Amelia had told me about her family. She loved them dearly but they – their wealth – embarrassed her since her values and politics leaned leftwards. No one had a right to possess that much money, she felt.
Her father had told her quite bluntly that, as much sympathy as he might have for the downtrodden of the world, he was not going to give away all his money and become one of them. Amelia did persuade him to set up a fellowship at the university’s law school, the Laws-Roach Fellowship for Social Justice, named after two local social-activists.
He also made an arrangement with the city for one of his properties on Shuter Street. The city would cover the upkeep and he would provide the building free of charge for people – up to twelve of them – who would otherwise be homeless. He shared with the city the cost of part-time aides and a full-time cook.
Amelia clearly came from a family with a soul, which went a long way to explaining her qualities, abundant and estimable as they were. The Shuter St. building was called “Amelia’s Place.”
Standing in front of her family home, I saw what Amelia had meant about wealth. The house was impressive as all get-out, ridiculously so. I counted seven windows along the second-story front and, above those, three dormer attic windows. Attached to the house was a twenty-car garage. Okay, only three-car, but still . . . three cars?
There was, Amelia had told me, a swimming pool in the backyard. Of course there was. The front door and its frame were works of art in themselves, the door surrounded on three sides by elaborate ornamental frou-frou: Aubrey Beardsley on Castle Frank Road.
I rang the doorbell. I had telephoned the Stones earlier and had spoken with the Mrs. She said that after all Amelia’s stories about our times together from JK onwards, she felt as if I had long been part of the family. Even my voice was familiar to her, as if it were one she had heard all her life. It is so strange that we have never met before, she remarked. Why is that?
The door opened quickly and a pleasant-looking woman with greying hair and an eager smile stepped into the light. The smile immediately vanished. It was replaced with a look of shock, eyes-wide, mouth-open shock and incredulity. Her eyes swivelled upwards in their sockets and she started to slip to the ground, her legs suddenly wet noodles.
I grabbed her as she fell and was holding her up when a football-linebacker-sized man – the Mr., I assumed – rushed in, glanced at his helpless wife and gaped at me, apparently confused about whether the priority was his wife or me. He put his arms around his wife’s waist to support her, all the while continuing to gape at me.
“Amelia!” he squeaked, such an odd anguished little sound from such a huge man. “Amelia – my god, my god – you’re alive!” His face crumpled in tears as he held his wife, who was making the most alarming noise, a wail that rose from the bottom of a bottomless pit, and then from out of the wail began to emerge intelligible, barely intelligible, sounds.
In a gasping, cracked voice she managed to get out, “Amy, my Amy, my beautiful, precious Amy…I knew it. I always knew you, you would come home.” A hopeful, fearful smile blossoming on her face. “In my heart of hearts I knew it, you would come back to us. And you did…You’re here, you’re home, you’re safe.”
She struggled to stand up under her own steam and then hugged me ferociously. “My baby, for a year I’ve prayed for this moment.” She too was crying, overcome with emotion. “You’re home, my precious Amy.”
Mr. Stone put his arms around the two of us, squeezing as if his life depended on it. “You’re alive!” I squeezed them back just as ferociously, both of them. I had found Amelia.
After class, lunch with the girls.
I smiled and waved as I approached. It felt like forever since I had last seen them and I was more than a little thrilled about getting together again. I couldn’t restrain myself: as soon as I was close I wrapped my tray-free arm around Zoey, kind-hearted Zoey, that rare creature who abided by the biblical injunction to do good unto all.
And Romy. “Rosemarie, I love your vintage outfit. Way cool. You have to be the fashion trend-setter at the university.” She blushed. Bless her heart, she was modest enough to blush. You had to admire a person who blushes upon receiving a little flattery.
I set my lunch tray on the table, put both arms around Sybil’s shoulders and gave a warm squeeze, which she reciprocated just as warmly. “It’s good to have you back, Amelia,” Sybil said. “We missed you.”
“Thanks. It’s good to be back.”
Zoey, a victim of her sweet tooth, was checking out my tray. “Zoey, I can tell by that esurient look in your eye that you are ready to pounce on a butter tart,” I said with a smile. “Please go ahead and pounce. I brought two. One for you, one for me.” Kind hearts do need to be fed.
Not shy when it came to sweets, Zoey scooped the tart right up. “You know, for cafeteria-food the tarts here are really good,” she said mid-bite.
“Zoey, you’d find anything good if it had a high enough sugar content,” Sybil joshed.
“True dat,” said Zoey while her tongue licked at the gooey centre as it oozed from the tart.
“Zoey believes that the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it,” Romy whispered in a mock-confidential non-whisper, clearly pleased with her quote.
Then, switching gears, she asked, now in a casual, everyday-conversational way: “Any plans for the weekend, Amy?” Bless her again, she was trying to make me feel comfortable, at ease. Not necessary, Rosemarie; I am doing okay.
