An annoying mist hung on the air as I sat on the bench outside the bookshop on Wells Street; the bag of flour I so desperately needed resting beside me. No birds, just mist and flour. The mid afternoon sky was the color of metal. Not a color at all actually. My coat, heavier then I needed, was just barely darker. I had chose this spot on purpose, so many years ago when the smell of the sea brought with it a joyful feeling. Children laughed, carefree on the beach front. Music played from a phonograph through some open window. Lily’s hand rested in my own. The smell of the sea remains in abundance. However, the joyful feeling has left for more auspicious surroundings.
I had just left the bookshop, purchasing a copy of Tom Sawyer to replace the first edition she had taken with her, when an odd looking man passed in front of me. I got no good look at his face but he limped slightly as if there were a pebble in his boot. A curious gait indeed. His charcoal newsboy cap fitted snuggly atop a mass of long grey hair; matted and unkempt. His black trousers were stained with what appeared to me to be bird droppings; not unmatched by a dirty, black pea coat, two sizes to large for the man’s frame if you asked me. Despite his unruly appearance, I found the man rather mysterious and interesting. And in stark contrast to my normal routine, I pocketed the book, grappled the bag of flour and followed him along the beach road.
The man pushed his hands into his pockets and turned left up the steep incline of Falls Hill Road towards the church. Clearly, I thought to myself, the church was his destination. He was in need of boarding. But when he stopped at number 302 to take a seat on the steps, I must admit I was a bit confused. Confused because his unwelcome appearance would offer him no assistance at that particular house. Number 302 Falls Hill Road belonged to Miss Corrina Holmes. An attractive young lady to be sure, but she was in no state to take in a boarder. Certainly not one as suspicious. Her husband had recently passed during a terrible robbery while he was in the states on business. Many a gentleman have called on Miss Holmes, only to be turned down flat. Corrina has confessed to me on more then one occasion that she considers me her only male friend. I am honored, of course. I wonder though: what would my Lily think?
I passed the gate at number 302; to keep up my pretenses, and hurried along as If I were simply on my way home. I glanced back, and to my shock, saw that he was walking up the steps to the front door. I stopped and turned; not giving a damn if he saw me. He was about to enter Corrina’s house uninvited. It was ghastly. I simply could stand no more.
“See here now!” I yelled to him while marching towards the gate. “What are you doing there?”
His attention did not waiver. He peered through the front door window and I climbed the steps towards him.
“You there!” I should’ve brought my cane.
Before I could grasp his collar he turned at once in my direction, stopping my momentum, and I was once again caught by his odd and interesting way. His face was clearly not what I expected. It was not full of scars or infected by pock marks. He was quite handsome if I must say. How could such an unruly brute have such a charming face? He held a gnarled finger up to his lips to calm my shouting and set his attention back to the door where he slowly turned the knob. I was silent and without any such protest. I was bothered just as much by my unwillingness to stop him as I was him entering. But without a single word of objection, I followed him in.
I was still carrying the bag of flour as we entered the house at 302 Falls Hill Road. Inside Corrina’s home I felt, for lack of a more logical word, uncomfortable; as if I had entered her bedroom while she was undressing. I cringed uncontrollably.
The man searched quickly from room to room; looking for something. I stood just inside the doorway and watched. He ran to the kitchen, then to the bathroom, then back to the kitchen. He rummaged through a stack of books in a sitting room. Then he stopped at a tiny shelf in the hallway by the dinning room. He plucked an item from the shelf and peered at it through dark brown eyes then shot a glance back to me, still waiting by the door. The item was a photo and with a finger motioned for me to join him in the hallway. Anything to get this entire business over with.
The photo that the man was staring at was of Corrina and I having an afternoon cup of tea for her birthday last July.
“So?” I had seen the photo many times. “Have you led me into this home to discover a photograph of me that I have seen several times?” He smiled keenly and reached into his dirty coat pocket. Exasperated, I looked around the home and wondered why Corrina had left her front door unlocked. Those of us that had lived on the island for more than a decade never felt safe enough anywhere to leave our homes unlocked. Corrina arrived from America only 5 years ago. The idea made no sense. I warned her of the evils in the world but she never would listen.
From his pocket, the man who would not speak, presented another photograph and held it out for me to examine. Which I did. The photo depicted the same café as in the previous photo. I held the photo closer, puzzled by what I was looking at. It was summer, and not too long ago for that matter. Corrina looked the same as she does now. It was the person that Corrina was sitting with at the café that gave my stomach a bit of a turn.
It was only two years ago, on a pleasant autumn day like today. I had returned home from my daily walk along the shore. Sometimes Lily would join me, but not on this day. She chose instead to enjoy the day from the inside; with Tom Sawyer on her lap and Chopin on the record player. Personally, I prefer Miles Davis. Those old dusty nocturns were so depressing I would tell her. She didn’t care. She loved that music and I loved that she loved it. We had many things in common but it was our taste in music that set us apart and kept our marriage interesting. So when I heard one of these oppressive nocturns as I entered, I assumed she was there still; reading her favorite book. She wasn’t. The east window in the living room remained open and the throw blanket she had used rested on her leather chair. I checked the kitchen.
A pot of freshly brewed tea sat unused on the stove top and a plate of scones waited on the table. I was yet to feel concerned. I took a bite and made my way to the stairs, thinking that she had decided to take a nap. She was not in bed. Nor was she anywhere to be found within the home. Neither was she out in the garden. I rang the constable but was unable to convince him of foul play. After a day or two, I was forced to come to the understanding that my Lily wasn’t taken. She hadn’t befallen some monstrous incident. No; this was much, much worse.
Her wardrobe was empty. Not a single article of clothing remained. She had left. She had left and taken Tom Sawyer by the hand. This was what I believed. That was until this last summer when I received a phone call from a gentleman by the name of Brent Farhey. The man, who was from California; told me that he had spoken to my wife a few days prior to her disappearance and that she had spoken very highly of me. Brent, a journalist by trade, expressed to me that he had know my wife in school when they were a few years younger. Mr. Farhey’s call brightened my spirits a bit but I never got over the pain. If she had left, I needed to know why. If she was taken; was she alive? Where were the usual ransom demands? Demands that I would not be able to meet.
I looked closer at the photograph and tried to quell the feeling of anger that was swelling inside me. Her dark brown hair fell just below her slender shoulders. Her light blue eyes glowed in the warm summer sun. It was her alright. Sitting there next to Corrina; the only good friend I had on the island, was my wife Lily. This photo was clearly taken after she had left. More mystifying to me however, was that my dear Corrina never told me that she had even knew or met my wife.
“Where did you get this?” I demanded. He shook his head and stumbled towards the front door. I grasped his color, dropping the flour. “Answer me, would you! Where did you find this?”
The dirty speechless man pointed up and I took that as meaning that he found the photograph upstairs.