Friday, January 27, 2017

Segment Nine - Escape from the Belfry Copyright 2013 Doris Gaines Rapp

Chapter Seventeen

The people will be coming for the Christmas Eve service soon. I better look busy. Adam picked up some leaves from a red poinsettia plant that Polly Graham brought in out of the cold wind. There would be a blanket of red at the foot of the altar, formed by the close placement of many Christmas flowers. 
            People began coming to the church at six p.m. The folks in Middletown were much too practical for a midnight service. Wives had to get up early the next morning to start their  Christmas dinner. Adam guessed that God ought to have just about enough practical people by now, with all the ones he had seen in town.
            “Mr. and Mrs. Brumble, it’s good to see you this evening.” Pastor Silverman stood near the West entrance and greeted parishioners as they came in. BeeBee was carrying a new, expensive looking leather purse. She must have struck a pretty good bargain with Mr. Brumble when she got rid of the birdcage, basket-purse.
            “Good evening Pastor. You too, Adam,” Mr. Brumble smiled. He seemed to stand a little taller since the birdcage no longer dangled from Mrs. Brumble’s arm.
            Adam had become an accepted member of the congregation and he had only been in
church one Sunday. It helped that the Bremans and Gundermans vouched for him with their friendship. The fact that he was the church’s newest employee didn’t hurt either. The thought of building a good name with his hard work at the church did not get past Adam.
            “Hi Adam.” Fritzy had come up from behind and startled him. He had just dropped down from his perch in the bell tower minutes before Pastor Silverman came in. He was still in  transition, between hiding in his alone place and circulating with friendly people.
            “I’m going to run down to the kitchen and see if they need any help. We’ll have punch and the cookies we made after this evening’s service.” Frederica pulled on Adam’s sleeve.
            There wasn’t anything he needed to do for Mr. G. at the moment, so Adam followed in mocked protest. “Cookies? Who can eat cookies at this hour?”
            “You can, Adam Shoemaker, that’s who.” Fritzy continued to lead the way to the church kitchen. The room was bright and warm and full of women dressed in their Christmas best.
            The bustle and swish of red and green taffeta, fancy hats with veils and small Christmas pins and decorations attached to the brim, hurried around the kitchen. Small glasses were out of the upper cabinets and fancy Christmas napkins were stacked near the corner of the counter.
            “Ah, Frederica.” Fritzy’s Grandma Stafford threw out her arms and hugged her granddaughter. “I’m pleased to see you again too, Adam. Please come over after services with Frederica for some wassail, non-alcoholic of course. The holiday drink is a tradition of ours.”
            “Oh yes, please,” Fritzy grabbed hold of that same shirt sleeve.
            “That sounds nice Ma’am.”
            “Unless you have your own family traditions. I wouldn’t want to interfere with your family’s Christmas plans.” Mrs. Stafford beamed with holiday joy.
            “No Ma’am. Not this year.”
            “Adam’s mother has been sick, Grandma. Remember, we talked about that.”
            “Oh, yes. Fritzy, your mother thought she knew her.”
            “Yes Ma’am, Bridget, Bridget is her name.” Adam felt uneasy. He did not like talking about his family. They lived on a farm with no running water. Pops was a deserter and Moms was in a sanitarium. Most people were afraid of TB. The disease was very contagious. Recently, Moms had been treated with the new antibiotics but Adam still had a feeling of shame about the disease. He wished the new medicine would help, but Moms had said not to wish for things. She said the wee ones grant wishes but there is no satisfaction. No matter what wishes came true, the wisher feels more and more empty. When Moms was real sick and Adam was afraid she would die, he had thought he would strike a bargain with the shadow people. A deal with evil wouldn’t make anyone feel empty or unhappy. Because, once they struck their agreement, they would never feel guilty or lonely again. They would have no conscience.
            But, Granny had warned, “Don’t even made eye contact with the shadow people. They will offer comfort, even healing, but they are evil. Once they have you, they won’t let you go.”
            The old grandmother’s words haunted him as he struggled to turn off the bad feelings that gnawed at him. He wanted to hide from all the Christmas cheer. He withdrew inside himself, far from the happy people all around him.
            “Come on Adam, let’s go up and take our seats in the sanctuary.” Fritzy led Adam out of the kitchen.                 
            As they walked out of the kitchen, Adam slipped his hand down and took hers. “Fritzy, I
don’t want to walk behind you. I want to walk with you.”
            Fritzy laughed and squeezed his hand. Adam had taken a stand and it was a good move. He didn’t want to be led around.
            The sanctuary was full of Christmas music as Adam and Fritzy entered. The large, horseshoe shaped room was beautiful. There was a huge gathering of poinsettias at the base of the altar that resembled a red coverlet that had been tucked in at the base. Red tapers glowed on the altar and additional ones lit the aisles from candelabra that stood like sentries at the end of each pew. The whole scene was a flickering masterpiece of flame and fire.
            “It’s not there,” Adam heard Pastor Silverman whisper to Alfred as they stood just outside the sanctuary door.
            “Not there?” Alfred repeated. “That cannot be.”
            “What?” Fritzy interjected herself into the conversation.
            “The Christ Child carving. You and Adam went down to the storeroom and got the statue out.”
            “No Sir,” Adam interrupted. “Remember, you came in and asked us to help your wife? We left the carving in the storeroom.” Adam knew the figure was not still in storage because he was there, in the shadows, when the Christ Child was stolen.
            “Yes, yes,” Alfred spoke softly, but Adam could tell from his tone that he was concerned.
            “The carving just isn’t in the storeroom anywhere. I looked through every box myself.” The pastor was concerned but restrained.
            Adam could not meet their gaze. His eyes searched the floor for a hole to crawl in. He knew what happened to the Christ Child but he couldn’t tell them. It happened at a time when no one should have been in the church. What could he say? Nothing.
            “Pastor, there’s a doll in the nursery. I used to play with it when I was a kid,” Fritzy offered. “Let me wrap Baby Bubbles in a blanket. Maybe no one will notice the bundle isn’t our carving.”
            “Well, all right. It’s too late to do anything else tonight.” The pastor’s voice showed his disappointment. “But remember, Fritzy, even the work of art is just a carving. The real child of Christmas is in our hearts.”
            Adam turned away and walked to the windows in the church doors. He had to think, to  sort out his stories, his lies. As he stood there with his eyes fixed on the snow covered street outside, Fritzy hurried to the nursery for the doll.
            In our heart? he sighed. The real child of Christmas is in our heart? Most of the time, my heart feels empty. No one lives there anymore, not even me.  
            Two dark shadowy figures crossed in front of him. He was tempted to ask them for help but he didn’t. He followed them with his eyes until be remembered Granny’s warning and he turned away.
            Fritzy hurried back with Baby Bubbles wrapped in a blanket. “The babe doesn’t look too bad. The doll will be okay this time,” she smiled weakly. “With the carving, we always carried it with the blanket underneath so both of the child’s hands and arms could be open, reaching up to his father. Mary will have to carry the infant differently this year.” Anyone could see that Fritzy  was upset.
            Adam’s eyes darted away from Fritzy’s. He could see her sorrow which made him equally sad. He knew what had happened. He knew who had taken the Christ Child the night before, yet
there he stood, cowering in the front entrance. He was as far as he could get from the worship service without stepping out into the frigid, dark night.
            Fritzy handed the doll over to the Mary for that year’s nativity tableau. Silently, Fritzy and Adam walked into the sanctuary and took their seats.
            Just before the service started, Mrs. Silverman handed her husband a piece of paper. The pastor read the note, closed the yellow lined sheet and bowed his head.
            The chancel choir, joined by the cherubs, sang Away in a Manger while the entire congregation seemed to be focused on Fritzy’s doll. Adam’s stomach felt heavy. It nearly fell to his knees when he saw Buddy and Freddy walk into the sanctuary with their parents.
            Those guys come here to church? They pretend to worship in the very place they just robbed? Adam watched as the boys climbed the stairs to the balcony and sat in the section to the right side above the pulpit. Great, I’m going to see them out of the corner of my eye through the whole service. 
            “My friends,” Pastor Silverman began his sermon, “some of you may have noticed that our carving is not in the manger this year. I know how hard that is for all of us. I left by the back door, but my wife found this note attached to the front door of the parsonage when she left. It reads:  ‘We have your carving.’”
            The congregation gasped. Mrs. Brumble mouthed, “What? How?”
            Adam thought he was going to be sick. To add to his misery, he saw Freddy elbow Buddy in the ribs and both boys stifled childish giggles.
            The pastor continued. “That’s all the note said. My friends, we have to believe that  someone is playing some sort of trick on us and they will return the statue. Maybe not before Christmas, but perhaps we will have the carving back for next year’s celebrations. The note doesn’t say more, so I can only assume that they think this is a funny trick and we will get the carving back soon.”
            They have no intention of returning that statue. They already have a buyer! Adam screamed inside and thought his head would burst.
            “Good friends, we are not going to let this prank spoil our Christmas Eve service. As much as we have loved having the carving over the years, a wooden Christ is not whom we worship. We don’t value the representation. We worship the real thing. Only truth is worthy of our praise. They were probably just children playing a childish game.”
            Adam heard the boys gasp and wondered who else may have heard them. Go ahead wise guys, get loud enough and you will give yourselves away. Adam actually hoped they would do just that, then he wouldn’t have to do anything. But, deep down, he knew he wouldn’t speak up. He didn’t last night when the carving was stolen and he wouldn’t say anything now.
            The pastor talked no more about the Christ Child carving. He said that love came to earth a long time ago and remained here for those who would accept that love.
            The whole service touched Adam. He marveled at the beauty of everything, the warm  candle light, the music, and even a doll with straggly hair that had substituted for the son of God.
            Adam didn’t talk about the doll either. He was afraid if he opened his mouth the whole story would pour out, including the fact that he had been living a complete lie.
            Only truth is worthy of our praise. The words echoed in his ears, like a bully’s taunt. But, he knew that silence contributes to a lie, not clears up the mystery. Adam had done nothing wrong but hide himself from those who tried to care for him. He was just an empty shell of a person, visible but unknown, there but not there.
            Shaddi, what should I do? But, the wind was silent. In the void, dark shadows moved from the corners. Adam saw them and knew how easy it would be to let them help him. But, calling on the forces of darkness to find the Christ Child carving was wrong. That partnership would be like two apposing worlds colliding in space and Adam didn’t want to be under that fallout when the debris rained down.
 Chapter Eighteen

