The Neighborhood – Chapter Two

The next week, Tuesday rolled around and I went to Jean’s house.  As much of a “nosey-nellie” as she seemed to be, I was surprised that she hadn’t yet insinuated herself into my personal life, which was fine with me.

As we were sipping our coffee in the tiny little tea set, I couldn’t help but laugh when in her usual fashion, she closed her eyes and started to ramble on about the neighbor who lived two houses down from her.

“Now, we call him Leo the klepto.  You do know what a kleptomaniac is, don’t you?  Of course you do.  He will steal anything that isn’t nailed down.  He steals the silverware from restaurants and then goes to the bathroom and steals the toilet tissue.  He has stolen yard decorations from the neighborhood and once he knocked on a door up the street and asked to use the bathroom. Being a small town, we’re pretty trusting people, you know.  Anyway, he went into this young couple’s house, used the bathroom, went through the cabinet and stole the woman’s pregnancy test.  But the best or worst, depending on how you look at it, was that along with the test, he took her grandmother’s false teeth.”

She laughed out loud and I admit, so did I.  She continued, “he’s basically harmless and when he takes something from one of us, say like a lawn chair or a gnome from our garden, or somebody’s false teeth, we just walk over there and take or ask for it back.”

I said, more or less to myself than to Jean, “so I’m thinking I probably shouldn’t hang out my seasonal flags?”  Jean said “oh, you can hang them out but when they disappear, just be prepared to go get them back from Leo.”

“Is he suffering from dementia?” I asked.  “Oh, no.” she said.  “He just goes through these phases where he feels the urge to steal.  He used to work up at the Salvation Army Thrift Store but they had to let him go because he kept stealing the shoes.  Now mind you, he didn’t care if they were men’s shoes, women’s shoes or children’s shoes and he didn’t even care if he got a pair.  He just stole shoes.  They were trying to help him and even tried to ‘pray away the affliction’ as they called it but it didn’t work.  He lives off of a pretty good inheritance, which is why it’s so strange that he steals.  We just let him be and keep a sharp eye peeled when he comes to the neighborhood parties, which by the way of course, you will be attending.”

Jean was certainly what you would call brashly assertive but her amusing way of talking made it a little less annoying.  I was actually starting to enjoy hearing her stories about the neighbors.

Again I thanked Jean for the coffee and the company.  “I need to get back home and do some more unpacking,” I said.  “I’m trying to get things organized in the basement and it’s going to take a while.”

Jean surprised me when she said “you need some help?  I’m pretty good at unpacking.”

I declined but told her that I appreciated the offer.  What I didn’t say, even though I enjoyed her stories, was that her incessant talking would probably drive me insane if I had to spend more time with her than it took to drink a tiny cup of coffee.

She said “okay then.  See you next Tuesday.  I insist.”

As I walked across the street, I was thinking “so far, I’ve learned that there’s a hell fire and brimstone preaching judge who stands on the corner and a kleptomaniac who lives two doors down from Jean.”  Suddenly this quaint little neighborhood was looking a little more interesting.


To be continued_____________



The Neighborhood – Chapter One

It was a quaint little neighborhood in a quaint little town.  It wasn’t featured in magazines or newspapers nor was it sought after as an area where you would make a statement of “finally having arrived.”  It was quiet and peaceful and despite being only one street away from the center of town, seemed to be strangely secluded.

There were well kept houses with finely groomed lawns and it wasn’t just the neighbors who never failed to throw up a hand when walking or driving by.  The garbage collectors would drive by and wave and then break out into a good old gospel tune.  It was exactly the kind of place that I had been looking for.

The day I moved in the workers were scurrying about, putting the last of the boxes and pieces of furniture where I pointed and I was ready for a breather. Suddenly a car pulled up and a woman jumped out, with an outstretched hand and barely took a breath when she said “welcome to the neighborhood.  My name is Jean.  We are so glad somebody finally moved into this house.  It’s such a great house.  We thought it was going to stand empty forever.  I know you’re going to love the house and I know you’re going to love the neighborhood!”

Wow.  What a mouthful.  She plopped down beside me and said “I made you a list of all the phone numbers for fire, Ems, police, water, gas and electricity.”

I thanked her for the utility numbers but I didn’t mention that I had known how to dial 911 for years.  She said “I can see that you have quite a job ahead of you but next week, I want you to take a break and come over for a cup of coffee around ‘one-ish’…say on Tuesday.  I won’t take no for an answer and that’s that.”  I started to tell her that I really wanted to get everything unpacked but she interrupted me and said “I insist.”

