Not Quite Walking Distance of Knoxville
The inn Sophia chose for the night was less than thirty minutes down the road from the Bartlett Emporium, which Max had assured her would not be looking to have repeat business from the likes of them. Max also assured her that he had let Mrs. Hatchett—yes, that was her real name—know they had no intention of ever darkening her door again. Clearly, it was a case of good riddance on both sides.
“When it’s up to you, live at peace with all people,” Max quoted as Amanda and he helped Lily into the back seat of the Buick, which, true to her word, Sophia had running and ready to go.
“What?” Amanda asked.
“Did you know you say that a lot, young lady?”
“Never mind. I said ‘When it’s up to you, live at peace with all people’. It’s from the Bible, not a direct quote just a good solid principle. Some people just make living at peace exceptionally hard to do. Somehow I doubt Mr. Hatchett gets much peace around that woman.”
“Whoa!” Sophia chided from the front seat. “I think you’d better check your attitude, Mr. Max Carnes.”
“Yeah, Mr. Max, you’d better watch it.” Amanda playfully waggled her finger at him
Not one soul had protested when Sophia pulled into the motel. Knoxville could wait till tomorrow. They’d get settled in the rooms, then get some supper. Sophia thought one of those beds surely had her name written all over it, but somehow she wanted to contact Millie before conking out. She didn’t need to worry about that, because just as she was settling the suitcases in the room she was sharing with Amanda, she heard the faint plaintive cries of the “William Tell Overture.”
Max sat in the easy chair near the bed where Lily nestled, and by the sound of her whiffle of a snore, sleeping soundly. He marveled that for the first time on this trip, she had not protested sharing a bedroom with him. Maybe he should buy some mosquito netting; he snorted at the thought. His journal lay open in his lap. Sophia had knocked on the adjoining door earlier and told him she had talked to Millie and that she would talk to him more the next day. He supposed that was about Amanda. He would wait to hear what Sophia said. After that he would decide if he would share Amanda’s confession earlier in the day. His head ached, as did his hip. His arms felt like leaden weights, but he wanted to write something about the day, so with great deliberation, he recorded:
There are four of us traveling now. Sophia Winchester, volunteer hospital chaplain, wife and mother and officer in charge, joined us. She was the condition I agreed to so that we could someday get to the ocean. Fortunately, I like her. Amanda has had her ups and downs today, but she’s softening. I hope I help, but its been a long time since our kids were that age and I don’t remember them being so mouthy, but it was probably Lily who took care of that. We lost Lily, but we found her and I only had to shell out $200 for damages. Enough said about that. Hope we make it to Knoxville and further tomorrow. At the rate we’ve been traveling we’ll be lucky to get there next month, but it’s not like I have a pressing appointment.
Max closed the journal, leaned forward and propped his forehead on his folded hands. Crawling into bed with Lily, he sensed a truth about love. Loving someone is far more rewarding than being loved by someone, but to have experienced both in a lifetime is a hint of paradise.
The morning came with a hint of rain on the breeze. It felt cooler than the day before, Max thought, as he sat on a redwood deck that extended out from the lobby of the Inn. Inside a scant few of the guests were stirring, coming into the lobby to get the complimentary breakfast provided by the establishment. He had poured himself another cup of coffee, not yet feeling very hungry. They all seemed content to stay inside; maybe it was the dampness of the air. Max was just as glad that they did. He’d already had a healthy dose of human contact and it was only 6:30 or so.
Lily had gotten up around three a.m., awakening Max with her pacing and moaning. He’d managed to guide her into the bathroom finally, which helped, and then back to bed, but twenty minutes later she was up and pacing again.
That time he had been unable to calm her, so he took a seat in the chair and simply watched her pace. He’d catnapped some, but it seemed to him just as he would drop off, she’d round the chair again and tap him. Sometimes she spoke and sometimes she didn’t, but try as he did, none of it made sense.
Around 5 am, he had heard a knock on the adjoining door. Opening it he found Sophia with two styrofoam cups of coffee in her hand. She indicated with a tilt of her head that Amanda was still sleeping soundly. He nodded and she came in. Sophia took Lily’s hand and led her back to bed. She sat there next to Lily, rubbing her back, sipping the coffee she’d brewed in the room and looking at Max, who settled back in the chair once more.
