The Hand Of Justice – Chapter Two

There was no joke telling that day.  Their moods were somber, and Chris seemed to be in somewhat of a daze.  Floyd knew there was nothing he could say to console Chris, but offered company and a beer after their end of watch. Sometimes it helped. Sometimes it didn’t.

Floyd said “death is something we see almost every day, but the death of a child will get to you every time.”  Chris asked, “how do you get over something like that?”  Floyd shook his head and said, “sometimes you don’t. Not everyone is painted with the same brush, and each person has to find their own way of managing their grief or their anger or their thirst for revenge.”

Gary, who rarely cursed, was completely out of character when he said, “we’ll get that mother fucker.  One day, we’ll get that mother fucker.” Maude thought it odd when she noticed the lonesome dove gesture with his cup, as if he was saying, “I’ll drink to that.”

The next several days, Chris canvassed the neighborhood.  He went from door to door and was met with the usual, “I ain’t seen nuthin’ and I ain’t talking to no po-po.”  Most often, the door was slammed in his face.  He knew the responses were out of fear for their lives and yes, their hatred for the police officers who in their eyes, did nothing, but he desperately wanted to find a witness.  He wanted justice for the little girl.

After an exhausting day, he knocked on one last door.  He expected the same reaction he had become so used to, but at the time, he was so tired, he really didn’t care.  Tomorrow was another day, and he would be back. When Chris knocked, an old man answered.  Before he could tell him why he was there, the old man said, “you want to know if I saw something, don’t you? I was wondering when you might get around to askin’ me.” Chris wasn’t expecting that response, and stood speechless as the old man said, “the answer is, I sure did. Come on inside here, and I’ll tell you what I saw.”

Chris, still somewhat surprised, took out his notebook and started writing as the old man spoke. “I heard some tires squealing, so I took me a look out that window right there.  That’s when I saw the one they call Red Dog leaning out the car, just a sprayin’ bullets. Then that poor little girl’s mama ran out the house, screaming “my baby.  My baby.  They shot my baby.”

Chris was familiar with Red Dog and his gang.  They called themselves “The Dogs of War.”  Red Dog had been running drugs in the neighborhood for years, but had a loyal army of protectors, and was virtually untouchable.  Several deaths had been attributed to him and his gang, but there were never any witnesses who would come forward.

Everyone knew that Red Dog owned the neighborhood, but he rarely executed his own terroristic death and destruction. That was left up to his soldiers, but this was obviously a strong message to someone, and Red Dog wanted it to be loud and clear.

Chris asked the old man if he would be willing to testify about what he saw.  The old man said, “yes. I sure would.  We’ve been intimidated by that dog for too long. This used to be a nice neighborhood but it’s changed. I’m afraid to go outside. Everybody on this street is afraid to go outside. The little children are afraid to play in their own yards, and that just ain’t right. And now, look at what’s happened.”

Chris finished taking his statement and the old man said, “you know.  I’ve lived in this house for 92 years.  I was born here and I intend to die here. I just don’t want some gangster making the arrangements for me to meet my God before I’m ready.”

Chris smiled, shook the old man’s hand and thanked him for his co-operation.  The old man said, “do you think you’ll get him?”  Chris said, “thanks to you, sir, I think we’ve got a pretty good chance.”

When the boys came into the Waffle Shack the next day, Chris was the last to arrive.  As he walked in, he was patting himself on the back, while waiting for the others to ask what was going on.  Floyd made the “what’s up?” gesture.

Chris smiled and said, “I found an eye witness to the shooting.  One of the neighbors fingered Red Dog.”  Richie said, “no shit.” Chris echoed, “no shit.” Richie reached out his hand and said, “congratulations buddy. If you’re not careful, we’re going to have to start calling you a real police officer.”

Chris said, “to put an exclamation point at the end of what Gary said before…we got the mother fucker and a warrant is on the way, even as we speak.  It’s going to be a slam dunk, and one of the most dangerous criminals in the city is going away for a long time.”

They gave each other high-fives and then Floyd said, “pretty good job for a rookie cop.”  Chris quickly reminded him that he hadn’t been a rookie for more than a year.  “You’re still a rookie to me,” Floyd said as he grinned and winked at the other boys.

Maude said, “this calls for a cup of coffee on the house.”  Richie looked up and said, “but they’re always on the house, Maude.”  She said, “I know but that made it sound a little more special, don’t you think?”

After a smug giggle, the boys toasted each other and said, “here’s to justice.”

The lonesome dove, having heard the conversation, put on his hat and as he was walking out, Maude saw something she had never seen before.  A slight smile was on his face, even though it only lasted for a second.

The celebration was short-lived as dispatch came across the walkie, advising a “10-13.”  Chris said, “that’s me fellas.  Gotta run.”

Chris got into his patrol car and asked dispatch for the “20.”  His heart sank when he heard the address.  He knew where he was going and he was terrified of what he was going to find.

When he arrived on scene, he was met by one of the firefighters who said, “the victim is a Mr. Stewart.  92 years old.  Gunshot wound to the back of the head, execution style.”

Chris hit his knees.  When the firefighter asked if he knew the man, Chris didn’t answer.  He quickly gained his composure and went into the house.  The coroner had already pronounced time of death, and told Chris that it looked to be around two in the morning.

As Chris bent down and put his hand on the old man’s shoulder, the words he had said the day before were screaming in his ears.  “I’m afraid to go outside.  The little children are afraid to play in their own yards, and that just ain’t right.” That old man wanted to make a difference.  He was willing to stand up and do the right thing, and it had cost him his life. Over and over, Chris kept saying, “if I hadn’t talked to the old man, he would still be alive.”

How could he not feel responsible? He wanted to hit something. He wanted to kick something. He wanted to blow someone’s brains out, and he knew who that someone was.

What seemed to be the entire neighborhood was standing by, watching them load the old man’s body into the coroners’ car.  Questions were asked but no one was talking. Chris knew that especially now, no one was going to say anything.  They didn’t want to end up like the old man.  He didn’t blame them, and he didn’t blame them for the way they were all looking at him.

He went to the precinct to file his report and met Floyd on the way.  As they were walking in, Red Dog and his high-powered attorney were walking out.  He had been released on bond almost immediately after he was brought in and charged.

When Red Dog mockingly grinned, Chris lunged at him. Floyd had to restrain him, while saying, “you don’t want to do this, son.  You don’t want to do this.”

Red Dog’s attorney had petitioned the court to have the upcoming trial date set aside, due to lack of evidence and witnesses.  Chris knew that it would be granted.  There would be no justification for wasting taxpayers’ money, trying to get a conviction with virtually no evidence.

Chris didn’t come to the Waffle Shack for the next few days.  His Lieutenant told him to take a few days off.  It was going to be a while before he could come to terms with what happened. Floyd, Gary and Richie worried about him, but they knew that he would be alright.  It would just take some time.

They tried to lighten the mood by telling Maude some dirty jokes.  Maude loved what she called “deliciously dirty jokes” and had a laugh that resonated throughout the entire place.

