The Disappearance of Harry Gilmore

 The Disappearance of Harry Gilmore                                                 By Charlie Snider

 

 

Harry Gilmore stood in a faint cloud of dust thrown by the slammed gate of his

 

truck.  Hands on hips, leather ball cap pulled low, and silhouetted by the sun, Harry

 

smiled down at his daughter.  She had seen this look of pride and ownership in the chairs

 

he made, as well as the look of love he had for her, many times before.

 

 

Harry Gilmore crafted chairs by hand, out of living, breathing wood.  His daughter,

 

Mary, from an early age, liked to say that he sculpted the chairs out of wood, the way

 

a potter sculpted pots out of clay.  Harry liked that.  He was, after all, an artist, one to

 

whom many people happily paid a premium for handmade dressers, beds and armoires. 

 

But chairs, chairs were his specialty.

 

 

When it came time to put the finishing touches on a chair, he skimmed its legs with

 

number-one, extra-fine sandpaper.  He knelt in golden specks of dust at the chair’s feet,

 

closed his eyes, and smoothed the paper one last time up a leg, across a gently contoured

 

seat.  When he ran his hand up the finished leg, the wood felt warm to him, alive

 

and imbued with magic.  The dust at his feet seemed the very pixie dust of life.

 

 

It was precisely that pixie dust that he liked his daughter, Mary, to tramp through.  As a

 

toddler, the little padded prints her feet made in the sawdust looked as much like cat as

 

they did little girl.  When she grew and her feet became less dainty, she turned the

 

footprints into patterns, sometimes loops, other times mysterious alphabet-like creations. 

 

The patterns in the silt cheered them both.

 

 

They started a tradition.  When Harry finished a chair, Mary named it.  The naming

 

ceremony involved Mary tying a short ribbon around the top of the chair.  She favored a

 

purple-red ribbon for its deep pools of color.  Together, using a golden safety pin, they

 

fastened a small card, hand-cut with a zigzag edge, to the ribbon.  Spirit Wood by H.

 

Gilmore read each card.  Mary scrawled above the printed words, and always in blue ink,

 

"Imelda" or "Marcus," or whatever name seemed appropriate for that particular chair. 

 

 

A black walnut chair her Dad made when she was five, she named Rowlf

  

 

The last chair, the one that was in the back of his truck the day Harry Gilmore

 

disappeared, a blonde chair made out of ash wood, Mary named Jimmy.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

That day, the day that he disappeared, Mary stood by as her Dad loaded the chair into

 

his truck.  Harry wrapped Jimmy in light blue fleecy blankets.  That, too, was part of their

 

ceremony, and something of a joke between them.  If Mary gave a chair a boy’s name,

 

Harry wrapped it in blue for delivery.  A girl’s name saw the chair swaddled in pink. 

 

 

"Say goodbye to Jimmy Chair," he said.  "Off to a new home."

 

 

Mary gave her Dad a tight hug and breathed in his sawdust scent.

 

  

He gave her a kiss on the top of her head.  "I love you," he said.

  

 

She watched him get in his truck.  She watched the cloud of dust released by the

 

slamming of his door.  She watched his truck disappear into heat waves over the rise of

 

Ingles Road, as if swallowed whole.

 

  

*     *     *

 

 

Three years later, Mary’s mother, Sophrina, looked over the rim of her coffee mug at

 

Mary, and told her that they were about to get new neighbors.  The old Durfendorst

 

house, a ranch style house, about a quarter mile up Ingles Road, sat on a small lot in front

 

of one of the last large wooded tracts of land in the county.  Old Mrs.

 

Durfendorst succumbed to cancer the year before, and the house had gone up for

 

rent.  Her Mom said she had heard the new neighbors included a single Mother

 

with her two boys.

 

 

Mary, at the table, set her butter knife down.

 

 

"What are their names?"  

 

 

"I don't know," Sophrina said.  "Why?"

 

 

"Just wondering."  Mary shrugged.  "I guess it doesn't matter."

 

  

*     *     *

 

 

The next day, there was a new boy on the afternoon school bus.  Mary figured him for  

 

the new neighbor.  Unfortunately for the boy, he had already met Andy Shank and Randy

 

Ponder, two boys Mary called collectively, the Bus Bullies.

 

 

"Pencil necked geek," Shank sang.

 

 

Ponder cackled and then whacked Shank's shoulder hard with the index knuckle of his

 

right hand.  

 

 

The new boy looked up at Mary as she passed the front row of seats.  He had light

 

brown eyes, dappled with darker spots, like freckles.  Mary had never seen eyes like that. 

 

They reminded her of a wood her father once used called birds eye maple.

 

 

As she moved by the boy, Shank called, "Hey, here comes Daddy's Girl."  He whacked

 

Ponder in the back of the head. 

  

 

"Daddy's Girl!" Ponder added.  "Have you met the new bird in town?  He's called the

 

pencil-necked geek!"  

  

 

Ponder guffawed and slammed Shank in the shoulder.  They began to wrestle each other

 

into headlocks.

 

 

Mary dropped into the seat behind the new boy.  His thin head with sandy hair and ears

 

that stuck out to the side sat perfectly still on his thin neck as the bus bumped along Jonas

 

Road.  On the smoother surface of Highway 75, his head swayed whichever way the rest

 

of his body did.   

 

 

She thought about the sudden appearance of the boy at the end of the school year.  Why

 

would somebody move now, with only one week of the school year remaining?  It would

 

have made more sense for the boy's mother to wait for the fall to start him off on a new

 

school year.  His mother must not have given it much thought.  Moving a kid to a

 

new school with only one week remaining, Mary thought, you might as well be moving

 

furniture.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Mary made her way up the aisle.  The new kid slowly rose and moved in step behind her. 

 

That brought a new round of jeers from the Bus Bullies.

 

  

"Daddy's Girl's got a new boyfriend!" Ponder cried.

 

 

The door slammed closed on his taunt.  Mary and the boy stood next to each other at the

 

side of the road.  They watched the bus pull away in a cloud of dirt.  A window at the

 

back dropped open with a thunk.  An apple arced out of the window and thwacked the

 

boy on the head.  The surprise alone knocked him to the ground.

 

  

He sat up in a cloud of dust.  "Jerks." 

 

 

"Pencil-necked g-e-e-e-e-k," came echoing voices.  

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

"Are you all right?"  Mary offered him a hand.  His hand felt dry and hard.  She helped

 

haul him up.

 

 

“My name's Mary,” she said.

 

 

He slapped at his pants, which sent up new clouds of dust.

 

 

“What’s your name?” she asked, squinting at him.   

 

 

“Jimmy," he said.  

 

 

He settled his hands on his hips.   The sun sat in the sky high above him, throwing his

 

face in shadow.  .“My name’s Jimmy.”

 

  

*     *     *

 

 

She caught glimpses of him at school and saw him for the next five days on the bus.  She

 

walked by and sat several rows away.  The Bus Bullies tittered and took turns pounding

 

each other.  Jimmy barely moved.  His head kept perfectly still with every bump in the

 

road.

 

 

Then the school year ended.  Just like that.  Jimmy had been at Eastwood Middle

 

for seven days.

 

  

*     *     *

 

 

The day after school ended, Mary sat home alone.  Her Mom had taken a second job once

 

it became clear that Harry Gilmore wasn’t coming home.  The weekend job was at

 

the local Ethan Allen furniture manufacturing plant.  Harry would have been horrified. 

 

He didn't believe furniture could be made in a plant.  Sophrina might have agreed, but she

 

knew that she and Mary needed the money. 

 

 

After a bowl of cereal, Mary stretched out on the couch with one foot propped up on an

 

end table.  Ruffin, her fluffy red cat, stretched out on the arm of the couch.  Mary

 

petted him.  With her other hand she bumped the television remote against her chin.

 

 

As she wondered what to do with the rest of her day, the door bell rang.  Her mother

 

worried about leaving Mary home “unguarded”, as Mary put it.  Whenever Sophrina left

 

for work she gave Mary the “Don’t open the door to any strangers” speech, to which

 

Mary always answered, in two syllables, “Mo-om.”

 

 

The bell rang again.  Mary craned her neck to try to see out the window.  This was the

 

first time the bell had rung in her mother's absence.   

 

 

Mary gave Ruffin one more scratch between the ears.  “Who is it Ruffy?  Who do you

 

think it is?”

 

  

The cat offered a guttural “me-er.”

 

 

Mary tip-toed to the door.  “Who is it?”  She called.

 

 

“It’s Jimmy.”

 

 

Mary opened the door only enough to see out.  “Jimmy?”

 

 

Jimmy, hands on knees, was breathing hard.  “Sorry.  Just.  Ran.  Over.”

 

 

Mary swung the door open.  Jimmy’s house was almost a quarter mile away.  He wasn't

 

dressed like someone out for a jog.  “Did you run the whole way?” she asked.

 

 

“Yeah.”  It took Jimmy a minute to catch his breath.  Finally he straightened.  He held his

 

hands in front of him, as if measuring the air.  “I think I saw a bobcat.”  His eyes grew

 

wide at the memory.  “No, actually, I know I saw one.”

 

 

He huffed a couple more times.  “Do you know what a bobcat looks like?  Do they live

 

around here?”

 

 

Mary glanced back in the house at Ruffin who was sitting up on the couch, watching the

 

commotion.  Ruffin had a fluffy long tail.

 

 

“They do,” Mary said.  “I know people who’ve said they’ve seen them.”

 

 

“I'm pretty sure I saw one,” Jimmy said again.  He rubbed the back of his head.   

 

 

“Where?” Mary asked.

 

 

“Along the tree line.  You know the woods behind my house?”

 

 

Mary nodded. 

 

 

“Come on.” He motioned for her to follow.  “Let’s go.  Come with me.  Come with me. 

 

Let's go see if we can find it!”

 

 

Mary glanced back through the front door.  Her Mother would be at work for the rest of

 

the day.  Ruffin, all authoritative eyes, stared at her from the arm of the couch.

 

 

“All right.”  Mary pulled the door shut.  They set off at a run.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

By the time they arrived at the edge of the woods, there was no bobcat. 

 

 

Jimmy was out of breath again.  “Not.  Here,” he huffed.  “Was.  Here.”  He turned in a

 

circle.  “Swear.”

 

 

Mary laughed.

 

 

Jimmy bent forward, hands on his knees.  “What?”

 

 

Mary smiled at the sky.  The warm sun felt good on her face.  White fluffs of cloud

 

dotted the vaulted blue.

 

 

They walked into the shady woods, punctured here and there by mottled shafts of light. 

 

For some time they walked quietly, listening to the crunching of their feet on last

 

season’s leaves.  

 

 

“Can I ask you something?” Jimmy asked.

 

 

“Sure,” Mary shrugged.

 

 

“Why did those jerks on the bus call you Daddy’s Girl?”

 

 

Mary stopped walking.  “I don’t know.”

 

 

She studied Jimmy.  His thin lips turned naturally up at the ends, eternally optimistic.  He

 

had those freckled looking eyes, but also a saddle of light brown freckles across his nose

 

and cheekbones. 

 

 

“Is it something to do with you living with your Mom alone?"  Jimmy asked.  "I mean,

 

my Mom told me your Dad’s not around, but she didn’t know what happened.”

 

 

“I guess.  Those guys are just jerks.”

 

 

“You can say that again.”  Jimmy rubbed the spot where their apple core had hit his head.

 

 

Under the canopy the kids couldn’t tell how hot it was outside the trees. A thin trail led

 

deeper into the woods.   A dry scent, like pumpkin-pie spice, hung in the air.  Twigs

 

and leaves crackled under foot.

 

 

“What happened to your Dad?” Jimmy asked.

 

 

“I don’t know,” Mary said.

 

 

Jimmy stared at her.

 

 

“He disappeared,” Mary offered.

 

 

“Disappeared?”

 

 

“Yep, just disappeared.”

 

 

They walked some more.  Mary bent to pick up a stick.  The stick in her hand made her

 

feel better.

 

 

“He was an artist,” Mary said.  “He made furniture.  You know, handmade furniture. 

 

Especially chairs.  One day he got in his truck to deliver a chair he’d made, and he never

 

came back."

 

 

Jimmy stopped for a moment to stare at Mary.  “That’s weird,” he said.  He continued to

 

study her face. 

 

 

Mary looked at the ground.  He seemed to be waiting for her to say something else.  She

 

thought about telling him the name of the chair, the last chair that was in the back of her

 

father’s truck the day he disappeared.  Instead she shrugged.  She threw her stick down.

 

 

Jimmy bent to pick the stick up.  He broke it and twisted it and played with it.  After a

 

while, he tossed it away like a tomahawk. 

 

 

“I never knew my Dad,” he said.  He stared into the trees.  “My Mom told me he was a

 

professional baseball player.  Never made it out of the minor leagues.  That’s all I really

 

know about him. ”

 

 

Jimmy scuffed his shoe at some rust-colored pine needles on the path.   "My mom had

 

 

this thing for baseball players.  She still does.  My older brother had the same deal. 

 

Different Father, so actually we're only half brothers, but his Dad was also a baseball

 

player.  Also never made it out of the minor leagues.  Also didn't stick around.  At the

 

end of the day, that's all I know about my Dad.  He didn’t stick around.”

 

 

“So you never knew him at all?”

 

 

Jimmy leaned his head back to look up into the swaying leaves.  “Never even seen so

 

much as a picture of him.  Can you believe that?  Mom doesn’t talk about him.  If I ask

 

about him, she just says he wasn’t any good, never made it out of the minor leagues,

 

and pretty much hit the road when I was conceived.  She loves that word, conceived. 

 

Then she always drops her voice and pretends to be an announcer: “He was good with the

 

wood in his hands, but that is all.”

 

 

*     *     *

  

 

Mary knew she ought to tell Jimmy more about her Dad, but just wasn’t sure what to

 

say.  She decided to think about it while they finished their walk.  She wondered how far

 

they’d continue.  She knew the woods came out along Highway 75, but that was a long

 

way away.

 

 

Jimmy wrinkled his nose at the trees ahead of them and took a few exaggerated sniffs.  

 

 

“Do you smell smoke?” 

 

 

Mary nodded.  She smelled it too.

 

 

"Should we check it out?”  Jimmy asked.

 

 

Walking deeper into woods on fire?    Mary guessed they could always turn back.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

They pushed through a stand of rhododendron.  When they popped out the other side they

 

found the source of the smoke.  A man sat on the remains of a fallen tree at the center of

 

the clearing.  In one hand he held a stick, the other end of which he poked into a

 

fire ring.  What was left of the fire gave off wisps of smoke.

 

 

The man grinned at them.  He looked pretty rough, missing teeth, dirt caked on his

 

face, and pieces of leaf in his hair.  Mary had seen men with faces like his before, puffy

 

and purple from living in cardboard boxes under bridges, standing around downtown,

 

asking for quarters.

 

 

Jimmy leaned close to Mary.  “I heard there's a burn ban right now,” he whispered.  “This

 

guy's going to start a forest fire.”

 

 

Mary just stared at the man.

 

 

The man motioned them to come closer.  He set down his stick and picked up a small

 

rounded object and a knife. 

 

 

The kids looked at each other.  The man looked down at his blade. 

 

 

“Oh, this?”  He waved the blade in the air.  “I ain’t going to hurt you.  I like to carve,

 

that’s all.  In fact, you may get a kick out of this, here.  This is my best trick.”

 

 

He smiled as if he’d said something truly funny.  Then he set to work on the dark round

 

of wood in his other hand.  The kids crept closer through the thin wisps of smoke.

 

 

“You want to see it?” he asked.  “Just let me put the finishing touches . . .“  A few more

 

swipes with his knife, then he held the object up between fingertip and thumb.  He closed

 

one eye and squinted the other, and stuck his tongue out the side of his mouth.

 

 

“Yep, that’ll do it.”  He set the carving on his open palm.  “Want to see?”  He extended

 

his arm to offer it for the kid’s perusal.  They looked at each other, then leaned closer.

  

 

“A bird,” Mary said softly.

 

 

“A wren, to be precise.” The man smiled.  He was missing three of his four front

 

teeth. “Now watch.  Here’s the tricky part.”   He pulled the carving close to his chest.  He

 

covered the hand holding the carving with his other hand, leaned forward, then made a

 

throwing motion with both hands, as if to say, “Fly be free.”

 

 

And fly it did.  A real bird flew away in a blast of bird song and disappeared into the

 

trees.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“W-o-a-h,” Jimmy said.  He stood, hands on hips, watching the bird disappear.

 

 

Mary kept her eyes on the man.  His stringy hair maybe wasn’t as grey as she initially

 

thought.  Maybe it was more dirty than grey.  He had the face of a man who’d lived out

 

doors for a long time.

 

 

An idea crept into her brain.  What if this vagrant was her Dad?  He didn’t look anything

 

like her father, covered in all that dirt, though he did have a similar  build.  He didn’t

 

sound like her father either.  Harry Gilmore would never have said “ain’t.”

 

 

Still, in the case of Harry Gilmore, could a terrible accident or awful mistake that left him

 

physically altered, or unable to remember where he belonged, be completely ruled

 

out?  What if this man were her Dad?  This wasn't the first time in the last three years she

 

had asked herself that question.  Really, it was an extension of the basic question, “Where

 

had he gone?”  It was a thought that occurred to her every time she encountered a new

 

man around town.  Maybe she hadn’t got a full view of his face yet, or maybe something

 

about the way the man moved recalled her Dad.  A guy at the counter of the local diner,

 

for instance, with his back to her, sporting the same hair cut her Dad always wore.  The

 

thought might flicker in her mind like a match strike, “Could this be my Dad?” 

 

 

It usually took but an instant.  The man might move his head so she got a better look at

 

him, or he might open his mouth and speak, and in a breath of wind, the match strike

 

would go out.   

 

 

She closed her eyes and her Dad’s face shown like a sun in her mind.  She opened them

 

and the vagrant’s face shown in front of her.  His eyes twinkled blue.  Her Dad’s eyes

 

were brown.  The breath of wind blew the match out. 

 

  

The next thought though, as always, was what if this man knew what happened to her

 

Dad?  What if he had something to do with her Dad's disappearance?   Always, when she

 

got a glimpse of someone new, “What if?”

 

 

Jimmy interrupted her thoughts.  He wheeled toward the homeless man.  “How’d you do

 

that?”

 

 

“Oh, it’s magic.”  The man smiled broadly.  He stretched his long legs out in front of

 

him, looked satisfied, and leaned back until his palms rested in dirt.

 

 

Mary studied him once more.  “What’s your name?” she asked.

 

 

“You really want to know?”

 

 

“Well, I’m Jimmy,” Jimmy offered.  He looked at Mary as if to say, your turn.

 

 

When Mary hesitated, the man said, “Cat got your tongue?”  He flashed another grin.

 

 

Jimmy nodded encouragingly.   

 

 

“My name is Mary.”

 

 

“There,” the man said.  “Wasn’t so hard, was it?”

 

 

“Who . . . are you?” Mary asked.

 

 

He stood up and made a sweeping gesture with his arm.  “My name, young lady, is

 

Rowlf.”

 

 

An image of a black chair flashed in Mary's mind.  She was there in the garage with her

 

Dad.  He wore a smile, knelt down to her level, and then said, “What shall we name it? 

 

Pick a name, baby girl.”  “Rowlf,” she said, with a smile, imitating the sound of a baby

 

tiger.

 

 

Mary’s cheeks flushed.    

 

 

“Ralph?” Jimmy asked.

 

 

“No,” the man said.  “Not Ralph.  Rowlf, with an 'O'.”

 

 

Mary wavered, as if against a stiff wind.  Jimmy reached for her elbow.  “What’s wrong? 

 

Are you all right?”

 

 

Mary looked at him blankly.  “I feel a little faint.”

 

 

“Must be the heat,” Rowlf said.

 

 

“Yes, I think we should go.”

 

 

Jimmy held her eyes with his for a moment, attempting to comfort her.  Then his eyes

 

slid away, drawn by a sight beyond her left shoulder.  His freckled eyes grew wide.

 

 

“Mary.”  He pointed.  He motioned for her to turn around.  “It’s him.”

 

 

“Him?”  Confusion overwhelmed her.

 

 

“The bobcat.”

 

 

Mary turned.

 

 

“I told you I saw him.  That must be the one I saw.”

 

 

At the edge of the clearing sat a bobcat.  Its intense yellow eyes returned Mary’s gaze.

 

Larger than a house pet but smaller than Mary imagined a wild cat would be.  Speckled

 

brown, its rounded ears tipped forward as if listening.  The cat’s brown grin

 

disappeared into the parted hair by its jowls.

 

 

Rowlf followed their gaze.  “Oh, that Bobby, he won’t give you any bother.”

  

 

“Bobby?”  Jimmy eyed the homeless carver.  “Is he your pet?”

 

 

“Something like that,” Rowlf said.

 

 

“What do you mean?  Wait.  Wait!!!  Did you carve him?”  Jimmy hurried over by

 

Rowlf.  “Did you carve him?”

 

 

Rowlf just smiled mysteriously, leaned back, and intertwined his fingers over his belly.

 

 

“I think we'd better go,” Mary said.

 

 

Jimmy squinted at her.  He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out.

 

 

“Well, I’ve got to go,” Mary said.  She tilted her head toward the edge of the clearing.

 

 

“Okay,” Jimmy said.

 

 

He snapped his fingers.  “I know, if we come back tomorrow will you still be here?  We

 

can come back tomorrow.  Do you live here, or . . . ?”

 

 

“Oh, sometimes I live here,” Rowlf said.  “I live here and there.  One of the perks of

 

being on the road.  I can stay where I am if there’s someone or something worth staying

 

for.”

 

 

“All right then,” Jimmy said.  “If you stay then we’ll give you something to stay for. 

 

Right Mary?  We can come back tomorrow, and bring you something.”

 

 

Jimmy looked at Mary.

 

 

“I have a . . . um . . .“  Mary stammered.

 

 

“What can we bring you?”  Jimmy interrupted.  “Tell us and we’ll make it worth your

 

while.”

 

 

“I wouldn’t mind if you brought me some coffee.”  He grinned his mostly toothless grin.

 

 

“Well all right.  See that Mary, he likes coffee.”  Jimmy moved next to Mary, as if ready

 

to go, but then spun around one more time.  “One thing, Rowlf.  Can you teach me how

 

to do that?  That magic trick with the bird?”

 

 

“We’ll have to see.” Rowlf made his eyebrows jump up and down a few times.

 

 

Jimmy turned to leave with Mary but stopped short again as they neared Bobby.  He

 

extended his hand to pet the cat, but Bobby moved out of reach, and arched himself

 

against a nearby tree.

 

 

“You might want to bring him a treat, too,” Rowlf suggested.

 

 

“What does he like?” Jimmy asked.

 

 

“He mostly eats mice.  He’ll eat cat food.  But his favorite is blueberries.”

 

 

“Did you hear that?” Jimmy laughed, falling into step with Mary.  “The bobcat

 

likes blueberries.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

They walked back out of the woods, Mary steadfastly, Jimmy occasionally having

 

to hurry his steps to keep up.  They made it back onto paved road.

 

 

“What's wrong?  What happened back there?"  Jimmy asked.  "I thought you were gonna

 

pass out."

 

 

Mary stopped so fast Jimmy nearly ran into her.  She put her hands up as if to say stop,

 

stop right there.  She let out an exasperated squeal, then began to pace back and forth. 

 

Finally, she stopped again.

 

 

"Here's the thing.  My father, before he died or disappeared, or whatever, when he would

 

finish a chair, he always let me name the chair.  It was a special thing we had.  The chair

 

would be in the garage.  He covered it with a sheet.  I would walk in and he would pull

 

the sheet.  The unveiling, he called it.  It was like a big presentation.  Then I would

 

wander slowly around it, to get a feel of what the chair was all about.  He always joked

 

around about the patterns I made in the saw dust at the base of the chair."

