-A short story By Raelea C Phillips
Danny was cutting out expired coupons from an old newspaper on a gloomy spring Sunday morning in her two bedroom shotgun home. The house had been in Danny’s family for four generations on her father’s side. It was painted white with a burnt amber trim and had a large southern plantation style porch on the front. Upon entering the house was the living room. The living room had a twelve foot ceiling and the walls were painted a pale yellow. There were four windows; two on either side of the door overlooking the front porch and one on each side of the house. Danny’s bicycle was parked under one window near the door and a small rot-iron table with a kerosene lamp sat under the opposite window. Various potted plants with long vines like hung in front of every window with violets and succulents sitting in every sill. Danny loved her plants; pruning and talking to them often.
Danny didn’t have much furniture but had no use for it anyway. She had an old armless cushioned chair covered in garnet and violet paisley linen with short wooden legs. She bought the chair recently at a thrift store. There were two antique brass end tables on either side of the chair which had been in her family since the early 1900’s. An old multicolored stain glass lamp with a copper bass sat on one of the end tables. Danny’s great grandfather on her mother’s side had made the lamp for her grandmother. A tall, wooden bookshelf stood against a wall which came halfway across the room and separated the living and dining rooms. It was lined with hundreds of books and old National Geographic magazines.
The dining room contained a small wooden table painted green with two chairs on either side. The chairs were made of mahogany and had a lyre carved in the backing of each. On the table were a pile of old newspapers and candles. There were eleven framed photographs of Danny’s family including her mother, father and grandmother hanging on the walls; a few of which were water damaged with broken glass. The dining room walls were painted a milk chocolate brown with white trim. Through the dining room was the kitchen where an assortment of pots and pans hung and swayed from the breeze coming through the window above an old white ceramic sink basin. A wind chime hung inside the window and a bird feeder hung outside where cardinals, chickadees, and mockingbirds ate to their content. The kitchen walls were painted apricot and had white cabinets with glass doors lining the wall on either side of the window. There was a gas stove hooked up to a propane tank, a refrigerator, and an ice box cooler sitting on the hardwood floor. Continuing through the house led to a hallway toward the bathroom and the first bedroom. This is where Danny slept in a queen size bed enclosed with an old brass frame covered by a handmaid quilt. Her bedroom led to the second where there was a twin bed and a small night stand. One room led to another; hence the shotgun style structure which was commonly built for lower property taxes. Houses were taxed based on their width rather their length in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Being of Sagittarius nature, Danny felt comfortable and safe isolated in her home on the weekends. She spent most of her spare time in the house reading or outside tending her garden. An occasional visitor like her old neighbor and friend, Fritz, often came by to bring a few delicious bright red tomatoes he grew in his little garden. He lived a few houses down and across the street. Fritz was a mysterious elderly Creole man possibly in his eighties that didn’t know his age or his birth date. Danny knew of one distant daughter that would visit for Christmas. Fritz usually came around on a Sunday about once a month and would knock on Danny’s front screen door calling out her name, “Daniella, Daniella, Hun, Isa got you some nice maters taday.”
Daniella was Danny’s given name. She grew up as a tomboy always playing outside barefoot, wearing trousers and boy’s shirts that snapped down the front. She hated the name Daniella and as a child said it sounded like a submissive name for a wealthy princess. Fritz knew her given name because one Sunday afternoon, years before Danny’s grandmother had died; he had ritually come by with some tomatoes. Danny and her grandmother, whom she called Mamma, were sitting on the front porch drinking homemade lemonade while sharing a cheap cigar. After hours of conversation reminiscing about her farm life, Mamma told Fritz of the day that Daniella became Danny.
Danny was only eight years old at the time. She and her mother were visiting Mamma one summer in Mossy Grove, Tennessee where Danny’s mother grew up. The boys in the neighborhood teased Danny for her rebellious attire, playing baseball, building forts in the woods, and going fishing in a nearby creek. Danny even bated her own fishing pole with the slimy squirmy earth worms she’d dig up herself. Despite the boys’ behavior, Danny never whined or complained to her mother. Instead she antagonized the boys hoping to instigate an argument or fight. But the boys always backed off when Danny charged toward them, arms flailing like some psychotic patient out of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.
One afternoon she decided to challenge all of the boys to a foot race. Danny called out to her mother and Mamma to referee the race. They were close by in the brush picking blackberries. Two oak trees about forty feet apart were chosen as markers. While forming a line between one oak and Mamma, the boys laughed and teased telling Danny she needed a head start. Danny just shrugged and grinned while staring toward the finish line where her mother stood.