“Your face looks awful.”
“That’s what I like about you, Sophia, you don’t sugar coat the truth. I am eighty seven years old and I got less than four hours of sleep last night.”
“That may have something to do with it, but the multicolored forehead alone would make you look awful.”
“May I remind you, I was in a motor vehicle accident, let me see, about three days ago.” Max moved to the mirror over the dresser. He frowned at his reflection and gingerly touched the offensive forehead.
“Ugh! I do look awful.”
“What did I tell you? You’re hurting this morning?”
“Some, not so bad; tired though, Lily got us both up a couple of hours ago. She wouldn’t go back to bed for me. Thanks for stepping in.”
“I heard her moving about so I got up and thought coffee might taste awfully good this morning. Besides I wasn’t sleeping very well anyway.”
“I talked to Millie last night. You know that?”
“Mercy, Max! That child in there is a runaway. Her name’s really Amanda Carmichael. She’s just 14, Max. She’s been posted on one of the internet websites by a “Granny Nan” with contact telephone numbers. Millie called the first one listed and got her mother on the phone. It didn’t take long to send the picture by e-mail and confirm her identity. Her parents live in some little town near Guthrie. I can’t right off remember the name; it’s . . .” She puzzled with it for a minute as did Max.
He could hardly imagine Amanda had run away from somewhere within minutes of home. Daysville, Elkton, Tiny Town, surely not Trenton, he turned the names over in his head. Before he could speak, Sophia continued.
“Well anyway it’s between Oklahoma City and the Kansas state line up I-35, according to the information Millie got from her mother.”
“Oh, Oklahoma, not Kentucky.”
“Anyway—she told Millie they thought at first she would head for her grandparents near Wichita, Kansas, but obviously she didn’t. She left a note, so she is officially a runaway. Millie said her mother wouldn’t or couldn’t talk about the note’s contents. She was glad to know she was ok, but get this, said she needed a little time to sort things out, so would we keep her for a while longer and not tell her we know. She said she wanted, no needed to talk to her husband and parents.”
“I know, sounds mighty odd, don’t you think?” Sophia had continued to rub Lily’s back but looked over at her and stopped, “She’s back to sleep. All curled up and snuggly like a toddler.”
“Well, too late for me. I am wide awake now. I think I’d better mosey on down to the lobby and get a little breakfast. I need some time to think all this through. I don’t want to lie to the child. Would you mind staying with Lily for a bit?”
“I wouldn’t mind at all. You go on. I’ll do some thinking of my own while I take over this comfortable, already warmed chair you are vacating.”
“You do that.” He picked up his Bible and headed out the door.
Even with all the sleeplessness of the night before and the news Sophia had brought, Max loved days like these. So even if it was only for a short while, he was going to sit outside and enjoy it. At home he’d find his rocker on the porch, which faced south, and watch the thunderclouds build.
The deck, which connected the lobby to the swimming pool, bore little resemblance to their front porch. He sat in a plastic molded chair in which he had to shift every few seconds to keep it from pressing clear through to his tailbone. He had come in his older years to appreciate creature comforts a good deal more than he had as a youth. Lily and he had rockers with well-padded cushions and just the right amount of seat depth and leg length.
At first, simply because it was there in his immediate line of sight, he stared out over the swimming pool, cement pond, he mused remembering how his children, the younger two at least, had enjoyed “The Beverly Hillbillies”. Now, there was a show you could watch as a family without wondering about the language or anything but a bunch of silliness that everyone knew was silly. He hardly watched TV anymore, but he did like “Wheel of Fortune” and found he was pretty darn good at solving the word puzzles.
Lily had loved “Jeopardy”, even after her short term memory started slipping but she had to watch that one with Millie who gave her a run for her money. The rapid fire approach didn’t suit Max’s contemplative processing even if he knew the correct questions. Even the news wasn’t fit to watch half the time; it wasn’t the news itself but folks trying to make out like everybody, who was worth anything, had to think just alike or accept the trends of society.
In his younger years, why even in his family, strong opinions and lively debate were respected. A person could call right, right and wrong, wrong. People still made poor choices, but everybody didn’t blame somebody else for their mistakes. Even the true victims he had known, like Greta, hadn’t coveted victim status.