She said, “okay guys.  My turn now.  What do you call bears that have no ears?”  They all shook their heads and said “don’t know.  What?”

Maude smiled and said “B.”

Floyd laughed and said “okay, Maude.  I might just to have to write you a citation for that one.”

To be continued________________

 

The Hand Of Justice – Chapter One

Maude was what you might call a real character.  Everyone at the Waffle Shack loved her, even thought she had only worked there for a few months.  She had quickly become a fixture, and had made her mark.

She would gladly pick up a shift for someone who wanted or needed some time off, and was affectionately called “moms” by the younger employees.

She looked to be in her mid-sixties and if you were being gracious, she could be described as a “stout woman.”  Short, curly grey hair framed her face and her pink, cat-eye horn-rimmed rhinestone-studded glasses looked like a throwback from the fifties.

Her favorite customers were a group of police officers who stopped by every morning before their watch.  They always left her two dollars each, whether they had time for a full breakfast, or simply relished a cup of fresh coffee that she had brewed just for them.

She called them “her boys.” There was Richie, Chris, Gary and Floyd.  Floyd was the seasoned old-timer and after 38 years of service, was just a few months away from retirement. Amidst the chatter of their walkies, they talked and told jokes.  Floyd, having been around the longest, knew the best ones.  He would laterally have the other guys rolling in the booth with laughter. Maude thought it must be some sort of release.  She knew the kind of dangers and ugliness they faced every day, not to mention potentially facing their own mortality.

Richie was married to a wonderful woman named Kathleen, who he absolutely adored.  They met in high school and theirs’ was what everyone called a perfect marriage.

Chris was the youngest. He was a tall, handsome, self-proclaimed Don Juan, who as he put it with a wink and a grin, was “single, free and on the prowl.” The other guys just called him “the pup.”

Floyd was divorced, had two grown children and five grand-children.  As he proudly showed pictures of each one, he said “let me tell you something boys. Grand-babies will either keep you young or send you to an early grave.”

Gary and his wife Grace had been married for three years and were expecting their first baby.  They decided not to learn the sex of the child because they wanted it to be a surprise.  Gary took some good-natured teasing and suffered the threat of getting a football with a pink ribbon tied around it at the baby shower, which was coming up that weekend.

Floyd asked Maude once if there was a “Mr. Maude or any little Maude-etts at home.”  She just smiled and said “no.”  Floyd was adept at reading people, and knew when questions made someone uncomfortable. He suspected that Maude had a story, but he didn’t press her. 

One day, Maude noticed that Chris was staring at her. Using her sense of humor, she asked if he’d like a picture. She said, “it’ll last longer.” Chris laughed and said, “sorry, but you know what, Maude? Your voice just doesn’t match you.”  When she asked what he meant, he said “I don’t know. Something about your voice just doesn’t match you.”

Maude said “honey, I have heard that all my life.  I have these young whippersnappers flirting with me on the telephone when I’m ordering something, and then they tell me they want to make the delivery in person.  I laugh and tell them that they’ll be a might disappointed when they get here.”

Gary asked what brought her to this “miserable place.”  She said “it used to be home.” She pointed and said, “I grew up in a house just on the other side of that hill.  My great-great grandfather built it, and he still lives there.”

It took her boys a few seconds to get that she was pulling their leg.  They laughed as they threw down the two dollar tips, and said “that was a good one, Maude.” As they were leaving, she heard one of the walkies say “code 10-72.”  Chris said “that’s us guys.” Maude watched as they ran to their patrol car.

She had her own language when it came to the influx of patrons who descended on the Waffle Shack during rush time.  She would alert the cook with “a deuce in the booth” or “triplets in the corner” or “a quarter that isn’t here for the music in the jukebox.”

If someone came in by themselves; she would walk up to the cook and quietly say, “we have a lonesome dove.”  She saw no need to announce a “single” because she knew how it felt to eat alone, to live alone, and to be alone.

There was one regular lonesome dove.  He always sat quietly and almost invisibly, in the very back booth behind her boys.  He never said anything, but he seemed to listen to everything everyone said.

She would bring him more coffee when he motioned, but he rarely made eye contact.  Maude was never one to initiate a conversation when someone looked like they wanted to be left alone, and he looked like he wanted to be left alone.

Maude found him interesting.  He wasn’t traditionally handsome but there was an alluring aloofness about him.  He always politely removed his baseball cap when he came in, and when he did, a shock of jet black hair was revealed.  His face was a veritable road map of wrinkles that could possibly be the result of grief, sorrow or just plain hard living.

The next morning, Maude’s boys came in and Chris looked a bit disheveled and haggard.  He had been up all night, working a drive-by shooting between two rival gangs. A little 12 year old girl was caught in the crossfire.  She was shot in the head and died a few hours later.  Even though everyone knew who the gang leaders were, “no one saw anything.”

Even though Chris didn’t have children of his own, he was clearly shaken.  It wasn’t the first time he had seen death, but it was the first time he had witnessed the horror of seeing a child’s life having been snuffed out by a senseless, brutal act.

The next morning, the firefighters who were at the scene put a boot in their station for collections to help the family, and Chris was the first to stop by to make a donation.

To be continued______________

This a previous story, with a little tidying up.

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, there was a kystical mingdom called Worthington.  In that kystical mingdom, lived a pransome hince.

One day the pransome hince spotted a mair faiden and lell in fove with her.  But the mair faidens’ evil stepmother had imprisoned her in a tigh hower.  The tigh hower was guarded by a dearsom fragon.

The pransome hince decided to rescue the mair faiden.  But to rescue the mair faiden, the pransome hince had to slay the dearsome fragon.

In order to slay the dearsome fragon, the pransome hince had to find a dagical magger.  The dagical magger was hidden high on mop of a tountain.  Alas, the mop of the tountain could only be reached by a hying florse.

Hying florses only lived vown in the dalley.  Hying florses were as last as fightning and one had never ceen baptured, but the pransome hince was determined.

The pransome hince made his way vown in the dalley and caught a hying florse.  They flew to the mop of the tountain.  There, the pransome hince found the dagical magger.

With the dagical magger in hand, the pransome hince and his hying florse flew to the tigh hower where his mair faiden waited.  With one swift blow, the pransome hince slew the dearsom fragon.  Then, the pransome hince put his mair faiden on his hying florse and blew fack to the kystical mingdom.

The subjects chapped and cleared as the pransome hince and his mair faiden said their varriage mows, but they nid dot hive lappily ever after.

After they kinderly tissed, they mell into the foat and drowned.

Windspirit

There is a legend, which has been passed down for more than a century. It is the legend of Windspirit.

No one had ever seen a horse like her. She was completely white with a jet black blaze in the center of her head. She had become mythical and her legend put the small town of Bonebluff on the map.

Faster than lightning, and as elusive as a perfect woman, catching her would be like trying to catch a tempest.  Men came from far and wide, determined to have the illusive beauty for their own, but try as they might, they failed and they failed miserably.

But not everyone gave up so easily. One day a stranger rode into town, and he had something on his mind.  He was a self-assured cowboy who introduced himself as Wade.  Word had it, he was from the hills of North Carolina and had made his way out west in search of Windspirit.  Tales of her elusiveness had traveled all the way to the East coast.

