The next morning, I went back to Ms. Cartwrights’ house and knocked on the door. “Just a minute,” I heard somebody say.
After about that long, the door opened and a smiling, toothless, white-haired, wheel-chair bound little old lady beckoned me inside. “Ms. Cartwright?” I asked. She said “oh, child. Call me Mabel and wait just a minute while I get my teeth.”
She rolled her chair over to a doily clad table and pulled her teeth out of a ceramic mug that said “Here They Are!”
She said “okay. Got my teeth in and let me tell you something straightaway. I’m not ‘Ms’. I’m not married, never been married and never intend to be married. Men are skunks and they should all be put down.” I couldn’t help but laugh when she said that. I almost felt the same way.
“You’re the young girl who bought the house in front of me, aren’t you?” she said. I answered “well, I don’t know that I would call myself young but yes, I am.”
She shook her head and said “you’re young to me. How old do you think I am?” I was a little hesitant to answer because I didn’t want to offend her. I thought she looked to be in her eighties, but I erred on the side of caution and guessed “70’s, maybe?” She laughed and said “I am 101 years old.”
Well, she may have looked to be in her 80’s but she sure didn’t look 101. She said “let me roll into the kitchen and get you a cold Coca Cola.” I wasn’t much of a soda drinker but I didn’t want to be rude. She came back with two bottles of Coke and said “I drink a Coca Cola every single day, smoke one cigarette every single afternoon and watch Jeopardy every single night. That’s what keeps my mind sharp.”
To say that Miss Mabel was a hoot, a holler and a hi-de-ho would have been an understatement and I liked her right away.
She said “now then. Tell me what’s on your mind.” I told her that I wanted to know a little about the people who had lived in the house before I bought it and I began with “did a little girl live there?”
Miss Mabel said “yes’um.”
I asked her if by any chance she remembered her name. Miss Mabel, a bit insulted said “of course I remember her name. I’m old, not senile.” I gave her the “okay…tell me her name” look.
She said “her name was Katy and a sweeter child never drew breath, but that little girl never had a chance.”
My smile broke and I stuttered as I said “wh…what do you mean?” Miss Mabel intentionally ignored my question and I could tell that I was not going to get answer, at least not then so I changed the subject.
I told her that I had found little notes all over the house and in the attic. I said “she seemed to be very religious and she prayed for her granny.” Miss Mabel said “yes. She believed in the Almighty and she loved her granny.”
Then I told her about the picture of a horse and the painting of the blue trees, but I didn’t tell her about the beautiful man drawing. She said “oh, yes. Katy was quite the artist. That child could draw anything.” I asked if she had ever seen any of her art. She smiled and said “come with me.”
She rolled her chair down the hall and turned on the light. I stood in frozen silence as I looked at this long wall, painted to look like the beach.
There were palm trees, with hammocks tied between them and I expected them to start swaying at any given moment. Coconuts lay on the ground and I swear I could smell them and I felt that if I put my ear to the wall, I could actually hear the ocean.
I said “she painted this?” Miss Mabel’s joviality seemed to turn nostalgic as she said “yes. She painted this for me because she knew how much I loved the beach and she knew that I’d never be able to go to one.”
I looked at this remarkable mural and all I could manage to say was “this is just stunning. This is just absolutely stunning.” There was no date that I could see so I asked Miss Mabel when she painted it.
She said “she painted this in 1965.” I was scanning the corners for a signature and Miss Mabel, being a pretty sharp cookie, knew what I was looking for. She said “you’ll not find one.”
Trying to act innocent, but not for one minute fooling Miss Mabel, I said “not find what?”
“You’re looking for a signature,” she said. “But you’ll not find one. Katy never signed her work.”
To be continued__________________