katzpawz - 4/29/2007 9:55 PM ET
Annabelle had always believed in angels. When she thought of them at all, that is. But even after her retirement, with so many of her beliefs changing, she had continued to relegate angels to scripture and the afterlife–with the possible exception of guardian angels, who, she suspected, were the invention of pious nuns. And as for wings, she felt quite certain that no western God would bastardize two species by combining their parts so bizarrely, like merfolk, centaurs and the like. Pure fable. However, and that being said...
...her entire theology had turned itself inside out of late, to the extent that she had even modified the term: what Annabelle now held to be true about life and death, God and salvation constituted not a theology but, she supposed in all humility, a theosophy, a God-knowing. For who could make a study of God? As a psychologist friend had asked, rhetorically, “How do you study God? Do you call him for an interview? Do you send him a questionnaire?” Therefore who, in fact, was the more arrogant: the man who claimed to study God or the one who simply said, “I seem to recognize God, and that is something we all can do if we try”?
Of course, truth to tell, humility had never been a strong suit of Annabelle’s, and perhaps especially intellectual humility. At her job she had shown a fierce, sometimes even belligerent, protectiveness of her professional reputation–which was, of course, secured by her copious mental gifts. These were, after all, her only claim to anything remotely approaching distinction, and she had always considered it important to live with distinction. Did we not owe it to God to distinguish ourselves each from the other in testimony to God’s endless diversity? God doesn’t lose things, so s/he has no use for carbon copies.
Well, so much for pronouncements. God had apparently had enough of them from Annabelle, for s/he sent her a very effective silencer: the diagnosis of mid-stage Parkinson’s disease. A tremendous gift, reasoned Annabelle, cleverly disguised as a life-shattering illness. She had to hand it to God: the crisis concealed a quietly glorious response–not to prayer, for Annabelle would never have prayed for such a patently impossible thing, but rather an answer to longing. God had heard her longing for an end to the charade, a reason to stop all those efforts at distinction, especially since they didn’t work anyway. In the academic milieu in which she worked, no one considered Annabelle particularly distinguished. Many, however, had found her petty, snappish, sometimes downright mean. She had never meant her life to take such a path; it grieved her. Yet she had worn the groove of her job so deep as to think herself un-hireable for any other, even if it weren’t for her age.
And so. By the time she saw a neurologist she already had three diagnoses in mind, and Parkinsons’s was the least threatening. Therefore she could welcome it, for the time. It only remained to arrange for her retirement and then take it. Money would be tight; there would be none for the traveling she had hoped to do before popping off with a stroke (her maternal family’s curse). Friends–for she did have some very good ones–dropped by and called regularly for a few months, then gradually tapered off. She couldn’t blame them, for she had bought a little cottage in the city, very inconveniently located.
When her life became quiet enough, she began to examine it. “To make it worth living, of course,” she told herself sardonically, but with gratitude that she was getting this magnificent opportunity. The truth was, it would no longer do to live as she had been living. Nor was there any longer a “need” to, if there ever had been.
Now she fully understood the little koan known to every Zen neophyte: “Before I became enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water. After I became enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water.” She had never craved enlightenment for its own sake, preferring the journey to the destination; and she had always known that if the light came it would be a totally unspectacular arrival, not causing even a tiny stirring in the gut or so much as a breath out of rhythm. In fact, she fully expected to forget she had been enlightened at all. And that was pretty much how things unfolded. She could not pinpoint a single moment of unspectacular light; she simply seemed, one day, to have slipped into her new way of seeing things as if it were a pair of subtly adjusted glasses.
And so she went on, living just as she had before but not at all as she had before. That is to say, she got up in the morning, meditated, had coffee, took her meds, checked her email, ate, worked, listened to NPR, chatted with the occasional friend, watched television even more rarely, enjoyed her cats always and her garden in season, saw the doctors, etc. etc. etc. as she would have in any case. Only with all the difference in the world.
For she, Annabelle Marguerite Lacey, had been granted an audience with the dead.
The website was amazing. She had found it while visiting the site of a famous psychic who appeared regularly on TV. The psychic had impressed her as somehow trustworthy–she didn’t know how or why. And the personalities on the website included other very reputable psychics and mediums, as well as motivational speakers with a leaning toward the East...and after all, even Thomas Merton had been turned in that direction when he met his untimely death. Annabelle began to feel she had discovered a parallel universe! Here were all these entirely normal-looking people–men in suits, most without beards, women with stylish hair and earrings–talking matter-of-factly about the most astounding things! You could hear their voices coming through the speakers on your computer! You could even phone in and, if you were lucky enough to get through, talk with them directly at no charge!
After her first “listen” (she simply did not feel ready to phone in), Annabelle realized that she was by no means surprised to find the place. Certainly she imagined telling people–should she decide to tell anyone–the facts of the matter with exclamation marks. But she noted her own cellular responses upon entering this uncommon fellowship, and it was simply as if she had found her own tribe at last, as, in fact, she had fully expected to do. It was the expectation itself that mildly surprised her, but that was merely an incidental.
Thus there was nothing rarefied or unnatural-feeling about what she came to think of as her mini-seance.
She had lurked for a while to get a feel for a good fit. Finally she had chosen a very popular and widely published medical intuitive, a woman with a Catholic background like her own, who she hoped would be able to “enter” her “energy” and give her a conclusive diagnosis for the symptoms that had led her doctors to label her “parkinsonian.” For one thing, she hadn’t a sign of tremor; and for another, most of her physical discomfort seemed to be caused by the medications, not the illness. But try and get Dr. Helmsley to accept that! It was practically a mantra, on this site, that one did not submit to a medical diagnosis as being conclusive. Annabelle’s scant contact with Western doctors, late in her life, had already convinced her that this was sound practice.