He stared a few more moments at the pool, thinking about whatever captured his mind before his thoughts rested on the conversation with Sophia about Amanda. TV was probably one of the reasons she talked like she did, but how she talked was the least of her problems, or his for that matter. He didn’t want to pass judgment on the girl’s family, but who would have thought they’d say hold onto her for a few more days so we can decide what to do. He shook his head and when he did a wave of dizziness washed over him.
Sitting back in the chair, he closed his eyes; the episode passed. He tried to remember if he had taken his medicine that morning. When he opened his eyes, his focus had lifted from the pool.
With his eyes looking beyond the structures immediately around him, he beheld the wonder of the hills beyond the motel, heavy with foliage. The hills magnificent in their own right were capped by a sky, the center of which was full of blues, pinks, lavenders, and yellows. Surrounding these pastels, majestic anvil shaped cumulus nimbus reaching ever upward framed the center as if it were a portal to the world beyond.
As Max watched, the movement of the thunderclouds squeezed the window of light closed, until only a pin hole remained, then it too was gone. The wind picked up, blowing some of the empty plastic chairs around the deck, knocking them over. He felt a spray of water on his face. Still he did not move or look away.
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills from where my help comes.” He remembered and knew that for a long time out of stubbornness and pride, he had been looking in the wrong place for solutions. Times like this made him aware of the pattern of returning to his own resources, limited as they were, trying to figure out the right thing to do. In that way, he contemplated, he was a whole lot like a cement pond thinking it was the ocean.
The gathering storm with the wind and rain reminded him that the cement pond required constant maintenance and filling by people while the ocean, lakes, streams, all created natural things needed filling from above. Call it ecology, or conservation or whatever, the system God designed worked best when man took care of it as if it belonged to God, while recognizing that his cement pond brain might not always be able to figure out how it was going to work out.
What a relief! He didn’t have to fix Amanda or Lily or his own physical ailments, but he sure had to depend on the One who could. The rain was sweeping in sheets across the deck and Max. He heard his name being called, looked back to the sky and then realized it was Amanda standing in the doorway with a jacket. He turned and went in, suddenly hungry for breakfast.
Convincing Sophia he could drive to the small local café for a real breakfast had been the hard part. Her formidable resistance rested on her responsibility to Max’s children to do the driving to Greenville. Hands firmly on her hips she stood her ground for several minutes. Max told her that was fine, so they all needed to get into the car and go, because he wanted a decent breakfast. However, she certainly had no desire to get out in the wind and rain when the motel was serving a perfectly acceptable continental breakfast.
How stale donuts and weak coffee could compete with sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy Max could not fathom but he had to agree about her second reason; Lily needed more time to acclimate to her surroundings before traveling even a short distance. Even though Sophia had gotten her dressed and down to the lobby, she moved as if in a trance. The sparkle that had teased and flickered the last few days, along with the episodes of anxiety, had retreated down another path in Lily’s brain maze evidently hitting one of the increasing numbers of dead ends.
In the end, after several uncomfortable minutes of deadlock, Sophia had agreed, handing him his car keys with all the admonitions a parent gives to their teenage son who just acquired a driver’s license and wants to borrow the family car. The bottom line, of course, was Max was behind the wheel of the Buick again as Amanda and he made their way to the Main Street Diner. He whistled all the way, which seemed to amuse and embarrass Amanda.
“You look awful.”
“Well, thank you.” Max responded with mock sarcasm. Galloping goosefeet, females were just plain tactless.
Amanda and Max were sitting in a booth near the back of the Main Street Diner, which appeared to be a gathering place for locals, many of whom were congregated closer to the front around one big table having pulled two or three together, drinking coffee, smoking and spreading the latest gossip. Their laughter and conversation filled the relatively small place.
The smoking would single-handedly have been enough to propel Max away from the group, but he also had caught the drift of their conversation that centered around some crazy old couple reliving their honeymoon on one of the displays at the Emporium out on Highway 70. Their language and embellishments of the story caused Max’s neck and face to burn as he passed by as quickly as he could. If Amanda had heard and he wasn’t sure how she could have avoided it, she didn’t let on. He appreciated her silence on the issue, but now she was criticizing his appearance.