“On your mark, get set, go!” Mamma yelled.
The start was fair and the children took off quickly. Dust flew up from the heels of little bare feet scrambling for the finish line. Danny pulled ahead almost immediately. The closer they all got, the farther Danny pulled away. Seeing Danny ahead through the stinging sweat in their eyes, the boys pushed harder, panting in frustration. A girl was actually beating them in a race! Danny crossed the finish line while her mom screamed with delight, “The winner is…Danny!” Danny was so happy to hear her mother say Danny.
Mamma laughed, “And that, my dear Fritz, was how Daniella became Danny.”
Despite how much Fritz enjoyed the story he still insisted on calling her Daniella. He loved her given name and Danny never corrected him.
“I’m comin’ Fritz” Danny said noticing Fritz with a handful of tomatoes. Danny was in the dining room reading a book of Emily Dickinson poetry while eating supper. She had cooked her father’s recipe of red beans and rice. When she went to open the door Fritz replied “No, no I cain’t come in. Isa dirty wit da soil from da garden.”
She went back to the table and grabbed the red beans and rice bowl that was already made up for Fritz then went out on the porch. The two sat down on the top step of the six steps that led up to the house. There was a wooden swing and two rockers on the porch but they sat on the steps to have a better view of the road. Oaks, pines, and flowering shrubberies surrounded and shaded Danny’s house which was especially nice in the dreadful heat of summer. The trees somewhat obstructed the view of the road unless sitting out on the porch steps. It was April and the spring brought cool afternoon rains and evening breezes that carried the calming fragrance of jasmine and the sweet smell of honeysuckle. The twilight sky reflected colors of pink and orange while the sun set peacefully on a clear southern horizon.
This particular Sunday visit from Fritz was exceptional because he had not been able to bring any tomatoes for several months. The tomatoes didn’t grow for a while due to once flooded and damaged soil. The trees and shrubberies had suffered as well, but had grown back rather quickly. Danny and Fritz sat admiring the tomatoes. They turned them over and over before deciding to dip them into a bucket of rain water for a brief wash. Danny pulled out the salt shaker which had uncooked rice inside to prevent sticking in such a humid environment. She handed the shaker to Fritz anticipating her first bite. He doused his tomato with salt then chomped down smiling while tomato juice and seeds ran down his chin. Danny dashed a little salt on her tomato and then closed her eyes to enjoy her first bite after a long withdrawal.
Danny woke early Monday morning to drink her instant coffee and eat her typical breakfast which consisted of a glass of orange juice, two eggs cooked over easy, and a piece of wheat toast from the oven. She usually read the newspaper in the morning while having her breakfast but hadn’t received the paper for months. She was hoping that she would get the paper again soon. She missed the comic strips or “funnies,” reading the daily horoscope and getting the Sunday paper coupons. Strangely, one small locally owned grocer up the street was accepting the expired coupons at least for a few more months. The grocer’s name was Harry. He struggled trying to make ends meet after not receiving many customers for a while. But he wanted to help out in the community and allowing expired coupons was an affordable way he could do so.
Danny went outside to welcome her sunny morning and get one of the buckets of rain water. All thirteen of them were full. It had rained pretty hard for the last three days. She always liked the rain water for washing her hair. It made her hair shiny and soft. After getting dressed and ready to go, Danny grabbed her bicycle, wished the plants a pleasant day and then left her house for work. Danny loved her bicycle ride to and from work, as long as it wasn’t raining. She used the time to think of fond family memories or to sing songs. This morning’s ride was full of old melodies and lullabies from her mother’s personal repertoire.
Danny worked as a waitress at a small diner about five miles away and closer to downtown. She worked the breakfast and lunch shifts starting at 7:00am until 3:00pm so to have her evenings at home to read her books and talk to her plants. The diner was called Pete’s and had about fifteen tables. Six of which lined the windows along the front overlooking the street. The diner was decorated with photographs hanging on the walls of local musicians. Many of which were damaged like Danny’s photographs. The tavern next door was where most of the musicians had played and patronized Pete’s after gigs. In those days, Pete’s was open twenty four hours a day but closed on Sundays. Now Pete’s was open everyday from 6:00am until 9:00 in the evening. Pete himself would get to the diner at 4:30 every morning to prep the kitchen and serve the customers during the first hour of operation.
