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Lost and Found

 

by OOWhiz

 

 

She chewed her bottom lip as she drove away from the hospital, a sure sign that the news she had received was not good.  Her doctor had wanted to admit her on the spot, but she had refused.  She needed time to absorb the shock of her diagnosis, but time, she was told, was something she had precious little of.

 

Her knuckles whitened as she gripped the wheel of her car tighter, waiting for the light to change.  Unexplained rashes, bumps in her mouth—it all seemed so inconsequential, such small annoyances.  Then the lethargy had set in.  She had always been a good sleeper with plenty of energy.  Her mother was constantly telling her to slow down; she would laugh and declare she would only slow down when she was six feet under. Prophetic words.

 

Grimacing, she started the car forward and realized she was heading home, not to the house she had shared with her former husband, but to her childhood home. Her parents still lived in the same house they had moved to from the city so many years ago. Now in their sixties, in a house that had comfortably held five children, they had been contemplating a move to a popular adult community in southern Jersey; but as yet there was no real-estate sign on the front lawn.  Faith sighed with relief.  She had always advocated change, but in this instance she shied from it.  She didn’t want them to sell the house; it had been her home since the time she was a baby.  It represented safety, security, comfort, and when she had needed those things, this is where she ran to.  Briefly she chided herself; it wasn’t the physical house that provided her with those things, but the people inside.  Wherever her parents were, that’s where home was.

 

Faith pulled the car into the double wide driveway and hurriedly got out, slamming the door closed.  The strap of her handbag cut into her shoulder, the weight of the paper carrying the diagnosis seeming to make it heavier.  Opening the green front door with its inlaid glass panels, she already felt better.  Her parents would know what to do; they would keep her safe and protected.  Hadn’t they done so her whole life?  She called out as she mounted the stairs,

 

“Mom, Dad . . . anybody home?”

 

Not hearing a reply, she entered the kitchen and looked out the window into the back yard.  There was her mother, on her knees in the flower bed.  It was late spring, and the garden was fairly bursting with a profusion of colors.  Her mother loved her garden. She said it was like raising children; and when her last chick had left the nest, her garden had been her salvation.  Faith clattered down the stairs to the basement and out the back door.

 

“Mom,” she called again.

 

Miriam turned, smiling widely. “Faith, darling.”  Slowly she got up, wincing slightly as the arthritis in her knees made its presence felt.  Throwing her arms around her daughter, she hugged her tightly and worried what this visit portended.

 

“Shouldn’t you be at work?” she asked chidingly.

 

She held her daughter’s arms, pushing her back to examine her face.  Pale, too pale, dark shadows under her eyes. The tell tale creases in her forehead that meant she was upset.

 

“What is it, Faith?”  The tone of her mother’s voice showed she already knew something was wrong.

 

“Where’s Dad?” Faith turned away, shying from the searching gaze of her parent.

 

“He’s puttering in the garage as usual.”  Miriam chuckled, tucking her little spade into the bucket of tools by her feet.

 

Ever since Faith was old enough to walk, she’d always find her father in the garage, building this or fixing that.  If the garden was her mother’s domain, then the garage was her father’s.  She and her four brothers had learned everything they knew about tools from him.  Faith seldom needed to call a service or repair man for anything.  Her girl friends would laugh and make jokes about her ability with a hammer, but when they needed help, she was the first one they’d call.

 

Meeting her mother’s gaze, she took her hand. “Mom, I need to talk to you and dad.  Can we go inside?”

 

The sunshine and colors of the garden were too gay a setting for the news she had to impart.

 

“Of course, dear.”  Miriam nodded, fear constricting her chest.

 

She led the way back into the house, calling out to her husband as they passed the door to the garage. 

 

“Doug, can you come in?  Faith’s here.”

 

She was apprehensive; Faith was not an alarmist. Whatever she had to tell them, it couldn’t be good. 

 

“Tea?” she asked as they entered the kitchen.

 

Faith nodded, looking at the familiar walls that had always meant security and safety; but now seemed to be closing in around her, stifling her.

 

Mutely she moved to the big, oak kitchen table where the family had always eaten their meals together, sharing the events of the day.

 

“Faith.” Doug greeted her with one of his famous rib cracking bear hugs.  He was not a tall man, but what he lacked in stature he more than made up for in personality.  He was broad and stocky with a full head of sandy hair that was just going gray.  A broad forehead rose prominently over brown, close set eyes, separated by a small blob of a nose.  His best feature was by far his smile, large and toothy. 

 

Miriam too was short, coming just up to Doug’s shoulder, so petite and delicate that you were almost afraid to touch her.  Her naturally blond hair was now kept that way with hair dyes, but her green eyes still held their youthful sparkle.  Nervously she set the kettle on the stove to boil while Faith and Doug sat and exchanged small talk.  She took quick, unobtrusive glances at her daughter, again noting the paleness of her skin, the droop in her eyelids.  Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.