The first time she dialed in to Marjorie’s show, she had to admit to a little rush of adrenaline. After fourteen auto-redials, though, the thrill began to wane. What was the secret of getting through? In the midst of asking this question, she heard another voice giving some very helpful advice:
“Try to call in when you hear the first bars of music signaling a break,” said the voice, a lilting , younger tone yet redolent of wisdom and experience. Who was this? The Marjorie show had ended, and the Justine show had begun. “We have two hours,” the star of the show was saying, “so just relax and enjoy. If you’re supposed to connect with us today, the angels will see that you do.”
Well, thought Annabelle, that certainly sounded hopeful. And Justine’s voice had a
spellbinding effect, so soft yet so lovingly authoritative.... Annabelle found herself switching off her desk lamp, rearranging sofa pillows, and settling in for a session with the angels. Once she was comfortable, she realized she had left the portable phone on its cradle. No matter, she thought. Clearly the angels had other plans for her today.
She woke to a dark room and a raspy British voice–no, Australian–talking about dreams. She wondered wryly whether she’d had any dreams during her long nap. Still, she decided, angels’ will or no angels’ will, after supper she would delve into the website’s Justine archives.
What she learned, while listening deep into the night to this remarkable psychic–a Ph.D. in psychology who had gone on to study the phenomenon of angelic presence not only in Christianity but also in all the other major religions of the world–changed her profoundly. She noticed, first, the presence of an angel in the room with her. She thought it might be the Archangel Michael. Of course she couldn’t see him or hear him; she simply had a sense of his presence. And that was comforting, for Michael was the Protector Archangel; when he was around, you need not worry for your safety from untoward happenings, be they burglary, a gas burner left on, or any of the hundred possible catastrophes a person might neglect to guard against.
She also learned a new, healing form of meditation, which she practiced for the first time the following morning, the minute she woke up:
Close your eyes, Justine had directed in her amazingly soothing voice, and take three slow, deep, cleansing breaths...take your time releasing...good. Now focus on whichever part or area of your body is troubling you...(Annabelle had already decided on her shoulders and middle back.)...and call on the Archangel Raphael to pinpoint and inundate that area with his healing emerald green light. Just picture that light surrounding and penetrating the area of your body that is out of balance, out of kilter...and ask Raphael to heal you completely....
She felt so relaxed, so enfolded in the gentle jeweled wings of Raphael (yes, dammit, Justine had described them with wings, and who was Annabelle to contradict?), she feared
she would drift back into sleep. So she ended the visualization a bit early and got up for the day, enjoying the absence of back pain and the unaccustomed looseness in her shoulders. As it turned out, the back and shoulder pain returned the following morning, but she had not asked for a miracle.
Annabelle began listening to the website regularly. And so it was that, piece by piece, she adopted a whole new theory of being. It was elegantly simple, based on the fundamental premise that everything in existence could be reduced to–or, really, consisted of–pure energy. It would follow, then, that if Annabelle, a rather dense body of energy, could travel–across town or across the world–then thought, which is much lighter and purer energy, could do the same, and way faster, and with just as strong a purpose!
Not only did she love the thought of that, but it also explained a basic tenet of the religion of her childhood: the efficacy of prayer, as well as the wisdom of intercessory prayer. That form of prayer was simply thought with an intention. Thus, for example, is someone was ill, it made perfect sense to form a prayer chain for their healing, since the more energy being directed to the idea of healing, the more likely it was to occur! So prayer chains were not just a pious practice among little old ladies with nothing better to do. Neither, for that matter, was the custom--widely ridiculed in sophisticated theological circles--of praying to St Jude for “impossible” causes.
It didn’t take Annabelle long to figure out that she was leaving herself wide open to the charge of making gods out of humans. The power of thought and of prayer was so awesome, and so patently open to men and women, that they could in fact be defined as participating in God-ness! And, reasoned Annabelle, this was a perfectly acceptable conclusion to people all over the world–radical only to the narrow tenets of the Christianity that humans had fashioned out of the pure teachings of scripture (“Know ye not that ye are gods?”–Ps. 82:6). And to those who might accuse her of wishful thinking, Annabelle would readily acquiesce. Of course she was thinking wishfully, but that did not affect the accuracy of her reasoning.
From that point, it was just a short sprint to radical forgiveness. If everyone had a little God inside them, forgiving offenses was simple: if one attuned one’s own inner God to that of the offending person, holding a grudge began to look ridiculous. How could God be angry at God? But for those who had a problem staying focused, there was always the freezer method: write on a slip of paper the name of anyone toward whom you were feeling any animosity, and put the slip into your freezer with a prayer to the effect that you wished to release all negative feeling toward that person. Guaranteed to work, and Annabelle would vouch for it.
She was, of course, completely taken with this new path she had discovered–especially since, as a Parkinson’s patient, she would find her physical mobility progressively reduced. Sending out vibrations of positive energy all over the world would be her way of accomplishing something truly good before she died. In the meantime, while she did have some physical contact with others, she could do tremendous good just by speaking pleasantly to people she happened to contact in public. Given the right intention, she could change the outlook of a crabby nurse at the doctor’s office with some inane pleasantry, or lighten the burden of a homeless person with only a dollar and a smile. She could even, at least theoretically, start enough ripples of positive energy to affect the Iraqi war! If only she could convince Washington, and if only everyone would begin shooting good vibes instead of mortars.... But it was somehow clear to Annabelle that she was not to proselytize, as she stood to do more harm than good that way.