“I mean, your forehead’s really swollen and it’s all yellow, green and purple. Does it hurt?”
“Oh, some,” he rubbed it and winced a bit as he touched the tender areas. The waitress brought two breakfast platters, refilled Max’s coffee then drifted back to the group at the front, leaving Amanda and Max to dig in and eat. Max was still wondering what direction their conversation should take when Amanda spoke again.
“You know what I told you yesterday about my name and that my family isn’t in Knoxville?”
Max nodded, his mouth full of scrambled eggs.
“Well, I wish you wouldn’t say anything about it to Sophia. You can tell Lily if you want.” Her eyes looked down, appearing to study her plate of food.
Max swallowed, took a sip of coffee before answering. “I think I must tell Sophia something and I won’t lie to her.”
“Rats! I knew you would say that!”
“Then why did you ask?”
“It was worth trying.” She played with her food more than eating.
“In all honesty, you haven’t told me much. Like your real name, it’s not Smith is it? Or why you are on the road by yourself? Or even where you’re from? I don’t know that Sophia will let you off so easy once she finds out your family isn’t in Knoxville.”
“She won’t turn me over to the police will she?” Amanda asked, her head coming up and meeting Max’s eyes. There was true alarm in her expression.
A shuffling of chairs at the front along with the sound of coins being dropped onto the table signaled a break up of the hometown boys. The noise provided a needed diversion for both Max and Amanda from their conversation.
The bell on the door dinged as each one departed shouting back at the waitress, whose name evidently was Betty. The place grew quiet and for the first time the sound of the rain and wind could be heard, indicating the storm continued to rage outside.
Max answered her question, “I don’t think she will do that, but Amanda what can you tell her or me to show us that is not exactly what we should do. How old are you for example?”
“Fourteen.” Her eyes had returned to her plate.
Max wasn’t ready to reveal the little they had found out about her, but he was elated that she had not lied about her age. For several seconds they remained silent. Max sipped at his coffee and Amanda stared at her plate.
“Tell you what, Max,” she paused as if uncertain whether she really wanted to continue.
“What?” Max asked after a few seconds with the unfinished sentence still unfinished.
“You finish the story about Greta and I will tell you my name and—” The open phrase pause hung in the air between them once more. This time he didn’t speak but waited. Finally, the words he had hoped for came, “why I am on the road.”
Max waited and stewed over her request and promise. So much of Greta’s story seemed inappropriate to share with one so young, but to leave anything out seemed a dishonor to his wife and the sister she loved so dearly. Did he have the right to reveal it? What about his actions and inaction would he reveal? What did he have to gain? Absolution?
On the other hand, what did he have to lose? A deep aching reminded him of his struggle when he read the letters. The contents had provided insights into his wife, opened doors to communication almost sixty years overdue, just when the ability to communicate freely was rapidly withdrawing. He wanted to share what he had learned.
He knew Amanda’s last name. Still, he didn’t know her story. He also wondered if she really was interested in Greta or if it was just a ploy to try and wriggle away from her end of the bargain, or worse, make a getaway from them. She was watching him quizzically. He met her eyes.
“Ok, but I must tell you some of what you hear doesn’t make a pretty story.”
“Life’s not very pretty sometimes.” She muttered with a tone that conveyed a cynicism that seemed just plain ugly because the source was a fourteen-year-old mouth.
Max took another long sip of his coffee, because now that he had agreed to tell Greta’s story to Amanda, he was uncertain how to begin. He wanted to be true to the letters, which dated back to soon after he had moved Lily to Kentucky. Initially, while the exchange contained family news, discussions about the latest news and a sharing of feelings and concerns, a decided difference of tone had appeared in Greta’s letters in the fall of 1938. The intensity of the sister’s correspondence darkened.
Max studied Amanda, who was now eating voraciously, then plunged forward with what he knew beginning with that autumn.
“Greta, as I told you earlier worked as a nurse in Savannah with children. In September of 1938, a Dr. Joel Levin joined the staff of the hospital. He had come from Austria to America. Do you know where Austria is?
“UH, I think it’s in Europe.”
“That’s right. He, the doctor, became a friend of Greta’s. They both worked with children. Dr. Levin was Jewish. He worried a lot about his family in Austria and Greta, dear Greta, became a willing ear for his concerns. Her problems started with that friendship.”
