Who Are You?

 

Who Are You M P from Pixabay

Moira carefully shaped the damp clay to make a cleft in the chin. The baby’s picture showed that cleft and it was something that wouldn’t have changed with age. She raked some strands of hair over the brow, then stood back and looked critically from her work to the photograph she held in one hand. It wasn’t much to go on – an image of a baby who’d vanished from his crib one night while his parents slept in the next room. Moira had been seven at the time, and the unwelcome knowledge that a neighborhood child could just disappear had a profound effect on her.

His name was Andrew Kirkpatrick, he’d been nine months old when he disappeared and he’d never been found. His parents had no more children. They continued to live in the little house to which they’d brought Andy as a newborn, “so he can find us when he comes home,” as the mother was quoted in a newspaper follow-up article some years later.

Nobody ever figured out what happened. The grief-stricken parents were under suspicion themselves, and when the case went cold, nobody ever bothered to exonerate them. They lived under that cloud for the rest of their lives. Moira had never met them, but she could imagine what it was like to be watched and suspected. Her decision to choose forensic science for her college major arose from a desire to solve mysteries like this one.

“You’ve watched too much CSI,” her Dad said. He’d tease her by singing, “Who are you? Who, who, who, who?”

“Isn’t it depressing, recreating the faces of dead people?” her mother asked.

Moira agreed good-naturedly that she probably had watched too much CSI, and said, no, it didn’t depress her to honor the unidentified dead and unfound missing by showing the world their faces. And maybe it would help. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of her recreations solved a cold case and allowed a family some peace?

“Not that they’d ever really have peace in their hearts,” she added. She knew that.

Moira made a forensic forecast in clay of what Andrew Kirkpatrick would look like as an adult. There were sophisticated 3D laser projectors available, but somehow she needed to shape Andy’s face with her hands. She brought to the task her training and technical expertise, but also her artist’s intuition. It was inexplicable, what happened as she worked. Something seemed to guide her hands and the finished product surprised her with its humanity. When she was finished, she showed it to her boss.

“Good work, Moira,” he said, and looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. “Keep that up and you’ll crack some cases.”

But after a photograph of her sculpture was printed in the newspaper, it raised no leads. There were a couple of phone calls from the poor souls who routinely called at such times, but no new information.

Andy’s memory haunted her. In her dreams he was sometimes an infant, sometimes  an adult. In one dream, he told her what happened to him and she startled awake. Instantly, his words were gone. Tears soaked her pillow when she couldn’t call them back. So near!

Stop it, she scolded herself. Now you’re believing in dreams. What’s next, a Ouija board?

Moira drove past the Kirkpatrick house one night after work, peering at the lighted windows. She felt a tug of connection to that tiny intersection of theory and reality. It became her routine to pass the house every night, even though it was miles out of her way. Andy would be thirty-three now. What kind of life might he have had? Or was still having? His body had never been found. What if he had been brought up by whoever took him, and was now an adult with no knowledge of his past?

Sometimes she feared she was bordering on the obsessive, so she tried to banish Andy from her thoughts. It was possible during the day when she was busy at work, more difficult on her own time.

As a distraction, she joined a book discussion club at the library. The group met every third Thursday evening and members took turns suggesting books to read. She couldn’t remember who proposed a true-crime book about famous unsolved cases. Sure enough, Andrew Kirkpatrick’s kidnapping filled one chapter.

She resolved to say nothing about her involvement in the case. When it was her turn to weigh in on the book, she’d just say it was well-written and well-researched. No way would she tell about creating an adult face from a baby picture, about a lonely house with a light in the window. No way would she creep everyone out with that story.

There was a new person at book club that night. With an inward sigh so profound it turned her bones to water, she recognized him. That cleft chin – she’d shaped it with her hands and she could still feel it. She’d know him anywhere. On trembling legs, she walked directly to him and held out her hand.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m Moira.”

His brow wrinkled. “You seem so familiar. Have we met before?”

“In a way. I’ve been looking for you.”