Wade made his living breaking horses for ranchers….horses that were supposedly unbreakable.  His business card proudly boasted, “Ain’t no horse can’t be rode.  Ain’t no man can’t be throwd.”

There was no reward for the capture of Windspirit. There were only bragging rights for having done the impossible, and Wade was determined to claim those rights.

He made his way up the hills and soon laid eyes on the graceful, alluring creature. He had never encountered a horse like her, and readying his lasso, he slowly made his way toward her. Time after time, she eluded him. Sometimes, it was as if she was playing with him. She would let him get close, and just as he was about to throw his lasso, she would bolt as quickly as a speeding bullet.

After months and months of trying, it became clear to Wade that he had met his match.  There were going to be no bragging rights, and his reputation would surely suffer, but for some reason it didn’t matter.  He had developed a deep reverence for her. She was meant to run free, and live only in the dreams of cowboys like him, not become a souvenir triumphantly paraded around.

When Wade finally surrendered, he rode up to the hills for one last look.  As she stood in front of him, he tipped his hat in a gesture of respect, turned his horse around and rode out of town.

Not long after, another stranger rode in. He was known only as the cowboy.  He had an air of superiority and pranced into town as if he expected to be held in high esteem. When asked his business, he cavalierly replied, “I’m here to claim a prize.”

That prize was Windspirit. People laughed and told him it would take a better man than him to corral the illusive, enigmatic horse, but he scoffed at their pretentious suppositions.

This cowboy was different.  He had learned the ways of Native Americans for catching and taming wild horses.  With a look of “satisfaction in waiting,” he said, “you’ll see.”

He was determined, focused and driven, but he was also patient.  It took weeks, but he slowly gained trust from Windspirit.  Instead of trying to rope her, he took off his shirt and let her smell it.  He rubbed it up and down her back, getting her used to his scent.

Before long, he managed to slip a bridle onto her neck.  That day, she became his victim.

The townsfolk gasped as he came riding Windspirit down the street.  He had a pompous smile on his face and strolled by as if he was wearing an invisible crown.  Shaking her head violently, it was apparent that Windspirit hadn’t completely surrendered, but the cowboy had done the impossible.  He had caught the uncatchable.  He had touched the untouchable.  He had conquered the unconquerable.  He did exactly what he came to do.  He claimed his prize.

After a deep jab into Windspirits’ sides with his spurs, and the crack of a whip, he and his trophy disappeared into a cloud of dust.

Years went by and in the town saloon, the usual old timers sat at the table, playing poker, drinking whiskey and wiping tobacco stains from their chins with their shirt sleeves.  They were just old men, talking about old women, old times, and old legends.

Festus was pushing eighty and was by far the oldest, but he had a remarkable memory, and he loved to tell stories of days gone by.  He started talking about the mysterious cowboy who had come to take Windspirit away.  It didn’t matter how often he told the story, he never failed to capture their attention as he told the tale.  Then, he quietly wondered aloud, “I wonder whatever happened to her.”

A lone cowboy was sitting at the bar, staring into his glass of whiskey.  A closer look would have revealed that the man was Wade.

He heard that after the cowboy had beaten Windspirit into complete submission, he put her out to pasture.  The cowboy hadn’t cared about her.  He had only cared about breaking her.  He had only cared about winning.

That night, Wade decided he was going to find her.

It took a few months, but he finally tracked down the cowboy. Still acting like a pompous ass, the cowboy looked at Wade and said, “what is your business here?”  Wade answered, “I was wondering if you still had that horse you took from Bonebluff.”

The cowboy winked and said, “yep, I sure do, if you can still call her a horse.  How does that concern you?”  Wade asked if he might see her.  The cowboy agreed and said, “follow me.”

When Wade saw Windspirit, he almost dropped to his knees.  She was tied to a post, swaybacked, and so disfigured and beaten down that he hardly recognized the beauty she used to be.  Wade wasn’t sure but he thought she might have recognized him as she gave a slight nod when he gently stroked her mane.  He whispered, “I’m going to take you home.”

He was horrified to see a large B had been deeply carved into her left flank.  As Wade ran his hand across the scar, the cowboy smiled as if delighted with his work, and said, “this is my mark.  It stands for BROKEN.”

Wade asked the cowboy how much he would take for her.  “I’ve got thirty-eight dollars on me,” he said.  The cowboy laughed and said, “keep your money and take her.  She’s useless.”

Wade made good on his word and took Windspirit home.  People stood in silence as she slowly and painfully walked down the street.  A few of the old men had tears in their eyes as they watched her struggle.  Gone was the beauty who used to be the envy of every cowboy.

Wade and Windspirit made it back to her beloved hills.  When he took the rope from her neck, she used every ounce of strength to make a gallant run. She had one last taste of freedom before she collapsed. Wade buried her that same day.  

There is no monument.  There is but a tiny cross made of sticks which will, in time disappear.  But the memory of this remarkably beautiful horse will live on…in tales told by old men, who sit around talking about old women, old times, old legends, and play poker, drink whiskey, and wipe tobacco stains from their chins with their shirt sleeves.

Wade was never seen again after that day, but word soon traveled to Bonebluff that the cowboy had been found hanging from a tree.  A large J had been deeply carved into his chest and a note written in blood was pinned to his shirt.  

It said, “this is my mark.  It stands for JUSTICE.”

El Fin

Finding Katy – Chapter Five

As she strained to open the door, she said, “This is where they keep the overflow of beer and chips and stuff like that.”

I asked how she knew about the building and more importantly, how she knew the manager.  She said, “I came uptown yesterday to do a little shopping, and after walking around for what seemed like hours, I stopped here.  They weren’t open yet, but Mark, the manager graciously let me come inside and offered me a glass of water.”

“He’s a real nice man and we started talking.  I offered to cleanse his bar, even though I didn’t get any bad vibes from the place.” Wryly smiling she said, “of course, like ‘someone else’ I know, he declined.” 

“Anyway,” she said, “he took me around and showed me everything he had done to restore the old building, and what he had salvaged in the way of keeping a bit of the nostalgia from the past. Then…he said, ‘let me show you something’.”

As she opened the door, she said, “he looked at me and said, ‘have you ever before seen anything like this in your life’?”

I was absolutely dumbstruck.  On the back wall of the building was a life-sized Knight, sitting on a gold colored steed. It was dated 1967.  I remembered the note Katy had written, asking God to send her a Knight in Shining armor.  I imagine her prayer had gone unanswered, as had so many, so she had painted one.  Maybe she prayed once more to the God she had forsaken, asking Him to touch her rescuer and bring him to life.

This painting took my breath away.  A horse bearing full barding stood as if ready to bolt at any second.  What looked to be an elaborately decorated red velvet caparison was draped over its back, covering both flanks.  The shimmering gold suit of armor was like nothing I had ever seen in any depictions, and as with the other paintings, it was so realistic, I felt if I touched the horse, it would feel warm.  The Knight looked as if he was ready to sweep me off my feet, just as any young or old girl, has at one time, secretly wished.