Meanwhile, a new psychic appeared. Being new, she did not yet have a solid-core following, and her voice held a certain little tremble that gave away just the tiniest lack of confidence. But there was no tremble as she announced her area of specialization:
“My name is Aphrodite Mercer, and what I do best is talk to dead people.”
Wow, thought Annabelle, a medium.
“But with a difference,” interjected Aphrodite, so directly that Annabelle flashed on the thought that she had been heard and responded to! “I contact deceased loved ones through a method I have come to call ‘clear knowing’.”
By the time Aphrodite had finished introducing herself and giving the 800 phone-in number, Annabelle had the receiver in her hand. Then she stopped, suddenly aware of her own vulnerability. She might very well be about to make a jackass of herself on national radio. But on the other hand, how many of her friends and acquaintances even knew of the existence of this radio site? Anyway, it was time to take ownership of what she believed.
She fat-fingered the number three times before finally getting it right. And then–omigod, she thought–came the purr of ringing. The call was answered by an assistant; naturally there had to be a screening process. And what was her purpose in calling?
Sweet God, thought Annabelle, I haven’t a clue. Panicked, she hung up.
Of all the crazy things. Well, that was enough “psychic experience” for one day. Suddenly she couldn’t even bear to continue listening to the program. This was real stuff, the kind of interchange that left people forever altered. What right did she have to treat it so casually?
She logged off and sat for a moment noticing the silence that poured into her mind once she had freed it from the white noise of speech and thought. Okay. So. The only psychic she could reach was one who bridged the gap between the living and the dead. For a moment Annabelle considered simply forgoing the experience. After all, she hadn’t taken on this new way of seeing just for the fireworks. On the other hand, she had come to believe in the unerring value of serendipity. The universe would see to it that at each point of her readiness, a teacher would appear. It didn’t promise a teacher with a circumspect name or an expertise Annabelle thought she needed. If she was committed to her own growth, she must acknowledge that her comfort level had very little to do with it. As for knowing what the next step was, she was no rookie; a cardinal principle of the new way was to recognize a growth opportunity by its surface signs and then take a blind leap....
So, whom would she like to contact from the hereafter?
The answer came spinning up, with a mischievous grin, from a place she had forgotten existed. Yes, that was it. No point in debating any longer. Of course.
With a certain grimness she pressed the re-dial button, only to get a busy signal. What?
The clock told her why. Aphrodite’s hour was up, and the psychic in the next slot was drawing lots of calls. Now Annabelle would have to wait another week...but no! Aphrodite had announced her own website address, and...sure enough...Annabelle had had the good sense to jot it down. There it lay on the current page of her daybook, popping out from all the other scribblings like a neon sign. Had Annabelle seen it blink?
“This is Aphrodite,” said the bright voice (it reminded Annabelle of red poppies) from somewhere in California... “Hello? Is anyone there?”
Several hours later, Annabelle was still sitting in the recliner where her telephone seance had taken place. Both of her cats, Henry and Philomena, were curled up next to her, and a mound of damp Kleenex had collected in her lap. The phone had rung twice, but she had let the machine take both calls. She could not remember what she had been thinking about over the hours since hanging up from Aphrodite, but she did know that the tears in the Kleenex were deeply happy tears. Quite simply, she would never be the same again. This new joy would continue to stream up from her soul forever.
Wishing she had thought to tape the session, she looked around for her daybook in hope she had taken good notes. Ah–it had fallen to the floor.
Annabelle’s daybook was her constant companion and faithful servant, providing a record of every transaction she made, from a doctor appointment to a lunch date, as well as noteworthy aspects of all conversations. Each day had its own page, dated at the top and beginning with a list of to-do’s. As she went through the list, she would make notes: get laundry detergent/Philomena vomiting–call vet/prospective housekeeper.... Between her notes and her imaginative doodlings, sometimes she filled the front of the page and had to continue on the back; other days remained nearly blank.
Retrieving the book now, she was relieved to find very detailed notes on her seance. The account went as follows:
2:12 pm -
doesn’t do medical~~~~ here’s how she works:
2 different ways:
w/living, will find and ask to go inside thr heads...they usu. agree, then she can get ans to your qus (plural)
w/deceased*****calls them up to “the line” and asks yr ques’s.
--they talk to her not you--
$5 a minute and works fast
tall, good-looking man dark hair jeans and plaid shirt
“I just wanted to be a good fam man, make a decent living
(she tells him I’m there)
“Oh, baby, I’m so glad to see you!” wide smile, deep dimples
(can he see me– aph says he sees me all the time====
(has he) tried to let me know he’s there?
“Sure! I cook for her...give her good advice...
–ever left a coin? heard lately how they do that
“Tried the old penny-by-the-car trick but she didn’t pick up on that.” WOW
then I ask for MOM–
shows up promptly, looks at him and cracks, “fancy meeting you here.”
Jealous? Ha ha–
physical: slim, brown hair, pretty===
does she come around me? ALL THE TIME–SHE’S MY LITTLE GIRL–I TAKE CARE OF HER, AM PULLING STRINGS FOR HER OVER HERE@@@@ I AM ALWAYS WITH HER///////
2:30 says aph
amazing so fast
I say go on
“oh baby” he wrote that
ask for his parents
aph: very dim cause so long dead—
old-fash clothes (duh) he’s rugged says nothing she’s shy
why did he drink and could never make a living
she: eddie was a charmer–good looking, dimples–thot he cd charm the world inst of working for a living ran w/ fancy crowd
DIMPLES CHIN DIMPLE TOO?
