For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
Alma Donnelly wet her thumb and turned the page of the magazine she was reading. Actually she was just flipping through ir while she waited impatiently for her vistor to arrive, her unplanned visitor. She didn't like surprises very much, they interrupted her daily routine and schedule. It was order and discipline that had always been the cornerstones of her adult life. So this morning's telephone call from some pushy newspaper journalist had put an unwelcome wrinkle into her smoothly planned day. Feeling a little agitated by the lien on her personal freedom to come and go as she pleased, Alma uncrossed her legs and slapped the magazine onto her lap.
“Damn it, where is that woman anyway,” she muttered, looking over to the crystal timepiece perched at the edge of the exquisite mahogany coffee table in front of her.
“RUTH, please bring the tea service and set it here in the living room,” she called to her housekeeper. Alma looked once again toward the timepiece, “I’ll give her five more minutes,” she said to herself, leaning back on the sofa. She picked up the magazine, crossed her legs and stared once again at the National Geographic, November 1966 issue.
“Excuse me madam, shall I set the tray here in the center, or would you prefer nearer to you?”
“Oh thank you Ruth dear, over here by me if you please,” Alma said sweetly.
“As you wish madam,” Ruth said politely as she gracefully placed the serving tray on the table next to her employer.
“Will that be all Mrs. Donnelly?”
“Yes dear, thank you.”
Ruth turned and exited the room while Alma fussed with the flower arrangement on the silver tea set. One of Alma’s most favorite pastimes was working in her garden, and she and Arthur had a fabulous one. This rural area had some of the most fertile soil on Earth, and she spent many joyous hours tilling that soil, raising her beautiful roses and wildflowers. She would wake early with her husband each morning, and after breakfast would go out into the garden to cut a basket full of flowers for the house.
She loved the way they brightened up the home and the wonderfully fresh and fragrant scent that lingered throughout the day. Her smile was returning along with her usual sunny disposition when she heard the doorbell chime. Smoothing her skirt, she sat up straight and then reclined back against the sofa, waiting for her guest to be announced. She could hear the sound of heels on the hardwood floors in the hall, on again and off again as they went from runner to runner.
“Excuse me madam, Miss Katherine Littleton,” Ruth announced to the room.
“KC, please,” Miss Littleton pleaded, extending her hand as she entered the room and walked towards the sofa. Alma stood up, smiled and reached to take her visitor’s hand.
“Alright then, KC it is, a pleasure I’m sure,” Alma said, gesturing toward the sofa, indicating for the young woman to sit beside her.
“I hope you don’t mind, I arranged for tea, do you take milk, or sweetener?”
“Thank you so much, I’m a coffee girl myself, but when in Rome, right,” KC said, trying to lighten the tense mood a bit. She accepted the cup and saucer from Mrs. Donnelly and politely took a sip.
“Yes, well, what is it that I can do for you Miss Littleton? Forgive me, I mean KC?”
KC pursed her lips and gently blew on her tea, watching Alma from over the brim of the cup as she took another sip. She studied the woman’s face and posture, trying to get an indication of how much she knew about the purpose of her visit. She had suspected that Alma may have been briefed from the get go, she had sensed as much from the tone of Alma’s voice.
“My goodness, this tea is really quite good, I may have to convert,” she exclaimed!
“Poor Juan Valdez, this just might put him out of business,” KC added, jokingly referring to the popular television ad as she attempted to make friends.
“I’m happy you’re enjoying the tea dear, but really, I have quite a busy day ahead, so may we please get to the purpose of your visit,” Alma said as politely as she could, given her frustration.
“Uhmm, I’m sorry, yes of course,” KC said clearing her throat.
“Mrs. Donnelly, my paper is working on a piece about violent crimes against women in California. Its a four part series and I am here doing some research on the Arroyo Grande Clinic case, the one involving Dr. Murray Katz and all of those young women and little girls, you’ve heard of it right?”
“Of course I have, dreadful, but how could I possibly help you with your research?”
“Forgive me, I can understand your confusion, I should have done a better job of explaining,” KC said setting her cup down on the table and reaching into her purse for her spiral notepad. Quickly flipping back several pages, she stopped and tapped her pencil on the place where she wanted to start.
“In the course of my interviews with police, prosecutors, and various witnesses I have come across several facts that seem to contradict other facts, and a few things that honestly just do not make any sense at all,” she continued, scratching her head with the eraser of her pencil and wincing at the notepad.
“For one thing, are you aware that no one has been allowed to see or interview the accused since his arrest?