 

The whistle shocked her out of her musings, and she busied herself with pouring the steaming water into the tea pot. She distained the use of a microwave to make a cup of tea.  Tea she said was more than a drink; it was a ritual. And so she held to the old ways, brewing the tea in the cream teapot her mother had given her.  She placed the pot on a trivet in the center of the table and gave each a cup and saucer decorated with the same three leaf shamrocks that matched it.  That was another thing; she always used dainty cups and saucers instead of mugs: big clunky things she would say, not for the likes of her. 

 

Her daughter’s eyes watched every move, but the mind behind them was in turmoil.  Finally, when the tea was poured, Faith let out a sigh. Her father always said a burdened shared was a burdened lightened. 

 

“Go ahead, Faith,” Doug prompted. “Tell us what’s troubling you.”

 

So she told them, hesitantly at first, but as she went on it poured out of her, making her feel lighter than she had in weeks.  “And when I told the doctor I had four strapping older brothers, he said chances were good that one of them would be a match.  Least wise close enough to be a donor.” 

 

She looked at her parents and saw the terror in their eyes.

 

“What . . . what is it?” She stammered suddenly unsure, suddenly aware of her own mortality.  She had been utterly convinced her family would save her from the condition that could potentially take her life.

 

“Lass,” Doug began, and a stab of fear ran through her.  Her father only reverted to his home country’s idioms when he was stressed.  “We’ve something to tell you,” he continued hesitantly. “Something we never thought we’d have to.”

 

Miriam took her daughter’s hand, holding it gently, her thumb stroking the back of it.

Taking a deep breath, Miriam told her the secret they had been keeping all these years.

 

“You see, Faith, we adopted you.”

 

Faith jerked her hand back as if it’d been stung.  “Adopted,” she whispered and felt her world tip over its axis.  She slumped in her chair, shocked.  First the doctor tells her she has a rare, deadly disorder, and then her parents tell her she’s adopted.  “So then my brothers . . .” she trailed off as the implication hit her.

 

“Aren’t your biological brothers,” Doug finished, feeling a knot in his chest.

 

Without looking up, Faith whispered, “Did you know my parents, my biological parents?”

 

Tears were running down Miriam’s face as she slowly nodded.

 

Doug left the room, returning shortly with the framed photograph which had hung on the living room wall ever since Faith could remember.  He held it out to her and pointed to the smiling face of his younger self.  He stood amidst a crew of sandhogs in front of the Lincoln Tunnel.  “Here’s your da, Faith.  James.  Jimmy we called him.  This was taken in ’55 just before he was killed in an explosion, God rest his soul.”

 

With trembling hands, Faith took the picture from him, running a finger over James’ face.  He was short, like Doug, but had high cheekbones and an aquiline nose, a dark thatch of hair stuck out under the cap he wore.  She finally saw the similar features she had sought in the family she grew up in.  She looked up at the couple she had called her parents all her life.

 

 “And my mother?” she asked tentatively.

 

Miriam used both hands on the table top to help her stand up.  Her knees felt weak and her hands shook.  She left the room. 

 

Doug moved to the phone, “I’m calling your brothers.” He emphasized the word.  “We’re a family, and we will get through this together.  We’ll do whatever it takes, lass, to get you well. Nothing else matters.”

 

Faith nodded, still trying to absorb the shock.  His voice faded into the background as she stared at the stranger, her father, in the picture.  Miriam returned, placing an old album in front of her, she opened it and pointed to a smiling couple standing in front of a tree.  James’ face stared at her, and beside him stood the woman who was her mother.

 

***

 

Her brothers had come immediately, were told what was going on and rallied round her like the secret service guarding the president.  Their bone marrow was tested, but none of them were a match.  After a few days of nail biting, an acceptable match was found through the bone marrow donor organization and the transplant took place.  Through the days and weeks of treatment and therapy, Faith had one face always before her.  It kept her going through the bad times when she felt being dead might be preferable to the cure.  She knew Doug and Miriam hadn’t told her everything, and she vowed that once she was well and the doctors assured her everything had gone beautifully and that she would fully recover, she would demand the truth.

 

***

 

It was time.  She looked in the mirror to take stock of herself.  She was still pale, but not that sickly, translucent pale.  Her brown hair had grown back somewhat, too short for her taste, but it didn’t look bad.  The black smudges under her eyes were gone, and she had been able to put a few pounds back on.

 

When she was allowed to leave the hospital, Doug and Miriam had insisted that she come home so they could take care of her.  She had argued at first, but her brothers had also put pressure on her and she had relented.  Perhaps it had been for the best. She had been as weak as a kitten, barely able to get though a couple of hours let alone a whole day.  But as she regained her strength, she began to ask questions.  They always evaded her, but not today.  Looking in the mirror, she squared her shoulders, turned and went down stairs.

 

“Mom, Dad,” she called out as she entered the kitchen. “We have to talk.”

 

Miriam and Doug exchanged glances. The talk they had been dreading was now, but they had had time to decide what to tell Faith . . . and what not to tell her.

 

After they were all seated, Faith started. “The doctors gave me a clean bill of health, so now I want to know about my parents, my biological parents.”