“Oh, yes!” but she never smiles “”“”
finishing–joking–tell daddy I want a dime. mom leave a quarter–she owes me.
2:37 done–75.00 paypal
So there it was, a little coded scripture of faith, for goodness sake. Annabelle knew better than to swallow it without question, and she had been careful not to volunteer any facts for Aphrodite to use. But three details had come up spontaneously:
1. “Oh, baby!” He had written this phrase in a letter to her mother shortly after Annabelle’s birth: “Tell Annie I said, ‘Oh, baby!!!!!’”)
2. The dimples. Especially the chin dimple–though it was true she had clued that one.
3. The penny by the car! This was the clincher, because Aphrodite could have had no way of knowing about it. Several days before, on the website, Annabelle had heard a male medium refer to coins as a common way for spirits to convey their presence to loved ones. “Especially,” he had said, “next to your car.” For about a week, Annabelle had noticed a blackened penny on the pavement, clearly visible when she would park in her usual spot; but having no reason to appropriate it, she had left it alone. Now she grabbed a flashlight, for it was getting dark, took her cane, and went out to see if the penny was still beside her car. It was.
That evening, Annabelle sat in her little den listening to slow jazz and thinking how beautiful her life had grown. She could still feel both of her parents with her, along with Michael, Raphael, and a new angel, Jophiel, a girl angel who was in charge of beauty. So now she had three powerful angelic influences in her life: Michael for safety, Raphael for healing, and Jophiel for help to see the beauty in all things and to increase it upon the earth. Jophiel’s special color was a deep rosy pink, and Annabelle planned to try emanating it the next time she went out in public. She knew Jophiel was there because she had invited her, and an angel never refuses a request.
It was unseasonably cold, but Annabelle woke late the next morning, feeling
a bit sluggish and sweaty. As she fumbled for the thermostat to turn down the heat, something flashed in the corner of her eye. On the table next to the front door sat a wide, squat cardboard box, filled with pennies that had been mistakenly sent home from the office with her personal things. And on top of the pennies, bold as you please, as if daring her to explain it away, was a large silver coin. Immediately Annabelle felt her pulse slow down. She became very calm. This was how she had learned to recognize a special experience: it felt just the opposite of “special” as she had defined that word in the past.
Respectfully she reached for the coin and examined it. Then she simply had to laugh. It was a Susan B. Anthony dollar! How like her mother to outclass the request for a quarter by delivering a dollar, and a rare one at that. Also, apparently, her mother had become a feminist! Annabelle smiled, kissed the coin and laid it on the table. Then she picked up handfuls of the pennies and let them fall through her fingers back into the box. Sure enough, her father had left her the dime she had asked for. But wait–there was something else, a coin even larger than the dollar...a John F. Kennedy fifty-cent piece.
Annabelle sat down and considered things carefully. Could the coins have already been in the box, and had she just overlooked them? Not at all likely. She had volunteered to collect the pennies for a charity called “A Thought for Your Pennies.” It was based on the premise that people didn’t want the pennies they always ended up with at the end of the day and would welcome a chance to unload them for a worthy cause. The “Thought” folks would combine the pennies at Christmas time, cash them in and give the money to a needy family. Annabelle had put clean, clearly marked mayonnaise jars in the offices of her building that drew heavy traffic, and periodically she would collect the full jars and empty them into the box. Never, in all her handling of the pennies, had she caught even a glint of silver. Now, suddenly, a dime plus two large collectors’ coins–one of them smack on top? No, this was no oversight.
Annabelle sat for a few more minutes, simply absorbing what had happened. They were still there with her, her mother and father, and she smiled, talking with them in her head–for they did not require audible speech. And it was perfectly okay for them not to answer her. They had given enough. They had made up for everything.
When it came to her that she needed a special place to keep the coins, she knew what to do. A couple of years ago she had ordered scented soaps as small Christmas gifts for all the women in her office. To wrap the bars, she had found a website offering small muslin drawstring bags made by a witch (not that she’d have chosen witch-made bags; that was simply all she could find). But the soap turned out to smell like castor oil, so the bags had been sitting unused. The coins went into one of the bags, and the bag went into an antique trinket box she had given her mother years ago and received back when her mother died. Finally, the box went into the high drawer of a wine cabinet in a corner of Annabelle’s den. Annabelle was reminded of the “secret chests” kept under lock and key by aristocrats during the Renaissance; privileged, kindred souls alone were allowed to view the contents. She could only wonder who might ever prove to be “kindred” enough to see her precious coins.
For several weeks after Coin Day, Annabelle essentially lived with her parents. She found each of them communicating, through coins, in a way that resonated with his/her personality. Once she let the sink fill up with dishes. When she went to wash them, there on the side of the sink was a dime. From her mother the impeccable housekeeper, no doubt, a reminder to shape up. She found three more pennies beside her car; that would be Daddy. And there were quarters, several quarters, around the house. Annabelle made it a strict rule never to put a coin in the bag if there was even a faint suspicion that she herself had left the coin lying around. And the chances of this were very slim, given her new vigilance.