I agreed, thinking that I would just stay for one cup of coffee and then make a legitimate excuse to get back home.

Her idea was actually a good one.  After a week, I was almost worn out so I walked over to her house, which was slightly kitty-wampus across the street.  She greeted me like we had known each other for years.  I prefer friendly people to the opposite but she was going a just a little overboard, I thought.

She was a slender woman with short, thick silver hair.  She had an excited way of talking, like she was in a hurry to get it all out or something and she never said one single sentence.  Her way of talking was almost as if she was reciting a novella.  She closed her eyes when she was talking and I wondered if it was so that she could remember everything she wanted to say.

She told me how she came to live in the neighborhood.  She said she had taken care of a woman and when the woman died, she left everything to her, along with what I deduced was quite a bit of money and what Jean described as a flawless diamond ring, worth $38,000.00.

I thought that was a tad bit too much information to be telling somebody you had just met but that seemed to be Jean’s way.  She was definitely a flibbertigibbet and a little idiosyncratic but sort of “precious” at the same time.

After she brewed the coffee, we sat down and she served it in a dainty little set of china that you would expect to use if you were an antique porcelain doll.  It was beautiful china but it only held a few swallows of coffee.  It was more suitable for espresso, I thought.  Even so, it took me back to my childhood of tea parties with pots filled with air and cups that when spilled didn’t make a mess.

She began the conversation with “I’m guessing you want to know all about the neighbors.”  I hesitated and said “um, okay.”

She said “well….did you notice the man on the corner?  Oh, silly me.  Of course you did.  How could you not?”  I told her that I had seen him but I had been pretty busy with the movers and this was the first day I had actually been out of the house.  She said “I’m surprised you haven’t heard him.”

“Heard him?” I asked.  She said “that’s Judge Carson.  Every day come rain or shine, sleet or snow, he stands on the corner holding a tattered and faded sign warning that ‘the end is near’.”  I asked her if he was a real judge and she laughed.  “No,” she said.  “He just acts like one because he preaches hell fire and brimstone and calls for the repentance of all of us wicked and evil people.”

As she started to emulate him, she reminded me of one of those people who, when filled with the Holy spirit, suddenly start speaking in tongues. “Come to me my brethren and I will cleanse your wicked soul.”  She laughed and closed her eyes as she wielded her spoon and said “God will smite thee with His mighty sword of vengeance lest ye ask forgiveness for your sins.”

“Do you know his story?” I asked.  “Nope,” she quipped.  I said “are you not curious?”  Again, she quipped “nope.”

She might not be curious but I was.  For as long as I could remember, I had a fascination with people in general and found that everybody has a story if you’re willing to listen.

I thanked her for the coffee and the company and told her that I needed to get back home.  She said “we’ll do this again next Tuesday, same time and I’ll tell you more about the neighbors.”  I didn’t even have time to say I’d think about it before she said “I insist.”


To be continued________________

Finding Katy – Chapter Six

A little more than a week after Dawn and I visited the gallery, I got a call from Sally.  She excitedly asked “how quickly can you get up here?”

I was caught by surprise and it took me a few seconds to get my wits about me long enough to say “I can walk up there in about fifteen minutes.” Almost commandingly, Sally 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.  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 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 thought maybe he was having a stroke 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.  A word.  She said “it was in a foreign language and I didn’t know what it meant, but he did.”

The gentleman scratched his head and said it was a strange word to be on paintings and it really didn’t make any sense to him.

When he told me what the word meant, I understood why it was there and I immediately knew that my suspicions had been right all along.  There was no doubt that all of those pieces had been painted by Katy.

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 I think Katy’s intent was to have a certain 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 her 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, nameless 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 had or ever would.  As long as I lived, she would not be forgotten.

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

I think we all want to leave a mark and whether or not she realized it, she had done just that.  She 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 brutality of her father’s words had never stopped ringing in her ears and the wounds left by those words had never healed.

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.”


Das Ende.


Finding Katy – Chapter Five

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

I stopped by to see Miss Mabel on my way back home and thanked her for guiding me to that 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.

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 didn’t dare think the worst as to the reason they 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 ones she had painted for Miss Mabel.  I was hoping that by painting The Journey Of Life, it meant that her story had been told on canvas and she was finally saying goodbye to her horrific, painful past.

I went to visit Dawn the next day.  This time, she greeted me 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.

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.  She surprised me when she said “I’d like to see them.  Let’s go.”

We walked uptown and went into the gallery.  Dawn 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 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 she 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 and Dawn told her 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 Dark.”  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 that painting.  I could understand why.  The background was pitch black and a white stallion looked like 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.  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.