 

Nervously Doug cleared his throat, “James McDonough was the salt of the earth, just off the boat he was from Ireland, as many of us sandhogs were.  Didn’t know a thing about tunnels, but he had worked in the coal mines so he didn’t have any qualms about being under ground.  He could swing a pick axe with the best of them.  He was a quiet man, sometimes drank a little too much, but then we all did in those days.”  Doug’s eyes took on a faraway look as he remembered his friend.  “He left us too young, he did.  The devil take that damn tunnel.”

 

Miriam laid a comforting hand on the back of her husband’s, taking up the tale.  “He met your mother at the Woolworths in Manhattan.  She worked at the soda fountain, and they took a shine to each other right off.  It wasn’t long before they were married, and then you came along.”  She looked into Faith’s eyes. “I was so jealous. I had four boys and desperately wanted a daughter.”  Miriam hesitated, taking a deep breath. “After James died, your mother fell apart.”  Tears welled up as she remembered that terrible time. 

 

“She didn’t want to go on without your da, you see,” Doug continued.  “One morning we found you bundled up on our door step, just a wee small thing in a basket with a note asking us to look after you as if you were our own.  And you are our own, lass,” he stared intently into her eyes, “in every way but birth.” 

 

Faith patted Doug’s shoulder and smiled. “I know that, Dad.  Do you know where she went, what happened to her?”

 

“We looked every where we could think of, even went to the police and hired a private detective, but it was as if she had vanished from the face of the earth.”

 

Faith stood up and moved behind them, giving them a big hug.  “Don’t worry, darlings, you’re my parents and always will be.”

 

Miriam let out a shuddering sigh of relief.  She hadn’t known what to expect, but Faith had always been a sensible girl. She should have known she would take this in stride. 

 

What she hadn’t counted on was Faith’s dogged determination to find out what became of her missing mother.  She plied the two of them with questions.  Where was her father buried?  Where had they lived?  What were the names of friends?  Were there any relatives she might have gone to?  Could she have left the country?  On and on Faith dug until she had drained them of every scrap they possessed.

 

Once back at her own place Faith organized her facts and systematically exhausted every means at her disposal.  Tracing someone was tough enough, but one who didn’t want to be found was nigh on impossible.  Finally she sifted through the meager snapshots Miriam had given her, and choosing the best, went to the offices of the New York Times.

 

***

 

Catherine was relaxing at the kitchen table after enjoying a leisurely breakfast with Vincent.  He was out playing with Spuds, who despite having jogged with her earlier, was still full of energy.  She had the Times spread out on the table in front of her, slowly turning the pages as she perused the articles when a familiar faced popped out at her.  At least at first it seemed familiar. It was very old and grainy, but something about the eyes and the tilt of the head rang a bell.  She couldn’t quite put her finger on who it might be.  The caption named the young woman Kate McDonough, no one she knew.  She shrugged her shoulders and turned the page. People were always looking to connect with their past. She wished the seekers well and forgot all about it.

 

Later that morning, Vincent picked the paper up to take with him Below, depositing it on Father’s desk as he went to his assigned work station.

 

***

 

“Well what do you think, Jacob?  Jenny said she could get me the books . . . .”

 

“Jack, we have enough trouble keeping Mouse in check. I can just imagine turning a group of adolescents loose with a chemistry set.”

 

“Jacob . . . Jacob.” The Bishop shook his head. “Your curriculum of the arts is outstanding as far as it goes, but the education you give these children in the sciences is sorely lacking.  I can help with that. I’ve taught chemistry, physics . . .”

 

“Nonsense,” Father snorted. “We teach biology, geology . . .”

 

“Yes, yes,” Jack interrupted impatiently, waving his hand in the air. “I know.  Enough to get them through the college entrance exams, but I could better prepare them in these areas.  Come, Jacob, let me try. What could it hurt?”

 

Father clasped his friend on the shoulder, squeezing gently.  “All right. I’ll present your request in the next council meeting, but if one of your students blows us up, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”  He wagged an accusatory finger in Jack’s face.

 

“Thank you, Jacob. I’m sure it will never come to that.”

 

Father shook his head and sank into his chair.  Jack wanted so badly to contribute to the community.  Perhaps teaching chemistry would make him feel more useful. After all, doesn’t everyone want to feel useful?  Sighing, Father donned his glasses and began to read the newspaper.  He had just reached the personals when a commotion outside his chamber distracted him.

 

“Father . . . Father,” screamed a little voice, followed by the entrance of Lena’s daughter holding up a bloody finger.  “Boo boo,” the child sobbed.

 

Father levered himself up and lifted the young girl from the top of the stairs, settling her in the chair he had just vacated.  “Now then, let me see that finger.”  Gravely he examined the bloody index finger she held up to him.  “Now, now, Cathy. It doesn’t appear too bad. We’ll just clean it up a bit and put a Band-Aid on it, shall we?” 