“Over here,” Fritzy directed after the Christmas Eve service was over.
            She grabbed her coat from the cloak room, scooped up Adam’s jacket and hurried him to the church door. He put on his jacket as he stepped out onto the freshly shoveled sidewalk. The snow fell gently but had not corrupted his hard work. Adam smiled with pride.
            The Breman’s hustled Adam into their station wagon as they followed the Stafford sedan  out of the church parking lot. He looked out the back window of the car at a long procession of other friends that joined in the fun.
            “They’re all coming,” Fritzy smiled when she saw Adam count each vehicle. “The church is a family and a family celebrates Christmas together.”
            “It has been a long time since I’ve experienced ‘family.’ It’s a little mind-storming.”
            “Boy, you can say that again. I know I find my family overwhelming sometimes.” Jim Breman joked.
            “All right now, Jimmy,” his mother reminded. “Adam is talking about feeling a little smothered about having so many family members around at one time, not that he doesn’t appreciate his family.”
            “Yes, Mother Dear,” Jim mocked. “You’ll have to excuse me Adam. I am trying to figure out if I’m the man my college expects me to be or the little boy my parents want.”
            “Trust me, Son,” Coach laughed, “for what college costs, there had better be a man coming out the other side at graduation, not a perpetual little boy.”
            I’m fifteen and I’m on my own. Adam smiled inside. I’m growing up for free.
“The biggest decisions at Grandma and Grandpa’s house will be, one: which cookie
didn’t I get to taste at the church and, two: do I want a cinnamon stick in my wassail or not.”  Fritzy giggled and wrapped her hand through the crook of Adam’s arm.
            Jim jumped out of the car as soon as the wheels stopped in his Grandparents’ driveway. The other visitors parked on the street.
            The house was Victorian in design and lit with the glow from hundreds of Christmas lights. A decorated tree was positioned in the middle of a large, round window and even the front yard had just enough snow to create a storybook picture.
            Adam stopped on the front sidewalk and tried to take in all he could see. He wanted every light and every ornament to be a memory for him to carry back up to the dark belfry.
            “Come on in Adam. The winter wind is cold out here,” Fritzy started to pull on his coat sleeve, then paused and gently put her hand in his.
            “Sure, and if I forget to tell you later, Merry Christmas Frederica Breman.”
            “And a very Merry Christmas to you Adam Shoemaker.” As snowflakes lit on her nose and lips, she giggled, stuck out her tongue and tried to catch a few crystals of the icy fluff.
            “You are always so happy,” Adam marveled.
            “Of course. Why not?”
            “Why not? We just went through a war that wrapped around the whole world.”
            “My point exactly. You put that statement in the past tense. The war is over.”
            “Not for me,” Adam mumbled, surprised he heard his own words out loud.
            “Sorry, Mr. Negative. The war is over for everyone. That doesn’t mean that every problem is solved for everyone.” She said nothing for a second as they walked into the house. “I am sorry your father is still missing Adam. But, until you know what happened to him, it might be better to believe he is well and he’s on the long way home.”
            Adam said no more. People from the church and neighborhood pushed in and around them. Laughter was everywhere. Smiling faces were reflected back wherever he looked.
            “Come on in,” Mabel Thornton called as she began to play the piano. “Silent night, Holy night,” the people sang. And, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” was a  reflection of the scene around the marble fireplace in the Stafford living room. 
            “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light,” people sang through the evening.
            Fritzy led Adam by the hand into the large kitchen that smelled sweet and wonderful. The linoleum on the floor resembled multi shades of red bricks and looked new and shinny. The cabinets were white and circled the room. Adam couldn’t help compare the room to the farm kitchen he left behind.
            “The kitchen looks happy,” Adam observed. Flashes of the farm kitchen flooded his memory. “All Moms had was the black, Home Comfort Range and that huge thing sure wasn’t electric.” Adam laughed, “I remember the story about the day the salesman came by in his horse and buggy and convinced Grandma that she simply had to have that stove. That range was the best that could be bought for a non-electric kitchen. Moms is still using the same range. She’d check the wood in the firebox and if there wasn’t enough, I’d go out back and bring some in to fill the wood bucket.”
            “Adam that sounds wonderful!”
            “Wonderful? It is primitive, Fritzy!” Adam nearly laughed at the thought that all that work could somehow be wonderful.
            “Sure Adam. My Grandma and Grandpa Breman live on a farm and they have the same kind of stove. Jimmy and I used to argue over who got to bring in the wood for Grandma. Sarah was usually setting the table.” She looked at Adam with a look of surprise. “How can honest work be anything but beautiful . . . and fun too?”
            “I hadn’t looked at it that way,” Adam admitted.
            “I’m a teacher because I wanted to work with kids.” Coach Breman added to the conversation as he got a fresh pitcher of wassail. “I had a favorite teacher I admired—Mr. Anderson. So, I worked hard and went to college,” the coach added. “I don’t mean to interrupt you kids, but a college education is just a degree, not a pedigree. Education doesn’t make you smarted or better. College makes you prepared to choose the work you would love to do, not have to do the work you can find.”
            “I guess,” Adam blushed.
            “My brother, George, was two years behind me. He graduated from the same college I did, with highest honors, and he farms our parents’ farm. Why? Because he loves farming. Working the land is honest work and you have no boss but God.”
            “Honest work?” There was that word again—honesty.
            “There aren’t special jobs that are worthy. A day of work is a day of work.” Coach smiled and filled his cup with wassail.
            An honest day’s work. Adam thought about those four words.