There was always a wait for a table especially during lunchtime. Many restaurants had been closed and the few that were open received a lot of business. Pete’s had the best Po-boy sandwiches in town, hands down, even before when there was more competition. Because of good business, Danny made enough money in tips on her day shifts during the week to be able to put some money into a savings account. The wait staff used to make more money working the evening and weekends shifts, but that had changed along with the hours of operation.
The work day was a usual one. As Danny cleaned up the service station and the dining area for the part time evening shift, she noticed a little orange car under one of the tables at the window. She remembered a family of four was seated there earlier. They appeared to be struggling, counting change to pay the bill. There was a young boy about three years old with the family. He had brought the orange car into the diner with him; playing with it while waiting patiently for his food to arrive.
The orange car brought back memories of Elliot, Danny’s son. Elliot had a set of toy cars similar to the one Danny found under the table. When he was three, Elliot had dropped one of the cars off of a bridge that crossed over the bayou where they used to walk together and go fishing. Danny recalled Elliot’s devastation after losing the orange car. But his grief didn’t last long as he soon recovered and played with the other seven cars in the set. Danny realized that the young boy that left the orange car probably didn’t have the whole set. She wrote “Table # 5-lunch-April 9-Danny” on a napkin, wrapped the car inside and put it into a lost and found drawer in Pete’s office. The drawer was full of things like umbrellas, hair pins, hats and other toys that had not been claimed for years. The toys varied from dolls and teddy bears to Lego blocks and other cars. Danny knew the orange car would be safe there. She said goodbye to Pete, unlocked her bicycle from the rusted down bent up bike rack in front of the diner and peddled happily home while thinking of Elliot as a child.
The five mile ride home provided ample time to ponder where Elliot may be today. He would be twenty-six years old now. Danny remembered his dark brown curly hair and his green eyes. He was a handsome boy with a slender build. She dreamt of him being at least six feet tall with shoulder length hair still dark brown and curly but worn in a pony tail. She would picture him in a courtroom as a successful lawyer or perhaps he was a writer or a professor of music. Elliot was a very analytical, theatrical, inquisitive and unusually intelligent child even for a three year old. He asked more questions than the average child and felt that there was an answer and a truth to everything. Danny always believed that was the Aquarius in him.
Elliot was born February 13th in 1980 at 11:58pm. Danny was only fourteen years old when her son was born. The father was a seventeen year old boy named Charlie that was visiting his uncle in the early summer that previous year. Charlie’s uncle lived in the same neighborhood as Danny. Danny’s first crush was on Charlie. He abused Danny’s young, impressionable heart and virgin body persuading her into sex. After a month visit, Charlie left and Danny never saw or heard from him again. Danny didn’t realize her own pregnancy until she was in her second trimester and had gained a considerable amount of weight. Her parents were disappointed in the circumstance but supportive in helping Danny raise her son.
Danny grew up and lived the first fourteen years of her life in the same house that she lived in now, but at the time that was the only asset of the family. When Elliot was only eight months old, Danny’s parents were forced to sell the house that had been in their family for three generations. The economy was suffering due to oncoming recessions which caused an eventual oil crisis in their large port city. As a result, Danny’s father lost his job with the gas company he worked for in the CBD. The four of them moved into a guest room at a bed and breakfast called Mademoiselle Marie’s located in the Garden District. Danny’s mother had been working as a daytime receptionist at Mademoiselle Marie’s for over nine years. The owner’s name was James. He was sympathetic to the family’s situation allowing them to live there as long as they needed and for very low weekly rent. The room was small with two full size beds and a bathroom, but it was better than being on the street. Danny’s family was forced to live on the minimal amount of money that they collected from selling the house and the low wage temp jobs that Danny’s father managed to get occasionally.
Danny’s father became very distant and seemed tired all of the time. When he was home he rarely talked to anyone and slept to avoid interaction. Danny’s mother continued working as a receptionist but also had to care for Elliot while Danny went to school. Usually Elliot played with his toy cars running them around in the lobby while Danny’s mother worked.
At first, the arrangement seemed to work for everyone. Though it was crowded and frustrating for Danny who was sixteen now and desperate for her own space. Elliot was almost two and he was a handful like any typical two year old boy. Danny’s mother was having difficulty trying to watch Elliot and work, so Danny was forced to take on a part time job after school to pay for a daycare. Luckily, Danny’s job was at a nursery where she enjoyed learning about the diverse flowers and plants.