 

Sniffling, the child nodded solemnly, her eyes huge as Father swabbed her finger with antiseptic and applied a Band-Aid.

 

“Oh, dear, there you are.” Mary hurried down the stairs.

 

“Father fix boo boo.” Cathy held up her now bandaged finger, smiling.

 

“Yes, he did, didn’t he.” Mary reached out, lifting the child into her arms, hugging her.

 

“She was trying to help out in the kitchen but dropped a plate . . .” Mary began to explain.

 

“Broke,” Cathy added.

 

“And when she tried to pick up the pieces, she cut herself.”

 

“Boo boo.”

 

“Yes, you got a boo boo,” Father patted the child on the head.  “If anything breaks again, you have to let a grown up clean it up, you understand?”

 

Cathy had popped her thumb in her mouth and laid her head on Mary’s shoulder.  She nodded sleepily.

 

“I think I’ll just put her down for a little nap,” Mary whispered.  Turning she looked at the desk top for a moment and froze, her eyes growing wide.

 

“Mary, are you all right?” Father asked, concerned at her rigid stance.

 

“Yes . . . yes,” she stammered, clutching her charge and running up the stairs.

 

Father watched, mystified, as Mary raced from the chamber.  What in the world had gotten into her?  He looked over at the desk; nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  Moving closer he readjusted his glasses and stared down at the paper.  There staring back at him was a very young Mary.

 

***

 

“Vincent, have you looked at today’s paper?” Father asked as he entered his son’s chamber.  Vincent was just donning a clean sweater after washing the days grime off.

 

“No. I haven’t had the opportunity yet. Anything interesting?”

 

Father laid the paper down on the round table.  “You tell me.” He pointed to the picture.

 

Vincent leaned over, reading the name under the picture, Kate McDonough.  He stared harder, seeing a familiar face, although it was much younger, and whispered, “Mary.”

 

“Yes,” Father agreed

 

“Has she seen this?” Vincent asked.

 

“I’m afraid so.”

 

Alerted by his tone, Vincent straightened. “What do you mean?”

 

“She disappeared like a frightened rabbit, and I haven’t been able to locate her since.”

 

Alarmed, Vincent moved to the chamber opening. “I’ll find her.”

 

“Good. And Vincent, say nothing to her of this. Just tell her I need to see her, and escort her back from wherever she is.”

 

Vincent nodded and hurried out.  Where would Mary go if she were scared or felt threatened?  He tried all the obvious places . . . falls, mirror pool, children’s chamber . . . and finally made his way to Narcissa.  Fond memories from his childhood always entered his mind every time he went to her.  She had been a big influence in his life, as was Mary.  Mary was his surrogate mother; she was everyone’s mother Below. He couldn’t imagine growing up without her.  She was such a gentle, steadying influence. It panicked him that she might have fled the tunnels.  He would find her. He must.

 

***

 

Entering Narcissa’s outer chambers, Vincent’s senses were assaulted by the smells . . . mushrooms, moss, earth recently dug.  Narcissa stood with her back to him, stirring the contents of a cauldron that sat over the fire which provided almost the only light.  It was so dim that a normally sighted person would have had a hard time navigating around the cluttered room, but Vincent had no problem, and what need did a blind woman have with light.  Silently he moved up behind her.

 

“Welcome, Vin-cent,” Narcissa greeted him.  She had the uncanny ability to know whenever he was near her.  He had never been able to sneak up on her, although he had tried enough in his youth.  As he hugged the old woman warmly, he silently admonished himself for not coming to see her more often.

 

“Narcissa, I need your help.”

 

“Yes child, the one you seek is greatly troubled here, Vin-cent,” she touched her right index finger to her temple, “and here,” she laid her hand over her heart.  “The pain that haunts her dreams now consumes her.”

 

“Please, Narcissa, you must tell me where I can find her. She needs to come home.”

 

“Home,” whispered a voice from deep within the chamber. “I had a home once.”

 

Vincent stared as Mary emerged from the darkness, pale and wan, seemingly more fragile than ever.

 

“Mary.” Vincent went to her, but she shrank from his touch.  Confused he stepped back. “Mary, Father sent me to find you, to bring you home.”

 

Tears welled in her eyes as she looked at him, quickly looking away again.  “I have no home,” she said tonelessly.

 

Perplexed, Vincent looked back at Narcissa. He was completely out of his depth here.

 

“Leave her, Vin-cent. She can stay here until she is ready.”

 

Vincent nodded. “If you need anything, you know how to reach me.”

 

***

 

“Well, what did she say?” Father rounded his desk to stand in front of his son.

 

“Nothing. Well . . . nothing useful. She said she had no home.”

 

“Nonsense.” Father took off his glasses in exasperation.  “This is her home.”  He looked back at the desk, spying the paper that rested on its top.  “You know, this all started with that picture.”  Putting his glasses back on, he reached for the paper.  Out loud he read, “Kate McDonough. Anyone having any information, please call 732-671-0636.  What do you suppose this person wants?”

 

Vincent took the paper from him, staring at the picture, “Whatever this person wants, it has obviously upset Mary very much.”

