter nodded, and headed to another table. “Just give me a shout if you two need anything,” he said.
“We will,” I said, and took a big gulp of martini.
“Are you alright, Margaret?” said Lewis.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m very well, why do you ask? And my name is Maggie. Only my mother calls me Margaret.”
Lewis took a sip of whiskey and swallowed. (I must admit that I enjoyed the sight of his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down.)
“Well,” he said. “You just look a bit green, that’s all.”
I took a sip of my martini, being careful not to gulp it this time. “I’m just a little nervous, that’s all,” I said.
Lewis laughed. “What on earth have you got to be nervous about?”
“You!” I blurted.
Lewis leaned forward, and I admired his thick eyelashes. My mother would have said they were wasted on a man.
“I have a proposition for you,” he said.
“You do?” I said. To hell with propriety, I thought, and downed the rest of my glass in one go.
Lewis slipped another cigarette from a case in his breast pocket and grinned. “I’ll go ahead and lay all my cards on the table. I’m in the RAF, and we’re shipping out tomorrow. I need to marry an American girl, tonight.”
“What?” I said. I motioned for the waiter.
“Another round?” said Randolph Scott’s look-alike.
“Yes please,” I said.
“Thank you very much,” said Lewis.
“Is anything wrong, miss?” said our new friend.
“No,” I said. “I think I’m in shock.”
Lewis grinned again. “I’m about to ask her to marry me,” he said.
The waiter smiled back. “Wonderful! I’ll bring two glasses of our best champagne.”
“Away you go then,” Lewis said, lighting his cigarette. He took a slow drag and exhaled.
“Well, will you marry me?” Lewis added.
I stared blankly at the next table, where a family with teenagers was scoffing gourmet hamburgers. “Well, I don’t know,” I said. “Will any American girl do?”
Lewis frowned. “I suppose so,” he said, “but you’re the most attractive girl I’ve seen in ages. Emily wasn’t wrong.”
“Oh really,” I said, feeling white hot rage beginning to build in my chest. “What else did she tell you?”
Lewis stubbed out his cigarette, and took another mouthful of whiskey. “Well, let’s see,” he said. “She also mentioned that you were quite easygoing, and eager to please everyone, especially men.”
“What?” I said, for the second time that day. I couldn’t believe my ears. I knew male chauvinists existed, but I’d never met one before.
“Champagne?” said our waiter, beaming.
“Yes, definitely,” I said.
“Thank you,” said Lewis, holding out a twenty dollar bill to the waiter. “Be a good man, and bring another bottle, would you?”
Our waiter grinned from ear to ear. “Yes sir,” he said. He pocketed the note, and made a beeline for the kitchen.
“Well, I’m guessing the answer is yes,” said Lewis, eyeing me the same way that I would survey a particularly scrumptious chocolate cake. “Where shall we honeymoon tonight? I saw a beautiful hotel a few streets over, and—"
“I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on Earth!” I shouted.
Lewis froze, motionless. However, in a moment he seemed to regain his self-possession.
“My dear, please calm down,” he said. “People are beginning to notice—"
“Let them notice!” I shouted again, louder this time. The family at the next table gaped at us, open-mouthed.
Lewis chuckled. “Emily also mentioned that you have a bit of a temper,” he said, gazing at me with what I guessed was male appreciation. “I like a woman with spirit.”
“Champagne, sir,” said our server.
“Just a moment,” I said.
“Oh, okay,” said Randolph’s twin brother. “I’ll be back in five.”
Lewis sighed. “Could we ask you to make yourself scarce for ten minutes? The lady and I are having a bit of a disagreement.”
“Yes, sir,” agreed the waiter, disappearing into the kitchen.
“What were you saying?” said Lewis, turning back to me and stifling a yawn.
“I was saying,” I said, “that I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on Earth!”
And that was when I picked up my glass of champagne and threw it into his face. (I felt just like Lana Turner, as I turned on my heel and walked out of the restaurant.)
I heard the sound of laughter behind me. “You’ll be back,” said Lewis.
“Like hell,” I thought, as I trudged though the snow and waved down a taxi. Little did I know that Lewis was right.
That night the bombs fell. I remember huddling in my apartment with my cat, Archie, (Archie for short and Archie Leach for long) and diving underneath the bed. Plaster from the bedroom ceiling began to fall to the floor in large chunks, and I heard a series of explosions.
I think I heard Mrs. Giuliani (from upstairs) scream. Something very large crashed onto the bed, and I accidentally knocked my head against the metal frame. Before I passed out, I remember reaching out for Archie, but not being able to find him.
