home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add


Cat Cross Their Graves

Dulcie was not near anyones phone, she was crouched in Genelle Yardley's garden, the wind carrying the smell of bacon to her so powerfully that her pink tongue stuck out, tasting that lovely scent. Peering down from among the boulders, enduring her hunger with what she considered incredible fortitude, she studied the little group on the terrace. The child and the two women had taken forever to finish that lovely feast; and still they lingered, pushing back their empty plates. The morning was brightening, dawn chasing back the shadows, bringing up the bright yellows of the acacia trees and broom bushes so that, in spite of the gray and stormy sky, the garden appeared to be washed with the magic warmth of sunshine. How intently Cora Lee was watching Lori.

Surely Cora Lee was curious about this child who had made such an early visit to Genelle, but her interest seemed far more than that. Cora Lee seemed quite enchanted with the frail, brown-haired child whose dark eyes burned so very big and intense in that pale little face.

Did Cora Lee see herself in Lori? A gangling little girl adventuring out in the night all alone, as Cora Lee might have done when she was a child? Did Cora Lee see a child filled with her own bold spirit? But a child very frightened now.

Dulcie worried sometimes about Cora Lee. Since her friend had been attacked last year, and hurt so badly that her spleen had to be removed, she had seemed frail indeed. Cora Lee no longer had the stamina and strength that had sustained her when she could work most of the day at waitress jobs, paint stage sets in the evenings and on weekends, found time to rehearse, and at night had belted out wonderful songs in the productions of Molena Point Little Theater.

Watching Cora Lee rise at last to leave, Dulcie supposed that someone else from the seniors' group would come later to clean up the dishes and help Genelle dress for the day. Without the assistance of those four ladies, and of Charlie's cleaning service, Genelle would long ago have moved to a nursing home, an idea she detested. Dulcie wondered if Friends of the Library, and Charlie and Wilma and the older ladies, still meant to have the special tea for Genelle-and if Genelle would feel well enough to attend her own party.

Wilma said it seemed barbaric to enjoy a lovely party in the face of Patty's death. But, she said, it was after all Patty Rose's party; Patty and the volunteer group had planned it and, even from her grave, Patty would pitch a fit if the party was canceled; Wilma was quite certain of that.

As Cora Lee left the terrace and garden, slipping out through the front gate, Genelle glanced up to the back of the garden, not for the first time, and far too intently for Dulcie's comfort. Genelle was watching her.

But why? To Genelle she was only an ordinary cat; the old lady could have no notion that she had followed Lori's scent here to the garden and was listening to every word. She had, heading up through the night for the seniors' house while searching for the kit, stumbled suddenly across Lori's scent. A trail as clear as, to a human, would have been a path of stones. Leaping through the wrought-iron gate into Genelle's garden, she'd had no idea why the child was out in the night. What could the child possibly want badly enough to disturb an old woman in the middle of the night, an old woman dying of lung cancer? Genelle's fatigue was plain to see in her pale color, in her labored breathing and the slow clumsiness of her movements. Several times during breakfast she had turned on her oxygen and held the mask up to her face for a few moments, her body rigid with her distress.

But now down at the gate, Cora Lee was coming back, letting herself in again, hurrying across to the terrace. "Lori?"

Lori watched her apprehensively.

"You don't really want to walk down that hill alone." Cora Lee took Lori's hand. "Have you run away, Lori?"

Lori didn't answer.

"Okay. If we don't ask questions," Cora Lee said, "if we don't pry, will you stay with us? You could come home with me; we have lots of room, and two nice dogs for company."

Lori's cheeks flushed; she looked and looked at Cora Lee, and lifted her hand as if to touch Cora Lee's hand, but she didn't reach out. "I have to go back. All my things are there, I have to go back. I I'll be fine."

Dulcie wanted to race down the garden and shake the child, tell her to go with Cora Lee, tell her this might be her one opportunity to keep herself safe. Why was she so reluctant? What was she afraid of? At times, this morning, fear had seemed to spill out of the child so powerfully and yet she did not want Cora Lee and Genelle to help her.

Surely coming here in the dark seeking out Genelle had not been, in any way, asking for grown-up protection. There was something else involved, Dulcie was sure of it.

"Lori?" Cora Lee said softly. "You can get your things, I'll come with you. You can stay with Genelle or with me."

"I I have to go back. I can't I have a nice place."

Cora Lee looked steadily at Lori. "Then I'll get my car, and take you there when you're ready."

"No, I"

Genelle put her hand on Lori's. "Cora Lee can keep a secret. And so can I. Child, it would be so nice having someone here with me. Someone who cares, to stay with me, read with me. And for you Even if you were to go back, wouldn't it be nice to have someone who knows you're safe, someone who cares about you? Where is it, child? Where are you hiding?"