“Nothing special. The l-SATS are coming up. I have a few more practice tests to run through. And I do need to finish the Morrison novel before my ‘Madwomen in the Attic’ class on Monday.”
“You know, Amelia, you work too hard,” Sybil chided in a congenial way. “You should get out occasionally. Dance till dawn. Break some hearts. You’ve heard the old saying, ‘all work, no play,’ etc. etc.”
“I appreciate the concern.” Nodding at Sybil’s bright orange hair, I said, “I see you’ve gotten yourself ready for Halloween next week.”
“Indeed. A walking Jack O’Lantern, I am. Like it?”
“Love it. And those flying-witch earrings are definitely the coup de grâce,” I said.
“‘Coup de grâce’ ? Are you sure that’s what you mean?” asked Sybil.
“I do. Because they slay me.” We all laughed out loud, except Zoey, who giggled. In quite a charming and infectious way.
And still making those little laughing sounds, she reached down to pick up her bag, preparing to leave, the tart having gone the way of all tarts.
“Where are you headed?”
“I’m working a shift this aft.”
Before I could ask, Sybil, eager to help as always, answered: “Zoey pitches in at the home, three afternoons a week. Started about a month ago.”
“Three afternoons! That must interfere with your studies,” I commented. “What home are we talking about?”
“It does interfere to some extent, quite a lot actually but I manage,” Zoey said. “It’s Emma’s Place, the home for indigents over on Shuter. Will we see you tomorrow?”
I nodded. “Same time, same place.”
Zoey leaned over to hug me. “Tomorrow the dessert’s on me,” she said with a parting wave of her hand. “Till then. Toodles.”
Farewells accompanied her leaving.
“Anyone know who Emma was or is?” I asked, just wondering, as I watched Zoey manoeuvre through the bustle of the noonday crowd.
On her way she passed by a striking woman standing in the shadow of a pillar, her hooded eyes fixed on me.
The woman’s stare, but not only the stare, roused something within me. My interest was immediately piqued. Her pretty, angular face looked familiar, what with that Roman nose, almost a Stone-family trade-mark. And that exquisite ivory-cashmere sweater-dress – also familiar. I owned its exact match: it was a Loro Piana.
“Emma?” Sybil mused. “Sorry. I haven’t the faintest idea.”
As the woman smiled a welcoming smile at me, her hooded eyes dark and warm, it seemed as if I were gazing into a mirror when someone crossed my sightline, blocking my view. In the brief second it took to clear, the woman had vanished. I scanned the room, eager to locate her but I couldn’t.
“A student here went missing last year and was never found,” Romy added. “If memory serves, her name was Emma. Zoey works there at the home. She’ll know of any connection. I’ll ask her.”
I was still scanning the room, hopefully, when a student wearing an unseasonably bulky coat stepped aside and behind him, in the far corner of the room, the striking woman materialised, now seated at a table, hooded eyes still on me, a welcoming look on her face.
“You needn’t bother, Rosemarie. I do have an idea, at least the stirrings of one.”
Willy nilly, my imagination took over that inchoate idea. In my mind’s eye I saw myself rising from my seat and then, purposefully but without undue haste, walking across the crowded cafeteria towards her table.
Despite the press of students, my walk was unimpeded: as if directed by some unseen power, the students moved aside as I approached, leaving an open path to her table. Standing beside it, I looked down upon that striking woman with the dark, warm, welcoming eyes, sitting by herself, all alone in the world.
She gave the slightest nod and, thus invited, I sat down in a chair beside her, shuffled the chair closer, and – it seemed the most natural thing in the world to do – reached out to put my arms around her, and she hers just as warmly around me.
We clasped each other tightly, as if reunited at long last with a dearly beloved one, so tightly that it became impossible to tell where one of us began and the other ended, so tightly that our souls had no recourse but to merge into one. Without looking, I had found Emma. Or Emma had found me. Perhaps we had found each other.
I smiled at this wild flight of fancy and sipped my coffee, my heart newly lightened. I began to feel like myself for the first time in a year. I took a bite of my sandwich, tuna salad. Not bad, for cafeteria food. Yes, Sybil, it was good to be back.
Pushing away the remains of my sandwich I stood up, nodded au revoir to the girls, gabbing happily away between themselves, and began to walk across the cafeteria, purposefully but without undue haste.
Find more great reads at the MockingOwl Roost:
- Before They’re Gone
- Selling Books
- The Outcasts
- Beware the Hungry Child and Its Mother
- For Sale
- The Gun from the Unicorn
- The Boy at the Back of the Room
- Chorus of the Waiting
Gary is a lawyer practising in Ontario. He has previously published short fiction in Event and the Mystery Tribune and a collection of stories entitled "The Man Who Killed Weekends and Other Stories"