            “Come on,” Fritzy coaxed again. “I want you to meet Grandpa Breman.”

Monday, January 23, 2017

National Reading Day

Today is National Reading Day! I'm so happy to share my novels with you, my readers. Thank you so much for your enthusiastic interest. I have three novels posted here; the third is still in process. I am thrilled to share them with you. Happy reading. You're part of National Reading day!

If you prefer to read them on your eReader, or hold the paper in your hand, they are all available on Amazon, B& and Do enjoy them and many Blessings to you.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Segment Eight - Escape from the Belfry - Copyright 2013 Doris Gaines Rapp

Chapter Fifteen

Now what? Adam wondered and grumbled. The night was too black for shadows to loom in the corners that Monday morning or very late Sunday, whatever you call the middle of the night. Christmas Eve services would be later that same evening.
            Adam had awakened with a start. Charlie Baker’s horn was not his wake-up call because it was both too early and Christmas break had started. But, Adam was startled by something. He sat up and listened. Nothing but the wind and silence. He pulled the covers up around his ears, rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.
            Screech. That was the storage closet door. I can tell by the sound of the squeak.
            Adam eased himself down the ladder in his sock feet and inched across the floor in the direction of the storeroom closet. Why would someone be here at this hour?
            Icy sleet lightly peppered the windows. It wasn’t a true blizzard, just a reminder of the stinging cold outside.
            Adam almost called out Pastor Silverman’s name, but remained silent. The night intruder may not be him?
            Since Adam had no more business in the church at that hour than a common thief, he
stayed in the darkest shadows and crept along the wall that led to where the sound seemed to come from.
            “Shaddi,” he whispered, “let me see.”
            The wall outside the storeroom burst forth with light that penetrated the studs and lath. The surface of the plaster glowed with promise. Adam was stunned. He could see through the wall with his eyes, or his heart, he couldn’t tell which. Whatever Shaddi had done, Adam didn’t know, but he saw and heard the boys in the room beyond the thick walls.
            “Quiet Freddy,” a young male voice ordered from inside the huge, walk-in closet.
            “Who are you afraid of waking, Buddy—God? Who would be here at this hour?”
            “I don’t know, but it is Christmas Eve day.”
            “You think Santa Clause will come through this place driving a sleigh?” Freddie jabbed his partner-in-crime in the ribs. “Are you sixteen or six?”
            “Never mind that.” Buddy smacked at the other boy. “Keep your hands off me, Freddy Boy. I’ll have to clean your clock if you don’t stop.”
            “You think you can stop me?” Freddy glared.
            “I’ll show you,” Buddy barked and grabbed the boy around the neck.
            Freddy pushed Buddy off and together they stumbled into the storage room shelves. The shelves rocked and teetered but Buddy and Freddy kept brawling and rolling around the room. With reckless abandonment, they shoved and tackled and fell from one side of the store room to the other. Boxes fell to the floor. Easter Pageant costumes were pulled and ripped from their hangers. They continued their assault on each other as they neared the valuable Christ Child carving.
            What should I do, Shaddi? Adam struggled with the responsibility he could feel. No one can know I’m here. How do I stop them and still make sure no one finds out I live here?
            “Watch out Buddy,” Freddy shouted as he wiped a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth onto his jacket sleeve. “We came here to steal the carving, not destroy the thing.”
            Steal the Christ Child? Adam’s heart pounded with anger mixed with the fear of being caught. Fritzy would never forgive me if I let them take the Baby Jesus statue.
            “Do you think that guy will still want to buy a precious carving if it isn’t precious anymore?” Freddy asked.
            “I don’t know if he’ll want it or not but there’s been no damage yet. And, if you’ll quit horsing around, this hunk of carved out wood won’t get broke.” Buddy was firm. “The guy came driving into town the other day and started asking my dad about a carving by some famous artist.” Buddy brushed himself off and grabbed Freddy’s collar. “Now get yourself together. I heard them talking and later, I found the guy at the filling station.” He looked Freddy squarely in the eye. “You didn’t tell anybody about him did ya?”
            Adam thought of the man in the blue car. I had never seen him around town before. Maybe he’s the guy Buddy’s talking about?
            “No, no, I didn’t tell nobody. What’s the matter with you? Let me go.” Freddy pulled Buddy’s fingers from his collar and staggered back.
            “Well, you’d better not breathe a word about any of this. No one else knows this guy. No one will think to look for the statue with someone they ain’t even heard of. You got that?”
            “I got it,” Freddy agreed. “Now leave me be,” Freddy pushed Buddy off him. “We’d better hurry and get out of here. You don’t want to be wandering around in this building when the
minister gets here.”
            “I ain’t afraid of any soft, old Bible Thumper,” Buddy boasted.
            “Well, this Thumper was a Golden Gloves winner a long time ago, Dummy. My dad told  me.”
            Pastor Silverman . . . a boxer? Adam nearly blurted his surprise out loud. Thankfully, his surprise didn’t knock-out his control.
            “I could take him,” Freddy puffed out his chest and hitched up his pants. “I’m a pretty  good boxer myself.”
            “Boxer? Fred you’re a street brawler and a bad one at that.”
            “You want to test my strength, Buddy? You ready for that? Huh?” Freddy got right up in Buddy’s face and crowded him into a corner.
            I can’t step in between them. I could take them, probably both at the same time. But, everyone would know I was here. Adam’s heart pounded with anger and fear of exposure. I hate hiding here in the dark like a coward. I can’t do anything.
            The furnace room was next to the storage closet. Adam knew that, but the two hoodlums didn’t. When the coal, wet from the recent snow, popped in the huge firebox, the two new-to-crime thieves screamed like little girls. “What was that?”
            The furnace you idiots, Adam responded in silence from the shadows.
            The two intruders jerked and flapped about, ran into each other and bounced off shelves.
            Adam had to hold his laughter in. He was so happy to see the two inept thieves get a small taste of the revenge he held in his heart, he bubbled with jeering glee.
            The shadows that could not be seen in the dark, rose up like the phantoms of anger and  
fear that they were, with piercing dagger sharp eyes. “We will destroy them for you,” they seethed.
            Then Gertrude jumped out from nowhere, her long sharp toenails exposed and landed on top of Freddy’s shoulders.
            “What the—? What is this thing?” Freddy screamed in a pitch no longer heard in boys his age.
            “It’s a cat, Dumbbell,” Buddy laughed.
            “Well, get him off me!”
            “A cat? Thought you could handle a Golden Gloves champion, Freddy Boy.” Buddy laughed until he doubled at the waist. “Or, are you Freddy the Wild One?”
            “Get him off of me now!” Freddy demanded.
            Her, the cat’s a her. “Get her off of me,” you Ding-a-ling, Adam smirked.
            Buddy reached up to the underbelly of the cat to lift her off his frantically screaming accomplice. Gertrude turned in the direction of the shadows. With glaring green eyes, she arched her back, switched targets and jumped from Freddy onto Buddy’s hat. Buddy reached up and brushed the cat from his head like a large pesky fly. 
            Adam nearly gasped from his dark corner. She better not be hurt. He boiled with anger.
            Gertrude hit the floor on all fours. She simply turned and walked off. Apparently her fun had passed and she would move on to church mice.
            “Get the Christ kid and let’s get out of here,” Buddy demanded.
            Freddy rummaged quickly through the boxes on the shelves. He knocked off more decorations and small containers than he left stacked. Old hymnals, Vacation Bible School materials, and children’s choir vestments lay scattered all over the floor. Then, there it was. There could be no mistake about what they had found. The statue was exquisite. A beautiful carving of the Baby Jesus was crudely pulled from its box and jammed into a duffle bag the boys had brought with them.  
            Oh no, Adam moaned internally. There was nothing he could do but stand in the dark and watch the boys run out of the church with the beautiful carving, while the vicious, howling laughter of dark spirits still hissed in his ears. 
            As the boys passed, Adam etched their faces in his memory. He recognized them but didn’t really know them.
            School’s not that big. They just don’t want to be close to anyone. They want to slink around the edges, Adam sneered.