Lori looked at Genelle for a long time. "The library basement," she whispered at last, so faintly that Dulcie could barely hear her. "A hole in the basement."

But Genelle laughed out loud, a shout of laughter that startled them all. She choked and coughed, and had to have oxygen again, and was still laughing.

When finally she was better, she looked at Lori. "I used to play there, that was my hiding place, that basement. When I was your age and younger. The hiding hole under the alley."

Lori's eyes had widened; she was very still.

"I grew up in that house, Lori. Before it was the library. I used to play in the basement. That little part under the alley was open then, with a door. It was a walkway long ago, even before my time. A walkway for the servants to go back and forth. But how are you getting in? It was all bricked up. Bricked up from both sides. How?"

"I take the bricks out," Lori said. "In the wall of the library workroom. They were loose, they were just fitted in."

"And you just walk into the library through the front door? And go down and?"

Lori shook her head. "I go in one of the sidewalk windows." She looked up at the sky, which was now bright silver. "Before it gets light, though. Before the library opens." She shifted nervously.

"I will take you down the hill when you want to go back," Cora Lee said. She looked at her watch. "But it is getting light, Lori."

"Sometimes I go in when it's open, then I hang around the children's room."

"If I'm with you, it will be different. We'll get you safe inside. I'll just get my car," Cora Lee said, touching the child's shoulder. "I'll be a few minutes, time to shower and dress properly."

But Cora Lee's answer made Dulcie smile. Cora Lee hadn't said she'd allow Lori to say there, and she hadn't said she wouldn't. Dulcie watched the little scene, wondering. Strange, Lori seemed far more frightened this morning. But maybe it was being so far away from the library, up here in the hills in the dark that had scared her. A journey into a strange neighborhood in the middle of the night would be far more stressful than slipping out to run the shore at dawn.

Down at the table, the child looked very nervous, as if she'd like to disappear before Cora Lee got back. Was she afraid Cora Lee wouldn't let her stay there after all, wouldn't let her return to her cave? Dulcie was fidgeting, herself, shifting from paw to paw with curiosity and with worry.

Lori settled down into her chair as if she had decided to cooperate. She looked as if she burned to ask Genelle something. Something that now, when Cora Lee would so soon return, filled her with anxiety. Genelle remained very still, watching Lori. Dulcie, fascinated, slipped closer.

After a little silence, Lori said, "You worked for my pa."

"Yes, until I retired four years ago. You and your mama had already moved to North Carolina. I imagine you missed him, while you lived there."

Lori didn't answer.

"He was a quiet man." Genelle studied the child. "Or he turned quiet."

Lori looked at her with interest. Then, disconcerted, she speared the last two pancakes in a frenzy of movement, slathered on butter, and poured on a deep pool of syrup.

"Was he quiet when you were little, when you were together?"

Lori spoke with her mouth full. "He used to laugh and we went to the park and the beach and he played ball with me, helped me build sand castles. He and Mama laughed a lot."

"When did he change?" Genelle said softly.

Watching them, Dulcie slipped closer still, down the garden through the bushes, to pause just above the terrace. Listening, she grew so intent that a beetle crawled across her paw in absolute safety, the tiny morsel totally ignored. When Lori didn't answer her, Genelle said, "I worked for Vincent and Reed for thirty years. At the reception desk, just in front of Jack's office. You used to come in, you and your mama. The three of you would go out to lunch."

Lori nodded. "There was a tall plant in the room, like a tree, next to your desk, and that room had yellow walls, like butter. We always had our lunch at that little cabin place; I liked their spaghetti."

Genelle nodded. "I took Jack's dictation, typed his letters, did the billing. Learned to use the computer when we changed over." The old lady seemed, in her own way, as hesitant as the child. Something unseen was sparking between them, some unspoken truth that made Dulcie's heart pound.

Dulcie knew Vincent and Reed Electrical from seeing their trucks around the village, and because they had done some work for Wilma when she'd enclosed the carport; Jack Reed had put in their electric garage-door opener. He was a tall man, well over six feet, she thought, very thin, and he walked with a twisting limp. He always looked shy, and he was very quiet. He did work for Ryan Flannery Construction sometimes; she'd heard Ryan say he was reliable. Interesting, Dulcie thought, how much a cat could pick up hanging out with humans.

"I was sorry to see your dad's brother leave so suddenly," Genelle said. "I liked Hal, none of us had any idea he'd take off like that. I always wondered if they'd had a falling-out, he and Jack. But it would have to be a very serious matter for two brothers to remain parted for so long."

When Lori didn't answer, Genelle put her arm around the child. "I liked to think of the company as Reed, Reed, and Vincent, that was my private name for it. Your father is a good man, Lori. A gentle, good man. I haven't seen much of Jack since I retired."