When Annabelle began to feel that the sojourn with her parents had served its purpose (though they would remain in touch forever), she decided to count the contents of the bag. There were six quarters, three dimes, and nineteen pennies, in addition to the three coins she had found on Coin Day plus the Flagship Coin, that first, darkened penny her father had left by her car. Also–and again, she was not surprised–she found another Kennedy half-dollar in the bag.
All of this had happened from late January to mid-March, ordinarily a time when Annabelle would have been poring over garden catalogs had she not been preoccupied. Now--on a day when wind seemed about to take over the world in spasms of cold gray air that whipped about her destitute garden howling an end to all gentleness, all warmth, all loveliness--Annabelle caught sight of a stack of pristine arrivals she had put aside toward this very day. Some of them were glued shut with little round stickers. Annabelle loved to slice these open, each year, with a crisp, precise x-acto blade.
After lunch she settled herself in the recliner with the catalogs, a good pen, her daybook, and the x-acto with a brand-new blade. Ordinarily it took several weeks to list her favorites and narrow them down to the size of her little budget, but this year she would be able to go as far as filling out the order forms. Within half an hour, she felt absorbed in color–or, rather, as if she had absorbed the colors from the pages, so much did they reward her for looking. And when she closed the last page, she was shocked to look up and find that nothing had changed in the gray landscape outside; she had felt as if luscious light were pouring in through the windows. Surely it would not be difficult to trap that light inside her and radiate it outward to others. Jophiel would help! She decided to try it this very afternoon.
First she took a few minutes to seal her flower orders and stamp them; the postman would pick these up in the morning. By the time she got to the supermarket, the parking lot was bulging with the cars of after-work shoppers. Between the crowds and the weather, no one was likely to feel a lot like smiling. Neither, in fact, did Annabelle, for Philomena had slipped out into the wind when Annabelle opened the door to leave, and she hated to have a cat outside while she was away. But it was an ill wind indeed that blew no good: here was the perfect test for her new resolve. Annabelle set herself the task of inducing three people to smile and forget their troubles before she could leave the store. Philomena would be waiting on the porch when she got home, and worrying was a waste of energy. Also a waste of the chance to set a few ripples of positive energy in motion.
Knowing herself to be establishing something of a ritual for today and future days,
Annabelle planned the rubric while leaning on her walker in the wind outside the market’s sliding door. People didn’t mind; they just went around her. She decided to go with a very simple plan. First she would collect herself and ask Jophiel to help her with the endeavor. Then she would envision Jophiel’s rose-colored light rising up within her and inundating her face. She would not smile right away; that would look silly. But neither would she enter the store until she had Jophiel’s pink light glowing quietly from her face–flushing her cheeks a tad, turning up the corners of her mouth just the tiniest bit, and–very important–putting a spark in her eyes so that every time they contacted other eyes, the pink light would dart across to the other person like an electrical arc and they would simply have to smile, no matter how bad their troubles were.
Annabelle’s first challenge came when she could not get one of the store’s motorized chairs, or scooters; due to the rush hour they were all in use. Completely unruffled, she took a seat on one of the benches against the outside wall, facing the check-out lanes. Two people smiled at her on their way out, so the light must be working! Then she saw a prospective scooter coming down one of the lanes.
It was occupied by a very large black woman who was scowling mightily as she rifled through her enormous tote bag while the clerk rang up her groceries. Suddenly Annabelle felt inspired to be of help. Noticing a package of chicken legs in a far corner of the large basket on the front of the woman’s cart, she tottered over to the lane, leaned over her walker, and just had the chicken in her hand when the woman looked up suddenly. “What the HELL you doin’!”
The voice startled Annabelle so that she let the package slip from her hand. It landed with a smack in front of the cart, and she judged it important to pick up the chicken before addressing the woman, for it was out of the woman’s line of vision and she could roll right over it. Annabelle leaned over and reached through her dizziness for the chicken, losing balance just a bit before the scooter surged forward to crush her fingers. She heard someone scream as the pain cut off all feeling and her legs disappeared.
When she woke up, the hand with the injured fingers felt like a tennis racket. It was splinted and bandaged up to a ridiculous size, and it was waving crazily in the air above her eyes; she had to use her good arm to bring the bad one down. And the next order of business was to figure out where she was. Against the harsh ceiling lights she could see outlines of men–doctors? medics?–whose business it seemed to make sure she had good sense. “Ms Jenkins? Ms Jenkins, can you say your first name? Can you tell me where you live?” Had the world gone mad? Surely they could discern the answers to those two questions, since one of them held her valid driver’s license in his hand. She decided to ignore these silly fellows and give her attention to the two policemen off to the side, who were questioning the woman on the scooter. But wait–she couldn’t hear what they were saying. And now she realized she was still in the supermarket, on a gurney that was suddenly moving...out...out...past the woman and the two cops.... Wait, she heard herself begging her captors, just a minute , please! One of the medics leaned down, and she asked to speak to the two policemen for a moment.
“Officers, this lady is in no way to blame. You have to understand, I was in the wrong. My walker pulled out in front of her scooter--”
Somehow, all it required was a tiny detail: the merest shift of expression on the face of the policeman nearest Annabelle, a man in his forties with a strong chin and small beady brown eyes, as he shot a questioning glance across at one of the medics. That was all it took to reveal to Annabelle what a comic figure she must cut: a little old 5-foot 3-inch cripple wearing a fanny-pac in the front, with a short gray bob and, lately, Coke-bottle glasses. Try though she always did to carry herself with the dignity befitting a creation of God, she was forced to see herself, for a moment, as most other creations of God saw her. A sobering sight; she’d best quiet down and stop inviting further ridicule. She lay back on the stonelike pillow then, and let the medics take her away.