            He stayed against the wall well after the other two had run away like the sneak thieves they were. To Adam’s thinking, his hiding in the same shadows that let them get away, made him no better than the thieves. The carving was still gone. The desperate desperados had still stolen the joy of Christmas from the Cranberry Street Church and Adam had still remained silent.

Chapter Sixteen

The next morning, Adam felt just as guilty as he had the night before. What on earth do I do?
            He awakened with the same heavy heart and the same question weighing him down that he had when he went to sleep. I’m the only one who knows that the Christ Child carving has been stolen and I know who took the masterpiece away. But I can’t do anything about it. If I tell anyone, they are going to want an explanation.
            “And, just why were you in the church in the middle of the night Young Man?” I can hear the questions now. But, I don’t hear my explanation.
            The day belonged to Adam, not Principal Sparrow or any of the other classroom crazy birds, so he took his time rolling out of bed. The hummer was in full chirp with one of his long “Watch me!” songs warbling forth. Adam opened the bird purse and smiled. “Good morning my friend, my roommate I guess.”
            With the basket lid open, the hummer jumped onto Adam’s extended index finger and lapsed into his little short, quiet chirp that was to say, “I’m out of food.”
            “I know, I know . . . breakfast,” Adam agreed as he checked for sounds in the room below, then transferred the little bird feet to the top of the basket before he slipped down the ladder.      
             With school on Christmas recess he hadn’t had a hot lunch in recent days, except at Fritzy’s home. He had signed his mother’s name on a form that allowed him to work in the school cafeteria. He usually operated the dishwasher. He didn’t mind the work. He exchanged water-shrunk hands for a warm meal. Now, Adam had to find food on his own. He thought about the roast beef sandwich Mrs. Breman sent home that was still in his pocket.
            Adam went down and prepared the brightly colored sugar water for the hummer and looked around the kitchen. What would Pops say if he knew Adam had stolen food? The boy preferred to think of food acquisition as “local charity.” Then a thought came to him. He remembered a half-quart of milk that had been in the refrigerator for over a week. He knew that milk would spoil, so he would do the ladies a favor and drink every drop. That would save them the disgusting chore of emptying stinky, spoiled, curdled milk a few days later.
            He opened the glass jar and upended the entire pint of cold milk in a few gulps. “Um, a
little cream is still in the bottle. That doesn’t happen very often. The ladies usually pour off the cream to beat for whipping cream or put in their coffee.”
            Adam took the saucer back up to the belfry and looked for the bird. The little one was perched on the top of Adam’s school notebook. The tiny hummer fanned its wings in a blur of motion and fluttered over to Adam’s finger that was still holding the saucer. The bird attached its little feet to the edge of the dish and looked at the sugar water and back up at Adam.
            “Little one, you are a survivor.” He put the hummer and his breakfast in the basket-cage,  then got dressed. He was going out.
            Adam had one thought in mind. The robbery. His silence in it was a puzzle with no
solution. He had to get out of the church for a while or he would get island fever, at least that’s what they called his closed-in feeling in the movies down at the Dabell Neighborhood Theater. But, there was nowhere for him to go. If he went into stores, he was afraid they would think he was loitering. Still, he had to go somewhere.
            Outside, the wind had picked up during the early morning hours. Adam pulled his jacket around him as he tried to fold the wool and make a double thickness. Beneath the fabric, he could feel his own ribs. Unstopped, he leaned into the winter wind and kept his head down.
            “Oh!” a female voice screamed from an adjacent yard.
            “Are you all right?” Adam called over the fence to the woman who stood there bent over.
            “I think I sprained or twisted my ankle,” she gasped in frustration. “I have been trying to get ready for company. My family is coming for our annual Christmas Eve party. I have to get this sidewalk shoveled off. There’s ice from the doorway to the edge of the garden fence.”
            “Yes Ma’am, I can see.”
            “I don’t know if I dare finish this job—or even if I can.”
            Adam could easily see she was upset. Her eyes welled up with tears. “I would be happy to clean the walk off for you, Ma’a—in exchange for a jelly sandwich.” That was all Adam could think of to barter. Most women had home-make jams and jellies in their pantry.
            “I am Francine Bisque, young man. Who are you?” Her question was quick but friendly.
             “Adam Shoemaker, Mrs. Bisque. I’m the part-time janitor over at the church on Cranberry Street.”
            “Oh yes, my boy. I know many of the people there.” She paused for a moment, then added, “If you can help me into the house, then clear all this ice off the sidewalk, I will be happy to make you a strawberry preserves sandwich. You’re not allergic to strawberries are you?”
            “No Ma’am,” Adam smiled at her thoughtfulness.
            “And . . . and a nice dollar bill to go with that sandwich. A glass of milk or apple cider too,” she added, like someone who had just summed up a major transaction.
            Food and money? “Yes, Ma’am,” he pronounced with eager determination. I need speed and strength this morning Shaddi. Fill me with might and power, like the comic book heroes.
            With Shaddi’s help, Adam’s arms wound up like a whirligig in a windstorm. He shoveled and scrapped and had the ice and snow off the sidewalk in record time. A whole dollar! Adam could not believe his luck. A dollar for Moms’ present.
            He quickly finished the sidewalk and leaned the shovel on the house near the back door. Mrs. Bisque provided the sweet sandwich, the cider and the dollar. “The drink is in one of my good pint jars. Just set the glass by the back door when you’re finished.”
            Adam downed the cider. The special apple juice was sweet and tangy at the same time. It touched him in that spot usually reserved for Grandma Schumacher. He tucked the sandwich inside his jacket, the dollar in his pocket, and started off in the direction of the Woolworth store. I’ll save the sandwich for later. But now, I have money to spend. I’ll have every right to be in the store. I’m not a vagrant today.       
            “May I help you?” the sales clerk smiled from behind the candy counter in the center near  the entrance to the five-and-dime.
            “Um,” Adam closed his eyes and inhaled the fragrances just inside the store. “I never can decide which is better, the salty smell of the peanuts, the sweetness of the chocolate clusters, or
the combined flavors of the caramel corn.”
            “Well, I’ll be happy to get you anything you want.”
            “Thank you, no. I’m going to look around before I decide.”
            “If I can help, just let me know,” she smiled.
            Adam walked slowly through the store as the narrow boards of the hardwood floors squeaked beneath his feet. He was a customer—a real customer. The broad table-like shelves with clear glass dividers provided small cubbies to perfectly display each item type. Tea towels in one, dish rags in others. He touched everything but could decide on nothing. He didn’t stop until he came to the stack of linen handkerchiefs. They were beautiful.
            “Aren’t those a little too frilly for you,” Fritzy teased as she came up behind Adam as he debated his find.
            “Hi, Fritz.” He was surprised. He had not even thought of Fritz being anywhere but school, church and home. Adam hadn’t been out in the world for so many months, except to school, the thought never occur to him that others were out and about every day.
            “Who’s the hanky for?” She reached for one of the delicate lace bordered soft cloths.
            “You smell good.” Adam blurted.
            “Thanks. The fragrance is called Chantilly.” Fritzy smiled and waved her hand near Adam’s face. “You just put a little on your wrist. The pulse is close to the skin there and the warmth brings out the scent.”
            “It’s great Fritzy.” Adam looked back at the handkerchiefs. Just then, he and Fritzy were jostled by two boys who pushed and shoved each other and any one else in the store. They were nearly bowled over as the boys pushed their way through the store.
            “Watch out Freddy,” Buddy whispered hoarsely. “The idea is to not get noticed, not knock over everything in the store.” 
            Adam could hear him clearly. Wow, Shaddi, super hearing! Thanks.