“Oh, and given all the print coverage that exists on this case, it just seems odd that there is only one candid and fuzzy photo of him since his arrest. It was taken as he walked from a police van to the courthouse for his arraignment. And his cuffed hands were up blocking his face at that!”
“Why all the smoke and mirrors you think?”
“All of this secrecy makes someone like me very curious,” KC said, trying to analyze Alma’s facial expression for a telltale reaction, but there was none, this lady was cool as a cucumber!
“That is all quite fascinating Miss Littleton, but what does it have to do with your visit to my home?”
KC looked back down at her notepad, circled something with her pencil and then placed the eraser on her pursed lips.
“You know, I was having lunch yesterday in the cafeteria at the very same hospital where Dr. Katz had been taken for treatment after the fire. I was trying to make heads or tails of this puzzle and choke down a plate of tuna surprise, when someone, a nurse, sat beside me and noticed a news article that I was reading,” she said, pausing a moment for effect.
She looked over at Alma and smiled, silently studying her reaction, and then she was rewarded for her patience. Mrs. Donnelly blinked several times and then loudly and nervously cleared her throat. KC thought to herself, she flinched! Not wanting to give the woman any time to regain her composure KC let out a little more line before she set the hook.
“The nurse, her name was Dorothy Mahoney, but she said to call her Dot, excused herself for intruding and for looking over my shoulder. She said that she couldn’t help but recognize the article that I was reading. Dot said that she had been there, that she was one of the ER nurses on duty that day,” KC continued, growing more confident in the ultimate success of this visit. She decided that now was the time to set the hook and reel this woman in, sensing that there would be very little struggle, hell, Alma Donnelly would probably jump right in the boat!
“Dot told me a story Mrs. Donnelly, actually it sounded more like a fairytale, but you were in it Alma, and that is why I’m here,” KC said as she helped herself to a refill from the beautiful silver tea service.
Alma Donnelly sat still like a deer caught in the headlights; her eyes revealing her secret struggle between fight or flight. She watched the young journalist doctoring her tea with milk. Remaining silent she stalled for time as her mind worked vigorously at devising a believable explanation, one that would satisfy the reporter and still protect the Lopez family. The seconds passed slowly, agonizingly so, and Alma could almost hear her eyelids open and close as she blinked in time with her thought process. Finally, she spoke.
“What exactly do you want to hear from me Miss Littleton?”
KC Littleton forced herself to suppress a victory smile and set her cup back onto its saucer.
“It's KC,” she started. “And may I call you Alma,” she asked sincerely? Mrs. Donnelly nodded in agreement.
“Alright then, Alma, what I want is to understand what apparently you already understand, namely what really happened that day. I think that you know exactly why I am having such trouble gaining access to the truth surrounding Dr. Katz’s case. But more than that, I think that you have a story that may be far more interesting than the one that I came here to research. The question is, are you willing to share it with the world,” KC said, leaning forward to rest her arms on her knees?
Alma sat for moment or two and looked out the bay window beyond the lawn and the drive and out at the endless hectors of farmland. From where she was sitting she could see the fruits of her husband’s life work, the lettuce fields, the strawberry fields, the radish and carrot fields, all of it green and lush and vibrant. She thought about all of the people she had come to know and whom she had befriended over the many years that they had lived in this valley. They had become more than just employers or patrons; they had become family to them all. And now she was about to betray their trust, not of her own volition, but in an attempt to control the damage. Alma turned and looked at KC and searched her face for a sign of compassion. She breathed in deeply and tried to see if she could feel a sense of justice within the young woman’s character. And to her great surprise, that is exactly what she felt, and it caused her to smile brightly, catching the young journalist completely off guard. KC sat up straight and leaned back against the sofa.
“What had just happened here?” she wondered. She wasn’t sure what is was, but she could feel something in the air, and she smiled back at Alma, although she didn't understand from where the smile came?
“Alright dear, I’ll tell you what I can, where would you like to begin?”
Nestle Avenue Elementary: Recess, 9:20am
The bell rang loudly and the hoard of little people scurried toward the door and out to the playground.
“WALK, all of you, I don’t want to have to spend my coffee break treating your little skinned knees,” shouted Miss Miller, the substitute teacher filling in for Mr. Rawlins today.
It was a nanosecond late as the last of the children exited through the door and the words fell silently to the ground, unheard. The lines quickly formed at the tetherball courts and the handball courts. Several girls were already playing hopscotch on the yellow lined blacktop, and all the cool boys had already chosen sides and were about to roll the first pitch on the kick-ball field. It was just another day at Nobel Elementary School. The entire student-body was positively giddy, anticipating the pending break for Christmas vacation.
