Ann clamored down the stairs as quickly as she could, grasping the pealing metal railing, flecks of paint fleeing her hands like snow in the wind.
Maddy and I froze at the top of the stairs. Our eyes locked.
“Let’s give her minute,” she muttered. I nodded understanding the possible need for a private moment as Ann passed under the crumbling door frame. There was nothing but silence. I could hear my heart pounding.
We waited a couple of minutes before hearing Ann’s soft voice strangled in tears. “Who…how could she…how long?”
Maddy and I slowly descended the steep stairs and peaked cautiously into the cellar. Odors crept our way, invading our sense of smell with that chilling dampness and old mold cellars are famous for. But what we beheld defied the odor. The room, no larger than a prison cell, was the definition of a desperate attempt at survival with dignity.
An old wooden crate turned on it’s side served as a night stand next to a cot. The cot was tiny and metal, like an old army cot. Although it obviously lacked a mattress, it was piled with old quilts and pillows of all sizes and colors.
A sunflower yellow lamp perched atop the crate with a shade of soft almond. It illuminated the tiny space, warming it as though actual sunlight somehow filtered through.
The dirt floor was covered with a faded thread bare area rug, a rug that had surely been lovely at one time. Muted shades of blue, gray, and rust warmed the room. At the foot of the cot was a bench piled with books.
Ann sat on the edge of the bed and began perusing the collection. There were several organic gardening books, a biography of Nixon, a number of other political reads and a slew of Rick Steve’s travel books.
“I wonder,” Ann sighed, “I wonder if she’s traveled to these places. I wonder,” she looked around the desperate yet somehow homey cellar, “I wonder how long she’s been here and where she’s gone.”
Under the bench, a dozen or so cans of assorted soups and pears lined up like soldiers awaiting orders. “She loved pears,” Ann smiled. “As a little girl it was almost the only fruit we could get her to eat.”
Next to the canned goods was a gallon jug of water. A box held a few plastic tumblers, a small supply of cutlery, a roll of paper towels, three melmac plates and a cooking pot with a lid.
Kathy took a deep breath. “I can’t believe this.” She stood at the bench and picked up several of the books. “Hey, these are ours, from the bookcase in the back bedroom. She must have brought them down here, probably to have something to read at night.”She started to take a seat next to Ann but stood right back up.
“There’s something…” She felt under a quilt and pulled out a leather bound journal.
“Oh, Ann…I wonder…” she handed it to Ann as though it were the most fragile thing in the world. Ann’s hands shook as she held the journal tentatively, as though opening it could open Pandora’s box. Yet she had to. As she slowly opened the front cover she read aloud an inscription written in small tight letters: “To my love, Cammie. May we be bound throughout eternity.” It was signed “Eddie.”
Ann glanced up and met the eyes of her friends. “Of course, I have no idea who that could be.” She turned the page, took a deep breath and continued to read.
“I was never really here, for my spirit is forever free. My journey continues till the day my body can no longer, yet without it, I will journey still, and to the end of time.”
It was not sighed. There was nothing more. A near empty journal filled with nothingness.
“The handwriting…the graceful way she looped her letters together…it’s Cammie’s handwriting.” Ann put her face in her hands and cried.
It has been nearly a year since Cammie’s visit to the island. Kathy left everything in the cellar just as we found it in case she ever comes back. Ann’s overwhelming sadness has eased with time. After all, she’d been used to a life without her daughter. And as she told us, at least she knows, once again, Cammie is alive and well, and realizes there is a safe haven for her on the island when her time comes. And surely that time will come for Cammie, as it does for us all.
Ann is nearly eighty years old. She left a note in the journal for her daughter asking her to give her mother a day, just one day, between now and Ann’s ninetieth birthday. She plans on being well and strong until then.
In the mean time, I continue to walk the beach every morning. I swear there are times when I catch a glimpse of those billowing white pants disappearing into the fog and long wild mahogany hair trailing behind in the breeze. I can’t help but see those haunting eyes and wonder where she is and if we’ll ever see her again. I hope so.