            “Quit bossing me around, Buddy.” Freddy pushed again and a comic book fell from under his jacket.
            “That’s just fine. You want to drop the others too?” Buddy jabbed Freddy in the arm.
            “I know them . . .” Adam finally realized who the two were. He had just seen them during the night and he recognized their voices.
            “Who?” Fritzy questioned and looked past the boys to see who, of any account, Adam could be referring to.
            “Never mind,” Adam whispered. He looked back and saw a clerk watching the boys. Adam turned and ran into Freddy again and this time there was a zap, a charge like Adam felt when he helped Grandpa with the old truck and crossed some wires that should not have been crossed.
            “Yow!” Freddy yelped and shook his arm. Two more comics fell from beneath Freddy’s coat and lay on the floor.
            Adam simply pretended he had been knocked off balance by Freddy during the boys rough horseplay. He raised both hands, No foul, he gestured.
            “Are these yours?” Adam asked as he grabbed the comics off the floor before either of the two could touch them again.
            “No, no they aren’t mine,” Freddy threw up both hands in denial as he looked back at the clerk who continued to watch him.
            Everyone turned to Buddy. “Hey, they’re not mine.” He thrust his hands as far into his pockets as he could jam them.
            “They are mine, I believe,” the clerk said as she reached for the comics. She winked at Adam and took the magazines from him. “Thank you,” she whispered.
            Adam handed them over without giving any acknowledgment to the boys. He didn’t
even look in their direction.
            Freddy and Buddy ran out of the store and didn’t look back.  
            “Same school, different circles,” Fritzy mumbled as the two darted off.
            “They are definitely not my friends.” Adam was adamant without explaining why he felt as he did. Their behavior was explanation enough.
            “You are so brave, Adam,” Fritzy admired. “So honest.”
            The praise stabbed him like a dart in a bullseye. “I’m not so―”
            “Thank you, Young Man,” the clerk repeated. “You have to be commended for your honesty.”
            “But,” Adam stopped. There weren’t any words for what could not be said. “Thank you,” was all he could say.
            “Now, tell me about the handkerchief,” Fritzy demanded.
            “I earned a little money this morning shoveling a walk. I want to get Moms a Christmas present.” He held up the two handkerchiefs he admired. “Which do you like?”
            “Well . . . that would depend on how much you earned. The pretty one with the tatting on the edge is fifty cents and the one with the tatting and the crocheted flower in the corner is one dollar. Which one can you buy with your money?” She held them up. “They are both pretty.”
            “I just have a dollar and tax on the expensive one would make the cost about three more cents.”
            The clerk with the comic books overheard their conversation. “Well, you should get some reward for having caught the shoplifters. Let’s make the fancy one a dollar even, if that’s the one you want. How’s that?”
            “Are you sure?” Adam gasped.
            “Of course. You earned a special price.”
            Adam payed for his purchase at the front counter.
            The checkout girl smiled. “I believe Charlotte may have been wrong on that price. I think the ticket should read, seventy-five cents . . . total.”
            Adam could say nothing at first. “But―”
            “I’ll hear no more about my decision. I’ll begin to doubt myself,” the cashier stated as she handed him the thin box that contained the cherished Christmas present.
            “Thank you,” Adam said, but in his mind he calculated: a hamburger for lunch would be fifteen cents and a glass of milk would be a nickel. He smiled. He could save the jelly sandwich for supper and actually have lunch as well. He would survive another day.
            “What do we do now?” Fritzy looked around the store. “Everything is so bright and colorful in here, I don’t want to leave. Christmas decorations are everywhere.”
            The saleslady at the music counter sat at the upright piano and sang as she played. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas . . .”
            “I don’t know.” Adam wanted to eat but didn’t have enough money to treat Fritzy, so he said nothing more.
            “I am going to get a malted,” Fritzy giggled as she headed toward the lunch counter. “Do you want half?”
            “I think I’ll get a hamburger. I’ll share half my burger with you if you want to divide the malt with me.”
            “Well,” Fritzy jumped up on a fountain stool and swiveled for a few seconds. “I don’t
want any hamburger, ‘cause Mom would kill me if I spoiled my lunch and . . . I wouldn’t be able to drink the entire malt myself. I was hoping you would take the other half of the malt so I could have some and not get Mom’s bun in a tangle at the same time.”
            “Okay,” Adam thought. I’ll be money ahead and have a full stomach at the same time.
            They found two seats at the lunch counter. The year was 1945 but the Woolworth and the fountain had been there long before that. The black marble counter was even warn in a few of the more favorite eating spots.
            “You’ve talked about your grandfather but not your dad, Adam.” Fritzy removed her coat and made herself comfortable at the soda fountain without giving much thought to what she was saying.
            Fritzy’s comment was harmless enough but Adam didn’t know what to do with it. He didn’t want to talk about his father. He didn’t know what to say. “He went overseas a couple years ago.”
            “When does he get discharged? Is he part of the clean up?”
            The waitress sat the malt on the counter, along with the metal mixing can, and a second glass. Fritzy poured a generous portion of the malted milk into Adam’s glass and slid it along the counter as the waitress sat the sizzling hamburger in front of him. The bun smelled like it had been buttered and grilled. It looked delicious and smelled even better.
            “He . . .” Adam took a bite of the burger as he stalled for time. “We haven’t heard from him in a long time.”
            “I imagine that’s kinda scary.”
            “Sort of.”
            “Where was he the last you heard?”
            “Um, he had been shot down over Germany. A pilot in another fighter saw him go down.”
            “Adam, I am so sorry. If you don’t want to talk about it . . .”
            He didn’t know what to dream up next. The whole thing was a lie. His dad wasn’t even a pilot. He was a Sargent in charge of some men who were to help take back a town or village or something. But, no one knew what had happened. The rest of his men had already come home. No one knew where Sargent Schumacher was. Adam finished the rest of his sandwich and pretended to have his mouth too full to talk.
            Fritzy laughed and pushed the malt closer to his reach. “You had better wash some of that down. Didn’t Mother feed you enough food yesterday?” She chuckled again.
            “Too long ago, can’t remember,” he teased. “Besides, I like to eat every day.”
            Fritzy laughed again. “I guess you’re right.” 
            A wide mirror stretched above the full length of the lunch counter. The reflection allowed diners to enjoy the activity of the store behind them while they ate. Half of the fun of being in the Woolworth was seeing other patrons as the bustled about.
            Adam’s eyes suddenly snapped to attention. The man with the blue car came into the store and stopped. He looked around, mostly toward the back of the store. Adam put his hands over his face like he was yawning or tired and needed to keep his face from falling off.
            “Are you sleepy already? It’s only 11 a.m.”
            “Sorry Fritzy,” Adam yawned and peeked at the man through his fingers. “I guess I’m more tired than I thought.”
            “The services are tonight. Maybe you need a nap.” She finished her malt and wiped her mouth. “So decadent, yet, so yummy good.”
            Adam watched the Smith guy walk to the back of the store and decided to use that as a cue to leave while blue-car man was at the back. He chugged down the last few swallows of the thick malt and grabbed up his mother’s present. “I think I’ll catch a few winks. Let me walk you home.”
            As Smith walked to the back of the store, the two young people walked out the front. Adam did not feel safe until they had rounded the corner, out of sight of the door in case the man came out. He felt crowded, fearful, and had no idea why he felt that way.
            Adam’s world was whirling around him and he couldn’t find the core of the vortex. What was happening? It wasn’t enough that he lived in a birdcage with a hummingbird? Now he felt stalked. Would the man follow them? Would he find the church on Cranberry Street?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Segment Seven - Escape from the Belfry