Hector Hernandez stood out in right field painfully aware that the bases were loaded and secretly hoping against hope that nobody would kick him a fly ball to catch. He wasn’t the most gifted athlete on the field, and he didn’t want to drop a ball and give Davy Myers another reason to bag on him! It wasn’t like it would just stay at school, he had to ride the bus with him too, and that was too much grief in one day for him to bear. Hector would actually pray each night for a miracle where he'd wake up in the morning and be BIG, like maybe six feet tall. Then he'd pound the daylights out of that kid. But for now he would settle for a little basic coordination skills, ‘come onnnnnn God!’, he whispered to himself.
As it happened, today God was on Davy’s side, and Hector could feel his breakfast churning around in his stomach as he tracked the high fly ball coming his way. His little feet propelled him left then right, forward then back in quick static movements as he tried to position himself under the rapidly descending red rubber ball. Just when he thought he was going to make the catch, the sun peeked out from behind the falling object and blinded him. The ball came down squarely on his Charlie Brown like noggin and bounced another twenty feet behind him before he regained his sight and figured out which way to run! Never in the history of childhood had any little boy wished harder to be invisible. Hector tried to block out all of the noise, the jeers and the taunts, that were being hurled his way, and ran after the still rolling ball. By the time he reached it all four runs had scored, and he had personally allowed the first grand slam in the history of Alfred E. Nobel Elementary School to be scored against his team, Los Gatos Grande, whose captain by the way was on his way out to right field to pound him at this very moment!
“IT WASN”T MY FAULT DAVY, I LOST IT IN THE SUN,” Hector shouted as he ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction!
Tina Lopez sat Indian style on the grass and watched as first Hector then Davy passed her, grinning widely at the little comedy. She wasn’t worried about Hector, he could run circles around Davy, that gordo, she thought to herself. She got to her feet as soon as the first bell rang and started walking back toward the classroom. As she walked through centerfield, Hector flew past her in a dead run, seeking the safety of Mr. Rawlins’ classroom. Davy ran by a few seconds later, already out of breath.
“You’ll never catch him,” Tina sang out loud as he passed her.
“Shut up freak,” Davy said, turning to face her while running backward.
A second later he tripped over his own shoelaces and fell onto his behind onto the hot blacktop. Putting out his hands to break his fall, Davy skinned a couple layers of epidermis off of his palms. He shouted an expletive beyond his years as he watched the strawberries on his hands brighten with his blood. He picked himself up more embarrassed than hurt. Tina walked up to him slowly and stopped to see how badly he was hurt. As she reached out to take his hand Davy jumped back away from her.
“Get away from me Freakenstein, I don’t want you touching me, you little witch!” he said harshly, an inkling of fear in his eyes.
“I won’t hurt you Davy, let me see,” Tina pleaded softly.
“No way, get away from me!” Davy shouted from over his shoulder as he ran toward the Boys Room to clean himself up.
Tina watched him run away and disappear into the restroom next to the drinking fountains. She felt the eyes of the other children on her as they looked on from a safe distance. Some of the kids at school could be cruel, not all of them mind you, but some. They would call her names and avoid her, or leave her out of games and activities. But she didn’t mind very much, she had her share of close friends, like Hector, who always made her laugh, and her best friend Wendy who knew all the words to every Beatle’s song. They would sing together on the bus to and from school for as long as the driver would stand for it. So their stares did not bother her as much as one might think. But she was growing up, and was becoming more and more aware that people were uncomfortable around her, maybe even a little afraid. That was just silly she thought. Most people did not even know her, only of her.
Her parents had explained that her gift was one from God, and that it was given to her to share with everyone. It was not important for her or anyone else for that matter, to understand this thing. It was only important that they accept it. So, child that she was, she faithfully and innocently accepted what she was told as truth. Her faith was in her parents love for her, and her parents had placed their faith in God’s love for them all. She knew instinctively that they were right of course, and in her faith she knew no fear.
Whatever it was that passed through her to those who suffered was not harmful to anyone, she knew that. There was not any transfer of pain she was not empathetic in that way. There was never a shared consciousness between her and whomever she touched. She could neither read their minds nor their hearts. There was only the dream, the compulsion to sleep and wait for the spirit to come and sing to her and to watch over her until such time that her mother or father came to wake her and take her home. Tina closed her eyes and took a deep cleansing breath and then raised her arms high over her head and twirled around in a circle. She giggled and called after Davy Myers even though he was no longer in plain view.
“That’s OK gordo, it wasn’t bad you’ll be OK.”
She turned and smiled at the other kids the excitement over for the moment, and they all continued on toward their classrooms, only a little faster now as they had the second bell to beat!