While still mesmerized, Mark came out and startled me when he said, “this is absolutely glorious, isn’t it?”  I think I said, “Yes it is,” but I’m not sure. “Look at the horses’ eyes,” he said. “They look uneasy and determined and so very fearful.”

He said he had thought about trying to have it removed and brought inside but, it would require the destruction of the little building. “On second thought,” he said, “I felt that it should stay where it is.” There’s something about it,” he said.  “It’s been hidden in this little building since 1967, and I think it would almost be sacrilegious to disturb it, not to mention the risk of damaging it.”

“Only a handful of people have seen it,” he said.  “Dawn, you, me, my wife, and a few of my stock boys.”  He let out a hearty laugh and said, “A young man, who had just started working here, came running out of the building, like he had just seen a ghost.  It literally scared him to death, and as he put it, ‘there’s a man on a horse in there’!”

I asked if he knew who the original owner of the service station was. He said “I don’t have any idea. It had been sitting empty for years when I bought it. I remember walking by it when I was younger. I used to sneak over and try to get the gas pumps to work, but they never did. It probably wouldn’t be too hard to find out who used to own it.”

I told Dawn I wanted to go uptown and search property records. It didn’t take much effort to find the previous owner. His name was Earl Rice. He died in 1967, the same year Katy had painted the knight. Nothing showed that the service station had been sold after his death. I imagine it went to the state, just as so many houses had. He had a wife, but no children according to the records. She died in 1982. After that, there was no information.

There were so many mysteries and so few answers, when it came to Katy.

I really wanted to go tell Sally, but I didn’t want it to be a big hoopla or cause any trouble for Mark.  After all, what could she do, other than come look at it?

I looked at Dawn and said, “Do you think there are others out there?”  She said she didn’t know, but she thought it was strange that the one place she happened to stop by, had one of Katy’s pictures. My mind went to Miss Mabel.  Has she somehow reached from the grave and guided Dawn to that place, knowing that she would in return, guide me?

I never told Sally about the painting at the service station, but I continued to visit Katy’s paintings and always stopped by to tell Miss Mabel about my day.

A good six months passed and almost with the same urgency of Dawn’s call, Sally called and said, “How quickly can you get up here?”

I said, “I can walk up there in about thirty minutes.”  Almost commandingly, she said “drive.”  I asked her if she had gotten robbed, or if had there been a fire, or my fondest wish, if had she found the artist. “Just get up here,” she said, and abruptly hung up.  

I grabbed my car keys and headed up the street.  I was so nervous, excited, worried and a little hopeful that when I got to the gallery, I didn’t even remember how I got there. I walked in, and Sally grabbed my arm. “Come here,” she said.  

We walked to the area where Katy’s paintings were.  A gentleman was standing there, and she excitedly introduced us.  “What’s going on?” I asked. She said, “This gentleman was looking at The Journey of Life, and when I was lowering the shades, he yelled ‘hold it…hold it…hold it’.” She leaned over and whispered, “I didn’t know what was wrong with him. I thought maybe he was having some kind of episode or something, so I ran over to see about him.”

He said, “Look.  You can see just the faintest difference in the colors here, and I think I can see a word.  I noticed it when the sun hit it in a certain way.” Sally said, “He asked me if I had a black light, which of course I did, so we lowered all the shades, turned off the lights and shined the black light on the paintings.”

She smiled and said, “And there it was; on all of them.  One word. It was in a foreign language and I didn’t know what it meant, but this man did.”

The gentleman scratched his head, and said it was a strange word to be on paintings, and that it really didn’t make any sense to him. But when he told me what the word meant, I understood why it was there. I immediately knew that my suspicions had been right all along.  There was no doubt in my mind that all of those paintings were Katys’.

I believed that Miss Mabel somehow had a hand in this particular gentleman showing up on this particular day, at this particular time, looking at this particular painting.  Again, I wrestled with the idea of telling Sally that I knew who the artist was, but ultimately, the secret remained with me.

I think Katy’s intent was to have a certain, mysterious je ne sais quoi attached to her paintings, and I would not take that away from her.

I would like to say that once again, paintings mysteriously began to arrive at the gallery.  I would like to say that I was eventually able to purchase one of Katy’s masterpieces.  I would like to say that I found her, and discovered that she had finally found peace and happiness.  I would like to say all of those things, but I can’t.

I have no idea what happened to Katy.  She just might be on that island as I hoped, or she might be resting in the cemetery near Miss Mabel, having been reduced to nothing more than a forgotten name and number.

I did know one thing.  I had been witness to extraordinary work, the likes of which I was sure I would never see again.  Katy had touched me in a way that no other ever had, or ever would.  I wanted her to somehow feel the warmth of my affection as if it were a loving touch.  As long as I lived, she would never be forgotten.

Some of the notes she left had almost ripped my heart out, but the paintings she left made it sing with joy.

We all deserve a standing ovation at least once in our lives, and I think we all want to leave a mark.  I don’t know if Katy ever got her ovation, nor do I know whether or not she realized that she had left a mark. But she had indeed left a mark on many lives; Miss Mabel’s, mine, Samwell’s, Dawn’s, Sally’s and every person who gazed in awe at her exquisite work.

I think about the word she hid in all of her paintings.  The wounds left by her fathers’ hands and never healed, nor had the brutality of his words.

I kept repeating the word, and I will never forget the gentleman at the gallery cavalierly saying, “The word is WORTLOS.  It’s German.  Translated, it means…worthless’.”

Katy had indeed signed her paintings.

דער סוף

Finding Katy – Chapter Four

I left my name and phone number with Sally, and asked her to call me if by any chance she got another painting, or if she got some information about the artist.  I didn’t tell her that I was almost certain that I knew who the artist was.  For now, it was going to be my secret.

There were so many of Katy’s paintings on display, and I wanted to study each and every one of them.  “The Journey of Life” had been painted when she was 65 years old, and it was the last painting the gallery had received.

I was hoping that by painting The Journey of Life, it meant that Katys’ story had been told on canvas, and she was finally saying goodbye to her horrific, painful past.

I didn’t dare think the worst as to the reason the paintings had stopped.  I was instead hoping that she had retired to a faraway island, and was sipping piña coladas while swinging in a hammock like the one she had painted for Miss Mabel, with someone like Wentworth Miller.

I stopped by to see Miss Mabel on my way back home and thanked her for guiding me to the gallery.  It had taken a while for her to “give me a sign” but it was worth the wait.  Maybe my arrogant and open declarations of disbelief in anything mystical had prevented me from being nudged.

It had been a while since I had seen Dawn. We had sort of drifted apart, although she was still begging me to let her cleanse my house, and I was still declining. But on my way home, I stopped by. I couldn’t wait to tell her about my find.

I laughed out loud when she came to the door, wearing nothing but a towel, and the usual smile.  After she excused herself to put on some clothes, she offered me what she called a nutritious, energizing, immune-boosting drink.  I was polite and sipped on it while thinking it tasted like how I thought rotting seaweed must smell. It made me long for one of Miss Mabels’ Coca-Colas.