 

***

 

“And she wouldn’t come back with you?”  Catherine asked when Vincent met her at the house.

 

“No. She could hardly look at me.  There were such waves of despair and self loathing emanating from her.  Catherine, we have to help her.”

 

Catherine nodded. “I agree, but what do you suggest?”

 

Vincent pointed to the number in the paper. “We could start by calling the number, find out what these people want, what they know.”

 

“I’ll do that,” Catherine volunteered.  “Why don’t you go back Below and see if there’s anything you can do.”

 

Just then the intercom sounded, its ring harsh and strident.  Vincent grabbed the receiver off the wall, his body tensing perceptibly.  Worried, Catherine moved to stand beside him.  She could hear William’s booming voice on the other end but couldn’t make out any words.  “I’ll be right there.” Dazed, Vincent hung the instrument back in its cradle.

 

“Vincent, what is it? What’s happened?” 

 

“That was William.” Vincent grasped her upper arms. “Narcissa sent a message over the pipes that Mary tried to kill herself. 

 

“No,” Catherine gasped, shocked.  She felt Vincent’s hands trembling where they gripped her.  “Why would she do something like that?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

Besides Father, Mary was the closest person Vincent had to a parent.  She had always been loving and kind, a gentle soul who almost never even raised her voice.  Her patience and wisdom had seen him through many rough times in his life.  How could she even contemplate taking her own life?  Vincent couldn’t fathom it. It made no sense.

 

“It all started with this picture.” He slapped the paper, growling accusingly. “We need to know who is looking for her and why.”

 

Catherine nodded. “You go Below . . . see what you can do.  I’ll call the number and find out what I can.”

 

Vincent hugged her and headed for the basement stairs.

 

“Vincent,” Catherine called out after him. He turned and their eyes met.  “Bring her home.” 

 

He nodded, rushed down the stairs and out through the tunnel door.

 

He ran all the way, reaching Narcissa’s just as Father finished examining Mary’s self-inflicted wounds.  After bandaging them, he left Jack sitting with her and led Vincent to the outer chamber. 

 

“The cuts aren’t deep, just superficial really.”  Father ran a hand distractedly through his hair.  “She won’t talk to me, Vincent. She just keeps repeating, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’  I . . . I can’t get through to her; she doesn’t even react to me, won’t even look at me.  What in God’s name does it mean?”  His pain-filled eyes looked into the concerned blue of his son’s.

 

“I don’t know, Father, but we will find out. We will find a way to help her.”

 

***

 

Mary lay on Narcissa’s bed, curled into a tight ball, facing the cold, stone wall.  Her whole body jerked when Jack touched her shoulder.

 

“Mary, lass, whatever is troubling you, whatever it is you think you’ve done, we can help.  Please, Mary, tell me.”

 

Mary turned her tear-streaked face toward him. “Can you bring back the dead?” she whispered hauntingly, turning back to the wall.

 

 

“Well, she won’t tell me what’s bothering her,” Jack exclaimed as he emerged from the bed chamber. 

 

“Her heart carries a heavy burden,” Narcissa stated.  “I can not watch after her as she needs.”

 

“Not to worry,” Father reassured her. “I gave her a sedative which should be taking effect shortly.”

 

“It already has,” Jack confirmed, “or I wouldn’t have left her alone.”

 

“Vincent, if you would carry her to the hospital chamber,” Father instructed, “I’ll set up a schedule for a round the clock watch.” 

 

Vincent moved to the bedside, looking down at the woman who had raised him.  Even in sleep her face appeared tortured.  Gently he picked her up and cradled her in his arms as she had done for him so many times.

 

***

 

“Hello?” a woman’s voice answered.

 

“Hi, I’m calling about the picture in today’s paper," Catherine explained.

 

“Really?  That’s great,” Faith exclaimed excitedly.  She really didn’t think she’d get a response at all, let alone this fast.  “What can you tell me?”

 

“That depends,” Catherine stated, “on why you want to know about her.  Can we meet?”

 

They set up a time and place—a quiet little coffee shop downtown.  In the meantime Catherine went to the Municipal Archives to track down the name McDonough.  Unfortunately, the name was very common to the flood of Irish immigrants that had deluged New York City in the late twenties and early thirties.  Her scribbled notes took up pages.  When she got home, she kept glancing at the intercom phone, anxiously awaiting word.  She knew Mary was all right through the bond, but she didn’t know details.  When it finally did ring, she quickly snatched it up. 

 

“How is she?” she asked.

 

“She’s all right,” Vincent’s voice reassured her. “She’s in the hospital chamber, resting.  Father gave her a sedative, and she’ll be watched constantly.  Jack is with her now.”

 

“Were you able to get anymore information about what’s bothering her?”

 

“No. She is consumed by guilt and keeps repeating she’s sorry, but that’s all she’ll say.  Were you able to contact the people who placed the ad?”

 

“Yes,” Catherine replied. “I’m meeting a woman today at one o’clock. Her name is Faith Donnelly.”