Waiting alone in the emergency-room cubicle for a resident to come and pronounce her fit to be released, Annabelle was suddenly struck with terror: Philomena was still outside! Sweet Jesus, she had to go home right now! No–she couldn’t even get her coat on with that huge cast on her hand. Best to phone her neighbor Daniel, a kind young man who–oh, where was that nurse button--
With the suddenness of a demon, dark heavy shoes approached outside the curtain and delivered an authoritative scrape at the entrance to her cubicle. The policeman was the same who had glanced over her at the paramedic outside the supermarket. He wanted her side of the story. But hadn’t she tried to give it to him earlier?!
She caught herself, recalling the flash of self-knowledge this man had prompted. Caught herself before it was too late. Caught herself, and let her darling Philomena go to the dogs. “Certainly, Officer,” she said, wearily, “how can I help you?”
Before Officer Hale could finish grilling her (such useless questions!), a nurse had stopped by to say they had found “a little abnormality” in Annabelle’s heart and would need to do some further tests. She wouldn’t be going home tonight. And by the time she was settled in a semi-private room with a phone, it was three AM and the entire ward was so dimly lit that she could not see to dial, even if she had wanted to wake Daniel at such an hour, which she didn’t, though her heart was breaking and her eyes were streaming tears for her little Philomena. Then they gave her three white pills, one for the pain in her hand, a second to calm her nerves, and the last to make her sleep. It seemed to Annabelle, just before she dropped off, that someone else owned every part of her. She was not even any longer her own woman.
Shoulda-woulda-coulda, thought Annabelle, hanging up the phone the next morning. No one had ever told her the importance, for an old person, of being prepared for damn near anything. One should especially take care to befriend one’s neighbors, plural. Neighbors. So that if the one you knew happened to move away without even telling you, you could depend on another.
She still did not know what might have befallen Philomena. The other kitty, Henry, was safe inside, but even he must be in need of food, water, and a litter box cleaning. If only she had known about the pink light earlier, she’d have let it shine every time she walked outside. But as it was, who knew what impression she had perpetrated in the minds of the good folks who lived nearby. And they were all, as far as Annabelle could tell, very good folks indeed–with the probable exception of the druggies in the house directly across the street. But she was never sure of her footing outside, so she must have been squinting and looking down every time they saw her–not an inviting spectacle to strangers....
Annabelle was not allowed out of bed until after the cardiac tests which were scheduled for mid-morning. She felt certain those tests would show nothing, but she was positively glowing pink when she told Michael, the RN, that she understood and accepted the doctor’s orders. Michael was a lovely young black man who wore a huge gold ring in the shape of a cross but did not proselytize. Annabelle admired that. She had her own beliefs about the cross but kept them to herself.
Bedridden or not, Annabelle had been quite busy on the phone this morning. After the failed call to Daniel, she called her longtime friend Julia, a widow who lived in an outlying suburb. Julia had been so kind when Annabelle was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and the two had kept in touch by phone over the intervening months. Julia would be one to ask, “What can I do for ya, Annie?” and then Annabelle could tell her about the hidden key and about Philomena and Henry. But Julia wasn’t answering, and after four calls Annabelle thought she must be visiting her daughter in Houston. Next she tried Olivia. Ned answered sleepily and said Olivia had already left for the office. That meant Olivia would not be available till five this afternoon. And of course Kate would be teaching till after three. This just wouldn’t suit.
Annabelle was doing two things when Michael came to the door of her room. She was trying not to cry, and she was trying very hard to pray. A positive, confident prayer. “Miss Annabelle?” said Michael.
Unheard, he approached her bed. “Miss Annabelle, you seem to have a visitor.”
Who in the world knew she was here? And what time were visiting hours on a weekday, anyway?
“That’s just it, Miss Annabelle. Visiting hours are not till ten. Only close family members are allowed outside of visiting hours.”
Surely it was in her chart that she had “no next of kin.” But if this had escaped an excellent RN, Annabelle felt obliged to ignore the oversight out of sheer courtesy. “And who might my visitor be, Michael?”
“Lady name of Dulcy Macomber, ma’am.” With a totally straight face.
“Oh, of course! My married sister Dulcy! By all means, Michael, let her come in.” Pink light bouncing off the walls. Did she see, in its radiated glow, a tiny flicker of unprofessional warmth in the young man’s eyes? Of course not–that would be most unseemly.
“Yes, ma’am.” And Michael was gone.
In a moment, Annabelle heard the approach of heavily shuffling steps, punctuated by gasping breaths and the emphatic thunk of a cane. Who on earth?
The cane, a carved wooden affair, parted the curtains at the corner of Annabelle’s bed. “You got a chair in there?” said a strikingly familiar voice–where had she heard it? And then it all came clear: this was the lady on the scooter from the supermarket!
Huffing and puffing from a height of almost six feet, Dulcinetta Macomber lowered her great self onto the no-nonsense metal chair beside Annabelle’s bed. If she needed a few moments to catch her breath before explaining her visit, that was no problem–because out of her gigantic tote bag leaped a golden blur, and flew into Annabelle’s arms. Philomena!
Annabelle nearly hugged the breath out of the gorgeous animal. Philly was safe! And it looked as if she had been fed! How could she thank this lady, and how had she known--
Dulcy was smiling a beautiful smile, filled with sunbeams it looked like. “Well, Miss Annabelle!” she said, making it sound like a sentence. And indeed she must mean it to be, concluded Annabelle, since she was offering no further comment at the moment.