 

 

 

 

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Mick Jagger Makes Me Smile

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Why was it Misha’s fate to be raised by a dear, but ancient grandmother when other people had cool young mothers? Those moms wore short shorts, had pink streaks in their hair, and their car radios blasted rap; they could easily be mistaken for their daughters’ slightly older sisters. Misha’s grandmother wore mom jeans and cardigans and big white sneakers with socks. Her car radio was apt to burble PBS in a genteel whisper.

Gran had taken her in after her parents had each gone off with other partners to lives that had no room for a little daughter. Misha had only a very dim idea of what it must have been like for Gran to suddenly be in charge of a six-year-old. All she knew was now that she was 16, Gran embarrassed her. Misha hated herself for it, but there it was.

True, Gran could absolutely be depended upon. If she said she’d be there, she was there. Misha was never one of the kids sitting glumly in the school’s front office waiting to be picked up. If Gran said she’d do it, it got done. Dinner was on the table and so was breakfast. Beds were fresh and laundry was always caught up. Misha’s friends complained about having to do those tasks themselves and said she was lucky. But still.

Misha was into retro. She explored the world of the 1960’s and thought it was definitely a better time than the present. She and her boyfriend, Jem, picked up some 60’s clothes at thrift stores and Misha found some in the attic. On Saturday nights, they’d dress up. She’d wear a bright micro-mini skirt, tease her hair into a giant bouffant, apply pale lipstick, black cat-eye liner and mascara and white nail polish. Jem would wear plaid bell bottoms, a turtleneck shirt and platform boots that he confessed killed his feet, but looked amazing.

They got acquainted with the music of those times on old 45-rpm records, introducing themselves to the Rolling Stones, Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Crickets. With like-minded friends, they’d dance the Loco-motion and the Twist in somebody’s basement. Gran said at least the kids were supervised and safe.

Misha’s mild rebellion blossomed into a quest for freedom she thought teens enjoyed in those swingin’ 60’s. Gran had to say no too many times. It led to tearful scenes and a bedroom door slammed so hard it made the house echo.

“I know I should be grateful she took me in,” Misha sobbed to Jem, “and I do love her, but she’s just so old. She can’t possibly remember what it’s like to be young.”

“Talk to her, why don’t you, Misha?” Jem advised. “She’s not as uptight as a lot of parents.”

Misha tried. She waited until one night after supper when Gran was washing the dishes and Misha was drying. It was a ridiculously old-fashioned way to clean up, but Gran would often say, “Oh, there are so few dishes, let’s just wash them instead of using the dishwasher.” Misha had learned sharing this activity was the perfect time for conversation.

“So, Gran, I was wondering what you’d say if I got a chance to go downtown to see a Rolling Stones tribute band. They’ll be playing at the Apollo and Jem and I could go on the bus.” Misha knew very well that the Apollo was in a part of town that made Gran start shaking her head at the very mention.

But Gran surprised her. She smiled into the dishwater and said in a reminiscent voice, “The Rolling Stones! I used to love them when I was your age.”

“You did? You did?”

“Oh, yes. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and that drummer, what was his name?”

“Charlie Watts.”

“That’s right. Oh, they were bad boys.”

“And you liked them?”

“Yes, and my mother thought they were awful. I saw them in person once, on their first U.S. tour in 1964.  There were thousands of people there, but I wormed my way to the front under the stage, and I thought Jagger looked right at me and winked.”

“Gran! You never told me. Do you still like the Stones?”

“Well, Mick Jagger always makes me smile when I see him on TV, so I guess I do.”

“Why is that, Gran?”

“It’s just that he has all those wrinkles, but he keeps dancing and singing and jumping around like a kid, even after heart surgery. He’s my age, you know. We were born the same year.”

Misha felt her jaw drop; she had to sit down. Jagger and Gran were contemporaries? Could it be that her old-fashioned Gran had been a groovy 60’s chick? The micro-mini skirt from the attic, had Gran worn it to the Stones concert where she caught Mick Jagger’s eye? That one incident bestowed coolness that no amount of pink streaks or short shorts could match. It put a whole different spin on things.

Misha couldn’t wait to tell Jem: “Mick Jagger winked at Gran back in the day, and he still makes her smile.”

 

 

 

The Clawfoot Tub

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You know how when you’ve been through a bad time, you get the idea that you “deserve” something you’ve been wanting anyway? A reward, a gold star, a treat for being such a big girl? Well, that’s how I felt about the clawfoot tub.