 

Thoughtfully Vincent hung up the phone.  What connection could Faith Donnelly have with Mary?  He told Father of Catherine’s impending meeting and went to relieve Jack. 

 

“‘Tis not a restful sleep she’s having,” Jack informed him outside the entrance of the hospital chamber.

 

Vincent nodded grimly, moving through to the back of the chamber where Mary lay.  He leaned over her as her head tossed back and forth on the pillow, and placed his hand on her forehead.  Rest, he intoned silently. I will guard you from your demons . . . rest.  Mary audibly exhaled and relaxed. The lines in her face seemed to smooth out as her breathing became deep and regular.  Vincent settled himself in the chair beside the bed, opened the book he had brought with him and began to read.

 

***

 

Catherine could barely contain her curiosity as she spied the lone woman sitting in the back booth of the restaurant.

 

“Faith Donnelly?” she asked as she approached the table.  After receiving a nod, she introduced herself and sat down.

 

“Do you have information on Kate?” Faith asked her eagerly.

 

Catherine noted the sallow completion and severely short hair.

 

“You’ve been ill,” she stated bluntly.

 

“Yes, my illness is the reason for the search.” Faith went on to explain at length. 

 

“So you see, I’m out of the woods as far as my Aplastic Anemia is concerned, but this whole thing about being adopted has thrown me for a loop and piqued my curiosity.  If there’s anything you can tell me about my real mother . . .”

 

Faith’s voice faded as she looked at Catherine’s expression.  “You know her, don’t you,” Faith asked her eagerly. “She’s still alive, and you know where she is.”

 

Catherine hesitated, collecting her thoughts. It was a shock to think that Mary had a child of her own, one that she had abandoned as an infant.  Under what terrible conditions would Mary give up a baby?  The Mary she knew would never do that.  But then again, the Mary she knew wasn’t Mary at all. Her name was Kate, and maybe Kate was capable of leaving a child.  And what could she tell this woman . . . that her mother has been living underground all these years under an assumed name?

 

“You say your adopted parents knew your mother?”  Catherine asked, stalling for time as her brain raced through different scenarios.

 

“Yes, and my father, James. He and dad were sandhogs together working on the Lincoln Tunnel until an accident took his life.  I’ve visited his grave.”  A small smile graced her face, and Catherine could see Mary in it.  “There’s an engraving on his tomb stone, a sandhog saying. “If it’s deeper than a grave, the sandhogs dug it.”

 

Catherine smiled with her.  “And your mother, Kate, left you on the Donnelly’s doorstep and disappeared?”

 

“Yes. That’s what they’ve told me,” Faith nodded excitedly.

 

“I can’t promise anything.” Catherine shouldered her purse and stood. “But I’ll call you tomorrow.”

 

Faith nodded, resigned. “I’ll be waiting.”  She slumped back in her seat, watching as Catherine walked out the door.  There went someone who knew what she so desperately wanted to know.  Why wouldn’t she tell her?  What was the problem?  Secrets. She shook her head . . . first her parents and now this stranger. What was going on? 

 

Catherine left the restaurant, anxious to talk to Vincent.  Was Mary actually Kate McDonough?  Was Faith her daughter?  Would the death of her husband upset her so badly that she would give up her child?  That didn’t sound like the Mary she knew.  Mary was a mother to all the children Below.  She nurtured them, taught them, kept them from harm, loved them.  She couldn’t imagine Mary leaving a child of hers on anyone’s doorstep for any reason.  Round and round her thoughts spun as she headed for home.

 

***

 

Vincent met her at the door of their brownstone.  “Well?” he asked anxiously, helping her off with her coat and hanging it up on the hook.

 

Catherine led the way down to the kitchen, and over a cup of tea she related her meeting.

 

“Vincent, it’s possible she’s Mary’s daughter. She’s about the right age, and she does have some of her features,” Catherine mused thoughtfully.  “Has Mary ever spoken of her life before the tunnels?”

 

Vincent shook his head. “Most of the people who make up our community elect not to speak about their past.  All I know is what Father has told me, that she was discovered wandering around the outer tunnels shortly after I was found.”

 

“Then it’s very possible that Mary is Kate.”  Catherine concluded.

 

“Yes. And if that is so, she must come to terms with her past.” Vincent held out his hand for hers. “Come. We should tell Father about your meeting.”

 

***

 

Father sat in the chair beside Mary’s bed.  He gazed at the face, now peaceful under the sedative he had administered, that he had known for years. But did he really know her?  He snorted quietly. Of course he knew her. You can’t live with someone that long and not know them.  He ticked off what he knew of her: she was loyal, caring, hard working, had more common sense than anyone he had ever known, and she loved children beyond question. The way she fussed over them you would think she had given birth to every single one of them.

 

A movement in the outer chamber ended his musings.  Vincent poked his head around the privacy curtain, and seeing Mary sleeping, whispered, “Father, we need to speak to you.”

 

Not wanting to leave her alone, but hearing the urgency in Vincent’s voice, he checked his patient and quietly slipped from the room.