“I’m Annabelle Jenkins,”–Annabelle extended her unbandaged hand and saw it swallowed up by Dulcy’s. “Oh,” said her new friend, “I know who you are.”
“You do?” Annabelle was mystified, and she saw that Dulcy was enjoying this whole process a great deal.
“I been knowing who you was for goin’ on two years.”
Dulcy watched, mischievously, as Annabelle processed this new bit of information. “Mmm-hmm,” Dulcy added, as if to fill with reassurance the void that followed. Finally she could keep silent no longer. “Miss Annabelle, I’m your neighbor. I live on your block. Ain’t you ever seen me?”
Annabelle needed no pink light to suffuse her face now: it burned with embarrassment. “I’m so sorry,” she said, leaning back against her pillows and scooping up Philly, who seemed glued to her side. “I really haven’t been very neighborly, have I.”
“Hmm, well now,” said Dulcy, shifting in the chair. “It’s kindly hard to say who wasn’t neighborly first. Ain’t that right?”
Just at that moment, Michael appeared. He seemed not even to notice as Annabelle pulled the sheet over the large golden cat on her bed. Eyes fixed somewhere in the upper middle distance, Michael announced that it was almost time for Miss Annabelle’s tests, and that an orderly would be appearing momentarily to take her down to X-ray.
And so Philomena was stuffed back into Dulcy’s bag–where, this time, she made it plain she did not want to be. Promising to return the following day, Dulcy gathered herself up and left, drowning out Philly’s meows with several effortless baritone verses of “Amazing Grace.”
Annabelle had no time to reflect on what had just occurred, for the orderly had passed Dulcy on his way from the elevator, wheelchair in tow, which he now presented to her like a waiting chariot. Annabelle noticed, with a smile, that he was humming “Amazing Grace” under his breath.
X-rays were the least of it. Annabelle was convinced that if she didn’t have a heart condition at ten o’clock that morning, the tests had surely given her one. Augie the orderly, still humming his favorite hymn, returned her to her bed around 12:30 and there she lay, too exhausted to move, until her meds came at 2:00. She fell in and out of sleep and kept seeing a tray of food she wished someone would take away, but it was too much trouble to reach for the call button.
With the meds came a message: Annabelle’s sister had called and asked that she return the call as soon as possible. Dulcy answered on the second ring. “Miss Annabelle, ain’t you got another cat?” Thank God! Annabelle asked her new friend to look under the terra cotta frog in the back garden for the house key. Then she told her where to find the dry cat food. Not wanting to impose, she said nothing about Henry’s litter box.
“Yes, ma’am. And I’m gon’ take Philly back to your house too, cause Henry must be lonesome for her. I’ll go over and feed ‘em every day till you get back. That okay witchu?” Annabelle almost wept for gratitude. Then Dulcy said, “Miss Annabelle, you okay? You soundin’ pretty tired out, dahlin’.”
Annabelle assured Dulcy that she was just tired from a busy morning of testing...even as she heard an entire battalion of medical people stopping outside her curtain.
Dulcy ascended Annabelle’s little back porch steps with a heavy heart. She had meant today’s visit to turn out very differently, and it pained her to have it end so soon with no chance to have her say. Of course there was always tomorrow, but she was finding it very difficult to get around with Phoebus’s old cane. Also, of course, the cane reminded her of her own wickedness.
She let herself into the kitchen. Henry had produced plenty of evidence of his displeasure at being deserted by his formerly loving owner. Shreds of newspaper covered nearly every inch of the kitchen floor. A little crock of sugar had fallen from the counter and lay in two severed halves on the floor beneath. The perpetrator? “Henry! Get yo bad butt out here!”
She looked around for Philomena, who had been distracted by all outdoors but did respond to Dulcy’s clapping and calling. Leaping the lintel with an expectant chirp, the beautiful cat seemed as disappointed as Dulcy was that Henry had not come rushing to meet her. She disappeared into the interior and shortly returned with the recalcitrant. Both kitties swatted at the broom as Dulcy swept up. Then Henry padded over to his bowl and demanded that she fill it.
With her chores done, Dulcy was tempted to explore Annabelle’s other rooms; however, since yesterday the Lord had put it on her heart to proceed in all things with gratitude, respect, and purity of heart and motive. She had no business in Annabelle’s home at all, except to fulfill her little promise about the cats; therefore she would not linger. She already had the cane on her conscience, and that was transgression enough. Besides, it wouldn’t do to have half the block wondering what she was doing over there for so long. And when the other half got home from work this evening, it would be the whole block (excluding, of course, those no-goods in 324-B, to whom no one spoke and who spoke to no one). Dulcy had never seen such a crowd for gossip. She patted each cat on the head and was gone.
Yesterday’s wind had died down, and the day was bright and peaceful. Sunlight struck a chaste and sober fire from the white bark of the leafless sycamores lining the street. Amazing grace. Dulcy made her way back to her own home, which was two doors down from Annabelle’s. Amazing grace. If she had fudged just a little on her new commitment to the Lord, surely he would understand. It wasn’t so bad to pretend she couldn’t walk without that clumsy old cane. In fact, the Lord might just choose to see it as a fine consideration for Miss Annabelle, who would be shocked enough by what Dulcy had already planned to confess to her. She did not need to know, for now, that her new friend was not crippled at all, only tired, and that she had snatched that scooter out from under the noses of countless folks who had a better right to it, the latest one being Miss Annabelle herself. And by the time Dulcy could muster up the courage to tell her, they would be good enough friends to throw back their heads and laugh about it together. Amazing grace, thank you Jesus. Amen.
