“Mom, I’m home!” cried Morgan, the screen door banging behind him as he clattered into the duplex. “What’s for dinner?”
Tossing down his backpack in the entry hall, he turned in at the kitchen door, hoping to find his mom and a snack. But as he was reaching for the cookie jar, he caught a glimpse of something that took him completely by surprise.
At the other end of the kitchen was another door through which he had a view of the dining room table. Mavis was there, her hands folded in her lap, her head bent slightly forward, deep lines of empathy and concern etched across her ivory forehead. Her eyes were fixed intently on the face of another person who sat beside her, elbows on the table, head in hands, pale cheek half concealed by a cascade of dark disheveled hair. Both figures stirred and glanced up at the ruckus Morgan was raising. Seeing the second woman’s face, he froze in his tracks with a cookie half-way to his mouth. Irene Knowles—Baxter Knowles’s mother—was in his house, talking with his mom, seated at his dining room table!
Mavis got up and came softly over to him. “She needed someone to talk to,” she explained, bending close to his ear. “I happened to be handy.”
Talk about what? he wanted to know. But his mother was already steering him out into the hallway and shoving a fistful of cookies into his hand.
“We won’t be much longer,” she added, putting a finger to her lips.
Morgan stuck a cookie in his mouth and headed for the living room. But as he passed the other entrance to the dining area—the one that opened on the hall—he couldn’t help overhearing a snatch of the conversation unfolding there. He could have made up his mind to keep moving. But he didn’t.
“It’s Baxter I worry about most,” he heard Mrs. Knowles say in a tearful voice as he crouched beside the door. “He’s such a sensitive child.”
“Mm hm,” was Mavis’s non-committal response. Morgan covered his mouth to smother a laugh.
“And his father has always been—well, less than supportive. In fact, he pushes him rather hard. As far as that side of the situation is concerned, I’m almost glad that … ” Her voice trailed off.
“I understand,” Mavis soothed.
“And yet a boy needs his father! Terribly! Don’t you think so?”
Mavis answered sadly. “Of course I do.”
“Believe me, Mavis, it wasn’t my idea to ship Baxter off to Needles. That was all Brevard! He insisted on it! And then, when he dropped the bombshell in Manhattan—when he told me that he was … Well, honestly, I didn’t know what to do. The only thing I could think of was to come back here.”
“You did right, Irene.”
“You think so? Because sometimes I’m not sure. Sometimes I feel as if I’m at my wit’s end. Since we’ve been back, Baxter’s been out of control. I can’t manage him on my own. He seems desperate for something. He’s out at all hours doing I don’t know what.”
“Peter Alcuin might be able to able to help,” Mavis offered.
“Possibly. He’s a big boy for his age—large-boned, you know. He acts tough, but I know he’s just a lambkin. I’m afraid for him, Mavis. Afraid of what he might do—to prove himself, if you understand what I mean. It frightens me.”
“I know,” Mavis quietly observed. “There’s no telling what a boy in search of his father might do.”
Out in the hallway, Morgan felt a sneeze coming on and made a sudden bolt for the living room. That’s when he got a second surprise.
Grandma Wilma was up, sitting in the old oak rocker beside the cold fireplace, humming faintly to herself. With her back towards the door and her shriveled hands gripping the arms of the chair, she gazed fixedly at the wallpaper just as if she were watching something in its interlacing floral patterns. A white knitted shawl covered her hunched shoulders and she had a faded blue afghan draped across her lap. It was the first time he’d seen her sitting in a chair since she’d come to live with them.
“You okay, Grandma?” he said. “What are you doing out of bed?”
She looked round. Her eyes sparkled darkly. The pinched features of her walnut-like face drew together in an expression of intense concentration. Tilting her head to one side, she regarded him with a distant but knowing look.
“It’s time we were all up and doing,” she said.
Morgan sidled uncertainly into the room. “Is there anything I can bring you? Maybe you need some help getting back into bed?”
Instead of answering, Grandma Wilma fell into a fit of coughing. After a few minutes she lifted a shaky hand and pointed at the flowers on the wall.
“I’ve seen him,” she said wheezily. “Again. He appeared to me, Morgan.”
“It was dark. Dark as the pit. Black stones and foul water. Under the earth, under the sea, under the ground. His hair and beard were long and wild, but I knew him. I’d know him anywhere.”
Morgan moved closer to her chair. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you, Grandma. I think I may have found something that will help. If you really want to get well, I mean.”
She shut her eyes and waved an impatient hand at him. “Don’t bother me with your powders and pills. I told him a long time ago what I thought of all that witch-doctoring. You listen to me.”
He bit his lip and bent towards her in a gesture of mute submission.
“He was calling for you. Your mother, too. I couldn’t hear his voice, but I knew what he was saying: ‘Come quickly. Come before winter.’”
Morgan could do nothing but stare.
“He’s speaking to you, Morgan. Speaking through me. Through the words. Through the letters. Didn’t you know?”
Utterly bewildered, Morgan nodded dumbly.
Grandma sighed and shook her head. “Perilous times. Let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house. Let him that is in the field not turn back to take up his garment.”
She’s really losing it, thought Morgan. What do I do now?
There was a pause. Then she added, “And wouldn’t you know? When he least expected it, someone came to him. Through the wall.”
She grinned. “Yes, he’s waiting for you. But not alone. Not anymore. God has sent him a helper.”
I should get Mom, he fretted. He wondered if he dared interrupt Mavis’s conference with Mrs. Knowles. But even as he hesitated, there was a footstep on the carpet behind him.
(To be continued …)