"When did he Why did he He wasn't always"

"Angry?" Genelle asked.

"Yes, angry!" Lori said fiercely, her voice bursting out. "Like he hates me."

"He doesn't hate you, how could he hate you? You are his joy. He had pictures of you all over his office; he used to tell little stories about you, how you loved to chase the seagulls, how well you could read before you ever started kindergarten so they put you in first grade, how good you were at arithmetic, years ahead of the other kids."

"It was after Uncle Hal left," Lori said. "After that, Pa was always angry. Like he hated the world."

"After your Uncle Hal left?"

Lori nodded. Genelle took Lori's hand in both of hers. Lori looked up at her as if she wanted to say more, to tell her something she couldn't bring herself to say.

"Do you remember their arguing, Lori? Do you remember anything about why Hal left?"

Lori shook her head quickly. "I was little. After he left, Pa didn't talk much. He didn't want me to go to school either, or go outdoors. That made Mama yell at him that I couldn't be a captive. And then after a long time, we went away."

"Did Hal ever phone your pa, or come back for a visit?"

Lori shook her head. "He was just gone. Before he went away, he used to always bring me candy. Once when no one else was in the room he wanted me to read to him but Pa came in and was real mad. I never did know why. I didn't do anything wrong. When Uncle Hal went fishing, he brought home tons of fish; we had to eat fish for weeks. Sometimes Mama let me eat in my room with my dolls, made me a jelly sandwich."

"He went fishing in the San Juan Islands," Genelle said. "He used to bring me smoked salmon, and I loved that. Jack said that's where he went when he left, back where he went every year.

"He left in September," Genelle said, "the year you were six. Seattle, Tacoma, or Canada, Jack said. He wasn't sure." And still there was something unspoken between Genelle and the child, something Lori was burning to tell the old woman, something she seemed afraid to tell.

Genelle breathed into her oxygen mask for a few moments, then pushed it away. "Now that Cora Lee has gone home, and before Mavity comes, do you want to tell me the rest of it? Tell me what you're holding back?"

Startled, Lori looked at her, very still.

"Why did you run away, Lori? Did Jack hurt you?"

Lori let out a breath, as if letting something hard and hurting escape. "He didn't hurt me, not that way. But he didn't talk to me, hardly. And he locked me in. Padlocked the doors and nailed plywood over the windows. And he was so angry all the time. I couldn't stand being shut in; I took some food and got out through the garage window, I broke it with a shovel."

Genelle nodded, as if this was not unusual behavior, as if she would have done the same. "Were you warm enough in the basement? It's cold as sin down there."

Lori nodded.

"How long have you been gone?"

"Ten days."

"You must have planned very well. What did you take to eat?"

"Canned plums, and canned beans," Lori said, making a face. "And peanut butter and jam." She glanced down at her empty plate. "Nothing like this, nothing hot and good."

Genelle looked harder at Lori. "And you came to me to learn why he locked you in?"

She nodded. "He took out the phone, too."

"But he didn't hurt you. Did he touch you in a bad way?"

"No. He never did that. I know about that from kids in the homes, they told all that at night when the lights were out."

"What does he do when he comes home from work? Does he go out again?"

"No, he stays in, locks the door, turns on the TV, but I don't think he sees it or hears it. Makes dinner from a can, then lies on his bed in his clothes and stares at the ceiling. He locked me in my room at eight." Her eyes grew huge, and very dark. "Why did he stop loving me? That's what I came to find out."

Farther up the garden, Dulcie licked at a tear. She could observe adult humans who had been maimed or killed and she might not turn a whisker. But to see this child, like a soft little kitten, hurt so in her spirit, that was a terrible thing. What did a child have if her spirit was shattered, if someone destroyed her true and living self?

And yet, Dulcie thought, Lori's spirit seemed in pretty good shape, considering. Look at how the child had taken action on her own, to protect herself. She was taking care of herself very well. Lori was, Dulcie decided, fighting back just fine.

"And what else?" Genelle said, taking Lori's hand in both of hers. "What else is it that so frightens you? That you can't bring yourself to tell me?"

Again Lori was silent, watching Genelle. At last, "The billfold," she whispered so softly that Dulcie wasn't sure what she had heard. "Uncle Hal's billfold." The child touched Genelle's hand. "And his belt and ring. I found them in the garage. The ring and belt that he always wore, that he never took off. His billfold that was always in his pocket. That, if he went away to go fishing, he would never leave behind.

"That's what scared me most," she said. "That those things of Uncle Hal's were there in our garage, Pa's garage, after Uncle Hall disap- After Uncle Hal was gone away."

| Cat Cross Their Graves | c