I asked Miss Mabel how she came to know Katy. She said, “well, let’s have us a piece of that lemon pie and I’ll tell you.” As we savored the pie, Miss Mabel began, but she side-stepped the question and fast-forwarded a bit.
“Katy eventually got older, bigger and faster,” she said. “She would run out of the house when her father was on one of his drunken binges and he couldn’t catch her. She wouldn’t go back until he had finally passed out later that day. Her hair even started to grow back.”
I asked what she meant. She said “that father of hers used to get the scissors and cut that child’s hair off, all the way down to the roots.”
I got a chill and remembered the doll I found in the attic, hanging from a ribbon with all of its hair cut off. I told Miss Mabel about it and said, “there were band-aids on her arms and legs.”
“Yes,” Miss Mabel said. “Once, after an overnight stay with her grandmother, which I always called a blessing, she came home with a doll and some ribbons. It enraged her father, and he yanked that doll away from her, took out his knife and started cutting its hair off. Katy was begging him to stop, but he kept on. He threw the doll down, stomped on it and then cut the ribbons in half. Then he threw the ribbons and the doll in the trash.”
“I imagine Katy rescued them when her daddy went to sleep. Poor little thing. She probably put the band-aids on the doll to hide the marks.”
I told her about the toys I found in the attic; a top, a little radio and the Easter egg. “They were pretty old,” I said. I thought maybe they belonged to the little child who was leaving notes all over the house. I didn’t know about Katy yet.”
“They weren’t Katys’,” Miss Mabel said. I can almost promise you that. They were probably bought before she was born, when they expected her to be a boy.”
Miss Mabels’ grief was almost tactile as she continued. “Katys’ father used to catch her praying and made fun of her. Maybe that’s why she started writing notes to God. That man once took her out in the yard, made her get down on her knees and raise her arms. He said ‘pray to that God of yours to turn you into a little boy. Then you might be worth something’.”
All I could think about was how much I hated that absolute horror of a human being and yes, I wished him a life in Hell a thousand times over. I wondered if he was the reason Miss Mabel thought all men should be put down. When it came to that monster, I agreed.
Before we knew it, we had talked through Miss Mabels’ mid-afternoon nap and it was time for her daily cigarette. She had spent so much time talking about what Katys’ heinous father had done to her, I thought she had forgotten my question about how she first met Katy. But then she said, “let’s go out on the porch and I’ll tell you how I came to know Katy.”
She lit her cigarette and began. “I saw her one day, sitting under that big oak tree over there. I called to her and offered her a Coca-Cola. She was like a scared animal. She just shook her head and walked away. I saw her almost every day, and eventually she came over and took the Coca-Cola. She didn’t say much for the first few weeks, but she finally started talking a bit and eventually came inside, but not before looking back toward her house in fear.”
“We talked about any and everything, except the hell that she was living. I told her about my love of the beach and how I longed to visit one. I would talk about funny things, hoping to keep her mind in a better place, at least for a few minutes or a few hours. I think she felt safe in my house but old memories were still vivid and the fear was, I’m afraid, never going to go away. If I made any sudden movements or accidentally bumped my chair into something and made a noise, Katy would jump and scream like someone had just shot her in the back. It was self-protection and I understood. I just hated it.”
“Katy was a bright little girl and like I said, a sweeter child never drew breath. But she never talked about her hopes or dreams or wishes. Maybe she put them in the notes to God.”
I told Miss Mabel that the last note I opened, Katy asked God to ask Santa to leave her a present. She said she thought Santa kept forgetting. I said “that was a hope or a wish or maybe a dream, and I wonder if Santa ever did visit. I sure hope he did.”
I didn’t know who was going to start crying first, so I decided to change the subject.
I asked Miss Mabel why she had never been to the beach. She said, “I just never had the opportunity, and the after my accident, it was too late. But, the wanting is not so much anymore. If I start longing for the sounds and the smells, I simply go down the hall and turn on the light.”
I asked if she minded telling me what happened. She put out her cigarette and said, “that’s a story for another day.”
She didn’t tell me that story but she told me about the day Katy brought all of her paints and brushes over, and said she had a surprise. Miss Mable said, “for darned near a solid week, Katy made me promise to close my eyes when I went down the hall.” She laughed when she said, “I kept that promise and had a few bruises and several dings in my chair to prove it.”
“The day she told me to come look at it, I almost cried,” Miss Mabel said. “I quickly rolled my chair toward her and raised my arms but she screamed and put her hands over her head. I think she thought I was going to hit her. She never did let me hug her. She couldn’t stand to be touched. I think she had been so damaged, that she didn’t trust anyone. Not even me.”
It had gotten late and was time for me to go home. Miss Mabel looked at me and said, “Do you think you might let me have one of Katys’ notes?” I smiled and said, “of course,” but I wasn’t sure which one I would choose.
As I was walking toward the door, I turned and asked if she knew what happened to Katy.
Miss Mabel looked down and in an almost whisper said, “one day Katy went away, and never came back.”
To be continued_______________