I’d always wanted one to replace the dinky little builder-grade tub in my bathroom, but it was too expensive, too much trouble and too…unnecessary. I mean, I already had a perfectly usable tub, right?

But after that winter! Everything went wrong that winter. My car stranded me beside the interstate highway in a snowstorm; I got bronchitis that lasted for weeks; my old dog had to be put down; the furnace needed frequent house calls. It was one terrible thing after another, but I soldiered on, much of the time barking like a sea lion. When it was finally over, when the first snowdrops pushed up through the frozen earth, I decided I had earned a treat. And that treat would be the clawfoot tub I’d always wanted.

I look back and think, “Why didn’t I get a new outfit, or go on a cruise, or…or anything but a clawfoot tub?” Well, who knew? That’s why we have hindsight.

I decided I wanted a genuine antique, not a replica. That meant haunting antiques stores and estate sales. When I finally found a rusty, blotchy tub in the basement of an old house, it wasn’t even for sale. I kept mentioning figures until the owner drooled and agreed to let it go.

Now there’s a euphemism. A clawfoot tub isn’t “let go.” It weighs approximately a million pounds and it takes a small nation to move it. Plus, this tub needed resurfacing, so I had to decide whether to have it hauled to a workshop or have it done after it was installed in my house. Given the difficulty of moving Clawdette, as I thought of her, I decided to put up with the mess and toxic fumes and have it done after.

So on to logistics. The tub was in the basement. That meant it had to somehow be muscled up the stairs, then into a truck strong enough to take its weight, on to my house and then – wait for it – up another set of stairs. I would need strong men. Lots of strong men. A survey of my friends wasn’t promising. So many bad backs, knee braces and iffy rotator cuffs! I hired a moving company.

Four huge men with rippling biceps surveyed Clawdette in her spidery resting place. They walked around her with worried faces, hands on hips, looking from her to the stairs, shaking their heads. Finally they seized her and began an epic wrestling match. I won’t even describe the groaning and cursing that accompanied every inch of Clawdette’s progress. We’ll go straight to the moment she was plopped into my upstairs bathroom and all her tremendous weight settled on a floor never meant for such stress. One clawfoot immediately popped through the ceiling of the living room below. It looked like I’d been visited by a giant bird.

“Gotta reinforce that floor, lady,” one of the giants said unnecessarily, slinging sweat from his forehead.

“Can you…?”

“Nope. We don’t do that. Gotta get a contractor. Meanwhile, don’t stand too close to the tub or you might both go through the floor.”

Then he handed me a bill that drove all thoughts of contractors out of my head. I’d be lucky just to eat. Clawdette idled in lop-sided splendor for a couple months while my finances recovered.

I needed a contractor to shore up the floor and repair the ceiling, plus a plumber to reroute the pipes, and then a resurfacer to make Clawdette beautiful. I had nightmares in which money flew out of my wallet and rained down on others. It was now month three and I was still taking sponge baths in the sink.

At last, many thousands of dollars later, my clawfoot tub was in working order. I was given the green light to actually fill it with water and insert my trembling body into it. I leaned back and savored the luxury. It had been a long time coming, but it was all worth it. “I’ll love you forever,” I crooned to Clawdette, stroking her glossy porcelain.

The next morning, my boss called me into his office and informed me I was being promoted to my dream job, the one I’d been working toward all my adult life. I was filled with joy until he mentioned the job was in another state.

“You mean I’d have to move?”

“Of course. You’ve always said you were willing to relocate for the right opportunity. I put my reputation on the line to get you this job.”

That evening I filled Clawdette to the brim, slipped into her depths carefully so as not to splash my phone, and began calling realtors. The next day one came to survey my house from top to bottom.

“You have a lovely home,” she said. “The only thing is, clawfoot tubs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. They’re kind of like swimming pools – very appealing to some, but a deal-breaker for others. For young families, it’s hard to bathe little kids in them – the high sides, you know. I’d suggest you replace yours with a conventional bathtub.”

“Replace…?”

“Oh dear, are you crying? Was it something I said?”