Still in her elegant silk pajamas, every morning at 6:00, Marymae would walk all the way around her house three times, padding through the wet grass in her pink crocs. She wore rose red lipstick and lavender blue eyeshadow. Her snow white hair was perfectly pulled back into a neat bun at the nape of her neck.
Every morning at 6:00, I walked Sunnydog, a big old fluffy golden retriever.
Marymae and I would wave to each other as I passed by her house and Sunnydog would bark.
We didn't stop to speak. In fact, there wasn't even a shout of "hello" or a "good morning".
No, only a wave.
It was our morning ritual, Marymae's and mine.
Marymae was new to the neighborhood. She moved into the Hutchinson's house after Cara Hutchison ran away with George Hurley. Tom Hutchinson, Cara's husband was so distraught that he said he couldn't bear to live in the town anymore. That's when he sold the house to Marymae.
The day Marymae moved in, I was taking the dog for his afternoon walk and I stopped to introduce myself.
You know we had the usual new neighbor chat.
I said, "Welcome to the neighborhood, if you need anything, I live three doors down."
Now that I think of it, I don't recall Marymae saying anything. She smiled, nodded and then waved to me as she got on with her move.
Marymae became the talk of the neighborhood. No one in our Tuesday morning coffee klatch knew anything about her.
Junie, who lives right across the street from her, knocked on her door a few days after Marymae moved in.
"I asked her to join us on Tuesdays, but she never responded," said Junie. She told us that Marymae smiled and nodded as she took the basket of muffins Junie had baked.
"She didn't even invite me in," Junie said.
Junie was the one who told us about the "three times around the house" jaunt that Marymae took each morning.
"I watch her from my front window. It's three times around the house. Always three times," she said.
Yesterday morning, at 6:00, as I approached Marymae's house, I saw her sitting on her stoop. She was barefoot, no pink crocs. Her head was down, cradled in her arms. Her hair hung loose falling down around her shaking shoulders.
I walked up to her. "Marymae?"
She picked her head up and looked at me. For a brief moment, I became distracted by her eyes. The rims were red, from crying. But her eyes were the bluest I've ever seen. I wondered why I'd never noticed them before.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
Clutching a wrinkled piece of paper, she whispered, "I am so very tired.
Sunnydog was getting restless, tugging to get on with his walk. Marymae clicked her tongue and Sunnydog's ears perked up. He went up to her and began licking her toes. She giggled.
I said, "I don't want to intrude, but if you want to talk, you can always knock on my door. Anytime. Really."
Marymae looked up at me and smiled weakly.
"Thank-you," she said softly.
As I turned to walk away, I heard the squeak of a door opening. I looked back and Marymae was no longer on the stoop.
The next three days, when I passed by Marymae's house on my 6 a.m. morning walks with Sunnydog, she wasn't outside. I missed waving to her.
Junie called me. "It's been three days and Marymae has not been outside doing her "three times jaunt".
Junie was a small compact bundle of a woman with short curly brown hair and large hazel eyes. It seemed that some part of her body was always in motion. Her voice was high and squeaky and she talked in fast spurts.
"Have you gone over to her house?" I asked.
"Oh, no," said Junie. "Bad idea. No. Nope. Not a good thing to do."
I started to suggest that maybe we could go together when she interrupted me.
"Oops, gotta go. The guy is here to fix our washing machine."
Before I could say goodbye she had already hung up.
As I went about my day, I kept thinking about Marymae.
I admonished myself. Stop it! You have become obsessed with this woman!
Just then, my doorbell rang. I laughed and thought, Wouldn't it be funny if Marymae was at my front door?
I peered out the front door side window and saw Marymae standing on my porch holding on to the hand of a child.
I opened the door. "Come on in."
The child, a little girl, had her long hair tied back with a pink ribbon. The ribbon matched her pink sun dress and pink crocs.
"This is Cray," Marymae said. She's my son Charlie's daughter.
Cray will be living with me for awhile," her voice cracked as she tried to hold back a sob.
Without thinking, I put an arm around Marymae's shoulder and ushered her into the kitchen.
"Sit down," I said, pointing at the table. "I'll make us some tea."
She settled Cray down in the chair next to her.
"Cray, Would you like a glass of chocolate milk?" I asked.
The little girl turned towards her grandmother. "Can I?" She asked.
"May I?" Marymae corrected the child and then nodded.
I put the kettle on and then poured a tall glass of cold milk.
As I busied myself with the drinks I began chattering. I do that when I get nervous.
"It's a beautiful day today, isn't it? Green tea okay? Cray, how about a chocolate chip cookie?"
After getting everything onto the table, I sat down and poured tea for Marymae and me.
Cray made slurping noises as she drank her milk through a straw. After a few sips, she took a tiny bite out of the cookie.
She was a stunning looking child. She had her grandmother's bluest of blue eyes. Her hair was light, almost white, like cornsilk. I thought Marymae's hair was probably that exact color when she was Cray's age.
Still nervously chattering, I asked Cray how old she was, what grade she was in, what she liked to do. The standard questions one would ask a little girl.