 

 

Mary’s eyes reddened.

 

 

"And?"

 

 

"And . . . each chair had its own personality, like a person, you know?"

 

 

"Yeah."

 

 

"So a name would just occur to me, and we would write it on the tag for whoever the

 

new owner would be."  

 

 

"What does that have to do with you almost fainting in the woods?"  Jimmy asked.

 

 

Mary crossed her arms over her tummy.  "When I was, I think, five, my dad made this

 

chair.  It was carved out of black walnut and ebonized.  I think it was one of the first

 

chairs he let me name.  The seat was leather, which I specifically remember, because Dad

 

usually left them all wood.  The leather was dark too, a color between brown and black,

 

almost  purple, and he distressed the leather.  It was all wrinkled at the edges.  The

 

whole chair looked . . .  I  remember, my Dad called it 'sinewy'.  He said that meant like

 

vines made out of thick black muscles.  The chair felt to me like  a man who'd lived in the

 

sun for ages, with a face like a leather baseball  glove, wrinkled and puffy around the

 

eyes, and for some reason, I guess it made me think of Africa, because some how I

 

thought of the sound a baby tiger would make, because remember I was only five, and the

 

name . . . Rowlf . . . just popped into my brain."

 

 

Jimmy scrunched up his face.  He rubbed his head with an open palm.  "So, a chair your

 

Dad once made you named Rowlf?"

 

 

"Yeah."

 

 

"With an 'O'?"

 

 

"Yeah."

 

 

"That is weird.  And here's this homeless guy in the woods named Rowlf?  And that just

 

kind of threw you to hear that name again?  . . . and, wait . . . "  now Jimmy was squinting

 

with great concentration at the road.  "Rowlf was carving . . .working with wood . . . "

 

 

Jimmy stiffened.  "Wait, do you think Rowlf might be your Dad?"

 

 

Mary turned her back to him.  "No.  He's too old, he's just . . . No.  He's got blue eyes, my

 

Dad had brown eyes.  It's just not him."

 

 

She turned back to face him.  "There's one other thing."

 

 

"What?"

 

 

"The last chair my Dad made, the one he was delivering when he disappeared?"

 

 

"Yeah."

 

 

"It was named Jimmy."

 

 

Jimmy, open-mouthed, stared at her.

 

 

"You named a chair after me?"

 

 

"No, dope, I didn't even know you yet.”

 

 

“I suppose you think it looked like me?  The way you think the Rowlf chair looked like

 

Rowlf?”

 

 

A smile spread across Mary's face.  “Kind of.  It was made out of ash.  Have you ever

 

seen ash?  It’s a beautiful white wood that slowly turns golden.  Dad said they use it a lot

 

to make baseball bats."

 

 

"Baseball bats?"

 

 

Mary tried to suppress her grin.  "The Jimmy chair did sort of look like a skinny kid

 

with knobby knees and big ears.”

 

 

Jimmy touched his fingers to his chest.

 

 

“I,” he said, “am not a chair.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

As they neared her house, the kids could see a police car parked in her driveway.  When

 

her father first disappeared police cars were a daily presence.  In fact, what Mary

 

remembered most vividly about the days that followed Harry Gilmore's disappearance

 

was the swirl of white, blue and red lights above the flotilla of black-and-white police

 

cars that seemingly bobbed where the Gilmore's driveway and yard used to be.

 

 

Over the years, the police presence had slowed, except for one particular

 

officer, Sam Miller, who still liked to stop by to check on Mary's mom.   

 

 

"Do you want me to come with you?" Jimmy asked. 

 

 

“It's okay."  Mary started to walk away.  "He's a friend of my Mom's."

 

 

"Call me?" Jimmy said.

 

 

Mary waved.

 

 

She moved up her driveway to the sound of her own breath.  She could see her Mom

 

through the living room window.  Her Mom moved back and forth and seemed to talk

 

with her hands.  Everything about her Mom seemed to droop, her dark curls, her

 

dark eyes, her reddened skin.  Her mouth moved and she moved and tears streamed

 

down her face.  As she paced she went out of the picture and then back in.  Officer Miller

 

stayed out of the picture, an unseen force toward which Sophrina Gilmore’s

 

words and emotions flowed.

 

 

If the police visits had gone on since her Dad disappeared, the distress of those visits had

 

ebbed.  Over time, Officer Miller's visits moved from the living room to the kitchen,

 

where he sat on a stool and sipped coffee while he and Sophrina spoke quietly.

 

 

Why the distress this time?  What had happened?  Had he brought news that upset

 

her Mom?  Had he found something out about her Dad?

 

 

When Mary moved to the front door she reached for the knob just as the door sprung

 

open.  Officer Miller had opened it but now stood with his back to Mary.  He was a

 

handsome guy.  Around Mary's Mom's age.  He held his cap in his hands at his chest. 

 

Mary’s Mom stood directly beyond him, her face somewhat calmed, though her eyes

 

looked bleary and vague.

 

 

“I’m sorry, Sophie,” Officer Miller was saying.  “Like I said, it could mean anything.”  

 

 

Mary’s Mom caught sight of Mary and the look on her face shifted.  Officer Miller turned

 

and almost elbowed Mary in the head.  He jumped backward.  "Oh, hey there,” he said. 

 

“Mary.”  He looked back at Sophrina.  “Your Mom and I were just, uh, having a talk.” 

 

He stepped aside to let Mary in.  He set a hand on her shoulder. 

 

 

“Your Mom will tell you all about it.  No secrets here, right?”  He tried a smile.  He

 

stepped outside, and drew a deep breath of the cooling  evening air.  He seemed

 

to hesitate, as if he might turn around again.  Instead, he settled his cap on

 

his combed dark hair, cleared his throat, and stepped purposefully toward the black-and-

 

white police cruiser. 

 

 

Her Mom gathered Mary into a hug, one that reminded Mary of the hug her Mom gave

 

her on the day her Dad disappeared.   

 

 

Mary's Mom, Sophrina, began to worry when Harry didn't return for dinner that night. 

 

As darkness crept in, a queasy feeling wound its way into Mary's tummy.  She recognized

 

that feeling.  Something felt wrong. 

 

 

A lot of times, Mary noticed, she worried needlessly.  What if this or that happened? 

 

What if she got to school and left her homework home?  What if other kids laughed at her

 

clothes?  Mostly those feeling passed because nothing ever did seem to happen.  This

 

time, the feeling stuck and grew, took up all the room in her stomach until she couldn't

 

eat.

 

 

She pushed broccoli and rice around her plate.  Her Mom started to eat and then lost

 

interest too.

 

 

Bed time came.  Still no Dad.  Still no call.  Her Mom stood, arms crossed, looking out

 

the living room window, out into darkness.

 

 

"Time to go to bed," she told Mary.

 

 

Mary had her arms crossed over her belly, hugging herself.  Something didn't feel right. 

 

She rocked back on her heels. 

 

 

"But . . ."

 

 

"No buts.  Your being up won't change anything.  I’m sure your father will be home when

 

you get up in the morning."

 

 

Ordinarily, when a delivery meant a long drive, her Dad told her Mom where he was

 

going and when he'd be back.  That day he hadn't mentioned that he might be late, so

 

Sophrina figured the delivery wouldn't take long.  She figured the delivery must have

 

been local.  He'd made so many of these deliveries over the years.

 

 

The next morning, Mary found her Mom, still awake, sitting up, and pale-faced on the

 

couch.  The feeling that something was wrong had grown overnight.   

 

 

"Mom?"

 

 

For one beat Sophrina seemed not to recognize her own daughter.

 

 

"Did Dad get home?"

 

 

Sophrina rose stiffly.  She pulled Mary into a hug hard as wood.  When her Mom rested

 

her chin on the top of Mary's head, where Mary's Dad had kissed her the day before,

 

Mary felt the pressure there of something heavy.

  

 

"Mom, did something happen?"

 

  

"I don't know."  Her Mom held on tighter.  Finally she moved Mary to arm's distance, but

 

kept her hands on Mary's shoulders.  Sophrina's normally beautiful eyes were stained red.

 

  

"I don't know what to do," Sophrina said.  "There's no one to call.  We don't know where

 

the delivery, who the delivery. . ."  .

 

 

 "What about the police?"

 

 

"The police?"  Sophrina hadn't gotten any sleep.  She looked at her watch.  "Maybe I'll

 

wait till  . . . "  Her voice trailed off.  Sophrina Gilmore turned in front of the living room

 

window.  Her back to Mary, she stood looking out, but the sun had not risen fully, and

 

with the darkness all she saw was herself reflected, arms folded at her belly, mouth open 

 

 upon a clipped syllable.

 

 

"I'm sure there's an explanation," Sophrina said softly.  She raised a hand slowly to her

 

cheek, a gesture Mary had seen her mother make countless times.  "I'm sure," Sophrina

 

said again.  "I'm sure there's an explanation."

 

 

This new hug felt hard as wood, too.  

 

 

“Mom, what is it?”  Mary asked.  “What did Officer Sam tell you?  Is it something

 

terrible?   Bad?  About Dad?”

 

 

“Yes,” Her Mom half-laughed.  “No.  I don’t know.”  She dropped her hands from

 

Mary’s shoulders, and then paced the room once around.  She came to rest with her hip

 

against the dining table. 

 

 

“They found a wheel,” she said.

 

 

“A wheel?”

 

 

“To your Dad’s truck.”

 

 

“Just a wheel?”

 

 

Her Mom nodded.  “Just a wheel.  Over along State Road 75.  A cyclist found it.  He was

 

riding and noticed it in the ditch, about 7 miles from where highway 36 and 75 meet.”

 

 

Mary wrinkled her nose and forehead.

 

 

"Not just a tire.”  Her mother laughed again.  “The whole wheel.”

 

 

Mary settled her hip against the door jamb.  “So, what does that mean?  Do they think he

 

had a car accident?”

 

 

“I don’t know.  They don’t know.  I mean, it can’t be a good sign.  A truck can’t just lose

 

a wheel and keep on going."

 

 

“But,” Mary asked.  “What about the rest of the truck?"

 

 

“That’s just it.”  Her Mom, with her deep green eyes, searched Mary’s eyes, searched for

 

. . . what? 

  

 

Mary felt herself searching for the same thing.

 

 

"I don’t know,” her Mom repeated.  “I just don’t know.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

That night Mary sat on her bed and thought about the day.  In all the emotion of the

 

wheel news, Mary had forgotten about the strange man in the woods.  A missing wheel? 

 

A car accident?  Mary tried to connect the news of the day to the appearance of  the

 

mysterious Rowlf.  Would a man knocked senseless in an automobile accident forget his

 

life before such an accident?  The weathered man in the woods bore no relation to her

 

dad, but was there another connection?

 

 

Maybe the dirt and the weathered skin and the distance she kept from him hid a craggy

 

scar on his forehead.  Maybe the flattened bridge of his nose marked where he had hit a

 

steering wheel?  The scruffy beard and hair that made his face resemble a dirty mop? 

 

She knew one thing.  She felt compelled to go back and talk to him again.  She had to

 

figure out who he was, and why she felt he held some clue to her father’s whereabouts.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

That night, her dreams came in a fluid wholeness.  Several times she saw Rowlf’s face,

 

smiling a gap toothed grin – warm and goofy.  Visions of golden pixie dust afloat in sun

 

rays mixed with squeals and crashing explosions, an automobile wreck, the image of her

 

screaming father.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

She woke feeling un-rested and worn, as breathless as if she had run to Jimmy’s and

 

back.  Her Mother seemed distant, distracted, as she set a plate with toast and a glass of

 

juice on the table for Mary.  Sophrina, after three mugs of coffee through which she said

 

almost nothing, left for work.

 

 

A few minutes later, Mary set out.  As she slipped past Jimmy’s house, she felt herself

 

betraying Jimmy.  He had asked her to call him the previous night and she hadn’t.  He

 

would not be happy to hear that she’d gone back to see Rowlf without him.  But she

 

needed to speak to Rowlf and she wanted to do it alone. 

 

 

She stepped across the field behind Jimmy’s.  The feeling of secrecy she felt in not

 

stopping to ring his doorbell vaporized when she entered the shady woods.  The dark

 

trees stood silent watch.  She moved forward.  A thought became a flame of worry that

 

drove her headfirst through the trees.  What if Rowlf had gone?  What if she burst into

 

that clearing and he wasn’t there?

 

 

She neared the clearing.  The scent of stale smoke hung in the trees.  Yesterday’s smoke.

 

 

She broke into the clearing, breathing hard. 

 

 

Rowlf's eyes grew wide as she burst from the trees.  He peered at her from behind a hand

 

held mirror.  He held his open blade in the other hand.  A small chunk of his beard lay on

 

the ground at his feet.

 

  

Mary’s breath still came hard.  She stared for a moment.

 

 

“Well, welcome back, Miss Mary,”  he said.   He looked at his knife and smiled.  “Just

 

cleaning up here a little bit.  Find yourself somewhere to sit.  I’ll be done in a jiffy.”

 

  

Mary looked around, but saw nowhere comfortable looking.  She sat, ankles crossed, in

 

some leaves a few feet from Rowlf.  She had not concentrated so closely on his face the

 

day before.  She’d been distracted by the wooden bird, the oddity.  His skin, dark and

 

prickly, reminded her of old leather.

 

 

Rowlf scraped the knife along his jaw.  Another tuft of beard wafted down. 

 

 

"Why are you doing that?" Mary asked.

 

 

Rowlf shrugged.  “Sometimes, believe it or not, I just feel like I want to be clean.”

 

 

Mary nodded.  She watched him cut away the rest of his beard.  Finished, he closed his

 

blade.   He took an old bandana out of  his back pocket to dip in a small pot of water by

 

his feet.  He dabbed the bandana at his muddy skin.  Slowly, some of the brown gave way

 

to a lighter hue.

 

 

Mary watched his face unfold as he worked.  He did have what appeared to be a deep

 

scar from the crown of his forehead to the top of his nose, and the bridge of his nose was

 

flat, as if smashed.  His face could have survived any number of accidents.  Lots of

 

jagged wrinkles or scars radiated outward.  Even without the layer of dirt, his face

 

resembled a puckered sunflower.  His little blue eyes, despite being sunk in craggy

 

darkness, twinkled out at her.

 

 

Finished cleaning himself, Rowlf took some time to size Mary up.

 

 

“Where’s your friend, Jimmy, today?” he asked.

 

 

“He couldn’t come.  He had . . . practice.”

 

 

“I see.”

 

 

Rowlf smiled.  He drummed his fingers aimlessly.  “Well!”  He slapped his thighs, which

 

sent up little clouds of dust, then hopped up from the log.  “What do you say we see what

 

Bobby is up to?”

 

 

As Rowlf moved away from her, she noticed he had a limp.  He stepped purposefully

 

with his left foot, but his right foot dragged behind, collecting a little wake of leaves.  The

 

leaves gathered until like a wave cresting a rock they slipped away from his laceless shoe.

 

 

“Are you hurt?” Mary asked.

 

 

“Me?  Oh, you mean the limp?”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

Before he answered, he tucked in his gums and gave a sharp whistle.  Rowlf kept his eyes

 

on the deeper part of the woods.  “That happened a very long time ago,” he said.  “Just an

 

accident.  Nothing to talk about.  Everybody has them.”

 

 

“Everybody?” 

 

 

Before Rowlf could answer, Mary heard the bounding of an animal through brush

 

and leaves.  In a moment, Bobby appeared.

 

 

*   *   *

 

 

Bobby smoothed himself against the legs of Rowlf's dirty trousers.  About twice as large

 

as Mary's cat, Ruffin, Bobby paced  padded foot prints in the dirt at Rowlf's feet. 

 

Bobby's coat was thick and smooth.  Mary could see the cat’s musculature working

 

beneath his tawny fur.  She admired his whiskered face and black-tufted ears, the black

 

bars on his forelegs and black-tipped, stubby tail. 

 

 

Bobby sat upright.  He stared with yellow eyes at Mary, and sniffed the air with his black

 

nose. 

 

 

Mary knelt.  She held out the palm of her hand like she would do if meeting a friend’s

 

domestic cat for the first time. 

 

 

“Here Bobby, want to smell my hand?  Such a handsome fellow.  Oh yes, so very fine.”

 

 

Bobby came no closer. 

 

 

Rowlf reached his hand into the pocket of his baggy sport coat.  “I almost forgot.”  He

 

pulled out a small dead field mouse.  He dangled it by the tail.    

 

 

“Got something for Bobby.  Thought you might like to give it to him.”

 

 

The little grey mouse had a bead of blood at the corner of its white lips. 

 

 

“Okay.”  Mary wrinkled her nose, then took the mouse by the tail.  She knelt again and

 

held her arm out straight. 

 

 

“Bobby want a mouse?” she asked.

 

 

Bobby still didn't move. 

 

 

Mary looked back at Rowlf, who indicated with his chin that she should just give it a

 

little toss.  Mary swung the mouse by its tail, and landed it just to Bobby’s right.  The cat

 

set to work eating it.

 

 

*    *     *

 

 

Bobby finished quickly.  Then he began to give himself a bath, repeatedly licking

 

his paw, then using that like a washcloth to smooth his forehead.

 

 

While he bathed, Mary stood with her hands on her hips and watched.  Bobby’s

 

bathing antics made her laugh.

 

 

“Cute little guy ain’t he?”  Rowlf asked.

 

 

Mary studied Rowlf’s proud grin.  Then she studied his face until her stare made

 

him fidget.

 

 

“What?” he asked.  “Why you staring at me?”

 

 

Mary narrowed her eyes.  “Did you carve him?”  She pointed at Bobby, who was

 

balanced on his tailbone with both hind legs pointed toward Mary.

 

 

“What, him?  What would make you say something crazy like that?  Here, I’ll prove

 

it.  Follow me.”  He lifted an index finger in front of his smile, then tip-toed.

 

 

Mary mimicked Rowlf, though she had to cover her mouth to keep from giggling. 

 

 

After three careful steps they were next to the cat.  Bobby sprang up.  Before Mary could

 

move, he rounded her ankles.  He arched his hind quarters to rub against her legs.  Mary

 

reached down her hand and smoothed her palm along Bobby’s back.  She felt his back

 

bone, ribbed hard as wood, through his fur.

 

 

“Well?” Rowlf asked.  “Does he feel like he’s made out of wood?”

 

 

“Maybe just his spine.”  Mary laughed.  “Otherwise he is definitely soft and furry and

 

cute and cuddly.”

 

 

Rowlf laughed too.

 

 

They started walking.  It was another warm summer day.  The air smelled loamy.  Mary

 

folded her arms over her belly.  “The bird trick,” she said.  “Was that real?”

 

 

“That’s for me to know.”  He widened his eyes purposefully and grinned.  When he

 

walked, Rowlf liked to swing his arms then bring his hands back together with a clap. 

 

With each clap he said, "Yep.".

 

 

After a few minutes of watching his funny walk, Mary asked Rowlf about his

 

woodworking.  “Where did you learn to carve like that?”

 

 

“I’ve been carving since I hit the road.”

 

 

“Hit the road?”  Mary squinted at him.  A funny expression.  “What do you mean?  Did

 

you learn it by yourself?  I mean, who taught you to carve?”

 

 

Rowlf stopped.  He looked up into the thick canopy of leaves.  “If I had to guess, I’d say

 

I learnt from my Father.”

 

 

“What do you mean, if you had to guess?  Don't you know?”

 

 

Rowlf shrugged.  “As far back as I can remember, I could carve.  So, I figured my Father

 

must have showed me.  The only problem is, I can’t remember my Father.”

 

 

“You can’t remember your father?”

 

 

“I can’t remember anything from before the accident.”

 

 

“What kind of accident did you have?”

 

 

“I don’t know,” Rowlf half-said, half-laughed.  “I can’t remember!”

 

 

“Last question?”

 

 

Rowlf huffed in mock-annoyance.

 

 

“Are you going to teach Jimmy the bird trick?”

 

 

Rowlf cocked his head.  It made everything about him look crooked, especially his grin.

 

 

“A good magician never reveals his sources.”

 

 

He winked and they walked on.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Back at the clearing, Rowlf took a seat on his favorite log.  He pulled his arm across his

 

forehead.  “Sure is a hot one.”  He pulled a silver flask out of his baggy coat, unscrewed

 

the cap and threw back his head to swig. 

 

 

He replaced the cap. 

 

 

Mary was staring at him.

 

 

“What?  A guy can’t have a drink?”

 

 

Mary tried to look less stern.  She folded her hands in her lap.

 

 

Rowlf cleared his throat.  He slid the little flask back into his inside jacket pocket. 

 

 

“Where are my manners?  Can I offer you something, Mary?  Water?”

 

 

Her eyes trailed around the camp site.  A canteen leaned up against the end of the log.  A

 

metal grate and a tin pot sat across a stone fire ring.

 

 

She remembered that she and Jimmy had promised when they were there the day

 

before to bring Rowlf some coffee.  Now she felt badly that she had come empty handed. 

 

The thought of Jimmy also made her feel guilty.  What would he say when he found out

 

Mary visited Rowlf without him?

 

 

“I don’t need a drink,” Mary said.  “Thank you.”

 

 

Surrounded by the loamy smell of leaves, her fingers played in the dirt where she sat. 

 

“I’m also sorry, because I just remembered we promised to bring you some

 

coffee, Jimmy and I.  If I come back tomorrow, will you still be here?”

 

 

Rowlf leaned back so that his palms pressed against the log.  He let out a big sigh,

 

then he looked her straight in the face.

 

 

“Mary, I’m a free man.  Free to do whatever I please.  No responsibilities.  No ties.  If it’s

 

time for me to go, I just move on.  Got my knife, my tin can.”  He chuckled.  “My flask. 

 

Bobby over there.”

 

 

He paused.  He leaned forward.  “But, let me tell you something, Mary.  It’s people

 

that make this world go ‘round.  It’s people that I have found to be the treasure trove of

 

this great world.  I learned long ago that if someone wants me to stick around, then

 

that’s what I do, stick around.”

 

 

His eyes rimmed with red.

 

 

“You’re a special girl, Mary,” he continued.  "You make me want to stick around.”  He

 

chuckled.  “You even make me want to shave and wash my face.”

 

 

Mary laughed too.  Then, for a moment they sat silently.  Mary broke the silence. “I have

 

a confession to make.  Jimmy doesn’t know I came out here without him today.  I didn’t

 

tell him.”

 

 

“Oh?”

 

 

“I had to get a closer look at you, and talk to you.”

 

 

“Had to?”

 

 

Mary nodded.  “Felt like I had to.”

 

 

Mary stood up.  She turned her back to Rowlf and paced.  She turned back around to face

 

him.  “I thought you might know something about my Dad.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“Have a seat,” he said.  He had her sit on the log.  He took her little hands in his

 

big ones.  His skin felt rough against hers.  He looked into her eyes.  Her youthful hope

 

transfixed him.  “I’m so sorry, little one.  I don’t know nothing about your dad.”  

 

 

Against Mary’s wishes, tears welled in her eyes.

 

 

“Tell me what happened.”  Rowlf’s voice cracked.  “To your Dad.  If there’s any way

 

I can help, I would like to.”

 

 

Mary stared at the ground.  “My dad disappeared three years ago.  He drove away with a

 

new chair in the back of his truck.  That’s what he did for a living, made chairs.  Anyway,

 

that was the last time any of us saw him.  Not a single clue, until yesterday.  The police

 

say a wheel from his car was found on the other end of these woods.  A cyclist found it in

 

the ditch.  But it wasn’t just a tire, it was the whole wheel.”

 

 

“Truck can’t get far without one of its wheels.”

 

 

“Don’t you see, Rowlf?  If my Dad had been in a bad accident, that could have been

 

the accident that took your memory.”

 

 

Rowlf shook his head slowly.  His eyes clouded over.  

 

 

“Maybe,” Mary said.  “If we can help you remember what happened . . . ?”