Max paused as he saw questions arise in Amanda’s face.
“Let me finish.”
“Greta noticed things. She wrote her observations to Lily. For one thing, the other doctors and staff avoided Dr. Levin, not working, but socially. She noticed that few people in Savannah seemed interested at all in Hitler or any news from overseas. Greta, however, began to read the papers closely and listen to the radio. Her letters to Lily breathed outrage at the attitudes around her. People—Jews mainly, but others, too—were being robbed, carried away from their families and killed by a mad man.”
“Yes. Sometime that fall she started attending meetings with Dr. Levin at the synagogue in Savannah, mainly meetings to try and get some relief to Jewish families in German occupied countries. She shared all this in letters to Lily”
“Were she and Dr. Levin in love?”
Oh, the romantic notion of the young—love has so many faces. Max shook his head.
“Not romantically. She was quite engaged and quite in love. Her fiancé, Charles Lewis was from Brunswick, her hometown. The Lewis family held positions of power, not just in Brunswick but well, Charles’ father had been a state senator and both he and Charles’ brother, Wade, were lawyers. There may have been a sister, I don’t quite remember.”
“Was Charles a lawyer, too?”
“Hardly, Charles, unlike his older sibling and father, took no interest in the law. Charles’s passion was music. He was an accomplished organist and, in fact, that was how Greta and he met. ”
“He played the organ—you mean like at church?”
“Yes, in fact he was organist at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Savannah, where Greta’s Uncle Ben was rector. They were seeing each other before Lily and I married in June and engaged soon after that. Lily and Greta exchanged letters almost daily, planning together for a wedding in the spring.”
“Well anyway, everything seemed to be going well as far as anyone knew, but in November 1938—well, uh, no it really started before then.” Max stopped, took a drink of water before continuing.
People began to notice the frequent conversations Greta and Dr. Levin shared and her visits to the synagogue. Lots of people, even people here in the United States, distrusted or down right hated Jews. Snide comments and slurs were made to Dr. Levin and to Greta. Someone sent a note to Charles warning him of Greta’s growing attachment to the “Jew Doctor”, suggesting he get her under control before she defiled her reputation as a “Christian” woman.
Charles took the note directly to Greta and evidently her explanation satisfied any concerns the message raised. She assured him that her interest in the plight of the Jews in Europe did not constitute a romantic relationship with the Doctor. She even invited Charles to accompany her to the synagogue for the meetings. He did not, and encouraged her to consider helping in less visible ways. Greta stood her ground. Finally, Charles, seeing no way to stop her, agreed she could attend the meetings. I think he really loved her, at least as much as he could.”
“So what changed in November?”
“Ah, so much happened during that month. Gangs ravaged Jews and Jewish businesses in Germany and Austria. The news trickled to the United States, bringing with it reactions as wide and varied as the multitudes who live here. There was shock, some anger, but a few grasped it as a license for attacking Jews in the United States.”
“Dr. Joel Levin’s fear for his family overwhelmed him. For several days no word came. Finally, he heard from a former gentile colleague in Austria that, though his family was spared injury, his brother-in-law’s business had been destroyed. His anguish over the news led him to telephone Greta. His tears prompted her to meet him at a small café near the hospital. By the time he calmed, it was dark outside. He offered to walk her home–.”
Max stirred his coffee, wordless with the weight.
“What happened?” Amanda asked after several seconds.
“She refused.” Max’s voice broke. When he recovered, he added, “She should have accepted.”
Suddenly he sagged, his head hurt and he felt weak. Max wondered how Lily had managed this load alone for so many years. How had she stood up under it and why had she kept it a secret?
“Max, are you ok? What happened?”
“I’m feeling a little tired, Amanda. Could you wait till a little later today? I promise I’ll finish. It’s just a lot harder than I thought it would be.”
“Sure, that would be tight. We’d better go anyway. Looks like Betty is giving us the evil eye.”
The rain had stopped and when Max looked at the dash clock, he realized they’d been gone for an hour and a half. Sophia would be beside herself.
Sophia met them at the car, but her expression was hard to read. If she was upset about the length of time they had spent at the Main Street Diner, she hid it well, but she was anxious and that immediately caused Max to be concerned about Lily. Sophia opened Amanda’s door almost before he came to a full stop.