Chapter Thirteen

“Hi there Little One,” Adam smiled at the beautiful green, ruby throated hummingbird as he opened the basket. The belfry was filled with the happy sounds of the little bird in the makeshift cage. That Sunday morning broke like any other day, except for the chirping of the little hummer.
            “Looks like you’re dressed in Christmas colors. As least one of us is celebrating.” He prepared the water-nectar as usual and placed the little saucer in B.B. Brumble’s basket-purse turned birdcage.
            Adam watched the bird celebrate the morning. But, instead of joining in the jubilee, suddenly he became overwhelmed. He felt so empty he couldn’t breathe. The bird was brightly adorned in a beautiful suit and Adam had nothing but two pair of jeans, one too short and one okay, and three shirts. Well, he had found another flannel shirt in the box of items donated to the poor. You couldn’t get much poorer than Adam. At least, he could not see how. His Sunday had started with promise until reality and truth found him. Strangely, he could feel his anger turn on the hummer. He didn’t know why.
            Dark, foreboding shadows crept up through the cracks in the floor. Their stench sucked the air out of the room. “The bird is mocking you, Boy. Why is he so happy?”
            Adam wanted to turn away but what the shadows said was true. He turned on his little companion and took his anger out on the hummer. “If I could take that Christmas sweater off you, I would,” Adam started to grumble at the tiny bird. The hummer retreated to a corner of the basket.
            Adam could see that the little bird had recoiled and he felt worse. The more he saw the Christmas spirit around him, the more the joy left his heart. The hummer’s green and red feathers did not help Adam’s twisted celebration of the season. Everywhere he looked in recent days, happy faces only reminded him of how alone he was, how unhappy he was. The little bird was far too festive for his liking and a new bitterness began to grow.
            “How do you stay safe out there in the world, all blaring green and red and flitting about?” Adam slammed the lid down. “I don’t have to look at you.”
            He started to leave the bell tower, when he heard a chirp again. His stomach churned and he thought of his own hunger. He would have to wait to eat until after church services when platters of cookies would be laid out. He thought of their holiday shapes and bright, happy icing.  He struggled with his jumbled feelings. But he knew the shadows were near and had to go.
            “Get out of my home,” he commanded the shadows.
            “Maybe I’m not feeling hunger at all. Maybe this emptiness is guilt.” Adam opened the basket-cage and attempted to smile at the bird.
            As he watched, the little fellow sucked up the nectar in his usual haste, but seemed to be slow in other motions. The hummer made no attempt to fly away.
            “Did you forget how to fly?” The thought that the bird might be sick or suffering in any way while under his care, tugged at his heart. With the shadows gone, he could feel again. He reached out his finger for the bird to ride on and lifted the tiny fellow from the cage. He slowly raised and lowered his hand, waved it to and fro and gave the little guy a ride. The movement fluttered the bird’s feathers a little, as he gradually moved around. Adam’s heart soared like the hummer.
            “I know what I’ll do today. I’ll leave the lid off. If you want to fly around the room, you can. Maybe you’ll feel better if you get some exercise. Little fellow, you can’t be injured. You just have to be able to fly. We’re both stuck up here. This place is more like a prison than a belfry. If you’re sick, I wouldn’t be able to take it.” Adam’s own arms began to ache as he thought about flying with broken wings. He wondered if his own feathers had gotten clipped the minute he moved into the belfry.
            “By the way,” Adam added as he pointed to his blanket, “that is my bed. Fly anywhere you want to, except over my space. You could drop little gifts around for me to clean up. I have no way to wash a blanket.” He watched the little bird peer over the edge of his finger, then beat his wings in rapid flutter. The hummer took to the air and flew around Adam’s head, then returned to the basket and the food. Adam laughed as he hurried down the ladder before anyone came into the church.
            “Good morning Mrs. Brubaker.” Adam forced a smile as his English teacher entered the narthex just as he came around the corner. He carried his coat across his arm and hung it in the cloak room as Mrs. Brubaker did hers. He noticed that Mrs. Brubaker’s coat was covered with snow. He brushed off all the fresh white powder from the shoulders so that his dry coat that hung beside her’s did not give away the secret that Adam had not come from the outside.
            “Adam Shoemaker, it is good to see you here. We have a gloriously bodacious day, don’t we?” Mrs. Brubaker always used the full depth of her vocabulary, acquired from years of reading every night before going to bed, or so she told her classes. “I tell you, read, read, read,” she would say.
            “Yes Ma’am, bodacious. However, the ubiquitous little man in red is beginning to tire me.” Adam’s words had an edge of sarcasm unfitting the season as he exercised his own knowledge of words.
            Amanda Brubaker eyed the boy with a narrow gaze. “You are much too smart to have such a pessimistic attitude, Mr. Schumacher,” she whispered. “I knew your father.”
            There was the inference Adam had dreaded. Adam was finally linked to the deserter with the foreign name. He was as big a failure as his father.
            Pops had worked late out in the fields most of the time while Adam was growing up. Then, he was in the Army for nearly three years and never came home. As far as Adam was concerned, Pops had been absent from his life for a long time.
            The great World War had tarnished the name of Schumacher beyond anything Adam believed he could polish. You are known by your name, Gramps used to say. And, Adam’s name was Schumacher not Shoemaker.
            “There’s more to me than that name,” Adam scoffed.
            “Adam, no. I didn’t mean . . . Your father was one of my best students. He―”
            “Hi Adam,” Fritzy buzzed. “Oh, I’m sorry Mrs. Brubaker. Did I interrupt?”
            “Well, yes, Frederica, you did. But, that is all right. Mr. Shoemaker and I will talk again another time.” She smiled and patted Adam on the shoulder. “There is joy in the Season if you accept the Spirit of Christmas as a gift, Adam.”
            That will be my only gift, he angrily reminded himself. And I have nothing for Moms.
            “Adam, do you want to sit with Daddy and Mother, Jim and me?” Fritzy started to pull Adam in the direction of the sanctuary.
            “I don’t know if I can. I’m supposed to crank up the dividing wall after church. Mr. Gunderman isn’t feeling well.”
            “That’s okay. We usually sit on that side of the sanctuary anyway.” Fritzy linked her arm in his as she led him into the sanctuary. 
