I put the picture on the chair and just sat on the floor, staring at it, almost as if I had been hypnotized. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave it in my house or take it outside. I wasn’t sure if I was afraid or even more obsessed with curiosity.
I knew the when and the where I had gotten the picture. Now, I needed to know the why. Why had I found a picture that the owner said he didn’t even remember? Why had a random chair caught my attention long enough for me to see something behind it?
I know that sometimes a name is written on the back of a picture, so I quickly ripped the brown paper backing off of the frame. I could see a faintly scribbled “PMIII.”
I thought “this has to be his initials and maybe he was the ‘third,’ like my son.” Armed with that new information, I was ready to continue my search and the first stop was going to be where it had started.
After an almost sleepless night, the next day I went to the antique store where I bought the picture. The old jail hadn’t been repaired enough to re-open but I knew that the owners, Floyd and Jenny, lived in a little house right behind it.
I knocked on their door, hoping somebody would be at home. Floyd answered the door and met me with a smile. I asked him if he had a minute and could I talk to him. He cheerfully said “yes, step inside.”
Floyd was a tall, lean man with a shock of silver hair. His blue-green eyes were almost hidden behind thick, dark-rimmed glasses. He walked with a slight limp, which he said was caused by a badly broken leg when he was a child.
He had a glass of water and a handful of pills that he downed in one gulp, explaining that he had all the “old people” ailments…arthritis, bursitis, colitis and every other “itis.”
When he asked what he could do for me, I asked if by any chance, he remembered me. I tried to trigger something by telling him that he had given me a tour of the old jail. His memory had faded and I could see him trying to recall my face so he could maybe, not make me feel forgettable.
I showed him the picture and reminded him that I found it behind a chair. As he studied it, he said he “vaguely remembered.” I watched his face to see if I could see anything that betrayed an attempt to hide recognition of the greeter. If he did recognize him, he hid it well.
I told him that I really wanted to try to get some information about it.
He of course, said he didn’t know anything when I bought it so there wasn’t any possibility that he was going to tell me he knew anything about it now.
Floyd and Jenny had migrated from Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. They, like many others chose to stay behind to weather the storm and escaped with their lives but nothing else.
While clinging to a telephone pole, Jenny lost her shoes. After the storm was over, she and Floyd were trying to make it back to what used to be their house and Jennys’ feet were badly cut on broken glass. After wading through the septic water, they got infected. The result was the amputation of both of her legs just below the knee, leaving her a prisoner in a wheelchair.
I hadn’t met Jenny but Floyd had told me about her. He said that she spent most of her time sitting in her wheelchair, crocheting. She would spend countless hours, making a doily and then when it was finished, she would painstakingly unravel it, roll the thread into a ball and start all over.
Floyd called Jenny and when she came into the room, I saw her looking at my feet. She quickly apologized for staring and said that she liked my shoes. I imagine every time she looks at somebodys’ feet, she thinks about the loss of her own.
I asked her if she remembered the picture. She put on her glasses, looked at it for a few seconds and said “you know,” at which point Floyd put his hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him and he ever so slightly shook his head. She handed the picture back to me and said “no, I’m sorry, I don’t.”
I smiled as if I hadn’t noticed anything and asked Floyd if they kept records of their inventory. I told him that I had found initials on the back of the picture so if there was anything he could find, it would be helpful. I even offered to help him look.
He shook his head and said “any records we had were most likely destroyed in the collapse.”
He got up and put the decorative leg of a piece of furniture into the fireplace. There was a stack of broken and warped pieces in a large basket in the corner.
All of his wonderful antiques had been reduced to nothing more than ruined pieces of the past, used as fuel to keep their living room warm.
I asked them if they could tell me anything about the greeter. I stopped Floyd in mid-sentence when he said “all we know is” and finished it with “he’s been there for as long as anybody can remember.”
I said, “other than he’s been there for as long as anybody can remember, can you tell me anything else…such as, where does he get his food…where does he sleep at night…anything?”
Jenny once again, ready to speak, looked at Floyd and then smiled when she said “we really don’t know, dear.”
I had heard that answer before and I knew our conversation was over, when she started wheeling herself into the next room.
I thanked Floyd for his time, gave my regards to Jenny and left. As I was driving away, I got an uneasy feeling when I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw both of them watching me from the window.
I tried to shake it off as I headed back to the library.
To be continued……………………