 

 

Furrows rose up on Rowlf’s forehead.  “How are we going to do that?”

 

 

Mary hopped up from the log, and turned to face him.  Rowlf waved his big hands in

 

front of his face.  “Now calm down, Miss Mary, I didn’t mean to get you all riled."

 

 

Mary paced back and forth several times.

 

 

“Come and sit down again,” Rowlf said.  “Calm down.  Relax.  Tell me a little

 

something about your dad.  I want to hear more about him.  What was his name?”

 

 

“Harold Gilmore.  Grown ups called him Harry.  Does the name ring a bell?”

 

 

Rowlf shook his head, no.

 

 

Mary continued.  “He was a genius chair maker.  You should have seen him work.  I

 

can picture him now.” 

 

 

Mary leaned down as if lining something up, stuck her tongue out the side of her

 

mouth and squinted down an imaginary line.  "In the garage, where he had his studio, I

 

remember, he was putting the finishing touches on that last chair.  It was made out of ash,

 

which is my favorite – Daddy would soap ash instead of oiling it, and it was this beautiful

 

white color.  Anyway, he leaned forward and his eye held the line where the planer

 

needed to move.  He stuck his tongue out the side of his mouth, like he always did when

 

he was concentrating.  Then as he moved that planer along, smoothing the arm of that

 

chair, sun rays came in from the window at the top of the garage door, and the dust from

 

the wood floated into the light and the air sparkled.  That’s the way it always was when

 

he made a chair.  It was like . . . magic.”   

 

 

Rowlf raised his eyes as if watching the gold dust float away.

 

 

Mary looked at him out of the corner of her eye.

 

 

“There was something else,” she said.  She told Rowlf about the tradition she and

 

her Dad had, naming the chairs.  “Do you know what name I gave to one of the first

 

chairs my Dad let me name?”

 

 

“Jimmy?” Rowlf guessed.

 

 

That drew a smile from Mary.  “Actually, the last chair Dad made was named Jimmy.”

 

 

“That right?  The chair that was in his truck when he drove away?”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“Wow.  Does young master Jimmy know this?”

 

 

“He does.”

 

 

“What does he think about that?”

 

 

“He says, ‘I am not a chair.’”

 

 

Rowlf chuckled, and shook his head in agreement.

 

 

Mary said, “The first chair I remember naming was named . . . “

 

 

Rowlf pretended to play a drum roll on his thighs.

 

 

“Rowlf.”

 

 

Rowlf’s face twisted in a look of surprise.  Now it was his turn to get up and pace.  One

 

hand behind his back, the other pulling at his chin, and bad leg dragging, he seemed to be

 

thinking hard.  Finally, he said,  “Must have been a pretty good looking chair.”

 

 

“It was very handsome.  Black Walnut, dark wood with lots of grain.  Had a weathered

 

leather seat.  Would have fit just right in a hunting lodge.”

 

 

“Or a clearing in the woods?”

 

 

Mary smiled.  

 

 

Rowlf folded his arms across his belly, and let out a huff.   "All right.  I agree.  There’s

 

something strange going on here.  The instant I saw you yesterday, I felt some sort of

 

connection.  I just couldn’t figure out what.”

 

 

Rowlf set his chin in his hand.  Both of them thought for a moment.

 

 

“I’ve got an idea,” Mary said.  “Why don’t you come to my house for dinner?”

 

 

“Now?”

 

 

“No, not now.  I’ll ask my Mom about it tonight.  Tomorrow when Jimmy and I come to

 

see you, I’ll let you know.  Okay?”

 

 

“I don’t know, little one.  You think your mother is going to let a homeless amnesiac you

 

met in the woods come to dinner?”

 

 

“I got you to see some connection between what happened to my Dad . . . “

 

 

“Okay.”  Rowlf ran his fingers through his hair from back to front.

 

 

Mary stood with her hands on her hips..  “I should probably go,” she said.

 

 

Rowlf nodded, but said, “By the way, I don’t know if I can help you find him, but

 

your father sounds like a real special guy.  I’ll bet he loved you very much.”

 

 

Mary pursed her lips.  “I don’t know.  I wish I felt that.  I mean, what you said earlier,

 

about if you love someone, you stick around . . .”

 

 

She looked at the ground. 

 

 

“Mary, from what you tell me about him, I’d say that deep down you know he

 

never would have abandoned you.”  Rowlf tapped her chin, and made her look up.

 

 

“All right,” she said.  “I’ll be back tomorrow.  With Jimmy.  Promise you’ll be here?”

 

 

“I promise.”

 

 

“Okay.”  Mary gave a little wave and then started walking away.  Before she reached the

 

edge of the clearing, she stopped.  She turned and ran at Rowlf and slammed into him and

 

threw her arms around him so hard that clouds of dust billowed out of him and floated up

 

into the canopy.

 

 

Mary let go.  “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said. 

 

 

“Yep.” 

 

 

Rowlf, goofy grin on his face, watched her disappear into the trees.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

For the second night in a row, Officer Miller’s car, like a black and white, glass-eyed cat,

 

sat staring at her house.  Mary strode in through the door.  Miller sat stiff-backed on the

 

couch.  His head rotated to look at her.  Her mom leaned back in a small lounge

 

chair, with her hands together on the crown of her head, and her mouth hung

 

slightly open.  Mary looked from one to the other.

 

 

“What?  Did you find something else?”

 

 

Her mom laughed.  “Tell her, Sam.”

 

 

Her Mom looked like she’d been crying, but she was also laughing.  Again.

 

 

“Tell me what?” Mary asked.  She looked from her Mom to Miller and back again.

 

Officer Miller stood up.

 

 

“Is it something important?”  Mary’s voice was getting higher pitched.

 

 

“Go on, Sam.  Tell her,” Sophrina said.

 

 

Miller took his hat in his hand and absently pulled his finger across the edge of the brim.

 

 

“We found another piece of Harry’s, I mean, your father’s truck.”

 

 

“Another piece?”

 

 

“The driver’s side mirror.”

 

 

“The one on the outside of the car?  On the driver’s side?”

 

 

“Yes.  But, there’s one more thing.  We found it forty five miles north of his wheel.”

 

 

Mary turned sharply to look at her Mom.  Tears welled in Sophrina’s eyes, and yet,

 

she still laughed.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

At the dinner table, Mary felt numb.  Her Mom seemed to have silver smudges

 

beneath each eye.  Mary had eaten little of her dinner, and she still had to ask about

 

inviting Rowlf to dinner.  .  She set down her fork.

 

 

Mom there’s something I need to talk to you about.”

 

 

“What is it?”

 

 

“I met a man in the woods.”

 

 

Her mom also set down her fork.  "'A man?"

 

 

“I thought maybe we could ask him to dinner.”

 

 

“In the woods?”

 

 

Sophrina’s head bobbed as if someone had pulled it up by a string. 

 

 

“What are you talking about?  What kind of man?  A hiker? . . . I mean, what . . .  What

 

were you doing in the woods?”

 

 

“Well, he kind of lives there, and I went to see him.”

 

 

“He lives there?”

 

 

“Yes.  He’s homeless.”

 

 

Her mom leaned forward over the table and looked deeply into Mary’s eyes. 

 

 

“Did he touch you?”

 

 

“No,”

 

 

“Did he touch you at all, in any way?”

 

 

“No, Mom, he’s fine.  He’s nice.”

 

 

Mary’s mom sat back up.

 

 

Mary gathered her plate and silverware and her Mom’s plate and silverware and carried

 

them to the sink. 

 

 

She returned to the table, but remained standing.  “I thought it would be nice to invite

 

him for dinner.”

 

 

Mary’s mom put one hand on her cheek and studied Mary.

 

 

“I think he might know something about Dad,” Mary continued.

 

 

“What?”  Again, Sophrina‘s head shook as if clearing away nonsense.  “What are

 

you talking about, Mary?”

 

 

“The woods where he lives back up to highway 75, where the police found Dad’s wheel. 

 

He has a big scar down his forehead and a badly damaged leg, from an accident.  His

 

name is Rowlf.”

 

 

“Ralph?”

 

 

“Not Ralph, Rowlf.”

 

 

“Rowlf?”

 

 

"With an 'O'."

 

 

Mary gave her Mom time to remember, to visualize the Rowlf chair. 

 

 

“Like the black walnut chair Dad made when I was five.  Remember?”

 

 

Her Mom nodded, but didn't look convinced.. 

 

 

“The bridge of his nose is all smashed in, and he has this terrible limp.  He says all of  his

 

injuries happened to him years ago in an accident, but he can’t remember anything.”

 

 

“Is he deformed?  He sounds like Quasimodo or something.”

 

 

“Mom.”

 

 

Her mother reached out and covered Mary’s hand with hers.  “Honey, where is

 

this coming from?  Do you really think this man had anything to do with your

 

father disappearing?  Because if you do then we should call the police.”

 

 

“I didn’t say that.  I just think he may be able to help us find Dad.”

 

 

“Find him?”

 

 

“If we can restore Rowlf’s memory . . . “

 

 

“Oh, honey . . . “

 

 

“What?”

 

 

“What do you mean, ‘What’?  You’re talking about bringing a homeless man to our

 

house for dinner, restoring his memory so he can help us find your father?”

 

 

“So?”

 

 

“So?  A homeless man is in the woods behind 75 and you want him to come to our

 

house?”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“Honey.”

 

 

“He also carves.”

 

 

Sophrina sat back abruptly.  “What do you mean he carves?”

 

 

“Little wooden figures.  He carved a bird then did this magic trick where he turned it real

 

and it flew away.  Jimmy saw him do it.  Rowlf makes stuff out of wood, like Dad did.”

 

 

Sophrina let out a loud exhalation.  She threw her hands up, then let them drop.

 

 

"I just have a feeling he can help us," Mary said. "It’s just a feeling.  Like I somehow

 

know that he is a clue or a link to finding Dad.”

 

 

Sophrina studied her daughter’s eyes.  Mary held her gaze.  Her Mom folded her arms

 

over her chest.

 

 

“Look, I don’t know what this guy’s story is, or what crazy thing he’s told you, but if

 

you want to do some Good Samaritan thing and feed this man, all right.  But, I’ll agree to

 

it only on one condition.”

 

 

“What’s that?”

 

 

“That we also invite Officer Sam.”

 

 

“Mo-om.  This is not a police thing.  Rowlf is not dangerous.”

 

 

“How do you know?  How do we know?  What if he is dangerous?  You have a feeling

 

that this man might be a key to your father’s disappearance.  Well, what if he did have

 

something to do with it?  What if he did something terrible to your father and for some

 

reason he’s coming for us?”

 

 

Mary’s Mom sat forward with her elbows on the table.  Her eyebrows angled down and

 

her eyes took on a new shine.  

 

 

“There’s no compromise on this, sweet girl.  If you’re bound and determined to help this

 

man out, then it will only happen with Officer Sam around.  All right?”

 

 

Mary nodded.

 

 

“All right,” her Mom said.  “Now give me a hug.  Then let’s do the dishes.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Outside the wind blew hard.   Mary and her Mom sat in the snug living room reading

 

books.  Her Mom reclined on the couch.  Mary leaned back in one of her Dad's lounge

 

chairs. The telephone rang.  Sophrina answered, and pointed at Mary.  “Uh-huh, yes

 

Jimmy, she’s here.”  She covered the receiver with her hand.  “It’s the fourth time he’s

 

called since I’ve been home from work.  I forgot to tell you.” 

 

 

She handed the phone to Mary and mouthed, "I'm sorry.”

 

 

Mary waited for her Mom to disappear up the stairs.

 

 

“Hey,” she said into the phone.

 

 

“So, what’s going on?” Jimmy asked.

 

 

He paused, and waited for her to answer.  When she didn’t, he said, “I tried to call you

 

all day.”

 

 

He waited again.  Still, she didn’t say anything.

 

 

“I thought we were going to go visit Rowlf today.  Bring him some coffee.  Bring Bobby

 

some blueberries?”

 

 

Mary twisted her finger in her hair.  Should she or shouldn’t she tell him?  Would he hate

 

her?  Would he be furious with her?

 

 

“I kind of did,” she said.

 

 

"What do you mean, you kind of did?”

 

 

She got up and moved to the kitchen to look at the clock.  “Listen,” she said.  “Can

 

you meet me outside?”

 

 

He paused.

 

 

“What?”  . 

 

 

“It’s not even 9 o’clock.  It’s not a school night.”

 

 

“You’re not thinking of going to the woods now?  It’s dark.”

 

 

“No, that’s not what I mean.”  She nibbled a finger nail.  “Listen, I need to talk to you. 

 

Meet me in the street half way between my house and yours.”

 

 

“Kind of windy out there tonight,” Jimmy said.

 

 

“I know.”  Mary waited.

 

 

“I doubt my Mom will let me.”

 

 

“Then don’t tell her.”

 

 

Another long pause.

 

 

“All right,” Jimmy said.  “I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

 

 

*     *    *

 

 

“How could you?” 

 

 

Jimmy paced like a wild cat at the zoo.

 

 

“I mean, what the heck?”

 

 

Jimmy gasped as if he had a sudden realization.  He waved his hands in the air and began

 

to run around Mary.  “Did he teach you the bird trick?”

 

 

Mary just stared at him.  

 

 

“Seriously, did he teach you the bird trick?”

 

 

A full moon shone in the sky, preventing the scene from being completely black.

 

 

“Jimmy come here,” Mary said. 

 

 

“What?”

 

 

“Right here.”  Mary pointed at a spot on the pavement right in front of her feet.

 

 

Jimmy followed her orders.

 

 

“Listen,” she said.  She thought about grabbing him by the hands, and decided not to. 

 

“Remember after we saw Rowlf yesterday, I told you about my Dad making chairs

 

and how I named them and one of the chairs was named Rowlf?”

 

 

“And one of the chairs was named Jimmy.”

 

 

“Come on , Jimmy, please listen.”

 

 

Jimmy clasped his hands behind his back, gave a nod and stared at Mary’s nose.

 

 

“All right,” Mary said.  So as not to laugh at Jimmy staring at her, she began to pace a

 

little.  “Help me out with this.  Tell me if this makes any sense.”  She walked with one

 

index finger held at her chin.  “You already know about my Dad.  He disappeared with

 

his truck about three years ago.  Yesterday, Officer Dan shows up at our house and says

 

someone has found part of my Dad’s truck.”

 

 

“Is that what the police car was doing in front of your house yesterday?”

 

 

“Yes,” Mary continued.  “A guy on a bicycle found the wheel to my Dad’s truck in

 

a ditch along highway 75.”

 

 

“A wheel?  You mean a tire?”

 

 

“No, the wheel.  Not just a tire.”

 

 

Jimmy fingered his chin.  “Truck can’t get very far without one of its wheels.”

 

 

“So I’ve heard.”  Mary widened her eyes at him.  “Anyway, the part of highway 75

 

where they found the wheel goes along the back side of the woods behind your house.”

 

 

“Where we found Rowlf?”

 

 

“Right,” Mary nodded.

 

 

“But you already decided Rowlf was not your Dad, even under all that mud and hair.”

 

 

”Right, I never thought he was.  But I still had to go back to talk with Rowlf, to see

 

him closer.”

 

 

Mary came to a stop in front of Jimmy.  “I am really sorry I didn’t call you, that I didn’t

 

take you with me.”

 

 

She searched Jimmy’s light brown eyes.  “Do you forgive me?  Can you forgive

 

me, because I really need you here.”

 

 

Jimmy tapped his finger on his chin.  He looked into Mary’s searching eyes.

 

 

“I guess,” he smiled.  Then after a beat, asked, “So, what’s up?”

 

 

Mary summarized, how Rowlf had been badly injured in “some sort of accident,”

 

“several years ago”, but “couldn’t remember any of it.”

 

 

Jimmy interrupted with a big smile.  “I like the way you make the little quotation

 

marks with your fingers.”

 

 

“Thanks.”  Mary mimicked his smile.  “And, no, he didn’t teach me the bird trick, but

 

he did say that his father is the one who taught him to carve.  At least, he thinks his father

 

is the one who taught him, but he can’t remember his father, because he can’t remember

 

anything from before the mysterious accident.”

 

 

“Wow.”

 

 

“I know.  That’s why I want to go out there again tomorrow.  I need to continue to get

 

to know Rowlf.  Will you come with me?  We can bring him coffee like we talked

 

about.”

 

 

“Don’t forget the blueberries for Bobby.”

 

 

Mary nodded.  “Right, can’t forget that.”

 

 

She composed herself.  “Two other things.  First of all, Officer Sam was back at

 

our house again today.  They found another piece of Dad’s truck.  The driver’s side

 

mirror.  But what's bizarre is, this time it was forty five miles north of where they found

 

the wheel.”

 

 

Jimmy’s forehead wrinkled.  “That doesn’t make any sense.”

 

 

Mary nodded.  “I know.  The other thing is I invited Rowlf to have dinner at my house.”

 

 

“Whoa.”  Jimmy laughed.  “That doesn’t make any sense, either.”

 

 

He paused.  “Are you kidding?  You’re not kidding?  How did you get your Mom to

 

agree to that?”

 

 

"I just told her the facts.  Anybody who hears them has to agree there’s something

 

funny going on.  I mean, who in the world is named Rowlf?”

 

 

Jimmy fingered his chin again.  “I see what you’re driving at.  I see it.  You think Rowlf

 

is a clue to finding your Dad?”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“Hmm.”  Jimmy thought.  “And if you can help restore his memory, that might

 

unlock the mystery about how your Dad disappeared?”

 

 

“Right.”  Mary nodded emphatically.  “What do you think?”

 

 

Jimmy paced a circle, rubbing his chin and hmm-ing.

 

 

He stopped.  “What if Rowlf had something to do with it?  I mean, what if he, you

 

know, hurt your Dad or . . . well . . ."

 

 

Mary interrupted, "What if he’s a dangerous nut-kook who’s going to slaughter us over

 

dinner?”  

 

 

Jimmy brightened.  He wagged his index finger at Mary.  “Exactly.”

 

 

Mary shook her head.  “Do you and my Mom read the same magazine, Evil Murderers

 

Illustrated?”

 

 

Jimmy acted like that was a serious question.  “No.”

 

 

“I thought about that, too.  It’s just a feeling I have.  A feeling that Rowlf is really going 

 

to help me.”

 

 

Jimmy hmm-ed some more.

 

 

“Seriously though,” Mary said.  “I appreciate you being concerned for my safety. 

 

My Mom said we could have Rowlf over for supper if Officer Sam is also there.”

 

 

Jimmy stared at her for a moment.  “Does this Officer Sam have something for

 

your Mom?”

 

 

Mary swatted his arm.

 

 

“Ow!”  Jimmy rubbed his arm. “Bully.”

 

 

“Anyway, I’d like you to come, too,” Mary said.

 

 

“To the dinner?”

 

 

“Yes.  Is that all right?”

 

 

A goofy grin spread across Jimmy’s face.  He offered an exaggerated bow.  With

 

a flourish of his hand, he said, “Your wish is my command.”

 

 

“Does this mean I’m forgiven?” Mary stepped closer to him.

 

 

“Well, as long as he didn’t teach you the bird trick . . . “

 

 

“All right,” Mary said.  “I’ll get the coffee and blueberries and will come by to get

 

you tomorrow.  All right?”

 

 

Jimmy nodded.  The corners of his mouth floated higher.

 

 

Mary grabbed one of his hands and gave a quick squeeze.  Jimmy watched her walk away

 

until she disappeared into the black night.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

The next morning Mary rode her bike downtown.

 

 

At Harris Teeter she bought a pound of coffee and a pint of blueberries.  She tucked them

 

in her bicycle basket and walked her bike down the sidewalk.

 

 

As she neared The Fashion Revue the door popped open and two girls her age stepped out

 

into the sunshine.  Sarah Stewart and Emily Klein.  Both wore skin tight jeans and tan

 

boots topped with shearling, and airy blouses over beribboned camisoles.  Sarah, the

 

prettiest girl in their school, wore her dark chocolate hair pulled back in a pony tail.   

 

Emily’s new penny colored hair fell in waves around her milky white skin. 

 

 

The girls looked at Mary’s basket.  “Nice basket,” Sarah  said. 

 

 

“Yeah,” added Emily.  “Where’s Toto?”

 

 

Mary looked at her feet.

 

 

Sarah batted her lashes at Emily.  “I do like those shoes, though.”  Sarah brightened. 

 

“Where did you get those?  Kind of Parisian.  You know, I’m going to Paris this summer. 

 

Maybe I’ll get a pair.  Where did you say you got them?” 

 

 

“I don’t know my Mom got them for me.” 

 

 

“Oh,” Sarah said;  “Well, have a nice summer.  See you at school.”  As they walked

 

away, Emily leaned close to Sarah with her hand by her mouth and whispered,

 

Goodwill.”  The girls giggled and hooked arms and bounced down the sidewalk

 

together.

 

 

Mary shook her head and continued down the street.  In front of the library, a boy with

 

his nose in a book walked toward her.  The boy had hair the color of natural cherry wood,

 

and wore thick brown framed glasses. 

 

 

Mary stopped short, but the boy ran right into her.  He bounced off and fell to the ground.

 

 

“Oh, sorry!”  Sitting on his bottom, he straightened his glasses and looked up at her. 

 

“Jeepers, Mary!  I’m so sorry!”

 

 

“Are you all right?” Mary asked.

 

 

The boy got up and dusted himself off.  He picked up his spilled stack of books.

 

“Sorry,” he said again. 

 

 

“Are you okay, Jeepers?  I didn’t mean to knock you down.”

 

 

“Just reading this really interesting book.”  Jeepers held it out for her to see.  The cover

 

read, Ghosts, Dead or Alive?  “Wait, I want to show you a picture in here.  Look at this. 

 

This is the most interesting thing.”

 

 

He flipped through the book to show her a picture of a Victorian style room.  Over

 

what appeared to be a dining table, hovered a smiling ghost.

 

 

“Have you ever seen anything like that?” the boy asked.  “A ghost, smiling.  Why would

 

a ghost smile?”  He blinked sincerely at Mary.

 

 

“What are you reading, Jeepers?  Why are you reading about ghosts?”

 

 

Jeepers shrugged.  He showed Mary the pile of books in his hands.  Ghosts, Dead or

 

Alive?, Spectres and the U.V. Spectrum, The Physics of the Undead.  Jeeper’s eyeglass

 

frame slipped down his nose.  He pushed it up again.

 

 

“I was sitting on the front hood of my Dad’s car the other day, watching the way the light

 

and dust swirled through the garage, and you know how when you watch clouds they

 

look like different things, rabbits and elephants, cowboys and submarines, but only for a

 

minute, because they are always changing, rolling into something else?  So, I’m watching

 

the dust particles roll around in the light, and it was quite beautiful.”

 

 

Jeepers felt himself blush and paused to see if Mary noticed.  Mary’s mouth hung open a

 

little.  She blinked at him.

 

 

“So,’ Jeepers continued.  “I’m watching the dust particles roll around like clouds.  They

 

move a lot faster, mind you, but the principles are the same.  I’m noticing a pirate’s face

 

and a bear running and a naked Indian chief, and then all of a sudden, it’s like the dust

 

congealed and there was my .  .  . Mom.”

 

 

Mary stiffened.  “Your Mom?”

 

 

“Well, not my Mom, Mom.  You know, an image of her, like before she died.  Like . . . a

 

specter.”

 

 

Jeepers shook the book at her.  “So, I got to thinking about ghosts and the light

 

spectrum.”

 

 

Mary laughed.

 

 

“What?”

 

 

“Only you, Jeepers.”

 

 

“But, isn’t it amazing?  Look, Specters and the UV Spectrum.  It’s amazing what you can

 

find at the library.”

 

 

Mary nodded.  “So, what have you come up with?”

 

 

“About ghosts?”

 

 

“Yeah.”

 

 

“Well, you know how there are certain things about your Dad that you remember and

 

notice with him not being here?”