When I woke up, the first thing I saw was a blue ceiling. Archie was licking my face and I pulled him into my chest for a quick snuggle. Of course he protested, but I scratched him behind the ears and felt him begin to relax.
“I had a terrible nightmare Arch,” I said. “I dreamt that this horrible Englishman asked me to marry him, and I threw a drink in his face like Lana Turner. Then I dreamt that the Germans bombed us and—”
I heard the unmistakable sound of male laughter. “Hello Maggie,” said Lewis, grinning from ear to ear. “I see that you’re in the land of the living again.”
The first thing I noticed was that Lewis wasn’t wearing a shirt. The second thing I noticed was that I was lying fully dressed, in a bed that wasn’t my own.
“You!” I said.
“Wait a moment darling,” he said. “There are some things I need to tell you.”
I surveyed my expensive silk pajamas, that clearly weren’t my own. “I’ll bet! Do you always drug your women, before you seduce them?”
Lewis looked genuinely confused. “What?” he said.
“You heard me!” I said, rising from the bed and throwing open the curtains. “You’ve kidnapped me, to have your wicked way with me.” I looked out the window, and that was when I saw the ruin that surrounded us.
It seemed that the world had turned grey. Ash and rubble lay all around us, where apartment buildings, parks, and businesses had once stood. I listened for one solitary sound, (birds, children playing in the street, cars honking their horns) but I couldn’t hear anything except for the sound of my own breathing.
“Oh my God,” I said, covering my face with my hands and accidentally bumping into Lewis. “Oh my God! What happened?”
Lewis sighed, and took a lighter and cigarette from his trouser pocket. His hands shook as he lit the cigarette. “The world as we know it has ended, Maggie,” he said.
“How?” I said. I heard Archie meow, and I picked him up to cuddle him against my chest again.
Lewis stared into space, and took another drag on his cigarette.
“It was the bloody Germans,” he said. “It was all over the radio. None of us saw it coming. They bombed England and America, and then America retaliated by bombing the hell out of Germany.”
“I see,” I said, rubbing my jaw. “How long was I out?”
Lewis smiled, and ground out his cigarette stub. “About a week, give or take,” he said.
My head started to throb, and I felt a soft bandage near my hairline. “I hit my head before I passed out,” I said. “Did you put this bandage on?”
Lewis took a drink of water, and coughed. “Yes," he said, I did. "There’s no one else,” he added. “Believe me, I looked.”
I held Archie a little more tightly to my chest. “Are you sure?” I said.
“Yes, I’m bloody well sure,” Lewis replied. “After I pulled you out of the rubble, and got you safely back to my place, I trudged around for days, trying to find at least one human soul. There was nothing but the bloody cat.”
“You saved Archie Leach?” I said.
Lewis smiled at me. “You know that’s the name of Cary Grant’s dog, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” I said, returning his grin.
“I’m sorry that you’re stuck with me,” he said. “You can leave if you like.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I said. “I’m staying right here with you.”
“Really?” said Lewis. “I was hoping you would. Also, I must admit that I wanted you from the first moment I saw you.”
“Yes,” I said, rolling my eyes. “You wanted me for a quick visa marriage. I know.” Just then, Archie meowed and I put him down on the floor.
Lewis took my hand in his, and leaned forward. “No,” he said. “What I failed to mention was that Emily had been showing me your picture, and chatting all about you for months. I felt like I knew you, but I clearly didn’t.”
“Yes, and you behaved like a royal asshole,” I added, kissing the back of Lewis’ neck.
“I know,” he said, brushing his lips against mine. “I was so very nervous, and I thought I should appear confident, like Errol Flynn.”
“Aha!” I said, slipping off my pajama top, “You do know who he is.”
“You’ve got me there,” he said, pulling off his trousers. “I’m still not sure who Jimmy Stewart is,” he added.
“I also have a confession to make,” I said, as I kissed the very top of Lewis’ chest.
“What’s that?” Lewis said, as he slowly removed my bra.
“I’m still not sorry I threw that drink in your face,” I said, trailing a line of kisses down his chest and toward his groin.
“Oh God,” said Lewis. “Keep doing that, and please don’t stop.”
“Well,” I said, pausing for a moment to catch my breath. “I suppose it’s our duty to repopulate the earth.”
“Oh definitely,” said Lewis, as he slid my silk pajama pants off of my legs. “Most definitely.”
And that’s where I’ll leave you. (Well, that’s not where I left Lewis, but I think you know that.)
That’s the story of how I met the love of my life, and how the official repopulation of the world began. One year later, Lewis and I would meet an entire metropolis of people who survived the bombings.
However, as daylight wanes, and I hear our children calling, I realize that I must put down my pen, and save the telling of that story for another day.