The next day dawned even lovelier–warm and balmy, a true spring day. No one expected this to last, thus it seemed all the more wondrous. Dulcy, a widow whose children were long grown, rose early, made her breakfast, and took it out to the little deck off the kitchen. She loved these precious mornings when she could enjoy God’s great outdoors in comfort while partaking of his bounty. Suddenly she wished Phoebus, her husband who had passed seven years prior, were sitting across the table as he used to. In her mind, and just a little under her breath, she addressed him:
Well, Phoebus. “Yeah, Honey.” You gon’ like what I got in mind for today. “Gonna love it, Pastor Phoebus!” (He wasn’t a clergyman, but he should have been. Same dedication to the good and the holy...so she had often called him Pastor Phoebus.) Yessir. Done got me a plan. Got to do with that bag of money, you know the one! “Mmm-hmmmm!” When you handed me that bag, you said Dulcinetta, dahlin’, I got to ask you to do this for me. Then you told me somethin’ youda never told me else. How you come by that money weren’t bad, but it weren’t good neither. Found it on the floor in the backseat o’ yo cab. Thas right. I remember when you told me that, I was so busy judgin’ you, I couldn’t hear what you was tellin’ me about that money–had to ask you to say it all again when I finally climbed back into my senses!
Probably the only sin Phoebus had ever committed was what he did with that big sack of silver dollars. Nothing. Just let it sit under those floorboards for years. Years! When they were struggling to raise their four kids. When he wrecked his cab and his leg, both. When Timbo had the eye surgery...when Ailene had no dress for the prom and she, Dulcy, had to learn to sew, sitting up hours into many nights at a borrowed sewing machine, trying to make a dress for her sweet girl so she could have what her mama never had.... But Phoebus took the position that he’d had a failure of nerve when he first found the money, and by the time he got clear on his true obligation, it was just too late to own up.
I swear, Phoebus, if you weren’t dyin’ I’da kilt you. That money was the downfall of a truly noble man. An’ it werent that you TOOK it, Phoebus, it was that you FOUND it and then didn’t do nothing with it! I’da rather had you try to find the owner and give it back. But if you was agoin’ to keep it, why in all creation couldn’t you put it to good use? Waste not want not, you old fool! There’s some truth in “finders keepers,” you know. Kindly like “an eye for an eye,” kinda Old Testament justice, and that ain’t all bad. But just to let that money set, that was yo sin, Phoebus. That was yo lifetime sin!
Suddenly Dulcy woke to the fact that she was ripping the meat out of an orange with her teeth. The fruit was a little past its prime, the skin had hardened to a thin leather, and a glut of juice had formed inside...which now dripped through her fingers, down her chin, and onto the pastel blue front of her housecoat, while, blind with anger, she decimated the pulp. Why did she suddenly feel the eyes of her neighbor Irene Grimble surveying her from behind the slats of her blinds? The dry hulls of the orange rattled like eggshells as she dropped them back onto the plate.
Craziness! Now, gathering up her dishes, she was angry at no one but Dulcy Macomber. And she had been angry for seven years, and it was time to cut out the poison, and thank Jesus for the chance to put that money to good use. For it was now, by rights, the property of Miss Annabelle Jenkins. Why? Because Dulcy Macomber, being momentarily out of her mind by her own doing, had deliberately and with malice squeezed the throttle of that scooter just enough to pulse it forward the few inches it took to reach and destroy the fragile fingers of a little crippled lady. In her sinful blindness, she could not recognize her neighbor...saw only someone trying to take food from her basket while she was not looking....
Dulcy was weeping as she finished washing the dishes. Then she dried her tears. No more of that. She would go and redeem herself and Phoebus at the altar of good works.
She left the house without Phoebus’s cane, and had to go back for it. How fitting that she should take on the sign of weakness, the symbol of the lame. And in order to throw it off, she would have to confess that one last sin. But first things first.
Somehow Dulcy’s heart lifted, the moment she boarded the elevator from the lobby of the hospital. Maybe it was because she was reminded of “Amazing Grace.” Humming it under her breath as she approached the nurse’s station on Annabelle’s floor, she caught sight of the nice male nurse who had bent the rules so that she could bring a little comfort to his patient. But at that moment, Michael looked up and into her eyes, and she knew that something was terribly wrong. Over his shoulder, she could see attendants going into Annabelle’s room with the things they used for cleaning a bed someone no longer occupied.
Michael explained that Miss Annabelle had required emergency heart surgery and had passed away under the anesthetic. He asked if she would like to be given Annabelle’s personal effects; she was, after all, listed as the sister of the deceased. They both smiled at that.
Dulcy went to Annabelle’s straight from the hospital, still carrying the heavy bag of silver dollars along with the plastic bag containing the dear old lady’s things. This time she walked straight through the kitchen and found herself in the little den. Spying a cabinet in the corner, she noticed a single drawer at the top but deemed it too small to hold her burden. She opened its doors and saw there was room for the money on the bottom shelf. Kneeling and placing the bag there, she felt she was burying her guilt–all of it–and Phoebus’s too.
Then she went out to the kitchen and placed the house key on the counter, and next to it the bag of clothes that had belonged to her new friend. The cats pushed through the door the minute she opened it, and because they were hungry she knew they would follow her home. She set the lock and heard it click as she closed the door behind her and re-entered the world of the living.
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