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_____________________