 

“Vincent, Catherine.” He greeted the couple. “What is it?”

 

“Catherine met with the woman who placed the picture in the paper,” Vincent whispered.

 

“Good.” Father turned his gaze on Catherine. “What have you discovered?”

 

While Catherine recounted her conversation with Faith, Vincent went in to sit with Mary.  He had felt her begin to waken.  “Mary,” he called softly.

 

Slowly she opened her eyes, finally focusing on his face.

 

“Vincent,” she sobbed, tears welling up.

 

“Shh, Mary.” He took her hands in his, squeezing gently.  “It’s all right.  Every thing will be all right.”

 

“No, no. It can never be all right. You don’t know . . . you don’t understand.”

 

Father and Catherine moved into the room.  Vincent’s acute hearing had heard their conversation and knew they had decided to tell Mary about Catherine’s meeting.  Mary had turned her head away when the others entered, her quiet sobbing making a poignant counter melody to the tapping on the pipes.

 

Vincent stepped back to allow Father room.  “Mary,” he called to her, “you need to let us help you get through whatever it is that is bothering you.”  He placed his hand on her shoulder, urging her to turn her face toward them.  “This all apparently started when you saw this picture.”  Catherine handed him the paper.  Mary stared at it with a look of resignation.  “Is this you?  Are you Kate McDonough?” he asked.

 

Slowly Mary nodded, a sob escaping her lips.  “Yes,” she said so low they could hardly hear her.

 

“Mary,” Catherine spoke. “I called the number and met with a woman named Faith. Do you know her?”

 

Again Mary nodded slowly, her eyes unfocused, staring at something no one else could see. 

 

“Who is she?”  Father asked.

 

Mary took a deep, shuddering breath. “My daughter.”

 

It was no shock to them as they already surmised as much.  Mary’s gaze had unfocused again as Catherine continued.  “She’s been very ill, Mary, and needed a bone marrow transplant.”

 

Mary’s eyes locked on to Catherine’s. “Ill?”

 

“She’s all right now,” Catherine reassured her. “But that’s how she found out she was adopted.  Mary, she wants to meet you.”

 

Mary’s head rocked back and forth on the pillow. “No . . . no,” she wailed miserably.

 

Vincent grabbed both of Mary’s hands between his. “Mary,” he called forcefully.

 

Slowly she focused on his face.  “Whatever is bothering you we need to resolve.  You need to confront the ghosts of your past.”

 

“No,” Mary whispered, the fright in her voice tangible even to the non-empathic. “No, Vincent, I can’t.”

 

“You must, or you’ll never be whole again.  Share your burden with us. We can help you.  I promise.”

 

Mary stared into the blue eyes of the child she had raised from infancy, so like the eyes of another child she had known, and made a decision.  She struggled to sit up, and with Vincent’s help, she sat upright.  She squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and began.

 

“I met my husband while I was in my late teens and fell madly in love with him.  James was everything a young girl could want: handsome, charming, strong.”  Mary’s face shone as she told them of James, evidence of the love she still bore him.  “We married when I turned twenty, and we were very happy together.”  She looked at the faces staring down at her and took a shuddering breath.  “He was a sandhog working on the Lincoln Tunnel. An explosion killed him, and I took it very hard.  How I got through those first few days I’ll never know.  The shock of his death, the wake and funeral . . . it took so much out of me.  But I had the children to take care of.  Faith was only a month old, and the boys . . . my sons . . .”  Her voice broke.  “I . . . I had to keep going for their sake.  So I pulled myself together and went on.  Things were hard, but I had wonderful friends who helped whenever they could.  They had four boys, two the same age as my sons.  They desperately wanted a daughter, so when I . . . I left, I gave Faith to them.

 

“The boys, Mary,” Vincent asked. “What happened to your sons?”

 

Mary’s eyes again welled with tears, her body started to tremble.

 

“My boys, my dear, sweet boys.” Her anguish was terrible.

 

“Go on, Mary,” Vincent persisted. “Tell us what happened.”

 

“Vincent, perhaps we should let her rest,” Catherine pleaded, gripping her husbands arm.  Mary’s chest was heaving. Perspiration beaded her forehead.

 

Father moved to the other side of the bed, taking Mary’s wrist to check her pulse.  It was racing, but not alarmingly so. “No.” he said.  “She needs to tell us, or it will eat at her like a cancer.”

 

“Tell us, Mary, what happened to your sons,” Vincent asked again.

 

Mary closed her eyes. “I remember standing by Jimmy’s grave with Faith in my arms.  I asked him to forgive me.  I think I was looking for a sign, for something, anything, but there was nothing.” Her voice faded. “Nothing.”

 

“Mary, you must tell us what happened to your sons.” Vincent was emphatic now. This was the crux of the problem; this was where all her sorrow and anguish stemmed from.  She needed to acknowledge what happened and face it, deal with it and move past it.