“Amanda, would you mind going up to the room and sitting with Miss Lily for a little bit. She’s sleeping pretty soundly.”
“Sure, but shouldn’t we be packing our stuff in the car?”
“I need to discuss our travel plans with Max, but,” she looked from Amanda to Max, “I don’t think Miss Lily is up to moving on today.” Sophia returned her gaze to Amanda, “Will that be alright?”
“Sure, why not?” She waved casually to Max and headed into the inn.
Sophia took a seat where Amanda had been sitting in the car. Once in and with the door closed she handed Max the cell phone. He handled it a little like it was about to explode and gaped at Sophia.
“We have some business to take care of.”
“And that would be–about Amanda?”
“That and our future travel plans.”
He furrowed his brow and waited for her to continue, no need to get riled up over something before you knew what it was. However, it sounded like there were going to be some changes made and he wasn’t too sure he was going to like them.
“While you and Amanda were in town, Millie called; oh and yes, your son Ryan—you must give him a call later—he said he’d called while you were in the hospital and some teen queen obviously had not given you his message.”
“She gave me the message. I just didn’t call back.”
“You, in the habit of stone-walling your children.”
“Only when I anticipate being scolded. They used to do that to me. Now I return the favor. One of the perks of growing old.”
“Humph, yourself. Now what did Millie have to say?”
“Amanda’s Granny Nan, her mother’s mother, called Millie back. They are deeply concerned about Amanda and want to come for her as soon as the path is cleared, but there are some issues. Before you interrupt, she didn’t say what those issues were, but she asked Millie to have you call her as soon as possible. Millie shared the trip itinerary, which by the way isn’t even close to the original time line now, and they want to fly to Greenville and pick up Amanda, hopefully tomorrow night.”
“Greenville, tomorrow night?” Max tried counting the miles and time in his head. He was shaking it slightly as he turned it over. Sophia went on.
“I told Millie there was no way Miss Lily was up to travel today,” she began only to notice the alarm on Max’s face. “Not to worry, Max, but she’s exhausted and when she gets tired like she is right now, everything seems to become a jumbled mess to her. She needs another night here, but I figure if we get on the interstates, we can make it into Greenville tomorrow afternoon. Would you be willing to alter your travel plans that much?”
Max remained thoughtful for a few minutes. Lily had been on a roller coaster since the trip began, not that the trip itself had not been a roller coaster, but he wondered for the first time whether his decision to take her to the beach had been wise. He closed his eyes for a moment and Sophia, bless her heart, kept her mouth closed. He pictured Lily on the porch with the photograph. He’d shown her old family photos before, without heading off toward the rising sun. What on earth had made him think this was different, so important that he would risk both, now all, their necks to go? Maybe he was a crazy old fool, like he was sure at least certain members of his own family thought.
What business did he have, he paused mid-thought and remembered, this trip had nothing to do with business. So what difference did a change of route make? If there was any sure thing about this whole adventure, at every stop something new happened. He opened his eyes.
“I think that would be just fine, Sophia.”
“You’re ok with that?” She sounded dubious, but relieved.
“Now show me how to get “Granny Nan” on this cell phone.”
“Her official name is Nancy Mayes.” Sophia punched in the number, handed the phone to Max and exited the car.
Max’s conversation with Nancy Mayes did little to calm his spirit. The headache he’d been fighting for two days had taken up residence, which dulled further his ability to make sense out of the convoluted set of circumstances in which he found himself.
In the past when his bucket had been full, he sought the wisest human counselor he knew, Lily, and as if she took a siphon, she removed the pressure incrementally. The bucket became manageable with little collateral damage in the process. How he needed to talk to Lily. He entered the room, finding Amanda sitting in a chair near the bed where Lily slept. She looked up at him.
“She’s sleeping. Could you finish the story about Greta?”
He must have looked blank, because she continued, prompting him.
“ You got to the part where she had just left the café and was heading to the church.”
“Maybe later today, Amanda. I am going to have to lie down myself. I have a little headache.” Inside he was churning, the headache real as it was, didn’t even scratch the surface of his dilemma.
She shrugged, trying he could see to keep from nagging him, “Ok, but later, Ok?”
