The 8th Chapter, by James Freeze
I don’t know exactly why, but the first time I saw Hattie Mayfield I knew if we ever got together I would not be more than a footnote in the story of her. That was a little over twenty-five years ago.
We did get together. When we first met, Hattie was plump. Her eyes were brown and her straight hair was also brown. She wore a blue silk dress with white lace trim and her shoes had low heels. I remember thinking at that time she must’ve picked out her outfit at a sale in some warehouse somewhere. But I also thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
It was a cool moon lit evening in the springtime and she was enjoying browsing a flower shop while singing a familiar tune of the day to her-self. I decided to approach her and complement her on her singing and when I did she blushed. I was immediately in love. I guess in the moonlight, anything can seem romantic.
Hattie’s smile was natural, untouched by artifice. It made me think of sunshine and warm summer afternoons and the scent of wild roses. But what did I know? We were in a flower shop and the Rose scent was probably real. Her brown eyes were bright and brave above a resolutely lifted chin and the subtle curve of her lips allowed her to continue to smile no matter her enter disposition.
As we got to know each other I learned how deeply she felt about life, how sensitive she was and yet commanded in herself a great deal of poise and self-control.
We enjoyed a light dinner together that night at a wine bar close by. I remember as she drank the wine, a slight tinge of pink appeared in her pale cheeks. Our spirits were high as we talked and laughed together without restraint. I had not in a long time laughed and joked with a woman in this way. I remember her movements were Swift and eager.
There are no accidents in life when it comes to learning. What we need to know always comes to us at the precise moment we need to know it. There seems to be a plan and we follow it every-day whether we know it or not. On the other hand life isn’t fair sometimes and we feel that nothing during that time can be trusted. The only cog in this wheel is that it is our choice of what we want to learn.
After five years, with no warning, no goodbyes, and that sweet scent of wild roses which once powered my nose, but had now turned into the perfume of dried roses pressed into an old Bible. Hattie was gone, nowhere to be found, no explanation or reason. It was during the wintertime moon when all the birds had fled. All these years later I have difficulty knowing if it is my memory or psychological trickery. Now some twenty years later, I tend to believe, perhaps there were changes in the air at that time, changes in the midst of some of my decisions that caused her to go away. All I know, I long for the opportunity to say things like I’m sorry, I forgive you, it’s all right, we can work it out, I love you – no matter what. The one thing that I’m certain I have learned is everything changes and only change is eternal. In the end I had failed, not realizing that constant use would wear away anything, especially true love.
I find myself today, twenty-five years later in the same neighborhood where I first met Hattie Mayfield. I am thinking that life cannot be lived without meaning and hope. I am asking myself, how much of our lives do we spend trying to go forward while looking into the past, such as old regrets, resentments, hatreds, and guilt? It is easy to revise history and I am guilty of remembering things the way I want them to be.
For twenty years I have been taking an early evening walk. I enjoy long walks and believe it brings me nearer to the legitimate fountain of my thoughts than anything else. As I walk this evening I think of Hattie and remember every question in her throaty but distinguished voice; every word betrayed a suppressed longing for something that would liberate her head and heart as fulfillment was implied in her every nuance.
Turning on to the street where it all began I was struck by a time warp. There standing on the sidewalk a half a block ahead, reading a book lying on an outside table in front of a bookstore was Hattie Mayfield. I was sure of it even though it was obvious she had paid a price in her life’s journey. In a glance I noticed the sunken cheeks, the large brown eyes now with dark hollows around them, her long thin hands and her clothes hanging loosely on her frame. There are those details that identify and then there are those details that individualize and I was concentrating on the latter.
A shadow crossed her face as I studied her carefully, realizing she still had that air of assurance about her. Seeing her all these years later hurt, but the hurt was so good. I could see evidence of tenderness from long ago. Wrinkles crisscrossed her face and she was using every one of them. Her washed out Brown eyes and the drooping corners of her mouth made her look as if she had cried a great deal – – – and enjoyed it.
As I choreographed my position to within ear distance I spoke her name easily, “Hattie,” and with that she lifted her head and smiled at me with a little nod. Coming closer I saw tears in her eyes. But then she looked at me again with a teasing glance and said, “I’m sorry but you must have me confused with someone else.”
The fragrance of honeysuckle blossoms filled the night air with sweetness. It was unseasonably warm that night but because of her response the wind felt like it blew coldly. Hattie could turn her smile on and off as if it were an electric light. On this night I saw her replicate that once again. I knew I was right about her but I ask anyway, “I apologize, so what should I call you?”
Just then a black four-door sedan with heavy tented glass pulled up in front of us. She replied, “No need for us to get that close, I was about to leave anyway.” She then turned and opened the front passenger door of the black sedan. Before entering the car I could see her tears were bright in her eyes as she leaned back and turned her face away from me. She then pursed her lips and bent her head with the slightest of inclinations. Simplicity marked all of her moves and I was left standing there alone to ponder all my questions as the black sedan sped away.
Turning toward the table where the book she was reading laid, I noticed it was left open at the beginning of chapter eight. As I began to read I was stunned at the so-called secrets that were being exhumed on the pages in front of me. It was a biography of me, Douglas Ladd. It even used my real first name. “Douglas found a billfold on the seat of a Greyhound bus while all the other passengers and the driver were having lunch. He grinned and thought to himself, ATTA boy, as he slipped the billfold into his pocket. He did not report finding it nor did he look at it again until he locked himself in his hotel room that night.” That really happen to me almost precisely as it was written on the page in front of me.
Chapter eight continued about my early life, even including Hattie and our five years together, describing it as, “Douglas held a routine job, with small pay and almost no chance for advancement, as far as he could see, in spite of the fact that he was well-educated and intelligent. He and his wife, Hattie, lived in a shabby two-room apartment, their lives cramped and frustrated. His situation made him hard, bitter, realistic, and seeing himself on a treadmill for the rest of his life.”
This was too surreal. I turned the book over to read the title which was, “King of the Fleas.” What the (F) does that title mean? I questioned. But then I looked at the title for Chapter eight and it read, “A Fool for Love.” And finally I checked out the author’s name which was, Margaret Hayden, eerily close to my deceased mother’s maiden name.
I entered the bookstore in an effort to obtain some information hopefully, about the book and its author. The proprietor informed me that he was not familiar with this particular book and it was not a part of his inventory. He said he had no idea how it found its way to the table outside. All of a sudden I needed someone to pick up the pieces that were falling all around me. Finally I went on the Internet and was amazed that I was not able to find any information at all about this mysterious book or its author.
A storm had fallen upon me, growling and hissing. I had talked myself into believing that during my time with Hattie we were in a place where miracles were planted- cultivated and bore fruit every-day. And there were always, a bumper crop of miracles. But on this particular day, the sun was hiding its face behind a thick gray mist.
I began to conjure memories of murder and rage and all the wrong stuff. I begged to let me do my job please –it is the only thing that makes sense – allows me to feel safe – and keeps me sane. But then I heard a voice and the voice said, “Douglas, are you listening to me? Do you understand what I am saying to you?
I opened my eyes and saw men in long white coats as seen in a hospital setting. I thought to myself the fix is in, this must be the tipping point so I tried to manipulate a smile in order to fool them.
The voice then continued, “Douglas, you have been here almost 20 years without much improvement and as we’ve talked before, you must take your pills on a regular basis, if you hope to gain even the slightest advancement in your condition.”
That is when I looked at him with unwavering eyes and again began to tell my astounding story. I am confident it was my look, which never faltered that would convince him this time, that I was telling the truth.
James Freeze is 69 years old and retired, married to the same woman for 51 years with no regrets.
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