 

 

Mary looked at her feet and then back up.

 

 

Jeepers bit his lower lip.  “Sorry.”

 

 

“It’s okay.  Go on.”

 

 

”Like with my Mom.  There’s times when I’ll hear something funny and think, Mom

 

would have thought that was funny and I can hear her laugh, high and clear.   Or, in the

 

kitchen, I can imagine her telling me how to flip a pancake.  Wait until the batter has

 

bubbles on top and then you know it’s ready to flip.  That sort of thing.  But the sort of

 

thing only you would know because you know the person so well.  Then I think about the

 

fact that most of the people in the world never even knew my mother.  Which means,

 

these memories of her are the only parts of her that still exist, and they’re all inside of me,

 

inside my head.  Maybe that’s what ghosts are, just what we carry around inside of us of

 

other people that we knew, and that occasionally sometimes come out when we think

 

about them.  You have to admit, sometimes it feels like they really are there.”

 

 

Mary nodded.

 

 

“But then I’m sitting there in my garage watching the light swirl, and boom, there’s a

 

sculpture in light of my Mom.  Like she’s made out of white marble.  Michelangelo’s

 

David-of-my-Mom, made out of dust particles, in my garage.”  Jeepers smiled crookedly.

 

“Of course, a second later, it rolled into something else.  I jumped up and said, ‘Wait!’,

 

but it didn’t.”

 

 

Both kids silently looked at their feet.

 

 

“But, the thing is, that was a physical manifestation of my mom.  Like an outward

 

version of my innermost thoughts.  So, that got me thinking about light, the UV

 

spectrum.  Are ghosts really just the light hitting particulate matter in just the right way at

 

just the right time as certain people are having certain thoughts?”  Jeepers lifted his eyes

 

as if watching his question float toward the sky.

 

 

Mary shook her head at him.  “Wow.”

 

 

“Yeah,” Jeepers nodded.  “A little light summer reading.”

 

 

“Well, I gotta go,” Mary said.

 

 

“Okay.  Yeah.  See you.”  Jeepers watched Mary peddle away.  He added, quietly, “I

 

hope.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Riding her bike back toward her house, Mary thought about what he said.  What Jeepers

 

was talking about in remembering his mother.  Memories.  They were on the inside. 

 

Made in the head.  The image he thought he saw of his mom was on the outside.  How

 

were you supposed to connect the two?  Ghosts, reality, dreams?  Mary squinted into the

 

afternoon sunlight.  Maybe light was the magic that connected them all.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

The first fire engine passed her before she reached Bogle Rd.  The blare hurt her ears,

 

then the wind sheer made her bike shudder.  A few minutes later siren wails built behind

 

her, brought a force that made her pony tail slap her cheek, and then faded over

 

the horizon.

 

 

By the time she pulled onto Ingles Rd, a plume of smoke was visible somewhere

 

beyond her house.  In fact, it seemed to be coming from just behind Jimmy's house.  She

 

laid her head flat over the handle bars and rode as fast as she could. 

 

 

*     *     *

 

Jimmy ran out to the end of his driveway to meet her.  Hair tousled, eyes wide,

 

he breathed heavily, and gripped her bike by the handle bars.

 

 

Mary’s forehead creased.  “What is it?  What’s going on?”

 

 

“The woods are on fire!” Jimmy pointed across his body at tread tracks leading off

 

the road.  “A bunch of fire trucks just rode across my yard!”

 

 

Mary dropped her bike.  They started to run, but when they cleared the side of

 

Jimmy’s house it was as if they stepped from behind a curtain. 

 

 

Mary froze.  Her eyes opened wide.  “No!”  She stumbled forward, one hand

 

outstretched.  The four fire engines in the distance looked like toys she could pick up

 

between thumb and fore finger.  The fire seemed to float in liquid fury above the trees. 

 

The flames roiled in red and yellow as if laughing at the puny threads of water aimed at

 

them.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

The kids spanned the several hundred yards from Jimmy’s house to the fire trucks. 

 

A dull roar gripped the air amid jagged hisses where the water turned flame to

 

steam.   The firemen were busy.  They didn’t stop Mary and Jimmy.  A wall of heat did. 

 

Mary had seen footage of hurricanes on the TV, where weathermen had to lean into the

 

wind to stand.  That’s how she felt against the heat of the fire.  She leaned into it.  Heat

 

feathered back her hair.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

They stood for some time watching the firemen fight the flames.  To Mary’s

 

addled mind, it looked like a bizarre stage performance.  The firemen in their yellow

 

rubber jackets dancing with the fire over their heads.  A small crowd of  onlookers

 

formed behind them.  Mary and Jimmy stood apart from the crowd.  The roar of the fire

 

seemed to have thrown gauze over Mary’s thoughts.

 

 

Should she interrupt one of the fire fighters to ask whether they had found any one? 

 

Any survivors?  Did they search?  Should she search?  Couldn’t Rowlf have just run out

 

the back of the woods to safety?  Would she ever see him again?  Was he already dead?

 

 

Far away and down to her left, at the distant edge of the wood, a small movement

 

caught her eye.  A catlike figure sat staring at the fire, like Mary and Jimmy, chin up,

 

watching the smoke rise.  The cat turned its head toward Mary.  His yellow eyes caught

 

the reflection of the forest fire and glowed like tiny stars.  Before Mary could reach out

 

to Jimmy, to say, "There’s Bobby," Bobby was on the move.  She watched him stride as

 

far down the tree line as her eyes could follow, until he disappeared, a black point in the

 

black smoke.

 

 

Tears welled in Mary’s eyes.  Her head dropped back.   She stared, glaze-eyed, at

 

the massive plumes of smoke, tall as thunderheads, that climbed the sky.

 

 

Jimmy, too, looked at the smoke, but only for a moment.  His attention turned to

 

Mary.  He watched her silently watching the roiling clouds.  Her mouth open, head

 

dropped back, unblinking.   

 

 

She didn’t notice him staring.  But stare he did, and for quite some time.  He noticed the

 

gentle slope of her nose.  Her green eyes rimmed red.  Her cheeks blotched with red from

 

the fire and emotions.  Red, flickering even on the fine dark strands of her hair, combed

 

back and away from her forehead, and pulled into a pony tail.

 

 

“Are you all right?” he finally asked.

 

 

She looked at him as if he’d awakened her from a dream.

 

 

“I don’t know where he went,” she said, looking blank.

 

 

Jimmy squinted.  The fire set up a dull roar that made her voice hard to hear.

 

 

She repeated herself.  “I don’t know where he went.”

 

 

“What do you mean?” Jimmy asked.

 

 

“Where do they go?  My father?  I don’t know where they go.”

 

 

She looked at Jimmy meaningfully this time.  She squeezed tears, small fire-

 

reflecting jewels, out of her eyes.   

 

 

“You know?”

 

 

Her voice sounded like a sob.

 

 

“Since he’s gone away, my Dad, I don’t understand where he went.  I imagine him up in

 

the sky, big as a God, reclining on a cloud, arm slung down, reaching for me,

 

always reaching, always looking down, and watching over me.” 

 

 

She looked Jimmy in the eyes.  Her eyes reflected the yellow and red of the nearby fire. 

 

The roar gathered in the air.

 

 

“Isn’t that right?  Isn’t that where he is?”

 

 

Jimmy reached, and tenderly took her hand in his.  Mary raised her eyes skyward. 

 

 

Jimmy turned himself, so that they stood side by side.  He, too, lifted his eyes to the sky. 

 

They stood like that for a long while, Jimmy holding Mary’s hand, both watching the

 

smoke meet the sky.

 

 

 

 

Mirrors

 

 

The next morning, Mary rode her bike to Jimmy’s.  She was surprised to see that the

 

yellow police tape that the night before had cordoned off the woods now extended around

 

the front of Jimmy’s house. 

 

 

What was left of the woods beyond Jimmy’s house looked like black-tipped pencils

 

standing in a field of corrugated cardboard.   The reek of wet smoke hung knifelike in the

 

air.

 

 

Mary got off her bike and set it down in the grass, alongside the cement walkway.  She

 

stepped over the sagging “Do Not Cross” tape.  The two white wooden steps up to

 

Jimmy’s front door creaked when she climbed them.

 

 

Mary rang the doorbell then stood back.  She crossed her arms over her chest and

 

looked around, first at the small wooden porch, then north and south along Ingles Road. 

 

Mary stepped closer to look in the door’s sidelight, but saw her own reflection more than

 

anything inside the house.  She had never actually been in Jimmy’s house, and leaned

 

forward, closer, to look.  No furniture.  No anything.  All she could see were bolts of

 

sunshine crisscrossing the otherwise dark hallway, golden bits of dust swimming in the

 

light.

 

 

*     *     *

 

Mary sat on her bike in the road.  A black truck materialized out of the heat waves at the

 

top of Ingles Road, and slowly approached.  The sun bounced crazed shafts of light off

 

the truck’s windshield and chrome hood ornament.

 

 

As it neared, Mary could see that the truck had a chair tied into its rear bed.  Mary

 

watched the truck move slowly by.  Her eyes bore in on the chair.  She watched it recede

 

down the road, toward her house.

 

 

Back home, she turned sharply into her home’s gravel drive, dropped her bike in the grass, and

 

approached slowly, until she stood alongside the bed of the truck.  The chair was

 

made of twisted black wood, the seat covered in weathered leather.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

A man, with twinkling eyes, wearing a large white cowboy hat, stood in the living room

 

of Mary’s house, speaking with Sophrina and Officer Sam.  

 

 

Mary had the sensation that time melted and everything else in the room slowed down -

 

her mom talking, Officer Sam nodding - and then the man stepped out of time and turned

 

to her and smiled, as if he knew something no one else in the world knew.  And then time

 

sped back up.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“Honey,” Sophrina was saying.  “This is Mr. Jeremy.”

 

 

Jeremy.  The image of a chair sprang from the recesses of Mary’s mind.  Her Dad

 

standing back in admiration, sawdust unfurling from the still hot sander in his hand. 

 

Dust dancing as if alive in liquid sun.  The Jeremy chair.  An armchair with horsehide

 

seat and white leather back, elm frame, scroll arms, and leather “ankle” fringe at the base

 

of the legs. 

 

 

Jeremy, the man, doffed his hat.  Underneath grew little bushes of grey on either side of

 

his otherwise bald, shiny pate.  He wore a western style shirt with piping at the yolk, and

 

a bolo tie.  What hair he lacked on top seemed to have been squeezed in below his nose. 

 

Even through his round wire specs, Mary could see his eyes sing. 

 

 

“Howdy,” Jeremy smiled.

 

 

Mary squinted at him.  What she saw was a happy man wearing a too-big cowboy hat,

 

and a smile like he knew something she didn’t. 

 

 

He stuck out his hand.  “Shake?”

 

 

Mary didn’t move.

 

 

“No?”  Jeremy chuckled.  “Your Momma here was just telling me that you’re the gal I’m

 

looking for, to help me identify your Daddy’s chairs.  That right?”

 

 

Mary shrugged.

 

 

“I’m looking for help in identifying a chair right now, as a matter of fact.”  He jabbed his

 

thumb over his shoulder.  “I got it in the back of my truck.” 

 

 

Jeremy’s smile pushed at the ends of his mustache.

 

 

“Want to join me for a look-see?”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Officer Sam’s police cruiser was parked in their drive, snout pointed at the garage door.

 

Jeremy stared at the black and white car like it was something unpalatable he might be

 

forced to eat.

 

 

“That’s Officer Sam’s,” Mary said.  “He likes my Mom.”

 

 

Jeremy suppressed a grin and nodded.  “Ah.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Mary stared at the Rowlf chair, the twisted ebony wood, the weather-beaten leather.  She

 

remembered her Dad working on that chair.  His hands on that chair.

 

 

“Where did you find it?”

 

 

“You know,” Jeremy drew a circle in the air with a finger, “around.”  When Mary

 

frowned, he added, “Collectors don’t like to give out our secrets, you understand.

 

They’re the lifeblood of our business.”

 

 

Mary stared at the Rowlf chair.  “It’s one of my favorites of all Dad’s chairs.”

 

 

Jeremy nodded at the chair and grinned.  Rowlf is one of a kind.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“Where are my manners?” Sophrina asked.  Jeremy and Mary were back in the kitchen. 

 

Officer Sam was still there, cup of coffee lifted to his lips.

 

 

“Can I get you anything to drink?   Or something to snack on.   Are you hungry at all?”

 

 

“Thank you so much, Miss Sophrina,” Jeremy said.  “You are as generous as Mother

 

Earth herself.  What I would really like to do, though, is take a look at any records you

 

have of Harry’s work. Drawings, journals, anything of the sort.  I would like to do that

 

toot suite.”

 

 

“That,” Sophrina smiled at Mary, “would be my darling daughter’s area of expertise.”

 

 

Mary pointed toward the kitchen exit door.  “Dad has a flat file in the garage.”

 

 

Jeremy made a loud cluck sound with his cheek.  “Go, and I will follow.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Mary pulled the top drawing out of the horizontal file and then held it flatly with both

 

hands.  The drawing showed a red teak rocking chair.  It looked more solid than the usual

 

rocking chair.  Where other rocking chairs had thin rails that attached to the rockers, the

 

Laura featured thick inverted V’s, cut from teak.

 

 

“It used to be in our living room, when I was younger.  Dad made it before I was

 

born, so it was already named when I came along.”

 

 

Jeremy nodded with admiration.  “The Laura chair.”

 

 

Mary squinted at him.  “How do you know its name?”

 

 

“What’s that?”

 

 

“I just wonder how you know its name when you’ve never seen the chair before.”

 

 

He crossed his arms over his chest and gave a big grin.  “I just know.”

 

 

“So if you already know so much about my Dad’s chairs, why did you say you wanted to

 

see the drawings?”

 

 

“Because I wanted to make sure you have them.  Safe and sound.”

 

 

Mary blinked at him.

 

 

“It’s important.”

 

 

“Okay.”

 

 

Jeremy smiled.  “Do you have a picture of him?  Your Dad.  That’s what I’d really like to

 

see.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

On their way out of the studio, Mary’s attention turned to the particles of dust roiling in

 

the sunlight and pooling around the clerestory windows.  She reached her hand into the

 

glow.  Her hand lit.  Slowly, she moved her fingers and the particles in the light swirled.

 

 

Jeremy grinned, watching Mary play with the liquid gold. 

 

 

 

*     *     *

 

In her room, Mary pulled one of her father’s sketch journals from her desk drawer, and

 

pressed it against her chest.

 

 

“Sometimes when I really miss my Dad, you know, miss his presence, I pull one of his

 

journals out of my desk, and sit on my bed with my legs crossed, and turn the pages. 

 

There’s this gentle woosh when I turn a page, like the sound when you open a door, and

 

there’s this glow, like the pages are lit from within.  Sometimes I trace the lines on the

 

page with my fingers.  Sometimes I remember a small dance I did in the saw dust at the

 

base of the chair.  Sometimes I just recall the excitement of naming a new chair.“

 

 

Jeremy opened the sketch book and carefully looked through the first pages.  He closed

 

the cover and lowered the book.  He stared, wide-eyed, at her.   

 

 

“Have you found many of them?” Mary asked. 

 

 

He shook his head.  "The originals are hard to come by."

 

 

Mary watched him finger through more of the journal, murmuring to himself, his face

 

aglow, as if illuminated by the pages of the book. 

 

 

*     *    *

 

 

On Mary’s desk sat a collection of junk dolls, little figures she had constructed  out of

 

things like whipped cream caps, plastic Easter eggs, rug fringe, and Play-Doh.  Doctors,

 

artists, men and women, horses and giraffes, colorful little figures.  Also on her desk, she

 

kept a collection of wood knots, cut from assorted heartwood by her Dad.  They ranged

 

from the size of an apple to the size of a grapefruit.  Some of them were reddish, others

 

yellow.  One, cut from black walnut, was cocoa brown.  Mary picked it up and rolled it

 

from hand to hand.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Mary swiveled her chair so that she faced the window.  She hopped up and pulled down

 

one of the blind slats to look through a stripe of light.  There, still in the back of the

 

truck, as if lifted from some dream of hers, sat the Rowlf chair, sinewy and elegant. 

 

 

Her eyes traveled along the side of the truck, until they rested at the front of the truck,

 

upon the chrome ornament.  “Your hood ornament?”

 

 

Jeremy set down the journal over which he was bent.  “Yes.”

 

 

“Is it wings or horns?”

 

 

“It could go either way, couldn’t  it?  That’s what I like about it.”

 

 

Jeremy moved to the window to stand next to Mary.

 

 

“I’ll tell you what, Missy.  It’s a beautiful day.  Why don’t you and I hit the dusty trails?”

 

                                      

 

Mary laughed, “Hit the dusty trails?”

 

 

 

That means vamoose.  Scram.  Take a walk.”  He lowered his voice.  “Is there a back

 

way out of here?”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

In the sky, dolphin shaped clouds moved briskly, leapt in front of the sun and then moved

 

on. 

 

 

“Sure feels good to be hoofin’ it,” Jeremy said.  “That there Officer in the kitchen left me

 

feeling penned like a hog.”

 

 

“Officer Sam?”

 

 

“Officer Sam.  Right.  Got something for your Momma, huh?”

 

 

“It’s kind of annoying.  It’s not like we know my father is . . . you know.”

 

 

Jeremy nodded.  “You got a pretty Momma.”

 

 

Mary agreed.  “It’s just, it’s been three years, and I think he makes my Mom feel safe. 

 

You know, I don’t blame her, since we don’t know exactly what happened to Dad.”

 

 

Jeremy liked to whistle while he walked.  The spurs on his cowboy boots jangled.  His

 

ample belly led the way.  He also snapped his fingers, then on the follow through popped

 

his palm against his other hand. 

 

 

Whistle, snap, pop, jangle. 

 

 

Mary watched him do this several times and giggled.

 

 

He stopped.  “What?”

 

 

“The way you walk reminds me of someone else.  Someone else who had a funny walk.”

 

 

Jeremy set his fists on his hips in mock outrage.  “You make a man self-conscious.”

 

 

Mary laughed.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

They set up an easy rhythm, heading toward Jimmy’s.  A warm wind tickled them from

 

behind.

 

 

Jeremy asked, “Do you mind if I ask you some questions about the way you and your

 

Daddy worked together to pick the names for the chairs?”

 

 

Mary pushed a cascade of dark hair that had fallen in front of her face back behind her

 

ear.  “If you want to.”

 

 

“I want to if you want to.  Do you want to?”

 

 

“I am just wondering why you wanted to talk to me instead of my Mom.”

 

 

“Well, I figure out of anyone in the whole wide world there’s not a second other who

 

knows more about Harry Gilmore’s chairs.  If I’m wrong, send me away now.” 

 

 

Mary laughed.  “I just thought maybe I was . . . you know . . . I’m only thirteen.”

 

 

“But bright as a whippersnapper,” Jeremy smiled.  “I tell you, Miss Mary, when I

 

discovered your name tags on several of your father’s chairs, with that precious little

 

ribbon and golden pin, that precious little cursive penmanship, I was enchante

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

The bright sun loved Jeremy.  His eye glasses and dollar bill sized belt buckle, the little

 

spurs on his boots – “they’re decorative” Jeremy said when asked about them – all threw

 

off sparks of light. 

 

 

More than ever, Mary noticed the small stones and twigs along the roadside.  One pebble,

 

she kicked, then strode forward as it bounded like a rabbit down the road.  Next, she bent

 

for a twig, one that gave no resistance as she snapped it, and recalled her walk in the

 

woods with Jimmy, how he rescued her twig only to bend it and twist it and throw it like

 

a tomahawk. 

 

 

Another stone, its weight impressive for such a small thing, sat cupped in her hand.  She

 

tossed it twice on her palm, then batted it away.

 

 

“Can I ask you something?”  Mary asked.

 

 

Jeremy’s eyes twinkled.  “Shoot.”

 

 

“The chair in your truck?  It’s the  Rowlf chair, right?”

 

 

“Of course it is.”  He swung his arms.  Snap pop.

 

 

“Does it still have the tag?  I  didn’t see a tag.”

 

 

“The ribbon and pin have been lost.  But, the tag remains, glued by some stroke of luck

 

by a thoughtful ombre to the bottom of his seat pan.  Habit of mine, by the way.  I call the

 

chairs he and she, his and hers, depending on their name.  Most everyone by now thinks

 

I’ve been kicked in the head one too many times by my cow.”

 

 

Mary laughed.  “You’re talking to someone who helped her Dad swaddle chairs in blue

 

and pink.”

 

 

“Touché.”  Jeremy grinned.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“Tell me about the naming,” Jeremy asked. ”How did you and he come up with the

 

names?”

 

 

“The Rowlf chair was the first one I remember naming.  Dad had always labeled his

 

chairs Spirit Wood.  At least as far back as I remember.  He started asking me to pick a

 

name for each chair when I was five.  He would be in the garage, finishing the chair.”

 

 

“Did you see it before he was finished?”

 

 

“Yes.  I wandered out there just about every day.  I think I thought it was fun to play in

 

the sawdust and watch him make things.  I remember going in there when I was

 

really young, before I even realized he was making chairs.  I got to hear the buzzing of

 

the saws, the scratching of the sanders.  I always liked the smells.  Sawdust and varnish.”

 

 

“I’m pretty sure,” Mary continued, “The Rowlf chair was the first one Dad asked me to

 

name.  I remember, because he set me down in front of it and said, ‘Pick a name, baby

 

girl.’”

 

 

“And you came up with Rowlf?”

 

 

“It was the sound I thought a baby tiger made.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Another cloud ticked in front of the sun.  When it scampered off, Mary’s shadow

 

lengthened.  “After that Dad never finished anything without asking me to name it.  He

 

would cover it with a sheet.  Then we had an unveiling and naming ceremony.  You

 

mentioned the ribbon and pin, so you already knew about that.”

 

 

“And the blue ink?”

 

 

“I wanted the signature to look handmade, like the chairs.”

 

 

“Very clever.”  Jeremy tottered over asphalt.  “After Rowlf it was then onto mostly

 

normal names, like Bob and Sue?”

 

 

Mary stopped.  “I hadn’t thought about that, but I guess you’re mostly right.”

 

 

They both tilted their heads toward the clouds.  Mary spotted a cloud shaped like a fluffy

 

cat.

 

 

"Did you know there was a Jeremy chair?" she asked.

 

 

“Really?”  Jeremy stared wide-eyed at her.  "I'm one too?"

 

  

“You are?”

 

 

He touched his fingers to his chest.  “I don’t mean it in the sense that I’m an actual

 

chair.”  His voice cracked.  His eyes watered. “It’s just . . . I’m honored."

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“The last twelve months before my Dad disappeared,” Mary continued.  “He made one

 

chair per month, and I turned naming them into a game by giving all twelve ‘J’ names. 

 

Jeremy, Jenny, Justine . . . “

 

 

Jeremy unfurled a finger for each name. 

 

 

Janine, Jason, Justin Jeanette, Jordan, Jack, Julius, Joline, Jimmy.”

 

 

“That’s twelve,” Jeremy said.  “And I came first?”

 

 

Mary nodded.  “I remember the Jeremy chair.  It was made out of elm.  Do you know

 

what elm looks like?  It’s a beautiful creamy brown.  It reminds me of chocolate milk.

 

So, Jeremy was an elm armchair with a horsehide seat, white leather back and leather

 

fringe at the ‘ankles’ that made the chair look like it was wearing cowboy boots. 

 

Probably the most unusual chair, maybe along with the Rowlf, my Dad ever made.” 

 

 

“So, tell me the truth, Mary.  Be honest now.  The Jeremy chair.  Did it look like me?”

 

He smiled his biggest smile. 

 

 

Mary looked at him, his big white hat and jangly boots.  They both had to laugh.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Mary lifted her face to the warm summer sun on her cheeks.  She listened to the little

 

jangle of his decorative spurs.  She asked Jeremy about the Rowlf chair.

