Just as I was opening the front door of the Broome house for Mama, Doc Handy pulled up to the curb in his old Ford. I looked across the street and saw Nettie Ledbetter standing on her front porch, shading her eyes from the sun so she could get a better look. In the other houses up and down the block, curious faces peered out from between parted lace curtains and from underneath raised window shades and Venetian blinds. Clearly, my call to Clarry, as well as her calls to Mama and Doc Handy, had been overheard on the Endurance party lines. The whole town was buzzing. Clarry said later that the girls at the switchboard could barely handle the volume of calls that morning.
“Evelyn, what in the thunder is going on?” Doc Handy asked as he got out of his car and walked toward the house hurriedly. “Clarry called me and said to get over here with my bag as fast as I could and then disconnected before I could ask her why.”
“I got that same call, Doc. I don’t know anymore than you do.” She focused her gaze on me. “Except, that if this is some sort of practical joke, Grady William Gibson won’t be able to sit down for a solid week. Grady, what do you have to say for yourself?”
“I think she’s real sick, Mama,” I replied. “I think she might be dying. Hurry Doc.”
“Are you talking about the stranger, Grady?” Mama asked, furrowing her brow.
“She’s not a stranger, Mama. You know her. She’s Charlotte Broome.”
Mama froze and got an expression on her face I’d never seen before; it was like I’d hurt her and made her mad, all at the same time. When she spoke, her voice cracked a little. “Grady, why would you say something like that? Who put you up to this sort of meanness?”
“It’s not meanness, Mama,” I said, exasperated. “It’s true; she told me! I know you think she died and I know there was a funeral and there’s a grave, but she’s alive, at least for now! Hurry up, Doc!” Doc Handy and Mama exchanged a look and then rushed past me into the house. I trailed right behind, telling them were she was. As soon as Doc entered the kitchen, he picked her up from the chair and told me to hold open the door that led back into the living room. “Evelyn,” he said, rushing to the sofa with Miss Broome, “see if you can find a pillow and some blankets. She’s as cold as a block of ice.”
Mama ran into the hall and I guess into one of the bedrooms because she returned with two quilts and a feather pillow. While Doc Handy held Miss Broome’s head up, Mama situated the pillow and then she and the Doc worked together, wrapping the small woman in the quilts. I don’t think it was until they were done that Mama finally stopped long enough to take a good look at the person she was tending to on the sofa.
“Doc?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper. “It’s her, isn’t it?”
Doc had his fingers on Miss Broome’s wrist as he looked at the pocket watch he held in his other hand. When he finished taking her pulse, he put the watch back in his vest. “I think so. Of course, there’s one way we can tell for sure,” he said, leaning forward and gently turning his patient’s head to the side. Without being asked, Mama got down on her knees by the sofa and pushed Miss Broome’s hair aside, exposing the back of her neck. And there, right below her hairline, was a small spot slightly darker than the skin that surrounded it. It was perfectly heart-shaped.
“I’ve delivered hundreds of babies but I’ve never seen another birthmark quite like that one.” He let out a breath I’m not sure he even knew he was holding. “It’s her, Evelyn. It’s Charlotte Broome.”
Mama, who was still on the floor, leaned against the sofa, rested her head on her friend’s shoulder, and began to cry. Doc Handy patted her back gently and said to me “Grady, get over here and comfort your mama” which I did. It was hard to see Mama cry but I figured if anyone had a right to do so, she did. Taking my cue from the Doc, I continued patting her on the back, while I told her everything would be okay, which I wasn’t at all convinced of, myself. I suppose the three of us were lost in our own thoughts, so when Charlotte Broome spoke, it caught all of us by surprise.
“Evie? Evie, is that you?” Miss Broome asked, her eyes focused on the ceiling above her.
“Yes Clarry, it’s me,” Mama said, wiping her eyes and trying to hold her voice steady. “It’s me. I’m here.”
A smile spread across Charlotte Broome’s face, as she continued to stare at the ceiling. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here, Evie. I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you too, Clarry.” Mama’s attempt not to cry wasn’t going very well.
“Have you seen him?” Charlotte asked.
“Whom, Clarry?” Mama asked. “Have I seen whom?”
“My boy, of course. My little baby boy.” She smiled and a tear ran down her face as she looked off somewhere the rest of us couldn’t see. “He’s perfect, Evie. He looks just like his daddy; he looks just like Frank. When you see the Sisters, have them bring him back to me. I want to hold him again. I want to hold my baby.” She closed her eyes and went back to sleep.
(to be continued)
Categories: Story in Progress