 

Taking a deep breath, she continued. “We lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn, above a hardware store.  I didn’t have enough milk to breastfeed Faith. She was always so hungry.  I had to supplement with formula.  That night I had run out of formula . . .” Tears ran down her face as she spoke.

 

“Go on, Mary,” Father urged.

 

“The boys were sleeping,” she continued haltingly. “I didn’t think anything would happen.  I took Faith with me to the store on the corner. She was fussing so.  I bought the formula and hurried home.”  She was sobbing now, great tremors racking her body.  “They . . . they said the fire was started by matches.”

 

Once again her nostrils filled with the memories of the acrid smoke and flames.  Once again she stood on the sidewalk, cradling Faith in her arms as the horror of that night washed over her.  She looked on, unable to move, unable to speak, rooted to the spot as she saw the firemen bring out the body bags.  She played the conversation she heard between the chief and the police officer, “Just the two lads in there, looked like they were playing with matches.”  “No adult then?”  the officer had asked.  The fireman had shaken his head.  “Well, someone’s bound to show up sooner or later. We’ll have an arrest made then.”  The word arrest had triggered an alarm bell in Mary’s head. Gripping Faith tightly, she quickly turned and walked away, the sight of the black body bags lying on the ambulance gurneys forever etched into her mind.  Everything she had was lost, gone within the short time it had taken her to go to the store . . . everything.

 

Vincent held her tightly as she cried herself out.  Father and Catherine exchanged horrified looks. What a terrible burden to carry.

 

After she calmed down, she was able to continue.  “I didn’t know what to do, where to go.  I had nothing . . . nothing.  After I left Jimmy’s grave, I went to the Donnelly’s.  I couldn’t raise Faith. I had no right. I had killed my boys,” she wailed piteously.

 

“No, Mary, you didn’t,” Father assured her.

 

“I let it happen,” she returned vehemently. “I wasn’t there with them.  It wouldn’t have happened if I had been there.”

 

“You don’t know that. You and Faith might have died as well,” Father reasoned.

 

Mary just shook her head and went on. “I left Faith with the Donnelly’s; they wanted a girl so badly.  I knew she would have a good life with them.  Afterwards I went to the Lincoln Tunnel.  Jimmy had taken me there a few times.  I had some idea of dying in the same place that he had, but I found myself just wandering around.  I don’t remember for how long.”

 

“Mike found you and brought you to me,” Father picked up the story.  “You were in bad shape to say the least.  Starving, dehydrated, half out of your mind.”

 

“Yes,” she nodded thoughtfully. "For awhile I had forgotten everything, even my name."

 

“If I remember correctly, I think it was Lou who started calling you Mary.”

 

“Yes, and when I finally did remember, it seemed like Kate was some other person, someone who had abandoned her children, something that Mary would never do.  And I had you, Vincent.” She turned red-rimmed eyes on his face, reaching out to cup the furred cheek fondly. “And Devin and Pascal to look after, and later the other children.  You were my reason to go on, my new family, my new world, my redemption,” she whispered, letting her hand drop.

 

Catherine wiped tears from her own eyes and cleared her throat. “What should we do about Faith?” she asked.

 

All eyes turned to Mary.  Mary lifted her chin, the great weight she had carried for so long had lifted, although there would always be the regret and guilt, for nothing could bring her sons back.

 

“She is my daughter, and she has a right to know what happened.”

 

Catherine sighed with relief. She had been hoping Mary would agree to a meeting. 

 

Vincent went to the kitchen to bring Mary a tray, Father’s orders, while she and Catherine made plans.

 

***

 

A few days later Mary stood in the brownstone’s living room, wringing her hands worriedly.  What would Faith say?  How would she react?  Would she hate her for abandoning her?  Could she forgive her?  What would she say about her brothers?  Obviously, from Catherine’s conversation with her, the Donnelly’s had never told her she had brothers.  What if’s circled her brain until she thought she would scream.

 

“Mary,” Catherine called softly from the sofa, “please sit down.  I’ll be right here with you.”

 

“And I’ll be close.” Vincent wrapped Mary’s slight form in a hug.

 

Suddenly the doorbell sounded.  Mary drew in a shuddering breath as Catherine went to answer it. Vincent melted into the hallway and part way down the stairs.  Catherine stopped to look back at Mary, who nodded slightly, and moved to open the door. 

 

Faith stood on the stoop, looking both excited and anxious.  She had so many questions, and finally they would be answered.  Hesitantly, she entered through the door and followed Catherine through the vestibule.

 

There, looking at her, was the woman in the photograph that she had carried with her through her illness, the woman who had given birth to her and left her.

 

She stood staring until Mary opened her arms.  “Faith, my baby,” Mary called to her.

 

Faith flew into her mothers arms.  “Shh, shh, everything’s all right,” Mary crooned, patting the younger woman’s back.  She looked at Catherine over Faith’s shoulder and nodded.

 

Catherine moved down the hall, catching sight of Vincent on the stairs.

 

“It’s going to be okay,” she told him, with tears glistening in her eyes.  “Everything’s going to be okay.”


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