 

 

“What are you going to do with the Rowlf chair?”

 

 

“I already have a buyer for him.”

 

 

“Is the buyer in Japan?  My mom told me you have some clients in Japan.”

 

 

“I can’t really tell you specifics.”  Jeremy offered a look of deepest sincerity.  “I can

 

tell you he’s going to a good home, where he will be well-cared for.”

 

 

“I think it’s so cool that you work with people in Japan,” Mary said.  “How did they even

 

find out about my father’s chairs?  It’s so far away.”

 

 

“I’m not really sure how that got started,” Jeremy said.  “But you know, Asian design has

 

the utmost respect for balance and harmony, which, of course, are most evident in your

 

Daddy’s work.  They deeply treasure hand crafted furniture, on a par with the highest art

 

forms, even the paintings you see in museums.  They respect the emotion and care

 

evident in master works such as your father's chairs."

 

 

“I’d like to go there one day.”

 

 

“I’m sure you will.”

 

 

Mary studied Jeremy’s gentle eyes.  “I hope so.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Mary noticed a twig at the edge of the road.  She bent to pick it up.  Holding it in her

 

hand, she began, “So, you know the chair in your truck, the Rowlf chair, right?”

 

 

“Yes’m.”

 

 

“If you can believe it, I met a man named Rowlf.”

 

 

Jeremy’s smile briefly shaded.  “Really?”  It was the first time, even so fleeting, that

 

Mary had seen Jeremy’s smile go away.  “Tell me about that.”

 

 

“I met him in the woods.  A mysterious man named Rowlf.  My friend Jimmy

 

and I were on a walk.  Jimmy, by the way, is the name of the last chair my dad made, the

 

one that was in his truck the day he disappeared.  What do you think, so far?”

 

 

“It sounds to me like one horse is white and the other one’s brown.”

 

 

“Huh?”

 

 

“They’re both horses, you follow, only different colors.  That’s coincidence, right?”

 

 

Mary blinked several times, trying to understand.  “Let me ask you this.  Have you ever

 

met anyone - and I know you’ve traveled as far as Japan – anywhere in the world named

 

Rowlf?”

 

 

“Well, maybe in Germany.”

 

 

“Is that what it is, it’s a German name?”

 

 

Jeremy cleared his throat.  “I do admit it is an unusual name in this part of the world.”

 

 

“Have you heard about anything like what I’m telling you?”

 

 

“I have heard stories, tall tales, especially in Japan, of chairs walking.  But it’s all just a

 

fancy way to say the chairs were stolen.  These things happen all the time in the

 

collectible art market.  It’s all a factor of supply and demand.  You know what that

 

means?  The fewer chairs, for instance, your Daddy made, the more people will go to

 

extreme lengths to find them.”

 

 

“Is that what it is?”  Mary stubbed her toe at a stick by the curb.  “You know what’s

 

funny?  Both Rowlf and Jimmy looked so much like their chairs..”

 

 

“Of course they did.”

 

 

“Of course?”

 

 

Jeremy cleared his throat.  “It’s to be expected.  When you name a cow, for

 

instance, you look at the cow, you think to yourself, that cow looks like a Harvey.”

 

 

Mary laughed.  “What are you talking about?  Why are you talking about cows?”

 

 

“So, I have a cow for a pet?  Everyone else has dogs.  I have a cow.  Is there any shame

 

in that?”

 

 

Mary laughed.

 

 

“Anyway, Rose, is a good name for a cow, and that old cow was named by some ancient

 

little lady with a pinched face and a nose as dark pink as that cow’s.”

 

 

Mary’s eyes caught sunlight.

 

 

“There’s also Florence, or Myrtle.  You want to hear about them?”

 

 

“All right,” Mary laughed.  “All right already.”

 

 

Jeremy chuckled along with her.  “Go on.  You were saying . . . ”

 

 

“Jimmy was thin and had lots of freckles.  His eyes were flecked with brown spots, like

 

they were made out of wood.  The chair had arms that stuck out to the side like Jimmy’s

 

big ears.  I guess if Jimmy had been a cow, I still would have named him Jimmy.”

 


“Yes!  Now you are on to something.”

 

 

They both laughed.

 

 

“And Rowlf?”

 

 

“A definite cow,” Mary said. 

 

 

“Moo-oo-oo.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Mary tossed her twig in the air and bopped it with her palm, batting it away to land in the

 

grass.

 

 

“Jimmy and I started to joke around, saying that he’d never been seen in the same room

 

with the chair.  You know?  Then he would say, ‘I am not a chair.’  We were kidding

 

around, but I think a little piece of us believed it.  What’s weird is I went to his house this

 

morning, and it was like nobody lives there.  I peeked through the window beside the

 

door and I didn’t see anything.  No furniture or anything.  It’s like the place is deserted,

 

like he left this morning, because I saw him last night. 

 

 

Jeremy looked troubled.

 

 

Mary studied him, his rosy cheeks and concerned look.  “Thank you for listening,

 

Jeremy.  I can’t talk to my Mom about any of this.  Whenever I even bring up Rowlf, she

 

thinks I’m crazy.”

 

 

Jeremy took off his hat and held it in front of his chest with both hands.  His eyes rimmed

 

with red, and he said, “You can tell me anything, Mary.  That’s what I’m here for.  I’m

 

here to listen.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“Jimmy and I stumbled on Rowlf in the woods.  He did this amazing trick where he

 

turned a carving of a bird into a real bird.  When he said his name was Rowlf, I was

 

shocked.  I didn’t know what to do about it, so I went back one more time without Jimmy

 

to see him.  That’s when I found out Rowlf had been in an accident that took his memory. 

 

It was probably dumb of me, but I thought he might be a clue, or lead me in some way, to

 

find my Father.  You know?”

 

 

Jeremy nodded.

 

 

“But then there was this fire, in the woods where Rowlf lived, and the woods burned

 

down.  Actually, they probably burned down because of him.  He had his camp fire, even

 

though there was a burn ban from the severe drought.  He must have been right there

 

where the fire started. I don’t know what happened to him.  I don’t know if he’s dead or

 

just gone.” 

 

 

Mary stared at her feet.  “That seems to be a common theme with me, doesn’t it?”

 

 

“I am sorry, Mary.”  Jeremy took hold of Mary’s hands.  “I am so sorry about everything. 

 

About your Dad.  About Rowlf.  If there’s anything I can do, just tell me.  Would you

 

feel better if you showed me where you found Rowlf?”

 

 

“We’re just about there now.  But, there’s nothing to see.  It wasn’t a small fire.  It

 

burned everything.”  Mary’s eyes narrowed.  “But, here’s the weird thing.  You show up,

 

the very next day, with the Rowlf chair in the back of your truck.  It’s just bizarre.  That’s

 

why I wanted to know where you found it.  That’s why I almost asked if I could check it

 

for burn marks.  Don’t you see some sort of connection?”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

They stood in the road in front of Jimmy’s house.  Beyond Jimmy’s lay the burnt woods. 

 

The bright sun seemed to have cooked the trees.

 

 

“This is where my friend Jimmy lives, or lived, I guess.  I don’t  know.”

 

 

Jeremy went with Mary up to the front door.  He looked in the sidelight, and, like Mary,

 

saw only shafts of light crossing the hallway.

 

 

They walked behind Jimmy’s house. 

 

 

Mary jutted her chin at the mess.  “There’s where the fire was.”

 

 

“I saw the burned trees along 75 on my way toward town.” Jeremy stared woodenly.  “I

 

wondered about them.” 

 

 

He stood and stared at the decimated trees.  His shoulders seemed to sag. 

 

 

“Are you all right?” she asked. 

 

 

He looked sideways at her for several minutes.  “You make me feel like everything is

 

going to be all right.  Huh,” he laughed.  “That’s supposed to be my job.” 

 

 

“What do you mean that’s supposed to be your job?”

 

 

“I’m here to help you and your Mom.”

 

 

She studied him for several minutes, his steady smile, the trees reflected on his glazed

 

lenses.

 

 

“You’re a special girl Mary,” he said.  “You make me want to help you.”

 

 

 

They moved across the yard, closer to the woods.  Mary turned slow circles in the yard. 

 

She scuffed her feet at the grass.  She floated away from Jeremy.  Something caught her

 

eye, something glittery nearer to the road.  A flash of daylight sparked as if off glass.

 

 

“What is that?”

 

 

Mary moved toward it.  A crow, a collector of shiny things, was also there, pecking at it,

 

but Mary shooed the bird away.  Alongside the road, the road she had traveled month

 

after month, on the school bus and in her Mother’s car, there lay something reflecting

 

sunlight. 

 

 

She knelt to lift its weight in her hands.

 

 

Jeremy peered over her shoulder.   

 

 

Mary held the oblong object - a mirror - on her outstretched hands. It was missing much

 

of its glass, but not its tomato red stem. 

 

 

Jeremy’s head, disembodied and multiplied in the mirror’s multi-faceted shards, floated

 

many times over her shoulder.  “It’s the rear view mirror,” Mary said.  “To my Dad’s

 

truck.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

The mirror sat on Sophrina’s palms like something sacred.  They were all back in the

 

kitchen.

 

 

Officer Sam peered over Sophrina’s shoulder.  “Where did you find it?” he asked Mary.

 

 

“Just a short way past Jimmy’s house.”

 

 

Officer Sam’s walkie-talkie squawked.  “Excuse me.”  The two women watched him

 

leave the room.

 

 

Sophrina kissed Mary on top of the head.  “Are you all right?”

 

 

“Yes,” Mary said.  “I’m going back to my room.  Mr. Jeremy and I have a few more

 

things to discuss.”

 

 

*     *      *

 

 

Back in Mary’s room, Jeremy leaned against the dresser.  Mary swiveled in her desk

 

chair. 

 

 

“Can I ask  you something different?” she asked.

 

 

“Sure.”

 

 

“Do you know your father’s name?” 

 

 

Jeremy frowned.  “I do know his name.”

 

 

“But?”

 

 

Jeremy stared at the bedroom wall.  He got a faraway look in his eyes.  “I am told I was

 

born in Poland.  I was a newborn when the war broke out.  Officials at the orphanage

 

where I landed, just outside of New York City, told me that a Christian Polish family

 

saved me.  They were able to smuggle me out of Warsaw and put me on a ship to New

 

York.  Neither of my parents made it out.  I was not old enough to remember any of it.”

 

 

A framed photo on Mary’s dresser caught his eye.  He pointed his chin toward it.  “Is that

 

him?”  Jeremy moved to pick up the frame with both hands.  He stared, hollow-eyed,

 

down at the man in the picture.  “I’ve never known what he looked like.  I have often

 

wondered.  I chase his chairs around the world.  I’d know one of his chairs anywhere . . .”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

There was a knock on the doorjamb.  From the doorway, Sophrina said, “Mary, can I see

 

you in the kitchen for a minute?  I’m sorry Jeremy.  I’ll have her back in a jiff.”

 

 

Jeremy looked up from the photo.  Mary studied his aching eyes.  Sophrina turned to

 

leave.

 

 

“Listen,” Jeremy lowered his voice, “before you go.  They’re going to tell you that I am

 

wanted in New York, for stealing a chair.”

 

 

Mary’s eyes narrowed. 

 

 

“Just remember,” Jeremy said. 

 

 

Mary listened earnestly.

 

 

“When they tell you, you already knew.”

 

 

Mary nodded.

 

 

“Okay.”

 

 

At the door, Mary turned.  “You’ll still be here?”

 

 

“Of course.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Sophrina and Officer Sam sat perched on stools.  The rear view mirror sat like a broken

 

eye staring at them.  Sophrina stood when Mary walked in.

 

 

 “Come in, honey.”

 

 

Mary stepped into the kitchen, but not very far.  She leaned against a cabinet and hooked

 

her thumbs in the top of her blue jean shorts.

 

 

Officer Sam hopped up.  He held his hat with both hands.

 

 

He nodded at Mary.  “Mary.”

 

 

She nodded back.  “Officer Sam.”

 

 

Sophrina looked back and forth between them.  “I’m just going to come right out and say

 

this, Mary.  Officer Sam dug up some reports on Jeremy that are disconcerting.  Nothing

 

entirely illegal yet.  Just sketchy.  Apparently he makes a lot of people “nervous.'"

 

 

"He has a little bit of a reputation for being a con artist," Officer Sam offered.     

 

 

Mary looked at them both.  “He is a Collector, you know.  He has to travel all around the

 

world to find the chairs and then to deliver them to people.  There are other Collectors. 

 

I'm sure people get mad at him."

 

 

"I don't know, honey," Sophrina said.  "He sounds . . . shady."

 

 

"Well, I like him.  He's nice.  He wants to help us.  I think we should give him the

 

benefit of the doubt.  All he's asking for is information.  It's not like he's trying to take

 

anything from us."

 

 

Sophrina looked at Officer Sam.  They both shrugged.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Officer Sam’s walkie-talkie squawked.  He put it to his ear and stepped out of the room.

 

 

Mary watched him go.  “You know, Mom, one time Officer Sam came to our school for

 

Career Day.”  She shook her head and laughed at the memory.  “He stood up there with

 

his fists on his hips and his chest puffed out like Superman, and said, ‘Protect and Serve.

 

That’s what we do.  Protect and Serve.  All us kids thought that was hysterically funny. 

 

Whenever any of us sees him now, that’s what we call him, ‘Officer Protect and Serve.’”

 

 

Sophrina gave Mary a strange look.

 

 

Officer Sam, tucking his walkie-talkie back into its holster, re-entered the kitchen.  He

 

looked at the two women.  “Sorry.”  He looked meaningfully at Sophrina.  “Working on

 

that lead.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“Mary, listen,” her Mom said.  “I’ve got to tell you the truth.  It sounds as if Mr. Jeremy

 

might be wanted in New York State for stealing.”

 

 

“He wouldn’t steal a fly.”

 

 

“You’re right about that,” Officer Sam grinned.  “Not a fly.  A chair.”

 

 

Mary’s eyes hardened to a sharp gleam.

 

 

“Succeeding,” Officer Sam shook his head as if at the floor, “by climbing on the backs of

 

others.”

 

 

Mary turned her back to him.  She addressed her Mom.  “One of Dad’s?”

 

 

Sophrina looked at Sam.  “I don’t know.  Officer Sam is still working on it.”

 

 

Mary rolled her eyes.  "Can I go back now?  I think he's really interesting, and I'd like to

 

talk to him some more." 

 

 

The mirror sat on the counter behind Sophrina, its remaining glass turning sunlight into

 

yellow spots.

 

 

Mary stopped at the threshold of the kitchen.  "You know it's not every day I find

 

someone to talk to about my Dad."

 

 

Sophrina winced.  She looked at Officer Sam.  This time only he shrugged

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Jeremy stood where she had left him.  “Did they tell you that I stole a chair in New

 

York?”

 

 

“Yes.”  Mary plunked down in her desk chair.  She picked up the cocoa brown knot of

 

heartwood her Dad had hewn from a walnut tree.  She swiveled toward Jeremy.  “So?”

 

 

“There was one chair.  I went to see it.  It had a Spirit Wood tag.  It was one of the ‘J’

 

chairs.  Jason.  The next day it was gone.  Of course, the owner called the police.  What

 

could I say?”

 

 

“But you didn’t take it.”  Mary squinted at the floor.  “Of course you didn’t take it.”

 

 

Jeremy remained silent.  The sun through the Levelor blinds threw stripes of light across

 

his shirt. 

 

 

Mary stood and paced.  “Earlier you asked me what it was I wanted.”

 

 

“Yes?”

 

 

“What I want, is to know from you.”  Mary looked him straight in the face.  “If you can

 

find my Dad’s chairs, why can’t you find my Dad?”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“So, what’s next?” Mary asked Jeremy.  She had plunked back down in her desk chair,

 

and fingered one of the heartwood knots.

 

 

Jeremy took a deep breath.  “I keep looking for the originals.  See what turns up.  I

 

approach a couple of manufacturers about a Harry Gilmore line.  If it comes to that, I’d

 

like to involve you in picking which chairs to put out there.  I’ve got several meetings

 

lined up in the next few weeks, so I’ll keep you posted.  I hadn’t thought about this

 

before, but what do you think about putting out a book?  It could be kind of like a

 

retrospective.”

 

 

Mary blinked at him.

 

 

“You know what a retrospective is?  When you look back on someone’s career?” 

 

 

Jeremy’s smile fell when he saw Mary’s eyes flutter.  He waved his hands.  “I don’t mean

 

in the sense that he won’t ever be making anything new.  That’s the wrong choice of

 

word.  No, that’s not what I’m saying.  Just, you know, a book that celebrates, yeah,

 

that’s it, celebrates, what he’s done so far, up till now.”

 

 

Mary’s lower lip trembled. 

 

 

Jeremy gently took her hands.  “Please don’t cry little one.”  He lifted her chin with the

 

tip of  his finger.  “Listen.  Listen to me.  If there is one thing that I want to accomplish

 

today, before I leave you, before I leave here, it is to get you to see that even though he is

 

not here right in front of you, right now, your Daddy’s not gone.  He’ll never be gone. 

 

Not from you.  He lives here,” Jeremy pressed both hands to his chest, just above his

 

heart, “and here,” he pointed at his head.  “This is what we do for one another, Mary.  We

 

carry each other around.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Sophrina, back in the doorway, stared wide-eyed at the scene.  Jeremy, as soon as he

 

saw Sophrina, dropped Mary’s hands.

 

 

“I’m sorry to interrupt again,” Sophrina said.  “I just, um, need Mary for one more

 

minute.”

 

 

Mary and Jeremy exchanged glances.  Mary gave her Mom a big fake smile.  “I’ll be

 

there in a jiff.”

 

 

Sophrina’s eyes narrowed, but she turned back down the hallway.

 

 

“Mary, before you go . . . “   Jeremy reached for her.

 

 

Mary gave him her undivided attention.

 

 

“I have to tell you, Miss Mary, I was hoping to find out how many chairs your father

 

made before he disappeared, and that he left behind excellent drawings and records. 

 

What I found here this morning exceeded my hopes.  I would say that this morning has

 

been a dream come true for me.  I have got everything that I came for.”

 

 

Mary nodded, but looked unsure. 

 

 

Jeremy collected her hands and pressed them to his chest.  “I make this promise this day,

 

to you, Mary.  I promise to the best of my ability, to do all of the things we have

 

previously discussed.  A Harry Gilmore in every home.”  Jeremy smiled proudly.  “But

 

there’s one other thing, girl.  I vow to do my utmost to help you find your way back to

 

your Daddy, in whatever way you can.”  He looked her in the eye.  “Deal?”

 

 

Mary gave him a hug.

 

 

“Honey?”  Her Mother was back at the door.

 

 

Mary moved toward the door. “You’ll be here when I come back, right?” she called

 

loudly.

 

 

“Of course.”

 

 

At the door, Mary hesitated.  She turned to look at Jeremy one more time.  Light through

 

the window blinds caught his gleaming surfaces, his glasses and buckles and spurs, and

 

sent crisscrossing spots, like Klieg lights, around the room.

 

 

“You’re sure?”  She gave Jeremy an exaggerated wink.

 

 

“Yes.”  Jeremy winked back, smiling broadly.  “I’m sure.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“Did they say what chair it was?  The name?”

 

 

Officer Sam shook his head at the floor.  They were back in the kitchen, Mary, Sophrina

 

and Officer Sam.  The mirror was there too, like some glass eyed hydra.

 

 

While Officer Sam referred to his notes, Mary gave her Mom a steely stare. 

 

 

“Hmm,” Officer Sam said.  “Looks like . . . the Jason chair.  Does that matter?

 

 

“Not that I know of.  At least not yet.”

 

 

Officer Sam looked confused.  He scratched his head.  “Anyway, the man is wanted in

 

N.Y.C., the Big Apple.”  A grin of what looked like realization spread across his face. 

 

The teeth in his big grin gleamed shiny white.  “I’m afraid I’m going to have to

 

apprehend him.”

 

 

Mary squinted hard at her Mom.  Officer Sam put on his hat.  Hand on his pistol grip, he

 

strode from the room.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Sophrina and Mary peered over Officer Sam’s back.  Mary made a quick survey of the

 

room.  The sketch book and journals were still there, but the  photo of her Dad was gone.

 

 

Mary ran for the front door.  She burst out onto the grass.  Officer Sam and Sophrina

 

followed closely behind.  The spot where Jeremy’s truck had previously been parked was

 

nothing but black asphalt. 

 

 

Officer Sam pulled out his gun.  He used his other hand to shield the sun.  “That diesel

 

engine of his, we should have heard . . .”

 

 

Sophrina crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head.  “Not even a trail of dust.”

 

 

Mary turned and walked toward the house.  When the screen door slammed behind her it

 

sounded like a laugh.  “Ha!” 

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

A few days later, as Sophrina readied to go to work, she detoured to plunk down on

 

the couch next to Mary and put an arm around her daughter’s shoulders. 

 

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

 

Mary had her feet up on the couch, her chin rested on her knees.  She just shrugged.  Her

 

Mom knew Jimmy had left.  “It’s hard losing a friend,” she said.

 

 

Mary nodded.  “Why are people always going away?  Why do things have to change?”

 

 

“Oh, honey.  You’re right.  I used to like to say that things don’t change, people do.  But

 

you’re right.  Things do change, and that’s life.”  Her Mom pulled her close into a hug,

 

rocked her for a minute.  Then she let go and hopped up.  “I wish I could stay and play.” 

 

She looked at her watch.  “But I’ve got to get ready for work.”

 

 

Her Mom headed into the kitchen and made a quick phone call.  A few minutes later she

 

was ready to go.  She pulled Mary by the hand up off the couch.  “I’ll tell you what.”  She

 

took some money out of her purse.  “Here’s a little money.  Why don’t you ride down to

 

Django’s and get yourself something to eat?  We haven’t been there in a while. 

 

Get yourself a milkshake, or something that will cheer you up.”  She gently lifted Mary’s

 

chin, and looked deeply into Mary’s eyes.  “Okay?  You’ve got to get out and do

 

something.  No sense sitting around feeling rotten.  You’re going to depress Ruffin. 

 

Okay?”

 

 

Mary nodded.  She petted Ruffin.  Ruffin purred. 

 

 

“Promise me.”

 

 

Mary nodded again. 

 

 

“Okay.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Mary rode to Jimmy’s house.  She straddled her bike for a moment while she stared at the

 

black-and-white “For Rent” sign that pricked the yard.  The sign seemed to hypnotize

 

her.  Images swirled in her head.  Jimmy, Rowlf, Bobby, the firemen in their yellow

 

coats, flames leaping at the sky.  She tossed her head several times to snap herself back

 

to the present.  The black-eyed house stared mutely back.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

At Django’s, the hostess greeted her.  She wore a powder blue waitress uniform open

 

at the neck.  Her name, Laura, was embroidered in white script on her left chest

 

pocket.  She wore her burgundy-dyed hair up in a bun.  Laura seated Mary in a booth. 

 

 

Mary stared at the linoleum tabletop, the design like spilled paper clips.   Laura put pen to

 

order pad.  “The usual?” 

 

 

Mary looked at the menu.  “I’ll have the grilled cheese with fries and a strawberry

 

milkshake.”

 

 

“The usual,” Laura smiled. 

 

 

A few minutes later, Laura returned with a tray of food.  “Here you go.”  She set down

 

a tray with two of everything.  Grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries, milk shakes and

 

slices of cherry pie.

 

 

Mary stared, mouth open, up at Laura. 

 

 

“You looked hungry.”

 

 

Mary blinked several times.  Laura whacked her in the shoulder with her order pad and

 

laughed.  “Move over,” she said.  “Half of it’s for me.”

 

 

Laura leaned on her elbows to whisper, “Django said lunch is on the house.” 