I told her that I found this gallery uptown, and I was sure some of the paintings there were by Katy.  I also told her about the “cloak and dagger” way the gallery had received the paintings over the last ten years.

It both surprised and delighted me when she said without the slightest hesitation said, “I’d like to see them. Let’s go.”

We walked uptown and went into the gallery.  Dawn slowly walked around looking at all the art.  Her tastes, unlike mine, included the abstract, the “what the hell is this supposed to be?” and the two eyes on the same side of the face genre.

I was looking at The Journey of Life.  Suddenly I heard Dawn say, “Oh my God! That’s my horse!  Look.  It has the same eyes.  The eyes are full of fear.” Sally and I walked over, and Sally asked Dawn what she meant when she said, “That’s my horse.”  

Dawn told her that she had a painting of a white stallion on the enclosure of her fireplace.  Sally asked her who the artist was. I looked at Dawn with a “don’t tell” look on my face, so she told Sally that she didn’t know. “Only the date is on the painting,” she said.

Sally said, “Only the dates are on these paintings.  Same artist maybe?  Hmm.  This is getting curiouser and curiouser.”

“Dawn’s horse” had been titled, “Escaping the Fire.”  I had been so mesmerized by the “Journey,” memorizing every line, every curve and every stroke of the brush, that I hadn’t even noticed the horse painting. Sally said that a few children had been a little frightened when looking at it.  I could understand why.  The background was fiery red and a white stallion looked as though it was charging right toward you.  

Sally said, “Almost every visitor remarks about how the horse looks like it is ready to jump out of the canvas.”  She shook her head and said, “Whoever this artist is or was, is or was, truly, truly remarkable.”

Dawn told Sally that she would like to buy the painting.  Again, Sally told her that it was not for sale, due to the fact that they didn’t know who the artist was.

I thought maybe Dawn had a valid point when she said, “Well, they are here in your gallery and because they came here anonymously, that would tell me that they belong to you.  The purpose of displaying most art is to sell it, yes?  I mean, the other artwork is for sale.  Why not these?”

Sally said, “If we sold them, who would get the money?  The artist should, but we don’t know who the artist is.”  

Dawn said, “Give the money to charity.  They were sent to you for a reason.  That reason might very well be to help someone in need, and the proceeds of the paintings could do that.”

Sally told Dawn that in all good conscience, she just couldn’t sell the paintings, but perhaps in the future, if the artist hadn’t come forward, she would revisit her decision.

I wondered if I should tell Sally that we thought we knew who the artist was.  It probably wouldn’t change her mind, and we certainly couldn’t prove it, so it seemed like a moot point. We decided to hold onto our secret for a little while longer.

A little more than a week after our visit to the gallery, I got a call from Dawn.  She excitedly asked, “what are you doing?”  I told her I was just tidying up a bit.  She said, “Throw on your trotters and I’ll meet you out front.”

I was caught by surprise and it took me a few seconds to get my wits about me long enough to ask, “What are trotters?” She said, “Hiking boots…tennypumps…whatever you call your most comfortable shoes.  We’ve got some walking to do!”

I put on my completely worn out, but comfortable Dr. Scholl’s tennis shoes, and headed out the door.  “Let’s go,” she said.

I was befuddled. “Where are we going?” I asked “and what’s the urgency?” She said, “we’re walking uptown.”  I asked why we couldn’t drive and she said, “Finding a place to park where we’re going would be like trying to find a pair of white gloves in the snow.”

After a good twenty minute walk, she stopped and said, “this is it.  This is the place.”

“What place?” I asked.  All I saw was what used to be a service station which had been turned into a bistro bar. Even so, it was interesting.  The building still had its original integrity.  Even the sign that said “Peco Service Station,” rested over the front door.  The gas pumps were still standing as if they were toy soldiers, long ago abandoned for better, more sophisticated playthings, but not yet discarded.

Round metal tables and uncomfortable looking folding chairs bedecked the front and sides of the building, and raucous laughter could be heard coming from inside.

I wondered why Dawn would bring me to such a place.  She looked at me and said, “Are you ready for this?  Come with me.” I didn’t have a clue what was going on and I waffled a little before following.  Maybe she was having a stroke, or maybe she had been sniffing glue, or maybe she had eaten a pot brownie, but like an obedient child, I followed her into the bar.

We walked through the building and straight out the back door.  “What the heck?” I thought.  I was sure she had lost her mind, or was high from that pot brownie I imagined that she had eaten.

Behind the service station was a small building with a bright red door.  She walked over to it and said, “Don’t worry.  I know the manager, and he said it was okay for us to look inside.”

To be continued________________________

Finding Katy – Chapter Three

When I woke up, my heart was pounding so hard, I thought it might jump out of my chest.  I ran to the door and opened it, hoping to see Katy standing in front of my house.  My shoulders slumped when I realized that it was only a dream; but it had been so incredibly realistic.

I remembered exactly what she looked like.  I remembered her eyes.  They were the same sad, fearful eyes that were so prevalent in her paintings.  I admit. That dream really shook me up.

I went back inside and picked up her bear.  I didn’t even know what she had called it.  I didn’t ask Miss Mabel, and for all I knew, Katy had never named it.  I looked into the bears’ eyes and asked “what is your name, little one?”

I don’t know why, but it felt wrong for me to give it a name, other than “Katy’s bear.”  I found myself talking to it as if it was a surrogate for her, just as Miss Mabel had been a surrogate mother for me.  

I felt compelled to look at the little bear and ask “Katy, are you trying to tell me something?” I quickly snapped back into reality and again, spoke out loud as I said “here I am. Talking to a bear. Asking questions as if it was alive.”

At what point was I to question my sanity? I decided not to worry about that right then. I would worry about that tomorrow.

I went to visit Miss Mabels’ grave every week. I went the next day to tell her about my dream.  I sat there and talked to her like I had when she was still alive, like I talked to Katys’ bear as if it was alive, and I didn’t care if anyone saw me. I had seen others talking to a tombstone, putting flowers in a vase and telling whoever the lost soul was that they would “see them later.” Talking to the dead wasn’t that strange. I just sometimes wish that the dead would talk to me.  

I told Miss Mabel what I was doing, and how my life was going. Even though I still somewhat doubted the supernatural in any capacity, I asked Miss Mabel to give me a sign if she could hear me talking to her.  I asked her to give me a sign if, God forbid, Katy was with her.

I don’t know if people like me, who doubt or don’t believe in a Deity ever get answers to their questions.  I was just hoping for something…anything that I could take as a sign of the hereafter.

But, the sky didn’t darken.  The ground didn’t quake.  There was no thunder or lightning.  I didn’t see any ghostly apparitions, nor did I hear any disembodied voices. Even though I expected none of those phenomena, I admit that I was a bit disappointed. After all, as I had said before…hope is always the last emotion to die.

I said goodbye to Miss Mabel and told her that I would see her again soon.  I asked her forgiveness because I feared I was going to break the promise I made when I told her that I would find Katy, but I told her that I was trying. To say that I failed miserably would be generous, and I didn’t want that to be something I had to admit to Miss Mabel or to myself.

