Tina was chatty, probably more than usual because of all the excitement. She told me about Mr Jenkins, how kind he had been and how he’d fixed her bike for her once. She mentioned her brother finding the body and that another brother had locked himself in his bedroom ever since.
I confess, she lost me in all the names. Jack had mentioned that his family was large – he hadn’t said how large. I counted at least five siblings by the time we parted company at my doorstep.
Tina was sweet. She left me with no idea how badly I was now feeling. Mama might be right, maybe it wasn’t really my fault but it sure felt like it. A nice old man was dead and he might not have been had I been here to do my job. Silently, I cursed myself, that stupid restaurant, the creature and everything else that I could rationalize blaming as I climbed the steps to our door.
I worked on the unpacking as Mama cooked. We hadn’t brought a fraction of what we had in the house in Tyler and yet it seemed like we’d brought twice as much as we packed. I had just finished the last of the good china in the dining room when Mama called me to the kitchen.
“Honey, would you like to go with me?” she asked as I peeked in.
“Sure Mama.” I answered, unsure why she’d even bothered to ask.
She took off her apron, “Let’s freshen up while it’s cooling.”
I nodded, following her from the room.
‘Freshen up’ is Southern for ‘get dressed properly’. It means going up one step in dress formality – or in our case, getting to ‘formality’. Not as easy done as said. My suitcase had been put in the car upside down and on its head thanks to my Daddy’s jigsaw puzzle theory of packing. All my neatly folded clothes were a wrinkled mess and I hadn’t yet had time to redo them. I shucked off my jeans and grabbed a nice skirt that was supposed to be wrinkled. I found a peasant blouse to go with it that looked okay. I hoped so, anyway.
Mama was impeccably dressed in a nice dress suit. Her clothes had been in a trunk in the moving van and were all in great shape. I got the casserole from the kitchen as she put on her hat and gloves – yes, Mama still does that. She says her mama always looked so elegant that way that she had looked forward to being old enough to wear gloves like a lady. Fashion changed before that day came so mama just decided not to be fashionable. I always admired her courage in that.
The casserole was safely in its carrier and we made our way to the neighbor’s house. Mama knocked on the door. Neither of us recognized the teenaged face that answered. From behind the boy Tina’s voice called to let us in.
The hallway was incredible. Every surface had been stenciled – it looked like one of those psychedelic Sixties posters on steroids. It was beautiful and dated at the same time. I grinned, knowing Mama would like it but never admit it.
Mike turned out to be our guide’s name. He escorted us inot the apartment on the left and to the kitchen where we found about a dozen people all busily chatting and doing whatnot. Mike got his mother’s attention and disappeared.
“Oh, my, I’m so sorry, I didn’t hear the bell.” Mrs Scarlotti apologized as she took off her apron and shooed away various kids.
Mama smiled warmly, “Not at all. I’m Evelyn Abernathy and this is my daughter Crystal. We don’t want to intrude. We just wanted you to have a little something from us to express our sympathy.”
“Oh, how thoughtful!” Mrs Scarlotti exclaimed, “Thank you…”
“I hope you like potatoes…” Mama began as she handed over the casserole.
The two matrons compared notes on casserole preparation, returning errant carriers, relative family sizes and complications thereof and swapped respective compliments. It was kinda fun to listen to – the ritual is the same in both the North and the South but the particulars are a bit different and so are the accents.
With so much going on, we didn’t stay long. Mrs Scarlotti was finishing breakfast and getting ready for lunch – not surprising since she had nine children! I didn’t see Jack but the older kids seemed to be absent, probably with other assignments, Mama speculated later. We said our good-byes and followed a young child to the door. Her name was Grace Myers and she lived on the fifth floor with her parents, her cat and a doll named Missy, so she informed us on the short trip to the door.
As Mama reached for the knob, Grace being much too small, I glanced up the staircase to the next floor. I felt something. Not a creature, at least not here, but something… I patted Grace on the head as I followed Mama out. I stopped, made very sure I didn’t feel any danger, then followed Mama home.
I excused myself the instant our door closed. I ran to my room and grabbed my sword Grace, telling her silently that I’d just met her namesake. I grabbed Gwen as well and tucked them both into their scabbards. Pulling my big coat on over them, I dashed out the back again. This time I wasn’t leaving that roof top until I knew something, I promised my swords and myself.
Of course, that was before I got to the intersection…