 

 

Mary glanced quickly toward the kitchen.  Django’s swarthy face disappeared behind the

 

food window.  “Thank you,” she said to Laura. 

 

 

Laura whispered, “Let’s eat.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“I am so fu-u-u-l-l.”  Laura put both of her hands on her tummy.

 

 

Mary, grinning, groaned, “Me too.”

 

 

Laura slumped back against the booth to survey the damage.  “I can’t believe we ate the

 

whole thing.”

 

 

She loaded the dishes on her tray.  “Be right back.”  She struggled out of her seat to carry

 

the tray back to the kitchen.  Mary leaned forward and craned her neck.  She saw Laura in

 

the kitchen talking to Django and motioning toward Mary.  Django’s head was framed by

 

the food window in an otherwise white tile wall.  He squinted darkly at Mary from across

 

the breakfast bar.  Laura untied her apron as she came back to Mary.  “I’m just getting off

 

my shift.  Want to walk with me?  How did you get here, did you walk?” 

 

 

“I rode my bike.” 

 

 

“Walk with me to my car, then.  If you want, you can throw your bike in the back of my

 

car and I’ll give you a ride home.  Your Mom’s at work, right?” 

 

 

“Yeah . . . “

 

 

Laura popped the car’s hatchback so that Mary could lift in her bike. 

 

 

Once they got out on the road, Laura said, “I saw you at the fire the other night.”  She

 

said it matter-of-factly, as if the fire had been a social event.

 

 

Mary's forehead creased.   “You mean the fire in the woods by our house?”

 

 

Laura nodded.  “You were there with Jimmy, weren’t you?”

 

 

Mary studied Laura.  “How do you know Jimmy?”

 

 

Laura laughed.  “They ate at the Diner a lot in three weeks.”  She added, “He talked

 

about you.”

 

 

Mary studied Laura, who kept her eyes on the road.

 

 

“Was he a good friend?” Laura asked.

 

 

Mary cocked her head at the sky zipping by the car window.  Trees whisked by, faster

 

than thoughts.

 

 

“Yes,” Mary decided.  “He was a good friend.  But he’s gone.  He had to move back to

 

Georgia.”  Mary remembered to add, “At least I know where he’s gone.”

 

 

“Yes,” Laura said.

 

 

They drove on a little way in silence.  Laura looked sideways at Mary.  She suddenly

 

turned the wheel to pull off in a crackle of gravel to the side of the road.  They came to

 

rest in a small cloud of dust.  “You know, I was thinking that I might ride out to highway

 

75,” Laura said.  “To see how much of the woods the fire ended up taking.  You can’t

 

really tell from your end, can you?”

 

 

Mary shook her head.

 

 

“You want to go with me?” Laura asked.

 

 

“Okay.”

 

 

“You don’t have to be home for anything?”

 

 

“No.”

 

  

“Do you want me to call your Mom?”

 

 

“It’s all right.  She knows you.”

 

 

“All right, then.  Let’s go.”

 

 

They drove in silence for a short while.  Mary listened to the thudaboom thudaboom of

 

the wheels on the road.  She wondered what was going on.  It seemed to her that her

 

Mom had phoned Laura at the diner, and asked her to keep an eye on Mary.  Why would

 

she do something like that?

 

 

Laura looked over at Mary again.  “Mary, have your Mom or Dad ever mentioned me?”

 

 

Mary squinted at her.

 

 

“I mean other than when they ordered food at the diner?”

 

 

 “No.”  At first Mary shrugged, but then she cocked her head to study Laura.  “Did you

 

know my father?  You asked in the plural.  Did your Mom or Dad  mention me?  My Dad

 

has been missing for three years.  Did you know my father?  I mean, did you work in the

 

Diner back then?”

 

 

“Oh, I’ve worked in the diner forever.  I’m quite ancient.”  Laura smiled warmly.  “I

 

knew your father, also, Mary.  In fact, I knew your father before your mother knew your

 

father.”

 

 

Mary squinted her eyes.

 

 

“I suppose,” Laura said.  “You could call me your father’s first True Love.”

 

 

Mary’s head pulled back in surprise.  

 

 

“I knew your Daddy in high school,” Laura said.  A wistful look settled on her face.  “He

 

was a nice young man.  A very, very, nice young man.  I was a very not-nice young

 

woman.  It never would have worked out.  I was way too unstable for him.  He just loved

 

his work, even back then.  Chairs, chairs, chairs.  The boy was ob-sessed."  She laughed

 

at the memory.

 

 

"Did you know that the first chair he ever made was a teak rocking chair he named after

 

me?"

 

 

Now it all made sense.  The rocking chair made out of teak.  The chair that Mary and

 

Jeremy discussed.  How many rocking chairs did he make?  I think this was the only one. 

 

 

 “My Dad made that chair before I was born,” she said.  “I always wondered if it had a

 

name.  I even thought sometimes about what I would name it if my Dad asked.  Then,

 

one day, it was just gone, vttt.

 

 

Laura grinned.  "Did your Mom ask, ‘Now don't you think the living room looks

 

better without that big chair in there?’"

 

 

“I never knew that was the first chair my Dad made,” Mary said.  “It was well made for a

 

first chair.”

 

 

Laura laughed.

 

 

“Chunky, right?  The big joke was that the chair was red.  Teak is red.  My hair was red. 

 

Get it?  He called me Big Red.”  Laura smiled at the memory.  “Big joke.”  Her thoughts

 

seemed to drift away.  Her focus shifted to the road.

 

 

Mary sat quietly and looked out the passenger window.  They had pulled out of town but

 

hadn’t yet reached 75.  Corn fields and bursts of trees flew by. 

 

 

Laura rolled down her window and stuck her elbow out.  She pulled her hair out of its

 

bun, turned up the radio and hit the gas.  The sun and the wind rendered her hair

 

astonishing bolts of red and her eyes stunning orbs of blue.  Wrinkles smoothed silk-

 

milky white, and Mary could understand: she saw what her Dad had seen fifteen years

 

before.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Laura pulled over to the side of the highway and parked the car in a crunch of gravel. 

 

From where they parked they could see just how far the fire has spread.  All that was left

 

of the woods was a ten foot barrier of green.  Beyond that was nothing different than

 

what she had seen behind Jimmy’s house, the same burnt trees and charred ground. 

 

 

They walked to where the trees began, and stood there.  Mary tucked her hands in her

 

pockets.  Laura set her hands on her hips.  She stared past the greenery. 

 

 

"Well, nothing to see, is there?”

 

 

Mary looked blank.

 

 

Laura looked straight into the devastated woods.  “What do you think happened to him?” 

 

 

“Him?”

 

 

“Him.”  Laura nodded toward the trees.

 

 

“You mean . . .” Mary stared at Laura.

 

 

Laura nodded.

 

 

“Rowlf?”

 

 

Laura nodded again.

 

 

Mary stared wide eyed at Laura.  “How do you know Rowlf?”

 

 

“What I know,” Laura smiled, “from working at the diner, is what everybody in this town

 

likes to eat.  Rowlf, he’d eat most any kind of food, and he liked biscuits and gravy, but

 

his favorite, his favorite was cornbread.  I used to save pieces of cornbread for him,

 

wrapped up in napkins and tied with string.”  Laura shook her head.  “You should have

 

seen the smile on his face whenever I brought him some, that big ol’ grin with no teeth up

 

front.” 

 

 

Mary cocked her head and raised one eyebrow.  “Were you at the fire looking for him?” 

 

 

“I was on my way home.”  Laura shrugged.  “Couldn’t miss the flames or smoke from

 

pretty much anywhere in town.  Exciting things like forest fires don’t happen often

 

around here.”

 

 

Laura studied Mary.  “So, what were you doing there?  I have to tell you, you looked

 

pretty upset.”

 

 

Mary stared at her feet.  “It made me think of my Dad.”

 

 

“Oh?”

 

 

“I don’t know, I don’t know where . . . people . . . where people go when they’re not here

 

anymore.”

 

 

Laura didn’t say anything.  She just touched Mary’s shoulder.  Mary flinched, but didn’t

 

pull away.  She continued to peer past what was left of the trees. 

 

 

“You know,” Laura offered.  “In a way, I have been looking for your Dad, too, or

 

someone like him, ever since I met him as a teenager.  Looking for someone who would

 

love me for what I was before I became what I am.”

 

 

Laura stared, suddenly glaze-eyed, at the ravaged woods before her.  “In fact, I can’t even

 

remember what I was like back then.”  Laura rocked on her heels.

 

 

Mary moved herself a little closer to Laura.  They stood that way for a while.  Laura

 

finally gave Mary’s shoulder a squeeze. 

 

 

“What do you say?  Ready?”

 

 

Mary nodded.  “I guess I am.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

When they reached Mary's house, Laura pulled up along the curb. 

 

 

“Thank you.”  Mary said. 

 

 

She leaned over for a hug, but Laura held up a hand.  “I almost forgot.”  From the floor

 

between their seats, Laura retrieved a small package, cellophane wrapped and tied with a

 

ribbon.  “Chocolate chip.”  With a great big smile, she held them out for Mary.

 

 

She wrapped Mary up in a hug, one that Mary thought smelled like warm apple pie.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Mary retrieved her bike and then leaned down to look in the passenger window.  She

 

rested her arms at the top of the door, so that she could easily see and hear Laura.  

 

 

“Mary,” Laura began.  “You helped me see things a little differently.   I want to share

 

something with you.  Maybe return the favor?”

 

 

“Okay.”

 

 

“There are answers you are never going to find,” Laura said.  “Mysteries you are never

 

going to solve.  I know that sounds unfair, but it's also something really important to

 

understand.  There's this big old question about whether you believe that some things

 

happen for a reason, even though you may never know the reason.    But there are the

 

million little daily trusts that require faith, too.  Do you have faith that your mother and

 

father love you?  How about your friends?  I saw the way that you and Jimmy relied on

 

each other the other night.  That is its own kind of Faith.  It's a love that you will always

 

have, and one that you know is there whether Jimmy is standing in front of you or not.  I

 

was so pleased when I heard you say that, yes, Jimmy is a true friend.  That’s faith.  Start

 

small and work your way up from there.  Does that make sense?"

 

 

Mary nodded.  She patted the car and then watched Laura drive away.

 

 

Illumination

 

 

The next day, Mary didn’t know what to do with herself.  Jimmy was gone.  Nor had she

 

heard from Jeremy.

 

 

She decided to ride to Django’s.  Being with Laura the previous day had made Mary feel

 

good.  When they talked about Mary’s Dad, Laura cared.  And, Mary thought, she might

 

get a milkshake out of the deal.

 

 

When she arrived at Django’s, the parking lot was empty.  Not a single car or truck. 

 

Nothing but dirt and stone.  The lights were all off, even the neon Django’s Diner

 

sign that normally glowed day and night.

 

 

Mary gave the handle on the front door a tug.  It stayed locked.  Taped to the inside glass,

 

next to the usual black and red Closed sign, was a handmade Just Married sign, that had

 

crepe paper streamers hung off of it.

 

 

Mary rested her hand on the back of her head.  She looked both ways up and down the

 

road. 

 

 

Django’s was on one corner of a four way intersection.  Mary sat back on her bike

 

looking up at the red traffic signal, unsure which direction to go.

 

 

She turned north, and rode to the ridge at the top of Ingle’s Road, near the spot where

 

she had last seen her Dad.  Straddled on her bike, she heard the diesel drawl of a truck

 

engine. 

 

 

A truck materialized out of the shimmering air at the crown of the road.  The truck, shiny

 

and black, moved slowly toward her.  Light leapt off its hood.  Light sparked off its broad

 

hood ornament.  The windshield spat sunlight so crazed, it raised spots in Mary’s eyes.

 

 

By the time the spots cleared, the truck was already beyond her.  She turned to watch the

 

truck until its tail lights disappeared into the shimmery heat.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

That night at dinner, Mary poked at her food.  With a deep sigh, she set her fork down.

 

 

“Mom, you know Laura at the Diner?”

 

 

Sophrina’s face tensed.  She set her fork down, too.

 

 

“I went to visit her today, and nobody was there.  The place was closed.  There was a sign

 

on the door that said, “Just Married.”

 

 

“Really?”  A big smile spread across Sophrina’s face.  “Well good for her.”  She settled

 

her hands on the tabletop, as if unsure what to do with them.

 

 

Mary cocked her head.  “Her?”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“You mean, Laura?”

 

 

Sophrina smiled.  “Yes.”

 

 

“I just assumed the sign meant Django.  You know, it is his restaurant.”

 

 

Sophrina’s smile broadened.  “It does mean Django.”

 

 

Mary stared at her plate.  She lifted her chin in a slow motion nod.  “Ohhhhhhh.”

 

 

“Right,” Sophrina said.  “Django’s been after Laura for years, asking her to run off with

 

him, to start a fish taco shack by the beach.”

 

 

“Start a fish taco shack?”  Mary blinked.  “You mean, stay there?”

 

 

Sophrina reached across the table to cover Mary’s hands.  “I’m sorry.”

 

 

“It’s just . . . I spent all of that time with her yesterday.  I just thought . . . I mean, you

 

would think, if she was planning . . .”

 

 

“I’m sorry, honey.  Just be happy for her.  Okay?”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

The next morning, Jeremy finally phoned.

 

 

When Mary heard his laughing voice, she sat back on the living room couch and exhaled. 

 

 

“Are you there?”  Jeremy asked. 

 

 

“Yes.

 

 

“Are you mad at me?”

 

 

“I’m not.  Officer Sam sure is.”

 

 

“You got to forgive me, Miss Mary.  I figure I had better stay out of sight until this little

 

misunderstanding with the po-lice is cleared up.”

 

 

“Why did you take my Dad’s photo?  I didn’t think you would do that?” 

 

 

“There are some people I needed to show it to.  I mean to give it back.  I couldn’t ask,

 

because you were off in the kitchen.  I figured since you had said goodbye, you wouldn’t

 

object as long as I gave it back.”

 

 

He waited for an answer, but when Mary didn’t offer one, added, “Please, Mary.  Please

 

trust me.”

 

 

After another pause, Mary said, “All right.”

 

 

“Thank you.  Thank you, Mary.  You won’t regret this”  He paused to let her respond, but

 

when she didn’t, added, “What I’m calling about today is a progress report.  I have

 

already found two more of your Daddy’s originals.  Isn’t that remarkable?”

 

 

“It is.  Which ones?  Do they have the tags?”

 

 

“One didn’t, but it just so happens to be one that you and I looked at just last week in

 

your Daddy’s drawings.  I’ll give you a hint.  It’s the only rocking chair he ever made.”

 

 

Mary’s voice jumped.  “The Laura chair?”

 

 

“Yes, Ma’am.  And, the other chair did have its tag.  Unusual chair.  Seat is a black

 

circle, back an upside-down white triangle, and four purple legs.  The Django chair.”

 

 

“I remember the Django chair.  My Dad made it for Django to use in his office at the

 

Diner.  Where did you find them?  Did you find them at the Diner, because I went there

 

and it was closed?  There was a “Just Married” sign on the door.  My Mom said Laura

 

and Django ran away together to get married.” 

 

 

“You know me.”  Jeremy paused.  “I found them around

 

 

“Anyway, remember I told you that I had several meetings with manufacturers coming

 

up?  One is in just a few days.  I’ll be sure to call you about it.  All right?” 

 

 

“Yes.” 

 

 

“Anything else, Miss Mary.  Are you okay?”

 

 

“Can I ask you something?”

 

 

“Shoot yes.”

 

 

“Are you around here?  I thought I saw your truck drive by today.”

 

 

“No, ma’am.  Nowhere near there, rest assured.  I’ll call shortly.  I’m hoping to have this

 

thing in New York cleared up any day now.  Then I can visit again.  All right?”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

The next day, Mary rode her bike downtown.  There wasn’t much going on.  A few cars

 

sat parked on the side of the road.  A paper rolled like a tumbleweed down the street,

 

kissed Mary’s sneaker and moved on. 

 

 

Mary rode down the sidewalk.  Halfway down the block, approaching Anderson’s

 

Hardware, she saw a homeless man squatted against the wall.  As she neared,

 

she could see he had a blind man’s cane, which he held, thoughtlessly, out into the

 

sidewalk.  Mary slowed as not to run over the red-tipped, white cane.  When she came to

 

a stop in front of him, the man stood.

 

 

He wore an old army jacket.  The right sleeve of his disheveled coat, where there should

 

have been an arm, was pinned to his shoulder. 

 

 

“Can I get by?”  Mary’s voice rose.

 

 

The man lifted his grubby face and turned his eyes on her.  His eyes had no irises or

 

pupils.  They shown white as moons.

 

 

Mary gasped.

 

 

The man appeared homeless, like Rowlf, but where Rowlf’s face was puffy and purple,

 

this man’s skin looked dried brown, like a walnut.  What few black strands of hair he had

 

looked pasted to his skull by sweat.  His nostrils, like a rabbit’s, fiercely worked the air.

 

 

Mary backed to the wall.  The man’s face hung between her and the street, with his

 

mouth open.  When his breath reached her, the smell, one part liquor, one part manure,

 

gagged her.  Mary crossed her hands over her nose and mouth.  She looked north and

 

south, up and down the street, for a way out or someone to help her. He just hung there,

 

off-gassing noxious fumes.

 

 

Mary tried to tell him to leave her alone, but hands over her mouth, her words came out

 

muddled.  She turned her head away from him.  Then shifted her eyes to study him.  His

 

mouth hung open.  He had those white eyes.   Unshaven.  A drop of spittle clung to his

 

dumb bottom lip. 

 

 

The man reached his hands forward and Mary stiffened.  He traced her outline in the

 

air inches away from her, as if following some protective force field.  Mary held her

 

breath, pulled back, and re-covered her mouth and nose with both hands.  The man leaned

 

closer and continued to sniff.

 

 

Tears came to Mary’s eyes.  She frantically looked over his shoulder for some form of

 

rescue.  Coming around the corner was a sight for sore eyes:  Jeepers!

 

 

“Hey!” he shouted when he saw them.  He ran toward them.

 

 

The blind man turned.  Mary’s heart jumped.  She ducked and powered forward on her

 

bike. 

 

*     *     *

 

They ran for several blocks and then they walked until they caught their breaths. 

 

 

Jeepers studied Mary from the side.  “Are you all right?”

 

 

Her cheeks were blotched red.  She nodded.  “Who was that?”

 

 

“Dangler,” Jeepers said.

 

 

“That’s what his coat said.”

 

 

“Yeah.  He’s an army veteran.  That’s why he has his name on his coat.”

 

 

Jeepers stopped short.  He jutted his chin toward something down the road.  “Uh-oh.”

 

 

Up ahead, Andy Shank and Randy Ponder sat on a bench, laughing loudly and drinking

 

out of glass bottles. 

 

 

Ponder caught sight of Mary and Jeepers.

 

 

“Oh-ho!” he hollered.  “Look at the love birds, out for a walk.”

 

 

“Where’s your other boyfriend, Mary?” Shank called.  “The pencil-neck?”

 

 

Mary and Jeepers looked at each other.  Jeepers took a step toward the boys.  “What are

 

you drinking there, guys?”

 

 

Shank and Ponder smirked at each other.  Shank puffed his chest out.  “Fire Engine Red.” 

 

He held the bottle out so that Jeepers could see the label.  “It’s got 180% of your daily

 

required caffeine.”  His voice grew loud.  “I’ll get you hyped, Man!  Want some?”  He

 

looked at Ponder and they laughed and slapped their thighs.

 

 

“No thanks,” Jeepers answered.  “I don’t drink laxatives.”

 

 

The Bus Bullies stiffened.  “What do you mean laxatives?”

 

 

Jeepers smiled back at Mary.  “You see, if you look at the label you’ll see that one of the

 

main ingredients in Fire Engine Red is caffeine, which will give most thirteen year olds

 

G.I. tracts a run for their money.  But, what I’m talking about is another ingredient. 

 

Methyl Cellulose.  They put it in there to give the drink its nice creamy texture.”

 

 

The Bus Bullies looked at each other.

 

 

“But, Meth Cell is a cool thing.  It passes through the human body undigested.  Goes

 

right through you.  That’s why it’s a popular ingredient in many personal lubricants and

 

laxatives.”

 

 

Shank blinked at the bottle label.  Then he reared the bottle over his head.

 

 

“Wait!” Jeepers threw up his hands.  “Don’t throw that!”

 

 

“Why?  ‘Cause it’s gonna hurt the little Jeepers?”

 

 

“No.  Because I can use that bottle.”  He waved his hands again.  

 

 

Shank scowled at him. 

 

 

“If you’re done with it.”

 

 

Shank blinked at Jeepers.  “What are you talking about?”

 

 

“I’m doing this experiment.”

 

 

Shank continued to blink at him.

 

 

“I’m actually collecting as many glass bottles as I can.”

 

 

“Yeah, and what are you gonna do with them?”

 

 

“I’m capturing dust in bottles and exposing them to light to see if I can create enough

 

density to give mass to amorphous clouds.”

 

 

Shank looked at Ponder.

 

 

Jeepers sighed.  “You know how you look at clouds and you see one that looks like a

 

rabbit?”

 

 

Shank nodded.

 

 

“Well, I’m trying to capture clouds of dust, which already have the energy we learned

 

about in science this year – remember e=mc2 – and give them what they’re missing,

 

Mass.  If I succeed, I’ll briefly animate an inanimate image.  Making something out of

 

nothing.  Pulling a rabbit out of a proverbial hat.”

 

 

Jeepers smiled proudly.

 

 

Shank’s eyes narrowed.  “You want this bottle?  You can have it.”   He turned the bottle

 

upside down over Jeepers’ head.  The fizzy red drink ran down Jeepers’ face and

 

eyeglasses.  When the bottle was empty, Shank stuffed it neck first down the front of

 

Jeepers’ pants.

 

 

Shank and Ponder  stomped down the street, laughing, guffawing, and taking turns

 

pounding each other on the back and arms.

 

 

Mary hurried over to Jeepers.  “Are you okay?”

 

 

A droplet of energy drink hung from the tip of Jeepers’ nose.  He traced a circle around

 

his lips with his tongue.  “Jeepers, besides the caffeine, this stuff’s got enough sugar in it

 

to kill an elephant.”

 

 

Mary looked around for something to help wipe his face off with.  Jeepers removed his

 

glasses and wiped a wrist across his face.  “It’s okay.”  He pulled the bottle out of his

 

pants and held it up proudly.  “At least I got a bottle.”

 

 

He noticed Mary staring at him.  “What?”

 

 

“Nothing.  It’s just, you sure look different without your glasses.”

 

 

Jeepers cheeks, already red from Fire Engine Red, deepened.  He set his chunky glasses

 

back on his nose. 

 

 

Mary cleared her throat.  “ Is it true, what you said about the experiment?”

 

Jeepers nodded.

 

 

“So, it’s like what we talked about the other day, in front of the library.  You were saying

 

you were watching the dust particles roll around in the light.”

 

 

“And that’s where I got the idea for the experiment.  If the light is energy then all I have

 

to do is find a way to convert it to mass . . . “

 

 

“And you bring your Mom back?”

 

 

Jeepers stared at Mary.  He blinked at her.  His eyes blinked behind those thick lenses. 

 

He looked at the ground and scuffed the toe of his sneaker at the side walk.

 

 

“Would you like,” he asked quietly, “to see what I’m up to?”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

At Jeepers house, a small ranch style home, Jeepers said, “We don’t need to go in.  Just

 

come around outside to the back.”

 

 

The back yard was crammed full of stuff Jeepers needed for his experiment.  He had built

 

a small brick kiln he used to melt and reform the glass.  There were stacks of fire wood

 

for burning and balsa wood for making molds, candles, also for molds, and lots and lots

 

of glass bottles.

 

 

In the center of the yard, set up on a small stand was a tall fluted glass vessel.  Sunlight

 

shown directly onto it.  In it, a bit of dust shifted lazily, dazzling in the light.