To be continued_____________





Finding Katy – Chapter Four

Two years had passed.  Katy was still haunting me and often 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 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 failure.

I started walking uptown just to get out of the house.  All of the major department stores that used to grace the landscape had given way to craft shops and specialty stores.  Vendors were selling everything from Voodoo dolls to herb gardens.

For some reason, I happened to walk down a side street paved with bricks. “How charming is this?” I thought.  I could imagine horse-drawn carriages traveling from one end to the other, delivering ladies of yore to the local dressmaker for a new frock.

A one time shoe repair shop had been replaced by 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 means of evoking nightmares.  I gravitated toward the realistic ones.  The ones like Katy painted.

One in particular caught my eye.  The painting was of a female’s age progression.  I asked the curator, who had introduced herself as Sally, who the artist was and she said that she didn’t know because they didn’t get any paperwork nor could they find a signature.  “There’s only the year,” she said.  “2016.  We titled this one: The Journey Of Life.”

It was at that very instant, I started to believe that 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 that she believed all 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 her if I could buy one.  She said “we get a lot of offers for this particular artist’s work but they aren’t for sale 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 refuse.”

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 it gives you the sense that if a cool breeze blew by…the hair would start flowing.  Look at the faces.  The faces show every line and wrinkle that tell 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…but look at the eyes.  They eyes never change.  There’s such a deep sadness in the eyes.”

I asked her how she came to have them.  She said “every so often, we would get a painting delivered.  There was never a return address and as I said, they were never signed.  Then, two years ago we stopped getting them.”

I asked her if she knew why and she said “maybe they died, or moved away but we’ve been here for over ten years and we had been getting them since we first opened.  It’s a shame, really.  Such a fine artist and I don’t think anybody will ever know who they were.”


To be continued____________________

Finding Katy – Chapter Three

I woke up and my heart was pounding.  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 was so realistic.

I remembered exactly what she looked like.  I remembered her eyes.  They weren’t happy by any means but they weren’t sad or full of fear.  They just looked sort of hollow and lifeless.  I will admit…that dream 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, she had never named it. For some reason 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.  I looked at it and said “Katy, are you trying to tell me something?”

I decided to tell Miss Mabel about my dream.  I went to visit her grave every month and talked to her and told her what I was doing and how my life was going.  Even though I didn’t believe in 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 ask for answers from a source they don’t believe in ever get them.  I guess I just hoped for something that would make me become a believer.

Just as I expected, the sky didn’t darken.  The ground didn’t quake.  There was no thunder or lightning.  I didn’t see any ghostly apparitions nor I didn’t hear any disembodied voices.

I said goodbye to Miss Mabel and told her that I would see her again soon.  I asked for her forgiveness because I had broken the promise I made when I told her I would find Katy.

I felt like that promise had given me a purpose.  To say that I had failed miserably would be generous.

I think when you have a purpose, you don’t feel so alone.


To be continued______________


Finding Katy – Chapter Two

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

He leaned forward and said “you know it’s entirely possible that she is dead and that’s why you can’t find any trace of her.”  That was something that I didn’t want to hear 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.  “You know,” he said.  “She could have gotten married and changed her name or she could have just changed it herself.  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 just wanting to find somebody was not a valid reason. Then he said “she may not even have a Social Security number.”

I questioned him about that.  “It is my understanding that everybody 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 or had no intention of ever working 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 most 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 had never been one to give up and admit defeat but I felt as if I had run into an impenetrable brick wall.

I decided to more or less “canvas” the neighborhood.  Maybe there was some old-timer around who would remember Katy and her family.

My first thought was to visit Samwell.  Maybe he knew the names of the people who had lived there.  Maybe he knew the names of the children whose portraits had been painted on his basement wall.

When I walked up to his house, he once again offered me a glass of lemonade and this time, I 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 state.  I believe their name was somewhere on the paperwork but I’m not sure.”

I told him that I was trying to find Katy and my efforts had been fruitless so far.  He told me to enjoy my lemonade while he looked for the paperwork.  I smiled when I noticed that I had subconsciously crossed my fingers.  After a few minutes, Samwell came out with a folder.  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 knew that two of the children in the painting were boys and even though I didn’t know their Christian name, they would carry the McGrath surname. The question was, were they still in the area?  Phone books were a thing of the past and although, as I said, everybody’s life and personal information is available online, it would require yet another expense.  I wasn’t sure it would be worth it so I more or less “put it on the back burner.”

I 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.  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 door was stuck. I was pulling, kicking, cursing, crying and screaming for it to open but it wouldn’t budge.  I started 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_______________