I felt that promise had given me a purpose, and I think when you have a purpose, somehow, you don’t feel so alone.

Two years passed and as doggedly as Dawn and I tried, our efforts were unsuccessful, but Katy was still haunting me, and she still visited my dreams.  I would see her standing in front of the house, or kneeling beside Miss Mabel’s grave.  Every time I called to her, she disappeared just as I awakened.

I was getting along with my life but I wasn’t really living.  I was sleep walking. I was merely existing.  I went through all the motions of daily chores, and at the end of the day; I still talked to Katy’s bear.  I hadn’t kept my promise to myself or to Miss Mabel, and I finally admitted that I was a miserable disappointment.

I started walking uptown just to get out of the house, because I had become somewhat of a recluse.  All of the high-end department stores that used to bustle with shoppers had given way to craft shops and specialty stores.  Vendors were selling everything from Voodoo dolls to herb gardens to the tacky touristy junk.

For some reason, one day I happened to walk down one of the quaint side streets, still paved with bricks. “How charming is this?” I thought.  I imagined horse-drawn carriages traveling from one end to the other, delivering ladies of yore to the local dressmaker for a new, delicately handmade silk frock.

What was once a shoe repair shop was now an art gallery.  I admit that I didn’t know the difference between Manet, Monet or Tippy-Tippy-Day-Day.  I also admit that I had never appreciated the kind of avant-garde abstract art being displayed in the store front window, but for some reason I went inside.

There were partitions, posed to resemble walls of rooms.  There were paintings by local artists, as well as reproductions of famous works.

Portraits of someone with both eyes on the same side of their face had always disturbed me and were, I thought, perfect catalysts to evoke nightmares.  I gravitated toward the realistic ones.  The ones like Katy painted.

One in particular caught my eye.  I was almost paralyzed and for an instant, thought my knees would buckle. The painting was of a female’s age progression.  Underneath, on an unremarkable piece of paper where typically the artist’s name and a description of the work would be posted, were the words, “Not for sale.  Artist Unknown.”

Sally, who introduced herself as the curator, noticed me admiring the paining.  She said, “Unbelievable, isn’t it?” I think I said yes, but I wasn’t sure. I was sure that I was standing with wide eyes and mouth agape, until she asked me if I was alright.  I stumbled a bit as I tried to snap back into reality. “Yes,” I said. “This is just…I just don’t think I can find the words.”

Sally smiled and said, “we have no idea who the artist is; we have no paperwork, and the painting is not signed.  There’s only the year, 2016.” For a moment, she looked mesmerized. Finally she said, “we took a little poetic license and titled it; ‘The Journey of Life’.”

There was no doubt in my mind; Miss Mabel had guided me to that gallery.  I also believed that not only was I was looking at Katy’s work; I believed I was looking at Katy. The curator said she suspected that all of the works in this particular “room” were painted by the same person. I was sure they had all been painted by the same person.  I was sure they had all been painted by Katy, but I didn’t say anything.

I asked if I could buy one.  She looked at me as if I couldn’t read, pointed to the piece of paper and said, “well, no.  They’re not for sale. We get a lot of offers for this particular artist’s work but, we can’t sell them because we don’t know who they belong to.”  

Looking at “The Journey of Life,” she said, “one person offered us a sizable sum for this one, but we had to decline.”

I understood why they made an offer, and so did she.  She looked at it and said, “Have you ever seen such detail?  Look at the progression of the hair color.  It looks like this artist painted every individual hair on every individual head, and you get the sense that if a cool breeze blew by, the hair would move.”

“Look at the faces,” she said.  “The faces show different renditions of a child, a young girl, a middle-aged woman, and an elderly woman.  Every line and wrinkle in the last portrait, I believe, tells the story of this woman’s life.  I’ve never seen work like this before, and I have studied art for almost twenty years.”

She stepped back and said, “You can see how time touched this person’s face; but look at the eyes. The eyes never change.  There’s such a deep…a deep sadness in them.”

I asked how she came to have them.  She said, “every so often, we would get a painting delivered.  There was never a return address, and of course, they were never signed.  Then, two months ago we stopped getting them.” I asked if she knew why.  She said, “Maybe the person moved away, or possibly died, but we’ve been here for three years, and we had been getting them since we first opened.”  

“It’s a shame, really,” she said. “Such an extraordinary artist, and I don’t think anyone will ever know who they are or were.”

I noticed security cameras were in place, and asked if they had checked them.  She leaned over and quietly said, “those are for show only. We can’t afford real ones.”

To be continued_____________________

Finding Katy – Chapter Two

My first thought was to enlist the help of Dawn. Together, we would begin what I hoped would be a wonderful, albeit bittersweet journey.

When I asked, she was more than willing, all the while beseeching me with a genteel urgency to have my house cleansed.

Our first venture was a visit with Samwell.  I was hoping that he remembered the names of the people who had lived in his house.  Maybe he knew the names of the children whose portraits had been painted on his basement wall. It was a long shot, but worth taking.

When we walked up to his house, he once again offered glasses of lemonade and this time, Dawn and I both accepted.  I asked him about the name of the previous owners, and he said, “you know, I bought the house from the firm who was representing the estate.”  

He then apologetically asked me to remind him who I was. I smiled as I re-introduced myself and told him that Dawn was my next door neighbor and friend.

“I believe their name might be somewhere on the paperwork, but I’m not sure,” he said. “If you’ve got time, I could try to find it. I’m not much on keeping things where I can rightly put my hands on them. That was my late wifes’ job. She was very organized, and she knew where everything was. She used to say, ‘Samwell, there’s a place for everything and everything should be in its place’.” He looked down and turned his wedding ring around and around on his finger. “Ethel,” he said. “Ethel was her name, and I sure do miss her.”

With a touch of sadness in his aging eyes, he said, “this getting old thing is not very pleasant, you know.” He took a sip of his lemonade and said, “now tell me again. What is it you’re looking for?”

I smiled and I told him that I was wondering if he knew the names of the previous owners, “Oh yes,” he said. “Might I know why want to know?”

I told him that I was trying to find Katy, the little girl who used to live in my house, and reminded him that she was the one who painted the mural on his basement wall. “Oh yes,” he said. “The mural.” I told him that my efforts so far had been fruitless and that anything he could find might be helpful. I wanted to gently pressure him without betraying my sense of urgency.

He said, “well, let me go inside and see what I can find.” I smiled when I noticed that I was crossing my fingers.  

After a few minutes, he came out with a folder, and looked very pleased with himself.  He looked through it and said, “It looks like their name was McGrath.  Earl and Mildred McGrath.”  I asked if there was any mention of the children’s names.  He shook his head and said, “No.”

I thanked him for the lemonade and the information and started walking away. As I turned and waved goodbye, Samwell said, “good luck to you. You seem like a nice person and I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

So did I.

As Dawn and I walked, I recounted my thoughts out loud to her. “I know that two of the children in the painting were boys, and although I don’t know their Christian names, surely they would carry the McGrath surname, wouldn’t you think?” Dawn agreed and offered her own take. “I think the question is; are they still in the area?”  