 

 

“It’s beautiful,” Mary said.  “Did you make that?”

 

 

Jeepers nodded.  He was staring at the vessel and Mary could see it reflected in his

 

eyeglass lenses.  “If you stand here long enough you’ll see lots of interesting things.”

 

 

Mary watched the liquid light move as if alive in the glass.  She gasped.

 

 

“What?”

 

 

“I thought I saw a gecko, staring at me.”

 

Jeepers nodded.  He watched the glittering dust stir.  “I haven’t seen my Mom in a couple

 

of days.”

 

 

Mary stared at her feet.

 

 

“What?” Jeepers asked.

 

 

“Listen.” Mary brushed the bangs out of her eyes.  “You know how I’m always looking

 

for my Dad - my real Dad - there’ve been a lot of crazy things going on.”

 

 

Jeepers pushed his glasses up on his nose.  “Why don’t you come in.  I’ll pour you a glass

 

of lemonade and you can tell me all about it.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

Mary filled Jeepers in on everything.  How she met Rowlf and the woods burned down. 

 

How Officer Sam had found parts of her Dad’s truck scattered around.  How

 

Jeremy showed up. 

 

 

“This art dealer called my Mom to tell her that people are starting to collect my Dad’s

 

chairs.”

 

 

“Really?  Wow.”

 

 

“I know.  So, he came by my house.  I showed him around my Dad’s drawings and

 

sketch books.  Of course, my Mom was worried that he might be an axe murderer who

 

killed my father and was now coming for us, or at the very least was there to take

 

advantage of us.  So she invited Officer Sam.”

 

 

“I see.”

 

 

“So Jeremy – that’s his name - and I talked for a while.  I liked him.  He’s funny.  He’s

 

like this cowboy art dealer.”

 

 

“Cowboy art dealer?” 

 

 

Mary laughed.  “He dresses in a big hat and big belt buckle, cowboy boots with spurs that

 

jingle, and one of those string ties.  He has a big belly, rosy cheeks.  It seemed like every

 

time I looked at him, he was staring at me with this smile, like he knew something no one

 

else in the room did.”

 

 

“I know what you mean.”

 

 

“We walked down Ingles Road so I could show him the woods that burned down.”

 

 

“Did you tell him about the mysterious Rowlf?”

 

 

“I did.  He reacted about the same as every grown up I’ve told.  Just sort of cocked his

 

eyes skyward and said, “hmm.”  Anyway, we were standing in your yard, and I saw this

 

glinting thing.  I went over to check it out, and guess what it was?”

 

 

“A silver bullet?”

 

 

“No,” Mary laughed.  “The rear view mirror of my Dad’s truck.”

 

 

“Really?  No way.” 

 

 

“Isn’t that strange?  It had to have been there for three years.  I can’t believe I never

 

noticed it there.  Anyway, we went back to the house, and I gave it to Officer Sam, who

 

acted like I’d given him the key to the universe.”

 

 

Jeepers laughed.  “Right?”

 

 

“Then Jeremy and I are in my room talking, and my mom interrupts.  She says she wants

 

to see me in the kitchen. So, I’m wondering what I’ve done wrong.  I go to the kitchen,

 

and there’s Officer Sam smiling at me like on the outside I’m gonna be nice to you

 

because I like your mom, but on the inside I just want you out of my way.  He tells me

 

that Jeremy makes people nervous, and then, finally, that Jeremy’s wanted in New York

 

for stealing a chair.”

 

 

“Wow.  Do you think he’s a thief ?”

 

 

“When my mom asked me to come to the kitchen, Jeremy himself told me that they were

 

going to accuse him of stealing a chair.”

 

 

“So, do you think he did?”

 

 

“I don’t know.  But Officer Sam surely was sure.”  Mary mimicked Officer Sam, “I have

 

to apprehend him. 

 

 

Jeepers laughed.  “Good old Officer Protect and Serve.”

 

 

“He pulled out his gun and went to my room. When he got there, Jeremy of course, was

 

nowhere to be seen.”

 

 

“Did you know he would leave?”

 

 

“I kind of did.  When my mom was in the hall, I said real loud to Jeremy, you’ll be here

 

when I get back, right?  But I gave him a hug, because I could tell he probably wouldn’t. 

 

Anyway, Officer Sam runs out on the front yard like he’s going to shoot Jeremy’s tires

 

out, but Jeremy’s truck is gone, nowhere to be seen.  It’s like it went pfft.”

 

 

“Wow.”

 

 

“I know.  Meanwhile, earlier, when I asked Jeremy what he was here for, he said he

 

wanted to do a bunch of things to help me and my mom.  Find and sell all of my Dad’s

 

originals chairs, find a furniture company to manufacture his chairs, get my Dad’s chairs

 

into the New York Museum of Modern Art, and basically see a Harry Gilmore chair in

 

every home in America.”

 

 

“Guy’s not very ambitious, huh?”

 

 

“The thing is, I don’t know whether to trust him or not.”

 

 

“Hmm,” Jeepers said.  “It doesn’t sound like he wants anything in particular from you

 

just yet.  All he’s asking for is information, right?”

 

 

“That’s exactly what I said to my mom, you know, when she was thinking he was an axe

 

murderer.”

 

 

They both laughed.  Mary continued.  “Do you know Laura, the waitress at the Diner?”

 

 

“She’s the main hostess, right?  The one with the purple hair?”

 

 

“Burgundy.  Anyway, my Mom, before she goes to work the other morning makes this

 

phone call and then gives me money to go to Django’s for lunch.  Laura’s there.  She

 

seats me in this booth, then brings out all this food, enough for two.  She sits down with

 

me, which is weird because I don’t think of her as anything but a waitress, and then we

 

pig out.  Then, she offers to drive me home, but on the way, detours to 75, the back side

 

of the woods, to see whether the fire made it that far.  You following me?”

 

 

“So far.”

 

 

“On the way, she tells me that she was my dad’s first true Love.”

 

 

“Wow.”

 

 

“Yeah.  The first chair he ever made, he named after her, Laura, a red cedar rocking

 

chair.  Then we get there, to the woods, and she asks whether I think ‘he’ survived the

 

fire.  And I’m like, who?  She says, Rowlf!”

 

 

“How does she know Rowlf?”

 

 

“Exactly!  Oh, she says, he comes by the diner, and she brings him treats in the woods.”

 

 

“Are they an item?”

 

 

“No, because the next day, I’m looking for something to do, so I decide to go to the Diner

 

again.  Maybe talk to Laura some more, maybe get a milkshake.  I arrive, and there’s no

 

one there.  The place is closed.  Locked.  Completely shut.  But there’s this sign on the

 

door that says, Just Married.  At dinner that night, I tell my mom and she says, ‘Good

 

for them,’ meaning Django and Laura.  Turns out, Django’s been after Laura for years to

 

run away and marry him.  Mom couldn’t see why I thought it was weird that I’d spent

 

this whole day with Laura and she’d never mentioned that she might be going away

 

forever.”

 

 

“Forever?”

 

 

“Mom says they’re going to start a food shack at the beach, and never come back.”

 

 

“Wow.”

 

 

“It gets better.  A week goes by, and I don’t hear from Jeremy, and I’m thinking that

 

maybe Officer Sam was right.  Maybe this guy is a thief looking to get as much info as

 

he can about my Dad’s chairs so he can make as much money as possible for himself.  I

 

mean, who would go through all this effort just to help me and my mom, right?”

 

 

“Right.”

 

 

“Anyway, this morning, he finally calls.  You know what he tells me?”

 

 

“Nope.”

 

 

“He says he has found two more of my father’s chairs.  Guess which two?”

 

 

“Uh, the Jimmy and the Rowlf?”

 

 

“Close.  In fact, he had found the Rowlf.  Didn’t I tell you about that?  The day after the

 

fire, when I first met him, he had the Rowlf chair tied into the back of his pickup.  I just

 

about fell off my bike when I saw it.  But, no, the two chairs he tells me about this

 

morning are the Laura chair and the Django.”

 

 

“Really?”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“You’re telling me that there’s this guy who collects chairs, and one day there’s this fire

 

and Rowlf disappears, and the next day this guy drives up with the Rowlf chair in the

 

back of his truck. . . and, wait . . . “ Jeepers’ concentration sounded like humming . . .

 

“Laura and Django run off together, or supposedly do, and the next day, he’s telling you

 

he’s found their chairs?”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“Okay,” Jeepers said.  “This is screwy.”  He paused.  “Mind if I ask you something

 

different?”

 

 

“Of course not, go ahead.”

 

 

“Did this guy . . . “

 

 

“Jeremy.”

 

 

“Did this guy Jeremy find the Jimmy chair the day after Jimmy disappeared?”

 

 

“I don’t know.  He hasn’t told me if he did.  And then, as far as I know, he left town.”

 

 

Before Mary could say anything else, a bell sounded and a small red bulb above the front

 

door lit.

 

 

“Oh, that’s my Dad getting home from work.”

 

       

Mary stared at Jeepers.

 

 

“I attached a sensor to his car.  Let’s me know when he passes the mailbox.  In case I

 

need to clean anything up.”

 

 

The front door opened and Jeepers’ Dad stepped in.  He smiled awkwardly at Jeepers. 

 

He grinned at Mary.  “Mary, how are you?”

 

 

“Good, thank you.”

 

 

“Will you be staying for dinner?”

 

 

“Thank you.”  She looked at her watch.  “But I’d better be going.”

 

 

Jeepers stepped out onto the front porch after her.  “I’ll think about everything you said,”

 

he called out as she moved down the sidewalk.  “If I come up with any answers, I’ll let

 

you know.”

 

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

That night at dinner, Mary told her Mom that she met another homeless man, this time

 

downtown.

 

 

Sophrina set down her fork.  “Did he touch you?”

 

 

Mary blinked at her.

 

                                                                                                

“Well, did he?”

 

 

“He was just so scary,” Mary said.  She told her mother about how the man was blind

 

and sniffed at her as if he were touching her with his nose.  “He kept sniffing at me.  It

 

was horrible.  He leaned toward me like he was going to touch me, but all he did was

 

sniff.  And he had these white eyes . . . ”

 

 

“White?  Did you say white eyes?”

 

 

Mary nodded.

 

 

“Dangler.”

 

 

“That’s what it said on his coat pocket.  That’s who Jeepers said it was.”

 

 

“Dangler’s back?”

 

 

Mary nodded.  Sophrina jumped up from the couch.

 

 

“Where are you going?” Mary asked.

 

 

Sophrina hurried for the phone .  “I’m calling Officer Sam.”

 

 

“Why?’

 

 

“He’s a dangerous man.  If you see him again, promise me, run.  Okay, just run.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

That evening, Jeepers phoned

 

 

“I asked my Dad more about Dangler.  He says he’s a Vietnam War veteran.  Has some

 

crazy story.  His platoon ran over a land mine.  The jeep he was in flipped.  Everyone in

 

the jeep was killed except Dangler, who apparently lay in mud pinned under the jeep until

 

friendly forces arrived.  They had to saw off his arm to get him free.”

 

 

“I was thinking maybe his eyes got like that from being in the war.  Some sort of

 

chemicals they used.”

 

 

“Supposedly shrapnel penetrated and exploded his irises.  I didn’t buy that argument

 

when my Dad told me about it, so I researched it.  I don’t believe that can really happen. 

 

It would have taken his eye balls out.”

 

 

There was silence.  After a moment, Mary cleared her throat.

 

 

“I believe,” Jeepers continued, “the whiteness is from something called Morgagnian

 

cataracts.  Cataracts are clouds that grow in your eyes, usually in older people.  But it

 

can occur in younger people, sometimes it can start  even in early childhood.”

 

 

“Wow.”

 

 

“I do know the shrapnel severed his vocal cords.  You can see the scar just below his

 

Adam’s apple.”

 

 

They were both silent for a minute.

 

 

“He also had dried spit hanging off his lip,” Mary offered.  “It was disgusting.”

 

 

Jeepers giggled.  “I hate those people who when they talk they get the little strings of

 

dried spit pulled between their lips.”

 

 

“Exactly.  And his breath, ick.”  When they finished laughing, Mary said, “Anyway, I’ve

 

been sitting here thinking about it.  Have I done it again? Have I shied away from a

 

clue to finding my father because I was afraid?”

 

 

“Why do you say that?”

 

 

“Well, it’s just like with Rowlf.  What if the guy knew something about my Dad.  What if

 

he knew Rowlf for that matter?  Maybe from being on the road with him?  Maybe he

 

knows what happened to Rowlf, or where he is?  There might be multiple connections,

 

and I simply ran away with you, and left the obvious questions behind.”

 

 

“You’re not thinking of going to find this guy again are you?” Jeepers asked.  When

 

Mary didn’t answer right away, Jeepers  added, “He sounds dangerous.  Just stay away,

 

okay?”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Mary blinked up at the ceiling.  “Can I tell you something else?”

 

 

“Sure.”

 

 

“One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is how Rowlf doesn’t remember anything from

 

before his accident, and Jimmy hadn’t ever seen so much as a picture of his father? 

 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot.  Laura the waitress didn’t remember anything about

 

her life before she met my Dad.  She says she just can’t remember what she was like

 

before she met my Dad.  Says she’d like to get back to what she was like before she

 

became who she is now.”

 

 

“That’s kind of sad.”

 

 

“I know.”  Mary added, “Jeremy doesn’t know anything about either of his parents.  He

 

says that the orphanage where he spent time as a baby, before he got adopted, told him

 

that he had survived the Holocaust, that a Polish family somehow smuggled him out and

 

shipped him to America.”

 

 

“Is he like a hundred years old?”

 

“He does have a bushy, silver mustache.”

 

 

Mary continued, “I guess my point is, I remember everything about my Dad.  I close my

 

eyes and I can see him, clear as sunlight.  I can hear his voice and his laugh.”

 

 

“I’m the same with my Mom.”

 

 

“I guess we’re lucky to have that.”

 

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

Unable to sleep, Mary sat up in bed.   Outside the bedroom window, great black

 

thunderheads, darker than the sky, loomed.  Lightning behind them threw off silent

 

sparks that shimmered electrically through the clouds.

 

 

The broken rear view mirror stared at Mary from its perch on her desk.  Over and over,

 

the face of the blind man she had met on the street played in her head.  That mocking

 

mouth, droplet of spit hanging off. 

 

 

Even after Mary slipped into sleep, the blind man, Dangler, haunted her.  She could see

 

his pale moon eyes, the spittle that stretched in white strings between his lips.  His

 

twirling disc eyes mixed with dollar bills and Jeremy’s eyes and Rowlf’s grin.  The blind

 

man spoke in her dream, a wooden voice that said, They are not here to help you.  They

 

are not here to help you.  And then flames rose up in front of him and the white in his

 

eyes was unmistakable:  fear.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

The following week, Jeremy called again.  “Mary, I got a wagon full of good news. 

 

First off, I’m off the hook in New York City.  My problem has been resolved.”

 

 

“Great!” Mary said.  “What happened?”

 

 

“Apparently, the chair just showed back up.”

 

 

“It just showed back up?”

 

 

“Yup.”  She could hear him swallowing a chuckle.  “You know why else that’s great

 

news?  That means I can come see you again without Sherriff Sam running me off with

 

his six-shooter.”

 

 

Mary smiled big.

 

 

“Which brings me to the next piece of good news.  You know how I told you the last time

 

we spoke that I had several meetings arranged with furniture companies?  There were two

 

of them that wanted to license your Daddy’s chairs, and they got in a fight over it.  A

 

bidding war, it’s called.  Which is good for us, cause that means they drive up the price. 

 

The one I met with this morning, they think your Daddy’s the most original designer to

 

come along since the nineteen fifties.  What do you think of that?”

 

 

“Wow.”

 

 

“I know it!  Anyway, I’m going to come by the house there to show you and your

 

Momma the signing bonus they’re offering.”

 

 

“Signing bonus?”

 

 

“Yup.  That’s money they are going to give you just for signing up with them.”  He

 

paused to let that sink in.  “So, what do you say, Mary?  This is the beginning of a new

 

adventure.  Are you ready?”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

That evening, Jeremy came to visit.  Officer Sam, who Sophrina had asked to be there,

 

stood with his arms crossed over his chest, and his eyes narrowed.

 

 

The first thing Jeremy did was lift a canvas money bag with leather handles, the kind

 

Mary had seen security men carrying in and out  of banks, and set it with a heavy clunk

 

on the kitchen island.  Officer Sam and Sophrina exchanged glances.

 

 

“Mary.”  Jeremy said, smiling, as usual, directly at Mary.  “You do the honors.”

 

 

Mary bent the top of the bag toward her so she could see in.  She reached in and felt 

 

something metallic and too heavy to lift with one hand.  She reached in with both hands

 

and pulled out a gold brick.

 

 

“W-o-a-h,” she said.

 

 

Sophrina, jaw dropped, looked at the gold.

 

 

“I know,” Jeremy grinned.  “There’s this, too.”  He lifted another heavy money bag onto

 

the counter.

 

 

Mary stared at the bag until Jeremy nodded at it, as if to say go on, what are you waiting

 

for?

 

 

When Mary reached into the bag, her eyes went wide.  She scooped her hands into what

 

felt like handfuls of metal coin.  When she pulled out several handfuls of gold coins she

 

turned a look of wonderment on her Mom.

 

 

Jeremy grinned.  “That there is just the signing bonus.”

 

 

Sophrina looked at Officer Sam.  He smiled and shrugged.

 

 

Sophrina stared wide-eyed at Jeremy.  “How much is there?”

 

 

“About fifty-thousand dollars.”  Jeremy smiled proudly.

 

 

“Just a minute,” Sophrina said.  She moved across the kitchen to the telephone.  “Yes,

 

hello, Lois.  This is Sophrina Gilmore.  Can I speak with Walter?”

 

 

She covered the mouthpiece.  “Calling Ethan Allen.”

 

 

“Yes, hello, Walter, this is Sophrina Gilmore.  I won’t be coming to work tomorrow.  No. 

 

No.  I’m quitting.  No, I’m not giving two week notice.  That’s right.  I won’t be back.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“Walk with me,” Jeremy said.

 

 

Out in the street, Jeremy looked up at the blue sky.  Several cottony clouds lolled there. 

 

He glanced toward the knoll at the top of Ingle’s Road.   “Listen, Mary, what I’m about

 

to tell you is important.  Your Daddy’s drawings and journals, if anything ever happens,

 

everything you need is in those pages.  In a way, they make the chairs immortal.  Do you

 

understand what I am saying to you?”

 

 

Mary stared at the asphalt, crazed and pocked like an ancient skin.  She blinked several

 

times.  “I think so.”

 

 

“Okay.”  He gave her hands a squeeze.  “Don’t worry about a thing, Mary.  You eat your

 

peas and listen to your Mom.  Everything is going to be turn out all right.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

That night at dinner, her Mom stared at an uneaten pile of mashed potatoes.  She pushed

 

away her plate and set down her fork.  “Mary, I’ve been thinking about this all day, since

 

Jeremy left.  Do you think it’s strange that he brought us bags full of gold?”

 

 

She stared across the kitchen at the gold bar and the bag full of coins next to it on the

 

countertop.

 

 

“I mean, in this day and age, what company pays people in gold?  They write checks,

 

right?”

 

 

After the initial buzz of all that money, Mary had sensed that something felt off, too.

 

 

“That is weird, I guess.”  Mary nodded vaguely at the pile of money.  “What did Officer

 

Sam say?  Is he the one that brought it up?”

 

 

Sophrina blinked.  “Actually, he seemed surprisingly upbeat about the whole thing.  He

 

mentioned the gold seemed an odd touch, but all in all the episode seemed to change his

 

mind about Jeremy.  He thought the gold was maybe Jeremy just really trying to grab our

 

attention.”

 

 

“I was thinking the same thing.”  Mary stared at the dull glow that seemed to float above

 

the gold brick.  “It’s hard to look a gift horse in the mouth.”

 

 

Her mom gave her a strange look.  “That’s one way to put it.”

 

 

*     *    *

 

 

The following week, as Mary sat in morning sun on the front step, Officer Sam pulled

 

into the drive.  His cruiser came to rest in a crush of gravel.

 

 

He clomped in his boots up the sidewalk and stood in front of her with his hands balled

 

on his hips.  “Good morning, Mary.”

 

 

Mary arranged herself so that his hatted head was centered in front of the sun, so she

 

could look up at him without having to squint so hard.  Little coronas of flame framed his

 

face. 

 

 

“Got a minute?”  Officer Sam pulled off his hat.

 

 

Mary shrugged.  “Sure.”

 

 

He played his fingers along his cap bill.  “Have I told you I started a catchment map

 

down at the precinct?”

 

 

“What’s a catchment?’

 

 

His voice rose.  “That’s the area we would expect to find more parts, based on where we

 

have already found parts, expected mileage on one tank of gas, etcetera.”  He looked to

 

see if she was following him, and added, “I’ve also started vehicle reconstruction.  They

 

gave me space at the depot.  I’m going to put your Dad’s truck back together.  That

 

baby’s going to come together right there.”

 

 

“Wow,” Mary said.

 

 

“Yeah.”  Officer Sam smiled at the ground.  He looked around and then slapped his hat

 

back on his head.   “All right.”

 

 

He started to back away and held up a finger.  “Just wait right there.  I’ll be right back.” 

 

He moved quickly around the back of his cruiser and lifted the trunk.  When he stepped

 

back out from behind the vehicle, the sun caught whatever it was in his hands with such a

 

bright pulse that it raised black spots in front of Mary’s eyes.

 

 

Officer Sam’s boots crunched closer, then thumped on the cement, and came to a stop. 

 

 

When the spots cleared, Mary saw what he was holding.  Two wide shanks of chrome,

 

attached, like wings or horns, to a middle stem.  She blinked several times. 

 

 

“The hood ornament to Jeremy’s truck?”

 

 

Officer Sam nodded.  “Someone found it down near Lacy Lake.”  He raised both

 

eyebrows.  “Do you know Mr. Jeremy’s whereabouts?”

 

 

“His whereabouts?”

 

 

Officer Sam frowned.  “Yeah, you know, where he is?”

 

 

“Not exactly.”

 

 

“But you have talked to him?”

 

 

“Not since last week when he was over at the house.  When you were there.”

 

 

Officer Sam nodded grimly.  “So you don’t know where he is?”

 

 

Mary shook her head.  “Honestly, no.”

 

 

Officer Sam drew a deep breath.  “I hate to tell you this, then, Mary.  We need to

 

entertain the idea that your Mr. Jeremy has also disappeared.”

 

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

That night Jeepers called.

 

 

“How’s the experiment going?” Mary asked.

 

 

“Not so good.  I’m having all sorts of problems.”

 

 

“Mmm.  Sorry.”

 

 

“Yeah.  What’s new with you?”

 

 

Mary flopped backward on her bed. 

 

 

“You won’t believe this.  Jeremy – the collector – he’s gone missing.”

 

 

 “ . . . And in a related story,” Jeepers said, mimicking a newscaster, Harry Gilmore’s

 

Jeremy chair was found in the middle of a four way intersection in downtown Southville

 

today.

 

 

Mary laughed.  “I know, right!”   She lay back and crossed one ankle over the other. 

 

“Oh!  I almost forgot the most amazing news!  Jeremy signed us up with a company that

 

wants to manufacture my dad’s chairs, and he brought us a huge signing bonus . . . in

 

gold!”

 

 

“Wow!”  Jeepers’ voice sounded strange.

 

 

“Can you believe he brought it in gold?” Mary tried.  “He had two money bags, like the

 

ones security guards at banks use.  In one, he had a gold bar that was as big as my foot. 

 

The other was full of gold coins.”

 

 

“That’s awesome,” Jeepers rallied.

 

 

“It’s gonna allow my Mom to stop working at the factory.”

 

 

“Excellent,” Jeepers said.