Cray obediently and politely answered each question.
"I am eight and a half years old." She said. I'm going into the third grade in September."
She told me that she liked to read and climb trees.
Her grandmother glanced sideways at Cray when she talked about climbing trees.
"Grandma doesn't like me to do that," she said. "You know climb trees."
After Cray finished her milk and cookie, I asked her if she would like to explore the toy room.
That's what I call one of the spare bedrooms in my house. It's the room I keep all of the toys in for when my own grandchildren come to visit.
Cray looked at Marymae. "Is it okay?" she asked.
Marymae nodded and softly said yes.
Come on Cray, I took her by the hand and led her into the toy room.
When I came back into the kitchen Marymae's head was bowed, her hands were wrapped around her mug and she was staring into her tea.
"Marymae, I can see you are upset," I said. "Would you like to tell me what's going on?"
She looked up at me and said, "You have such kind eyes," as if seeing me for the first time.
"I suppose I should start from the beginning," she sighed and then began to talk. Her eyes had a far-a-away look as if she were reliving each moment. I hardly uttered a word during it, holding my breath for fear that she might suddenly realize that I was in the room.
"I ran away from home when I was 14 years old. Well, actually Charlie's father and I ran away together. Paul was older than me. He was eighteen at the time. We were in love. You know teenage love can be blinding. I certainly was blinded by Paul.
"My, he was handsome. Tall, well built. Paul's father, Enrico, ran a steady handy man business. Paul and his two older brothers helped out.
"Enrico insisted Paul was to be the first in the family to go to college. Paul was smart and athletic. He had earned a full four-year academic scholarship and he made the baseball team.
"We met the summer before he was to start his freshman year at an out of state university. He was helping his father and brothers install a new roof on our home.
"I know that it is cliche to say that it was love at first sight, but that's what it was.
I clearly remember that very first time. I was sitting in the back yard on the old wooden swing. Hmm, I haven't thought about that swing in a long time. My dad made it. He saw an ad in a magazine. "Build it yourself" the ad read. He sent away for the plans and it took him practically all summer to build the swing.
"Anyway, Paul came into the backyard to get a ladder. We each saw each other at the exact same moment."
Marymae stopped talking and sat there smiling slightly.
Just then we heard a crash and then a scream, "Grandma, Grandma," cried Cray.
She was sitting on the floor, both hands holding onto her right ankle, a chair on its side next to her. The little girl was crying, saying "Ow, ow, it hurts, Grandma, it hurts. I want my daddy."
Puzzles and games were strewn all over the floor of the closet. Marymae kneeled down next to Cray. She gently took Cray's hands away to looked at the child's foot. "It's going to be okay, Cray. It's alright, it's okay."
I ran to get an ice pack.
When I came back into the room, Marymae was sitting on the edge of the bed with her granddaughter cradled in her arms.
I handed her the ice pack and asked, "Is she okay?"
"She'll be fine," Marymae said. "Remember how she told you she likes to climb? Well, apparently there was a puzzle on the top shelf that she wanted to play with. I'd better get her home. I'm sorry about the mess."
"No problem," I said. "You go, take care of Cray. I'm always here if you want to talk."
Over the next few weeks, Marymae came by on Tuesdays and Thursdays after she took Cray to summer day camp.
Each time she came she told me a little more of her story.
"Well, Paul and I did run away together that summer. We didn't get very far, though. We had no car. We hitchhiked and caught a ride over to the next town. Between the two of us, we had $23.00. By nightfall, we had spent all but $2.50 of the $23.00. We were tired and had no idea where we were going to spend the night. I'm not sure now who chickened out first, or I should say who came to their senses first, but Paul called his father from the corner phone booth to come get us.
"My parents were furious, I was grounded for a week and forbidden to see Paul. But of course, over the summer, we did see each other as often as we could manage.
"In August, Paul went away to school as planned and I started high school in September. At first, we wrote every day and called each other on the weekends. He told me about the parties he went to, the football games and how hard college was. By the end of the first semester, though, his letters were fewer and he usually had to cut our phone conversations short because he was getting ready to go somewhere or he had baseball practice or had to study.
"I think you can guess how the rest of the story went, she said.
"About a month before he was to come home for the summer, I got a 'Dear Marymae letter'. I was heartbroken and moped around the entire summer. But young life goes on.
"He never knew about the baby boy I had to give up for adoption."
Although I tried to remain expressionless, I'm sure my eyebrows raised a little when Marymae casually mentioned a baby. Or at first, it seemed a casual mention to me. But I could see the pain in her face, the tears gathering in her eyes.
She looked at her watch. "Oh, my I have to get going," she said.
I could tell that she actually didn't really "have to get going" but I knew that she needed a break before she continued on with her story.
Marymae missed our next meeting. She called to tell me that Cray wasn't feeling well and wouldn't be going to camp that day. I wondered, though, if she felt she was beginning to reveal too much, not only of her story but also of herself.
As I was passing Marymae's house the next day, on my morning walk with Sunnydog, I saw Junie outside watering her flowers. She called to me, "Come on over. Have a cup of tea."