Phone books were a thing of the past and although, as I said, everyone’s life and personal information is available online. I was thinking that it might require yet another private investigator expense, and I wasn’t sure it would be worth it. Dawn and I agreed that I would more or less put that idea on hold for the time being.

I laughed as I told her about the rude man I called “Mr. Nasty,” who lived in the house that had belonged to Katys’ grandmother. “Maybe we could go down there and threaten him,” I jokingly said. Dawn was quick to answer, “maybe I could tell him that I would put a curse on him if he didn’t tell us everything he knew, or better yet, maybe I could tell him that I knew a Voodoo high priestess who would put a curse on him if he didn’t tell us everything he knew.”

We were still laughing when we got back to our respective houses. Suddenly, as if a lightning bolt struck, I looked at Dawn and said, “what if those weren’t their children? What if they were their grandchildren? Or what if they were one of those couples who couldn’t have children, so they just had some painted?” I thought I was going to go into orbit.

Trying hard not to laugh, Dawn was trying to calm me down. She calmly said “why don’t we do what you wanted to do in the first place? Why don’t we look for anyone named McGrath and whatever we find or don’t find, we’ll deal with. We’ll start searching again tomorrow morning. How does that sound?”

I agreed and thanked her for going with me. Walking up the front walk to my house, once again, my mind was racing. I began talking to myself, and I really didn’t care if anyone saw me, but I feared had the men in the white coats been close, they might have snatched me up before I could get inside.  

Miss Mabel was gone. Samwell didn’t really know anything that would help, and “Mr. Nasty” struck me as a cantankerous old man who, if he did know anything, wouldn’t tell me out of pure spitefulness.

I still wasn’t quite ready to admit failure, but I was close.  

That afternoon, I sat down in my favorite chair with a cup of freshly brewed tea, and just stared out the window, almost in a hypnotic trance.  It took a few minutes for me to realize that I was staring at a woman, standing in front of my house.  Somehow, instinctively, I knew the woman was Katy.

I jumped up and ran to the door.  I turned the knob but the damn door was stuck. I was pulling, kicking, cursing, crying and screaming for it to open, but it wouldn’t budge.  

I was yelling to Katy, begging her not to leave; begging her to wait for me.  Suddenly, the knob turned and the door finally opened.

To be continued________________

Finding Katy – Chapter One

Katy was a little girl, who in her early life lived in my house.  She was an extraordinary artist, and a believer in God.  She loved her grandmother, and she loved her neighbor, a woman named Miss Mabel, whom I also loved.

She didn’t live in my time, when a person’s entire life could be found with a few strokes on a computer.  She lived in a time when you simply walked into the Social Security Office with no identification, and were issued a card.  A time when, if you got married, you were expected to take your husband’s name without protest, and subsequently, completely lost your identity.

She lived in a time when children could be beaten, berated and belittled by their parents, and everyone kept their mouths shut.  She was a lost, lonely little girl who had finally been able to escape a life of torturous abuse from a drunken father who wanted his progeny and namesake to be a male, and told her that since she was “just a damn girl,” her name was worthless.

That was all I knew about Katy Engel.

I had made a promise to myself and an unspoken promise to Miss Mabel that I would find this little girl, who would now most likely be an old woman.  

The first step was going to the Office of Vital Statistics.  My heart skipped a beat when, on page 38, the registration of a live birth appeared.

Katherine NMN Engel, born to Alice Strathmore Engel, age 20, and Clyde Munson Engel, age 26, on the 17th day of August, in the year of our Lord, 1950.

I now knew when she was born, how old she was when she wrote each note, and drew or painted each picture.  

The first note I found was dated 1956, which meant that she was just six years old. The last picture, the disturbing one, looked to have been dated 1968.  I never found anything dated after then, so it was my belief that she was 18 years old when she left.

I searched marriage and divorce records, looking for any evidence that Katy had started a new life with a new name.  I found nothing, but those records were confined to the area.  The internet would prove to be helpful, or so I thought.

It is possible, although highly unlikely that a person can completely disappear in this day and age.  Everything is connected to your Social Security number, and property records are open to the public in most cases.  After spending hours in front of the computer, I suddenly got a chill when it occurred to me that I hadn’t checked death records.

I didn’t want to know that Katy had died before I found out that perhaps, she had the chance to really live.  I wanted her to have found happiness.  I wanted her to have found peace and understanding.  Above all, I wanted her to have healed, and to have known the warm touch of a loving, caring person.

I breathed a sigh of relief after another trip to the Office of Vital Statistics rendered nothing as far as a death certificate.  I checked newspaper records for her name, and found no mention of a Katherine Engel.

What I did find was a 1987 article about the death of a local man, named Clyde Engel. According to the report, he suffered a broken neck due to a fall down a flight of stairs.  There was no mention of his condition as far as being intoxicated, and the cause of death was listed as an accident.

I knew it was impossible, but I admit that I was almost secretly wishing that Katy had finally gotten revenge for the years of his horrific, cowardly abuse when she decided to push him down that flight of stairs.  I could see her standing there, looking at his lifeless body asking, “who’s worthless now?”

After weeks and weeks of scouring records online, I couldn’t find one shred of evidence that Katy had ever even existed.  I did however; discover that Engel was a German name.  Translated, it meant “angel.”  

If ever there had been an angel on Earth, I believe it must have been Katy.  After years of praying, and even after the ultimate surrender of her faith when she wrote that she hated God, she still prayed to Him.

Maybe she changed her name.  Maybe she left the state.  Maybe she left the country. There were a lot of unanswered maybes, and although I wasn’t wealthy by any means, I decided to enlist the services of a private investigator.

I hired Mr. Brent Hargess.  His fee was rather steep, but it was worth it if he could help me find Katy.  I thought I could afford a week of his time, and told him that I wanted him to find as much about her as he possibly could.  I told him what I knew, which was little more than her last name, her date of birth, and what Miss Mabel had told me.

“That’s not a lot of information to work with,” he said.  I agreed, but told him that I knew he had access to records like car registrations and driver’s license numbers, so I asked him to check locally, and nationally, if possible.

“Why do you want to find this individual?” he asked.  “Anything unscrupulous?”  I assured him that my intentions were completely honorable as I explained the notes left by her, and the unimaginably beautiful paintings that graced a few houses.  I didn’t delve into her unspeakable childhood.  I told him that I was interested in maybe acquiring one of her paintings.

He leaned forward and cavalierly said, “You know, it’s entirely possible that she’s dead, and that’s why you can’t find any trace of her.”  That was something that I didn’t want to hear, and when he said it out loud, it made me shudder, but I asked him to do his best.

A week later we met, and he had absolutely nothing for me.  He couldn’t find any car registered to her, nor could he find that a driver’s license had ever been issued.  He said, “I’m thinking that she could have gotten married and changed her name, or she could have just changed it because she wanted to. People have been known to do that when they want to disappear.”