 

 

“Isn’t it strange that Jeremy brought us all that money in gold?  I mean, who does that

 

nowadays?”

 

 

“The guy’s a weirdo,” Jeepers kidded.  “Bringing you bags of gold.  I hope I never run

 

into him.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

“What do you think happened to Jeremy?” Jeepers asked.  “And, by the way, how do

 

they know he’s missing?  Maybe he’s just hiding from the police?”

 

 

“You know, that’s a good point.”  Mary rested her hand on her cheek.  “Officer Sam said

 

that a relative of Jeremy’s called in a missing person report.  Jeremy travels all the time,

 

so I don’t know why a relative would all of a sudden report him missing.  But, the big

 

evidence is that someone found the hood ornament to his truck.”

 

 

“So, Officer Sam broke the news.  How is Officer Protect and Serve these days?”

 

 

“You know, I think he’s softening.”

 

 

“What do you mean, like butter?”

 

 

“No.”  Mary laughed.  “When he started to talk to me about Jeremy being missing, he

 

actually seemed like he cared.”

 

 

“Maybe he liked the gold Jeremy piled on your kitchen counter?”

 

 

Mary let her head drop against a pillow.  She wound a strand of her hair around a finger. 

 

“He says he’s building a catchment map.” 

 

 

“Makes sense.  Looking for a pattern.”

 

 

“You know what a catchment is?”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“Of course you do.  Why do I even ask?  Anyway,  he’s also going to try to

 

reconstruct the truck, down at the depot.  They gave him space.”

 

 

“He’s going to have to find a lot more parts.  What are there so far, a wheel and two

 

mirrors?”

 

 

Mary nodded as if Jeepers were there.  “He’s looking for the wrong thing, I think.  He’s

 

looking in the wrong place.  He’s looking for a truck, not my dad.”

 

 

“I agree,” Jeepers said.  He added, “I’m not sure he’s looking for the right reason, either.”

 

 

“What do you mean?”

 

 

“It’s like he worships your mom.”

 

 

“I know,” Mary said.  “I know.”

*     *     *

 

 

“So,” Jeepers got them back on track.  “Someone found Jeremy’s hood ornament?” 

 

 

“Down by Lacy Lake.”

 

 

“You mean, just like they’ve been finding pieces of your Dad’s truck?”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“And they know it’s his because . . . ?”

 

 

“Jeremy had a special hood ornament.  It’s not a Chevy or a Ford.  It’s this big chrome

 

one that looks like wings or horns.”

 

 

“Wow, fancy.”

 

 

“I know.”

 

 

“But, it’s not like finding a wheel.  You can take a hood ornament off.”  Jeepers took a

 

moment to think.  “So, what do you think, do you think he’s actually missing?”

 

 

Mary, lying back on her bed, looked across the room at the rear view mirror from her

 

Dad’s truck that sat on the shelf above her desk.  Images from the day she found it

 

popped up in her head.  Jeremy, over her shoulder, his face reflected in each of the

 

little pieces of glass.  Dozens of little Jeremy faces.  His irrepressible smile.

 

 

“I don’t know, Jeepers,” Mary said.  “I just don’t know.”

 

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

A few days later, Jeremy phoned.

 

 

“Jeremy!” Mary exclaimed.  “Officer Sam told me he was afraid you’d gone missing.”

 

 

“Missing?”

 

 

Mary hopped enthusiastically onto the couch.  “He said someone found your hood

 

ornament down by Lacy Lake, and a relative reported you missing.”

 

 

“The scoundrel.”

 

 

“Officer Sam?”

 

 

“No, whoever stole my hood ornament.”

 

 

“Oh.”  Mary nodded at the phone.  “Officer Sam has it, so you can get it the next time

 

you’re in town.”

 

 

“I also would like to dispel the rumor that I am missing.”

 

 

“Dispel away.”

 

 

“All I do is travel.  Why would a relative report me missing?”

 

 

“Anyway, talking to you on the phone pretty much proves your point.  Wait, do you even

 

have relatives?”

 

 

Jeremy didn’t answer.  “I’m calling because I’ve arranged a meeting.”

 

 

“What kind of meeting?’

 

 

“A man, a very important man.  He has many connections in the world of art and

 

collectibles.  He can make your father a household name with the wave of a hand.”

 

 

“Wow.”

 

 

“Just like I promised, right?”

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“Is your Mom home?”

 

 

“No.”

 

 

“All right.  Listen, I’ve arranged a meeting for Friday morning, ten o’clock.  I will call

 

and let your mom know the details.  You guys don’t need to do anything but be there. 

 

You don’t need to worry about anything.  Okay?”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“Okey-doke,” he said.  “”You’re going to be there, right?”

 

 

Mary blinked.  “Yes.”

 

 

“Okay.  I’m relying on you.”

 

 

“Aren’t you going to be there?”

 

 

“I’m just saying, you’re my expert, okay?  Nobody knows Harry Gilmore’s chairs better

 

than you.”

 

 

Mary waited for him to say more.  He seemed on the verge of saying something different.

 

 

“Mary, remember our earlier talk about how important your father’s journals and

 

drawings are?” 

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“If anything happens, I need you to remember that talk.  If anything happens, make sure

 

the journals are safe.”

 

 

“What do you mean, if anything happens?”

 

 

“You know, you never know what might happen.  All I’m saying is how important

 

the journals and drawings are.  In a way, they make the chairs immortal, and if they do

 

that, then what do they do for your Dad?”

 

 

Mary nodded into the phone.

 

 

“All right then,” Jeremy said.

 

 

“I’ll see you Friday,” Mary said.

 

 

“You’re my wings,” Jeremy answered.  “Never forget.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

That night, Mary had a dream.  She found herself sitting on her bike in front of Jimmy’s

 

former house.  She stared at the black-eyed house, then swiveled on her bicycle seat. 

 

Across the street stretched a large tract of woods.  Now that the woods  behind Jimmy’s

 

house had burned down, these were the last large tracts of forest in the county. 

 

 

An armada of thunderheads hung above the forgotten trees.  Mary coasted to

 

the opposite side of the road, came to a stop on the concrete shoulder.   Leaning forward,

 

elbows flat against the handlebars, Mary peered toward the tree line.  She tapped a finger

 

against her chin.

 

 

“Hmm.”   She noticed a little dark round of wood in the grass.  Setting down her bike

 

and picking up the little round, she set it on her palm.  “A wren.”

 

 

She walked toward the woods.  Several paces into the woods she found another little

 

carved bird.  She moved deeper into the trees.

 

 

She came to a thicket of mountain laurel.  When she burst through the laurel, she stepped  

 

into a clearing, where she found two men.  One sat on the carcass of a tree, over the

 

remains of a dead fire.   He held a stick to the coals.  The tip of the long thin stick glowed

 

red.  The other sat in a tree.  A knife in one hand, a round of wood in the other, face

 

wrung round by leaves and a squirrel on his head.  The squirrel’s tail curled down around

 

the man’s jaw, like a beard.  He smiled down, a nearly toothless grin, at Mary.

 

 

“. . . Rowlf?”

 

 

Rowlf cocked his head.  The squirrel hopped to a nearby branch and scuttled away.

 

 

The other man’s head jerked sharply.  His chin stabbed higher.  His nose worked the air.

 

 

Mary gasped.  “You!”

 

 

His eyes were white.  Not an iris or pupil between them.  The man turned his headlamp

 

eyes on her.  Mary froze, her feet anchored to coffee brown dirt.  She looked back at

 

Rowlf.   “Rowlf?” she said again.

 

 

Rowlf held out his bird carving and knife.

 

 

“Don’t you remember me?” Mary asked.  “Rowlf, don’t you?” 

 

 

She asked him again.  Before he could answer, she woke up.

 

 

*     *     *

 

The next day, Mary made a bee-line to the woods across the road from Jimmy’s.  She

 

didn’t find any little wood carvings.  But she made her way into the trees and delved

 

deeper, until she smelled smoke.  She followed the scent to a clearing and when she burst

 

into the clearing found a man sitting on a fallen tree, holding a stick in the remains of a

 

burnt out fire.

 

 

Mary stepped on a twig.  At the snap, the man’s head popped up.  He scented the air with

 

his nose.

 

 

He pulled something from the pocket of his military jacket, a small paper pad and pencil. 

 

He leaned down and held the pad in the dirt under his boot and wrote on it and then

 

motioned for her to come closer.

 

 

Mary Gilmore? He had written.

 

 

Mary nodded, but then realized he couldn’t see her.  “Yes,” she said, weakly.

 

 

He wrote on his pad.  Ask.

 

 

“I am looking for a man named Rowlf.”

 

 

Ask, he wrote again.

 

 

“Do you know him?”

 

 

Dangler nodded.

 

 

Mary blinked at him.  “Do you know where he is?”

 

 

Dangler nodded.

 

 

“Where?” 

 

 

Dangler dragged a finger across his throat in a cutting motion. 

 

 

Mary stared at him in horror.

 

 

When she didn’t say anything, he wrote, Dead.

 

 

“Why do you say that?”

 

 

 Burned to a blackened spine.  He smiled and when Mary didn’t say anything,

 

wrote something else.

 

 

Burned alive. Imagine the exquisite agony?  His smile revealed a small picket fence of

 

rotten teeth.

 

 

Mary looked for something to focus on.  She read the name sewn on the pocket of his

 

Army jacket.  “Dangler, right?” 

 

 

He nodded, yes.

 

 

”You don’t have an arm.”  Mary answered, shakily.  “You can’t see.  Are those war

 

injuries?”

 

 

The man frowned deeply.

 

 

“Listen, I have something I need to ask you about . . .”

 

 

Mary spoke hurriedly.  “Three years ago my Dad disappeared . . . “

 

 

The homeless man scowled at Mary.  What few stringy wisps of hair he had lay matted to

 

his dried-walnut skull.

 

 

“So . . . “ Mary continued fast as she could.  “I’m looking for my Dad but Rowlf might be

 

a clue to what happened to my Dad because the other thing I forgot to tell you is the

 

police found part of my Dad’s truck near the woods where I found Rowlf.  I thought

 

maybe if you were in an accident as well . . . “

 

 

The man didn’t answer.  He scowled.  Those white eyes staring up in his own skull. 

 

White strings of dried spit stretched between his lips.

 

 

Dangler had a rope coiled around his shoulder.  He pulled the rope off his shoulder and

 

motioned her to come closer.  Mary backed away. 

 

 

He madly wrote something on his note pad, then motioned her closer.  When he handed

 

her the note, his upper lip twitched. 

 

 

I have a trick to show you too, the note read.  My best trick. I think you’re going to like

 

this one.   He smiled as if she were about to see the trick of her life.

 

 

He held one end of the rope between his teeth, and then started to twirl the noose end

 

with his only hand.  He let out more play in the rope.  It was getting long enough to reach

 

Mary.

 

 

He widened his stance in the loose dirt, twirled the rope furiously, and then cocked it

 

back over his head, ready to throw. 

 

 

Mary froze.  Dangler threw the noose and lassoed Mary’s arm.  She screamed and

 

pulled away.  Dangler pulled back and the rope bit Mary’s wrist.

 

 

Mary screamed.  She sank her heals into the dirt and pulled back on the rope.  Dangler

 

jerked.  His arm moved in a loop so the rope caught his wrist as well.  He sat back on air

 

and yanked.  The rope flayed the skin off of Mary’s wrist.   

 

 

Dangler used his booted foot to anchor the rope while he pulled Mary toward him.  Mary

 

fell to her knees and skidded across dirt and stones.  He dragged her until her knees met

 

the stone fire ring.

 

 

From her knees Mary stared, mouth and eyes agape, up at Dangler.  His wicked grin

 

shown down on her.  His noxious breath feathered her hair back. 

 

 

Mary waited, but he just hung over her.

 

 

She curled away from him, and stood, slapping away clouds of dirt from her pants. 

 

 

“Why did you do that?”  Mary’s voice rose.  “Why did you hurt me?”

 

 

Dangler wrote something on his pad and tore the note off.  He threw it at Mary.

 

 

Mary picked up the dirt spotted note and read.  Because.

 

 

“Because?   What kind of reason is that?”

 

 

Dangler smiled at her.  He shrugged and walked away.  He quickly turned back and

 

scrawled off  another note.   Show me where your Father is.”

 

 

Mary blinked at him.  “What?”

 

 

Dangler sneered at her.

 

 

Mary’s abdomen tightened like the noose around her wrist.  “What . . . what makes you

 

say that?” 

 

 

Dangler made a heh-heh sound.  He whipped off another note and threw it at her.  I know

 

that you know where he is.

 

 

Mary shook her head in disbelief.  “Where?”

 

 

The abyss.

 

 

“The abyss?”

 

 

He nodded.

 

 

“I don’t know what you are talking about.”

 

 

He just stared at her, his white eyes like spinning discs.

 

 

Mary held out her wrist.  “You show me.”

 

 

The man held up the noose end of his rope.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

He led her to a nearby ravine.  She stopped and pulled back.  He nodded his head to

 

indicate the ravine.  She shook her head.  “I don’t understand.”

 

 

He held the rope under his armpit.  He pulled the paper out of his pocket, wrote . . . he is

 

down there.  Don’t you see him?

 

 

Her stomach tightened.  She shook her head.

 

 

He jutted his chin at the ravine.

 

 

She shook her head again.

 

 

He pulled roughly on the rope to jerk her toward the edge.   He narrowed his eyes.

 

 

Mary peered over the edge.  She saw the tops of trees.  Rocks.  A mighty river thin from

 

above.

 

 

“Uh,” Dangler grunted.

 

 

“No.”

 

 

“Uh!”

 

 

“No!”  Mary broke into sobs and fell to her knees.

 

 

Dangler practically yelled.  “Uh-uhn-uh-uuuuuuuh!”

 

 

“I don’t see him!” 

 

 

For several minutes, Dangler stared into the ravine.  Through tears Mary looked up at

 

him.  Sunlight angled from the side and when it hit his eyes, turned them translucent. 

 

Mary could see to their silver core.

 

 

Dangler’s eyes opened wide.  His forehead slackened and his mouth hung open.  He

 

dropped the rope.

 

 

“What?”  Mary said.

 

 

He blinked.

 

 

“What?” she said again.

 

 

He turned and stumbled toward the trees.

 

 

Mary stood.

 

 

Dangler walked into a tree, bounced off, and stumbled away, into the woods.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

That night Mary began a dream.  She heard the repetitive slap of running feet, the sharp

 

rasp of breath.  A pale face, brow beaded with sweat, white eyes spinning.  A wall of

 

flame rose in front of the face.  The man’s mouth opened into a silent wail that turned

 

into a long wailing siren that startled Mary awake.    

 

 

The night spun red and white outside the window.  Mary arrived at her window as the fire

 

trucks flew by on Ingles Road. 

 

 

She slipped on her tennis shoes and ran out the door.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

As she aproached Jimmy’s house, she saw the red glow on the horizon.  The trucks were

 

in the field across from Jimmy’s house, the firemen as if in a replay of the recent fire

 

behind Jimmy’s, fighting the same dancing flames with their same puny threads of water. 

 

Doing their dance in their yellow slickers.

 

 

Mary watched the wall of flame, like a curtain of orange and yellow water behind which

 

everything swam, whipped, bent and dissolved.  She spied behind that wall the figure of a

 

straining man, head and coat engulfed in flame, arm grasping for safety, eyes white to his

 

fate, head tipped back in the exquisite agony of it all.

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

The following Wednesday, just one week before the last day of the summer  break, Mary

 

sat on the front step of her house when Officer Sam’s cruiser crunched into the driveway

 

and rolled to a stop.  Mary closed her eyes and listened to the pop of the car door.  She

 

listened to the crunch of his boots on the gravel.

 

 

When Mary opened her eyes, she saw the gleaming tips of his black boots on the white

 

cement sidewalk.  Mirrored aviator-style glasses shielded his eyes.  The brim of his hat

 

cast a sharp shadow that reached his square jaw.  One hand at rest on his pistol grip, he

 

looked down at her.

 

 

“Morning, Mary.”

 

 

She could not read his eyes.  Instead, she saw her own head, doubled and afloat in his

 

mirrored lenses, like sunspots on his face.

 

 

He composed his biggest, whitest smile.  “What are you doing?”

 

 

“Nothing.”

 

 

“Did I miss your Mom?”

 

 

“She’s already at the library.  She took Franny’s shift this morning.”

 

 

Officer Sam nodded.  He removed his sunglasses.  “Happy to be back to working just one

 

job, huh?”  He looked at his boots, and then toward the horizon, where Ingles Road

 

disappeared into the softening sky.

 

 

“Mary, what did you know about Dangler?”     

 

 

“Just that he was in the War.”

 

 

“What a lot of people didn’t know about him, was that he believed that he was

 

unfinished.”

 

 

“Unfinished?”

 

 

Officer Dan squinted at the ground.  “His father took off when he was twelve years old,

 

so Dangler quit school and took a job.  Passed himself off as fourteen.  He joined the

 

army as soon as he could, at sixteen.  When his platoon was killed and he was injured 

 

in Vietnam, he was eighteen years old.  He came home blind, mute, minus an arm.  He

 

felt like his life was over before it began, is what he told me.  Never had a girlfriend. 

 

Never again held a job.  It was as if he was allowed to live only up to a certain point, and

 

then not allowed to progress any further than that.  As if he was unfinished.”

 

 

Officer Sam scowled.  “The thing that I don’t get, is that he developed some strange

 

delusion that your father was the one person who could put him right.”

 

 

Mary blinked at the ground.  “What do you mean, put him right?”

 

 

“I don’t know why, Mary, I don’t know if it’s because your Dad was a chair maker, or if

 

it was because he gave his chairs names, the guy was insane, there’s no doubt about it

 

that he was over the edge, but for whatever reason, Dangler believed that your Dad could

 

put him back together.  That he could finish him.”

 

 

Mary stared at the ground for a minute.

 

 

“It’s why he was a person of interest in your father’s disappearance.  The main person of

 

interest.”

 

 

Mary continued to stare at the ground.

 

 

Officer Sam lifted a hand to touch her shoulder, but scratched behind his ear instead. 

 

“You okay, Mary?”

 

 

She nodded.

 

 

“Hey.  I’ve got something new to show you.”  He moved back to his cruiser where he

 

wrestled something out of the back seat of the car.  He set it heavily, vertically, in the

 

dirt.  It was a tomato red truck door.

 

 

“My Dad’s door?”  Mary squinted at it.

 

 

Officer Sam nodded.  “We scoured the ravine, where Dangler said your father’s body

 

would be.  He said he knew where your father’s body was.  I knew nothing that man said

 

would be true.  Your father’s body wasn’t where Dangler said it would be.  We did find

 

this nearby.”  He indicated the door.  “But, we’ve found parts of his truck pretty much

 

everywhere we’ve looked.”  Officer Sam shook his head. 

 

 

Mary’s eyes welled tears.  She bit her lip and shook her head.

 

 

Officer Sam moved the door back into his cruiser.  He stood back in front of her with his

 

hands on his hips.  “I’m sorry, Mary.  We’ll keep looking.”

 

 

*     *     *

 

 

That night, Mary flopped on her bed with her Dad’s first sketch journal.  She crossed her

 

legs, and flipped through the first pages. 

 

 

Mary stared at an unfinished sketch of a chair, missing an arm and, inexplicably, having

 

two white holes poked through the back.  Mary read the name, crossed out, but legible

 

under the pen lines.  Dangler.  

 

                                                                        *     *     *

 

When she finally slipped into sleep, Mary had a long and elaborate dream.  It began with

 

Jeremy calling to tell her he had set up a meeting in NY.  He said that the man they would 


meet would make her Dad's chairs famous.  A household name.  Mary and her Mom would


be comfortable for the rest of their lives.



The dream switched to Mary telling Jeepers that she and her Mom had to fly to New York,

 

but that she was afraid to fly.  Jeepers told her not to worry about flying.  



"I was afraid of flying so I researched it.  I discovered that the physics of flying is really sound."


"Really?"


"What?"


"Only you Jeepers."  Mary shook her head.  "Tell me."



"If you could squirt food coloring into the aerodynamic stream you would see that what it looks like 


is that as you lift off into the sky your plane is supported by a giant hand."



Mary thought of this as her plane lifted off, and it made her smile.  She spent the flight seated by the 


window, watching towering clouds like light filled balloons, as she rode them like waves in a limitless sky.

 


When the plane landed, Mary stepped into a light strewn gallery.  The walls and floors shown with the honeyed tones of wood.

Spelled across the back wall in big letters was a sign that read, Harry Gilmore, Inc., 25th Anniversary Special Edition Release.

Another wall was dominated by a larger than life silk screen picture of her Dad in his studio, looking much the way he did the 

last time she saw him.  Hat pulled low, smiling down on her.


A man who looked just like Rowlf greeted her.  He wore a fine suit with his hair swept cooly to the side.  He had teeth.


In the middle of the floor were four chairs, the Rowlf, the Jeremy, the Jimmy and the Laura.  She smiled warmly at the chairs.


She felt as if Jimmy's freckled face was smiling back up at her, telling her, "I didn't want to leave, they made me."

 

The evening came to an end.  Mary's daughter, Rosemary, and husband, Jason came to find her.


"I'll go pull the car up," Jason said


Mary scooped up her daughter and held her in front of the silkscreen of her Dad.


She thought of the words she said to Jimmy the night of the fire.  "Isn't that right?  Isn't that where he is?  Up in the sky,


looking down on me.  Always watching over me?"


"This is your grandfather," Mary told Rosemary.  "He's watching over us."


Rosemary nodded.  


Mary climbed into the waiting car with her husband and daughter.  "Ready?" Jason asked.  Mary nodded.  He floored it,


and they drove until the car disappeared into the night.

 

                                                                        *     *     *

 

The next morning, Mary was laying on the couch petting Ruffin when the doorbell rang. 

 

When Mary opened the door, she found a handsome young man standing there.  He had

 

natural cherry wood colored hair and held a glass vase in which sat one beautiful flower.

 

 

“Hi Mary.”

 

 

Mary blinked at him.  “Jeepers?”

 

 

He smiled crookedly.

 

 

“Where are your glasses?”

 

 

“I’ve decided to change my image.”  He lifted his chin and smiled.  “Contact lenses.”

 

 

“You sure look different,” Mary said.

 

 

He blinked a few more times.

 

 

“What’s that?” Mary asked, indicating the vase.

 

 

“That’s for you.”  He offered the vase and flower to Mary.


 

 "Did you  make this?"



"Yes."



“Thank you.”  Mary sniffed the flower, which had a wonderful, earthy sweetness. 

 

“What’s that for?”

 

 

Jeepers blushed and looked briefly at his feet.  “I wanted to thank you.”

 

 

“For what?”

 

 

“Well, I was thinking.”  He blushed again and scuffed his shoe at the floor.  “I guess I’m

 

always thinking.”  He started over.  “I was thinking about you . . . “  He paused.  “And I

 

was thinking about how weird you must think I am, with my experiments, and my

 

incessant explanations.”

 

 

Mary smiled.

 

 

“I mean, I know it’s not normal.”

 

 

Mary stepped back and pulled the door open.  “Listen, why don’t you come in?”

 

 

A big grin spread across Jeepers’ face.  “Yeah?”

 

 

“Come on, I’ll get us a couple of Cokes.”

 

 

“Okay.”

 

 

“Have a seat over there, Jeepers.”  She set the vase with flower on the dining room

 

sideboard.  “I’ll be right back.”

 

 

“Okay.  Hey, Mary?”

 

 

“Yeah, Jeepers.”

 

 

“Would you mind calling me Jason?”

 

 

Mary turned at the door to the kitchen and stared at his sturdy boy face and gentle, kind 


features.



He stood awkwardly by the door, one hand in his pocket, one hand casually on his hip.

 

 

“My real name,” he smiled.

 

 

“I know.  I’ll be right back with your drink.  Jason.”

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