He didn’t, couldn’t answer. He simply sat down on the bed next to Lily and began removing his shoes. Amanda took the hint, retreating to the adjoining room and closing the door. Max lay down next to Lily and pulled her sleeping form to him until he could nestle his face in her hair. Tears rolled down his cheeks, but he did nothing to abate them.
“Too many secrets, Lily. I wish I had left you an opening so you could share them. Oh, Lily, I love you. Forgive me.” He calmed as he held her, his breath coming easier, then right before he fell asleep, he murmured, “Poor Greta, poor Amanda—Oh, Lord, help.”
Lily woke before Max. She looked over at his sleeping frame before getting up. He looked vaguely familiar. For a few seconds she studied his face. Who was he? And where was she?
Scanning her surroundings as she sat up, Lily struggled to locate even the smallest reminder–something, anything–that would help her. She needed to go to the bathroom, but couldn’t remember if this place had one. There were three doors in the room. She looked from one to the next to the next and then back again. Where did they lead? Nothing looked like she remembered—where were her crocheted pillows, her rugs.
As she became more frantic, her eyes swept the area again landing on the snapshot on the night table. Snatching it to her, a flood of relief washed away her panic. Of course, how could she have forgotten, they were going to the beach like the people in the picture—now she remembered. Without even another thought about Max, Lily picked up her overnight bag and headed for the door immediately in front of her. She’d better get going or she would surely miss the train. With determined resolve, she tugged open the door and stepped forward.
Sophia and Amanda both looked up when she entered with expressions of surprise. Sophia rose and crossed to her, taking her bag.
“Going somewhere, Lily?”
Lily smiled congenially at her and then looked at Amanda.
“Come on, Greta, we don’t want to miss the train.”
Later Max roused and lay quietly trying to acclimate to the gathering darkness. How long had he slept? He reached over for Lily and then sat bolt upright, a motion that sent bolts of lightning through his head and down his neck. Where was Lily? Fine job he was doing taking care of his wife. Muted laughter drifted through the barrier of the door, as did the aroma of Italian spices. He flicked on a light and slowly made his way across the room. He guessed he’d better take some aspirin before he went to bed that night. He needed to kick this headache soon. With what he hoped was a firm hand he rapped on the door.
“Come in,” the chorus of female voices shouted.
Inside he found all three ladies sitting on the bed watching an ancient movie with—was that Clark Gable? on the TV and a pizza smack dab in the middle of the bed. They all looked up, but it was Lily who spoke first.
“Do I know you?”
“Max, I’m Max.”
“You help me sometimes.”
“Yes, yes, I do. Are you doing ok, Lily?”
“We’re having pizza. It’s good.”
“I see you are; it looks good.”
“Want some pizza, Max?” Amanda asked, pulling off a slice and handing it to him on a napkin.
“We are having a girl party, but you can be an honorary.” Sophia interjected, “Pull up a chair.”
Why not? Max thought, relieved that Lily was ok and glad to be included, even if it was as an honorary female for the evening. After the movie, Max escorted Lily to their room, leaving Sophia and Amanda with the mess. When Lily slept he decided to take his pain medication rather than the two aspirin he had intended to take. The headache obviously needed the big guns.
With great effort he pulled out his journal and wrote:
It stormed this morning, so Amanda rode with me to town for a hot breakfast. I started telling her about Greta, but it hurts having to reliv,e not only my memories, but also the truths I never knew. Amanda’s grandmother and mother want to pick her up in Greenville tomorrow evening, but they want me to prepare her. After all her grandmother told me, I don’t know if I can and I don’t know if I should tell her any more about Greta. My head hurts. Lily’s sleeping—my dear Lily—what would become of me without–?
Weariness and medication wove their magic over Max’s body. Sleep came without even a yawn. The pen dropped to the floor at the same time his head lolled against his shoulder. The unfinished sentence in his journal found completion in his final conscious breath of the day—Lily.
Some time near midnight Max awakened to a nagging cramp in his neck. As quietly as he could—remembering Lily’s nocturnal wanderings the previous night—he moved from chair to bed. Once supine, he stretched out as far as his hip would allow. Briefly, he wondered if he would be able to get back to sleep, but the moment he closed his eyes, he drifted away.