I asked him if he had by any chance found her Social Security number.  He said that although he would be able to search, he had to have a valid reason for the search, and simply wanting to find someone was not a valid reason.  Then he said, “She may not even have a Social Security number.”

I questioned that.  “It is my understanding that everyone is required to have a Social Security number,” I said.  He answered, “yes, now they are, but back in those days, you got one mostly because you needed one to get a job.  If you didn’t work nor had any intention of ever working, say, due to being supported by a husband, there was no need.  There’s also the possibility as we discussed, that she got one under an assumed name, which I think is very likely.”

It pained me to write a check to him, when basically I had received no information, but he had put some effort into finding Katy, and he deserved to be paid.

I felt as if I had run into an impenetrable brick wall, but I soldiered on.

I decided to do a wide canvas of the neighborhood.  Maybe there was someone around who would remember Katy and her family.

To be continued________________

Dear God – Chapter Ten

I had come to adore Miss Mabel, and she had become a sort of surrogate mother to me. Over the next few months, my visits became less frequent, and I missed them, but I was still diligently working on my house. One day I went to see her and she handed me a paper bag. I was surprised, perplexed and a bit worried for some reason.

“You need to have this now,” she said. When I asked what was in the bag, she smiled and said, “open it.” When I opened it, I pulled out an old, stuffed panda bear.

“That belonged to Katy,” Miss Mabel said. “I bought it for her and she kept it here so her father wouldn’t tear it up. She used to sit in that chair over there and hold onto it like it was her very own little child.”

I couldn’t stop the tears that were welling up in my eyes. What a touching gift Miss Mabel had given to me. I hugged the bear, perhaps the same way that Katy had and the same way I so often wished that I could hug her.

Miss Mabel surprised me when she said, “run along home now.” She didn’t follow it with, “we’ll talk more tomorrow, or come back later.”

I had an uneasy feeling…almost like a forewarning, but I thought that maybe I was just letting my emotions get the better of me. Miss Mabel had given me a part of Katy, which had become a part of her, and would now become a part of me. I gave her a hug, a kiss on the cheek and a promise that I would see her later.

When I got back home, I was shocked to discover several notes in the bottom of the bag that had been the little panda bears’ refuge for so many years. Against my better judgement, I decided to open them. I had made a promise that I would never open any more of Katys’ notes in my little tin box, but I justified my betrayal by telling myself these notes might be different. These notes were written in the inner sanctum of Miss Mabels’ house.

I didn’t know if Miss Mabel knew of the notes, or knew what they asked for. If she did, she didn’t say.

I took them all out of the bag and began reading. Sadly, they were not different.

The first one said, “Dear God. Will you send a Knight in shining armor to take me away?” It was dated 1965. The next note said, “Dear God. I still hate you and I don’t believe in you anymore.” My heart was breaking. Katy was still writing notes and praying to a God in whom she no longer believed. It was dated 1966.

I picked up the little bear and held it, wishing it was Katy. I imagined that she had never known the warmth of a hug, and she was most likely touch-starved. I remembered Miss Mabel telling me that if she moved too quickly or got too close, Katy cringed and screamed.

That night, I decided once more to leave the notes folded. The words written on them would remain silent and forever unseen. My thoughts were that if I didn’t open them, I couldn’t feel more of the pain of those unanswered prayers from a lonely, heart-broken little girl.

In the wee hours of the morning, I was awakened by flashing lights. I got up and stumbled to the window. I could see an ambulance at Miss Mabels’ house, so I threw on my dressing gown and flew outside. I didn’t even realize that I was barefoot, until I stepped on a sharp rock.

I was horrified to see Miss Mabel strapped to a stretcher, straddled by a paramedic who was pumping her chest in a manner that I feared would break every single one of her ribs. An accompanying police officer stopped me before I could get close and asked if I was a relative. I told him that I wasn’t, but that she was a very dear friend.

In that instant, I realized that she was a very dear friend, whom I knew nothing about. She had talked about marriage and men in a disparaging way, but had never mentioned siblings or even parents, and I knew nothing about her medical history, other than she was wheel-chair bound.

I must have had some sort of premonition earlier when I felt a bit disquieted. I couldn’t explain it and it somewhat frightened me, but I selfishly dismissed the feelings. I should have gone back to check on her.

As they were taking her away, I remembered her telling me about an old African tradition. She said “they say if you take a handful of dirt from the path your loved one took when they left, they will return to you.” She said, “the last time I saw Katy, I leaned over and took a handful of dirt, but I never saw her again.”

I did the same, but I knew that I would never see that extraordinarily remarkable woman again…at least not in this life.

Just as I feared, Miss Mabel died that night. My beloved friend was gone and I was going to miss her terribly. I wondered if she knew she was going to leave, and that’s why she gave me Katys’ bear.

Having no next of kin, she was buried in the City Cemetery, where all the other indigent people rest. Although she was now just a number, she would not be forgotten. I had a small marble plaque made which said, “Miss Mabel, My Friend.”

Her house was taken by the state and prepared for auction. If I had been able, I would have bought it…for two reasons. It was hers, and it housed Katys’ painting. I went to the auction and bought the chair where Miss Mabel said that Katy sat, and I literally took Miss Mabels’ bible from another womans’ hand. I lied and told her that I had already bought it. I was thinking that later, I could write my own note to God. It would say, “Dear God. Please forgive me for lying.” The note from Katy that I gave to Miss Mabel was still in it, where it would stay.

Her house ultimately went to a flipper, who had no intention of preserving its originality. Their idea was to completely gut it, and equip it with modern appliances and accouterments to be more in step with the present time. Then they would make a quick profit on the resale.

When the contractors arrived, I walked over and asked them about their plans. They had been commissioned to knock down the walls and make it an open floor plan. I showed them the painting and asked if there was any way to save it. I offered to pay them to just cut out that one wall, but they said it would be impossible.

As I slowly walked back home, I realized that I would never hear another story about Katy. I had no idea what she looked like. I had no idea how old she was. Had the man who bought her grandmothers’ house not painted over the mural, I might have been able to have seen her as a little girl. I was almost certain that the “old woman and little girl” he so gruffly described, must have been Katy and her grandmother.

I was grief-stricken over the death of Miss Mabel. I would never know the story behind her disgust toward marriage and men. I would never know why she was in a wheelchair. I would never know her hopes and dreams, other than what Katy had depicted in the mural, which had now been destroyed.

We always think there is going to be one more day, one more visit, one more Coca-Cola, one more cigarette, one more episode of Jeopardy, one more piece of lemon pie and one more story. But life and death are unpredictable. We all have our own expiration date and Miss Mabels’ had come. I think that maybe she had exceeded hers a bit, and I think she was ready, but I wasn’t.

I wasn’t ready to lose this amazing woman who had left an indelible mark on my life and my heart, and I would be forever grateful that I had been blessed to have known her. I knew that she wouldn’t want me to be sad, nor would she want me to mourn so I decided to get busy and put all of my efforts into my house.

One room at a time. One day at a time. Eventually the restoration of my house was complete, but the story didn’t end there. There was one more thing I had to do.

I had to find Katy.


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