Junie was a nice woman and a good friend. But I was sure she was going to have a million questions about me and Marymae. I hesitated for a few seconds trying to decide if I was prepared to be barraged and if I would be able to avoid answering her probing questions.
"Hey, Junie," I called over to her. "Maybe later on in the week, okay?"
I waved and hurriedly passed by.
When I got back to my house, I picked up the local newspaper off the stoop and as usual I had to coax Sunnydog into the house with a dog biscuit. He would have preferred staying outside, sitting in the cool grass, head moving from side to side, hoping to catch a whiff of passersby, both human and not.
As I waited for the kettle to whistle, I sat at the kitchen table and leafed through the newspaper skimming articles, noting the ones I would want to read in depth later on. When I got to page six, my heart nearly stopped. There was a photo of Marymae with a caption which read: "Have you seen this woman?" The article went on to say, that a local woman and her grandchild had gone missing. I was stunned. Apparently, Marymae's son had reported her missing.
"If you have any information which might lead to the whereabouts of Marymae Silverio and her granddaughter Cray Silverio, please call this missing persons hotline number, 555-5675."
I did have information. But, should I call the number? I didn't know what to do. I had promised Marymae that I would keep her secret. And then there was the package she gave me to hold for her.
The tea kettle began to whistle while at the same time I heard a banging on my door and someone calling my name. I turned off the kettle and ran to open the door. It was Junie, frantically waving a newspaper back and forth.
She could barely get the words out. "Did you see this?" she said breathlessly.
Her face was flushed and I thought she might pass out. "I saw the car! I saw the car!"
"Junie," I said. "Calm down. Come here. Sit." I put my hands on her shoulders, gently guided her over to a chair.
"Take a deep breath," I said. "That's it let it out slowly. I'm going to pour you a nice cup of tea and then you can tell me what you are going on about."
After Junie took a couple of sips of her tea, she began to regain her composure. She told me how two nights ago she had a terrible headache and couldn't sleep. "That's why I was up in the middle of the night looking out my bedroom window," she said. "You know it faces the street."
"Our bedroom was bathed in moonlight," she went on. You know with the full moon."
"There was a car parked in Marymae's driveway," she continued. I didn't think much about it, she said. It was just something I noticed. You know, like something out of place."
"The next morning it was gone. Again, I didn't think much about it, until I saw the paper just now."
"Do you think I should call the number?" she asked.
"I think we both should," I replied.
Junie stared at me with a puzzled expression. "What do you know?" she asked. "What in the world do you know?"
I stammered, "Junie, I...uh...well..."
"Well, what?" Junie demanded.
"Marymae and I have spent a good deal of time together lately."
"And?" Junie persisted.
"She was beginning to open up to me. I'm afraid I may have frightened her off." I said softly.
"Don't be ridiculous!" June admonished.
"Come on, you have to admit, she was a little eccentric," Junie said. "Remember how she used to walk around her house three times. Every morning at exactly the same time, she would walk around her house. Three times!"
"What was that all about?" Junie squinched up her eyes and looked at me. "I suppose you know why she did that, too!" she exclaimed.
I looked away because, in fact, I did know.
I convinced Junie to go back to her house and make the phone call to the police department to report seeing the car that was parked in front of Marymae's house the night that she went missing.
I needed time to think.
During one of our talks, Marymae told me about the why of the "three times around the house" ritual.
It all had to do with the package she gave me the last time I saw her.
"Can you hold this for me?" she asked as she handed me a...
Handed me a what? What would Marymae have handed me?
Marymae was a ghostly figure without bones or flesh. She was only a whisper of a woman.
Oh, sure I could conjure her up, give her a face with the bluest of eyes, and snow white hair, but actually, she was the one who frightened me. I had to make her disappear. She was beginning to reveal too much.
Perhaps, it was a bit foolish of me, but I thought, this time, I might have been able to have a complete and intimate relationship with someone like Marymae. I fantasized about how I would nurture her, tend to her needs, care for her until she trusted me with her entire being.
I imagined a conversation that I might have with Terry Gross during an NPR interview on "Fresh Air".
"I loved Marymae. I cared for her, cared about her. She was strong, yet vulnerable. I cried when I found out...Well, I don't want to give anything away," Terry would say.
"Was she based on a particular person?" she'd ask.
"Well, Terry, isn't there a little of Marymae in all of us?" I would answer.
Dr. Thomas would have a field day with that one, I thought.
"Marymae may have buried her treasures, but you have the key," Dr. Thomas would say in her best non-threatening therapist voice.
Frustrated, I clicked on the "Me and Marymae" file and dragged it over to the wastebasket where it would unsteadily teeter on top of a virtual reality trash pile of other unfinished stories including the "Red Sweater Serial".
Lovey bounded down the stairs. She stopped at the front door, barking and running around in circles, her tail furiously wagging back and forth.
"Okay, okay, Lovely. Let's see who it is," said Fiona as clicked on the porch light and peered out the side window.
A shadowy figure stood there, under a black umbrella, his or her face barely visible. It was a dark and stormy night.