            Adam smiled. He was amazed that Fritzy didn’t seem to be afraid for everyone to see them together. Their friendship was real. It wasn’t just another lie.
            In the sanctuary, Christmas tree-green, red and gold were everywhere, in the garland swags that draped across the front of the balcony to the ten-foot Christmas tree adorned with fancy bulbs and white chrismons of many shapes.
            As they sat down, Adam studied the manger in the Christmas scene up front. The crude crib was obviously empty except for the straw. Some of the pieces had been pulled from the bedding and draped artfully down the side of the crude cradle.
            Frederica saw Adam look over the entire scene. “The carving will be there on Christmas Eve,” she whispered just as the service began. “The Christ Child hasn’t come yet so the manger is empty.”
            Adam smiled faintly as the songs of Christmas began. Memories of Christmases past flooded his mind, images he had blocked out a long time ago. He wanted to be happy but he thought happiness had passed him by.
            “Joy to the world,” the congregation sang and Adam wondered what world they were singing about. He joined in, only because Fritzy would expect him to, not because he felt much joy that morning. If he could just shake the sad, down feelings, maybe he could experience a little joy. He wasn’t a child. He was a man, yet he felt like crying. Only women and small children cry. Men with powers from Shaddi definitely do not.
            “Good Christmas Sunday morn,” Pastor Silverman began. “And it came to pass in those days,” he read from scripture.
            Adam swallowed a yawn. A gaping mouth would not impress Fritzy at all. He would  seem to be bored with the pastor’s message. He liked Silverman. It was just—well, no one understood. How could they? He didn’t understand his mixed up family himself.
            Everyone in the church that morning would go home to a hot meal of roast, potatoes and carrots, the usual Sunday meal in Middletown. The women could put dinner in the oven before the family left for church. Adam’s meal would not be hot. He would dine on crackers and the macaroni he had found in the kitchen cabinets. Yesterday, four cans of soup showed up on the kitchen counter. There was a note attached, “For the needy.” Adam assumed they were to go in the box of food intended for those who had nothing. He believed more and more that the needy included him.
            “A hymn that is often sung during the Christmas holidays is Good King Wenceslas,” Pastor Silverman said. “The hymn was important for two reasons. First, the words spoke of the goodness of a leader king. This lyrical poem was one of the first references to a benevolent monarch.”
            Adam resisted the need to laugh out loud. A benevolent king? He could not believe the two words went together. In 1945 the world had been torn apart by leaders who were so vile, so corrupt of soul, that the entire globe had erupted in flames and families were ripped apart and cast into the void of nothingness, not here and not there either.
            “Point two,” Silverman continued, “the amazing words, written by John Mason Neale nearly a hundred years ago, tell of the way through difficult times, a way to stay warm in a world grown cold, a way to survive through the stormy blasts of our lives. We are to walk in the footsteps of the Master.”
            Like that will do any good, Adam mocked silently. My world has grown cold and God is not walking through it with me.
            Adam heard the pastor’s words. He understood their meaning. But, he couldn’t see how the words applied to him. Life was not that easy. Besides, all that love isn’t for me, not anymore. Love never came home. But, there was a part of Adam that wished the sermon were true. He thought of the little hummer and he felt just as caged as the bird had been. Then he thought of the green feathered wings as they lifted the little bird off his fingers and he wondered if he would ever take flight again.
            There in the church pew, Adam closed his eyes and went into his imagination, to the spot that was comfortable, Granny O’Hara’s little woods at the back of her property. He could smell the damp leaves that had fallen to the ground and feel the twigs that slapped his legs gently as he walked by. The breeze was warm and brushed his face with tiny kisses on the wind. Suddenly, Mr. O’Shaughnessy bounced into the lane from beneath the green hill and motioned for him to follow. This time, he did.
            Adam leaped into the vision in front of him and felt a freedom he had not experienced in years, probably since he had last visited Granny. The warmth of the air and the breeze on his face  felt so real it seemed like he could lay out across the wind and fly around the glen that ran through the scene. He was finally free.
            “Adam?” Fritzy shook his arm gently. “Did you fall asleep? The service is over.”
            “Of course I’m not asleep, Fritzy. I was still thinking about what Pastor said,” Adam smoodged.
            Adam jumped up and opened the narrow closet that housed the crank to the door. It was a little hard to turn. He understood why Mr. G. had asked him to raise the massive wooden door that was designed like a roll-top desk. With the door fully raised, his next thought was food.
            “What will you do for dinner today, Adam?” Mrs. Breman questioned as she made her way toward the cookie and punch table following the service.
            “Yes, will your uncle have a hot meal for you today?”
            “He wasn’t able to get home yesterday. He travels, you know.”
            “You’re all alone today?” Fritzy interrupted. “But, this is Christmas Sunday.”
            “Well, you are not alone today if you don’t want to be, Adam. Frederica’s grandparents are coming for dinner and I’m setting a place for you too,” Mrs. Breman stated.
            “I wouldn’t want to―”
            “I wasn’t asking, Adam. I was stating a fact. I would not be able to look your dear mother in the eye if I allowed you to eat alone on Christmas Sunday. Besides, Frederica’s sister, Sarah Jane, is in a friend’s wedding today and won’t be here. You will balance out the table. It’s settled.” Mrs. Breman took a cookie from the plate and smiled. “Help yourself Adam. The cookies are here for all of us to enjoy.”
            “Yes Ma’am,” Adam smiled. He was waiting for an opportunity to have a few, or more,  cookies.
            “Take some more with you. It’s alright,” she assured him as she pulled her gloves from her pocket, then turned to Reverend Silverman.
            “Pastor, the sermon was wonderful,” she offered. Then, she finished gloving her hands as she walked along. “Adam, you can ride with us if you want to. Coach Breman can take you home later, after the Philharmonic on the radio this afternoon on CBS.”
            “A radio concert?” Adam had not heard a radio for so long, even the Philharmonic would sound good to him.
            The plan for the day was all settled. Adam piled in the back of the Breman’s station wagon just like a member of the family. But, Adam knew he wasn’t.

Chapter Fourteen

It was Christmas Sunday and dinner at Fritzy’s house. Her home was beginning to feel familiar to Adam. The large comfortable home felt safe and welcoming. The house looked beautiful, with an ornate Christmas tree in the front window and lit candles flickered around the room. Adam was drawn to the diningroom table by the most amazing aroma. There was a mixture of browned roast, homemade dinner rolls, and assorted pies.
            Adam had just finished the last bite of Christmas Sunday dinner when Coach asked, “Would you like more pot roast?” He passed the meat platter to Adam.
            “No thank you, Sir.” The boy resisted the temptation to eat everything he could possibly fit onto Mrs. Breman’s fine china plate.
“Well, I know you’ll have more potatoes and bread and butter,” Fritzy smiled. “You
seemed to enjoy them a lot.”
            “Just a little, thank you.” He placed two large pieces of potato on his plate, smashed them with his fork and spooned a little broth over the top. He could not believe how wonderful every
bite tasted.
            “I am so glad you could come, Young Man,” Fritzy’s grandmother smiled. “I’m always pleased to meet my grandchildren’s friends.”
            “Yes, Ma’am. I’m pleased to meet you as well.”
            “I understand you had a good night on the basketball court,” Grandpa Stafford smiled.
            Adam’s face lit up into a grin. “Yes, Sir. It was a good night.”
            “He did a great job. And, the game was his first . . . ever.” Coach Breman’s smile revealed an acceptance Adam had only dreamed of.
            “I’m sure the luck was in the shoes,” Jim Breman joined in with big-brother style joking.
            “Thank you for out growing them,” Adam smiled as he wiped his lips on Mrs. Breman’s fancy linen napkin with the letter “B” hand embroidered in the corner. He was careful to leave as small a smudge as possible on the linen.
            “Enough of basketball, you guys. Adam and I get the game table in living room. We’re going to play dominos while you all listen to the Philharmonic. Or, while some of you sleep, Grandpa.”
            “Here now, I’ll have you know I just rest my eyes.”
            “Right Grandpa and you only make the strange snoring sound to keep us guessing,” Jim teased.
            “I am simply part of the percussion section of the orchestra,” Grandpa Stafford boasted.
            “Okay,” Coach agreed. “However you want it.”
            “If you decide to turn that game into Texas 42, Fritzy, just let me know. I’ll be the third of the four needed.” Mr. Stafford stood and stretched out his stiff legs before he walked. Then he took his official spot in the overstuffed chair beside the radio. 
            Adam entered the livingroom quietly. Hushed tones seemed appropriate in the warm surroundings. At the end of the room was a white fireplace with flickering logs beneath a spacious mantel. Five stockings hung from decorative hooks and white beams spanned the ceiling the full length of the room. There was a thick oval carpet that covered most of the hardwood floors and white sheer curtains graced the huge bay window, draped low and gathered in at the edges. A widow seat provided one space at the small game table and a small antique Windsor chair flanked the other side.
            Fritzy turned the domino box upside down and shuffled the white ivory tiles. Mr. Breman adjusted the radio to the CBS station and the concert began. Grandpa Stafford fell asleep before the orchestra completed their first movement in sonata form. Mrs. Breman had her knitting in her lap and the needles flew, almost in rhythm to the music. Grandma Stafford pulled the stereopticon and slides from one of the white cabinets that flanked the fireplace and settled herself on the sofa for a quiet afternoon of picture viewing.
            “I’m going to go up and get some reading done for class,” Jim smiled as he looked around the comfortable room. “Nice meeting you Adam.”
            “You too,” Adam added as Fritzy played the first tile. He breathed in all the family time he could possibly inhale. He felt like the hummer as he sucked in all the nectar he could hold. If a picture could be perfect, he was living inside the frame.
            After the philharmonic finished the concert, he and Fritzy went out to the kitchen to
make taffy. Fritzy put the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan, added the butter, salt, corn syrup and water and mixed all the ingredients together.
            “Bring to a boil . . .” she talked mostly to herself. To Adam she added, “You can stir in the butter.”
            “How long do I stir?” Adam took the wooden spoon and began slowly.
            “We’ll drop a little bit from the spoon in a few minutes to see if the syrup will form a hard thread. Then, we will, or rather you will, stir in the vanilla and pour the mixture into Mom’s square Pyrex dish. When the taffy is cool enough, we’ll pull it until the color isn’t shinny anymore and the texture becomes stiff. Then we’ll cut the candy into pieces and wrap them in waxed paper.”
            “How about now?” Adam raised the spoon out of the mixture and tested the consistency  for the hard thread. “Looks ready to me.”
            A few minutes later, Fritzy suggested, “While the taffy cools, we could find some tree  pictures for our Biology project. The assignment will be due by the middle of January.”
            “How do you know when the tree project will be due?” Adam asked, then glanced back into the livingroom at Coach Breman. “Oh, I get it. Inside information.”
            “Mother has collected Better Homes and Gardens magazines for years. They’re up in the attic. She said we could cut out all the pictures of trees we wanted to.”
            The attic stairs were behind a door that went up from the second floor hallway. The steps  led to the completely surfaced third story, a treasure land of old trunks and spinning wheels. From the moment Adam set foot on the attic floor memories flooded his mind that he had completely forgotten.
            The picture in his mind wasn’t the attic on the farm. The memory was of the room off Granny’s upper loft above the cabin in New York. The red door with the wrought iron latch was  off the sleeping loft in the rafter eaves. The two summers Adam had spent with Moms in upstate New York were full of mystery and unanswered questions.
            “Granny, who or what are the black forms that move around in the attic? They scare me but seem to want me to be their friend too.” Adam had asked the last time.
            “Adam, I told you never to look at them. How do you know they want to befriend you?” Adam could feel that Granny was alarmed and he didn’t know why.
            “They talk to me—well, not with sounds. I heard them in my head,” Adam had explained.
            “Oh Adam no,” Granny O’Hara screamed. “You let them in?”
            “Who? Adam, you let who in?” Moms had heard the shout. Adam knew that Moms had grown up in the valley and knew all about the old beliefs there.
            “The shadows—Bridget. Adam has spoken to the darkness.” Tears ran down Granny’s fear gripped face and Adam didn’t understand.
            “Mother,” Moms had yelled, “I warned you. Will said if you fill the boy with those Gypsy lies, we have to come home and we cannot come back—ever.”
            “Bridget O’Hara you know they are not lies,” Granny had argued.
            “That argument is over before the fight gets started. Will was adamant.” Moms packed their clothes, got a ride to town, and Adam and his mother were out of the valley on the next train home.  
            “What did you do on a rainy day, Adam?” Fritzy asked.
            Adam was jarred back into Middletown, almost against his will. He always wished he could have found out what Granny and Moms were so frightened of. He was amazed that he had forgotten about the valley and the shadows and some of the secrets of the New England farm. “I haven’t thought about that for a long time.”
            “A long time—Adam, you’re not old enough for anything to be a long time past.”
             “It feels like a very long time ago,” Adam’s voice drifted off as he pulled an old rug back from a wooden cobbler’s bench there in the dusty attic. “Gramps had one of these. I remember seeing the bench up in our attic.”
            “An old cobbler’s bench? Did he teach you how to make shoes?”
            “Yes . . .” Adam’s memory wandered into the space above his parents’ bedroom. “You had to pull down some steps to get up through the attic entrance. The old bench had a drawer with several lasts that had square toes. You know, that’s where our name came from— Shoemaker. There is even a barrel full of small wooden pegs that they used to hold the shoes together.”
            “That’s amazing Adam.”
            “That was one thing I did on a rainy day. I had forgotten. Funny, when we try to forget something bad in our lives, we forget everything about that time. I do remember that Gramps would give me a piece of leather and I would use the lasts to sew moccasins to use as house slippers. I made some for Moms and Pops as well as my grandparents.”
            “What a great way to spend a day.”
            “I also went out in the barn where Grandma had an old potter’s wheel. Why did I forget about all that? I would spend hours throwing pots and then Pops would help me fire them in
the kiln.”                                            
            “Do you still have any of the pottery left?” Fritzy paused from her task of leafing through magazines for tree pictures. “That sounds like a lot of fun.”
            “Fun? Yes,” Adam said as he picked up a magazine and earmarked several pages. “You know the great thing about throwing pots? If you make a mistake, no one ever has to see the messed up vase or bowl. You can just start again. That’s not like life, right? You make a mistake and everyone sees it.”
            “Who cares who’s watching, Adam?”
            “I do.” Adam slammed a book closed and stared at the floor.
            “Well, I don’t care who looks at me and what I’m doing. I try to do my best and if I make a mistake, it is just that, a mistake. If I were going to deliberately do something wrong, I would make a grand falderal of it all. I would do my very best at that too. So see, the flub is still not a mistake. It’s a deliberate act.” Fritzy kept talking and seemed to ignore Adam’s anger, or she was just a good diplomat.
            “I hadn’t thought about flaws and mistakes like that.” Adam watched as Fritzy tore the pictures from the magazines. “Your mother won’t care if we just tear them out?”
            “Of course not. Mother said she had been saving them for such an assignment as this. She just didn’t know what pictures would be needed or what they’d be used for.” Fritzy tore several more pages from the book. “Where did you say the pottery is?”
            “I didn’t. How could I have forgotten about those pots? It feels like I’ve been walking in a dreamworld. I can’t remember where I’ve been and have no idea where I’m going.” Adam focused on his homework and clipped a few more tree pictures. “Pops took the pots to the Capitol and sold them in an arts and crafts store there. They sold for a lot. I got ten dollars for some of them.” He looked over at Fritzy like he had not seen her before. “Why didn’t I know that Fritzy? Why didn’t I remember? Pops set up a savings account for me at a bank. I can’t remember which bank. I think it was at the Capitol so I wouldn’t be tempted to withdraw money on a whim like I might if the cash were here in town.”
            “That is wonderful Adam. You’re an artist, a real artist. You’ve earned money from your  craft.” She bubbled over with enthusiasm. “Just think, I know a famous artist.”
            “Well, I don’t know about the famous part. Not famous enough to even remember any of it until you and this place and this great day, reminded me.”
            “Well, I am impressed,” she insisted.
            “You don’t have to be. My art isn’t memorable enough for me to remember it, let alone someone else.”
            They both laughed and joined in the joy of the day. After two small piles of tree pictures were stacked side by side, Fritzy announced, “Let’s go see if the taffy is ready to pull.”
            Down in the kitchen, they washed and buttered their hands, then collected the taffy from the dish. They pulled and played with the sweet candy until the sticky goo lost its sheen and was stiff enough to hold its shape. Then they cut and wrapped each piece of taffy in waxed paper.          
            “This has been the best day of my life, or at least for the portion of my life I remember,  considering my recent memory lapses.” They both laughed as Adam put on his jacket.
            “Let Daddy drive you home, Adam. He said he would be happy to.”
            “No, that’s all right. It isn’t a long walk and the cold air will clean up some of my thinking. But, I do appreciate it. I am thankful for the whole day, Fritzy.” Adam pulled his hat over his ears and started to leave when Fritzy ran and grabbed up some taffy and stuffed them into his jacket pockets.
            “Here Adam,” Mrs. Breman called out. She came back with something wrapped in more waxed paper. “It’s a nice roast beef sandwich and I believe I saw you put some catsup on your meat at dinner.”
            “Yes, Ma’am, catsup of course.”
            “A staple of life isn’t it?” she joked as she handed over what would be Adam’s Sunday evening supper.
            He said his good byes, walked along the snowy streets and looked back once at the house to see if the magic was still there. It was. Fritzy stood in the bay window and waved. To Adam, the scene looked like a Christmas card, a perfect picture of family and home. There were no shadow people or green crystal dust in the whole house.
            Once back at the church on Cranberry Street, Adam went up to the tower-room and found the belfry cold and empty. There was no warm fire, no laughing family, only a little hummingbird to chirp and  twitter, “Hey, look at me.”

            Could the night have seemed even darker? Could the silence have been any louder? Ice droplets slipped down the window pane like frozen tears. There were no tears left in Adam.