Over time, Danny’s father became more distant and noticeably more depressed; staying out late after work. Danny herself was also becoming withdrawn and moody due to the hormonal changes of possessing a teenage body. Danny became more resentful when she couldn’t complete her homework because she had to tend to motherly tasks. Her grades were dropping in school and she had to quit the part time job at the nursery or quit school. Danny thought about her future and the possibility of not being able to go to college. She also felt that without an education she would be forced to work menial jobs like her father and therefore wouldn’t be able to properly care for Elliot and provide him a college education.
One Monday afternoon Danny had picked up Elliot at the daycare and returned to the bed and breakfast. There was a police car parked in the circle drive blocking the front entrance. Danny walked in and noticed her mother wasn’t at the reception desk. She looked around the lobby area then in the kitchen. She walked toward the back entrance where there was a courtyard and a fountain. There she saw her grandmother, Mamma, whom she hadn’t seen since she was eight, holding her weeping mother. The police officer was standing above the two who were seated on the circular concrete bench that went around the fountain. Elliot yelled for his grandma then suddenly James grabbed Elliot and went inside while motioning Danny to go to her mother.
I could hear my heart pounding through my ears as I walked toward my mother to find out what had happened. I will never forget the anticipation and anxiety I felt during those ten seconds before hearing my mother choke on the utterance of my father’s suicide. My father had purchased a handgun and shot himself standing on the edge of the Huey P. Long Bridge, and then falling several hundred feet to his inevitable death in case the bullet didn’t do the job. The only man in my son’s life; the only man I ever loved was gone.
The pain of losing my father began the chain of events that led to my giving up Elliot for adoption. A year went by and our financial situation was getting worse since the money from the house was gone. My mother fell into a deep melancholy and I knew she would not be able to help me with Elliot anymore. Mamma moved into the guest room with us after leaving her home in Tennessee and wanted to care for her daughter to lesson the burden on me.
I felt that the decision to find my son a new home was best while he was still young enough to recover and adjust. At least that is what I had hoped. I loved my son and wanted him to have all of the opportunities that he deserved; that I would never be able to provide. I also wanted him to have a father in his life.
I decided on a closed adoption with a clean break feeling it would be best for Elliot. But I gave Elliot’s new parents a photograph to give him when they decided to share the truth of his adoption. It was a recently taken photo of Elliot and me sitting on the top step of the front porch on his third birthday.
Elliot’s new parents were a couple in their thirties that had no success in having a child of their own. All I knew about them was that they lived in Florida in a large house with a back yard and plenty of space for Elliot to run. They were wealthy and could provide Elliot with extracurricular activities and most importantly, a college education. I was seventeen years old and Elliot had just turned three when I left him on April 9, 1983.
I still regret the anticipation, the heaving sobs of my mother and the echo of those fatal words in the courtyard. I sometimes wish I had ran away that day with Elliot and never looked back. I wish my father was here; my mother happy again. I wish that Elliot was back in my arms as that three year old boy crying over the lost orange car.
Danny arrived home just in time to avoid being soaked by another afternoon shower. She remembered the bucket of rain water that she used from the morning wash and ran inside to bring it out for a fresh fill. She took the twelve buckets that were full, brought them inside and poured the water into her bathtub placing one next to the toilet for flushing. She went to the kitchen and after fumbling through her drawers looking for a match, lit a burner on the stove to warm the water in the teapot. Danny had various herbs dried and packaged into small plastic bags. She hadn’t been able to grow her herbs or wildflowers for a while such as dandelion, peppermint or rosemary, but had some still saved from previous months.
Danny loved the rain when not having to ride her bicycle to work. She enjoyed listening to the tree frogs and the birds in the trees while the rain fell gently onto her tin roofed porch. She curled up with a pillow and a blanket on the porch swing sipping the hot cup of herbal tea.
Drinking tea and listening to the rain was calming for Danny and she often thought about having a cigar with Mamma during these moments of serenity. Danny fell asleep on the swing after she finished her tea. She dreamt of the glorious day when her mother and Mamma were able to buy back the family house after ten years. This was a recurring dream that she usually had while napping on the swing. The dream always began with Danny’s college graduation.
Danny was twenty four years old and had just graduated from college with a Bachelors degree in Social Work. She had decided to be a social worker early in her college career to work with foster children. Danny missed Elliot and never regretted their brief few years together, but wanted to prevent young girls from the same predicament through education and counseling. Unfortunately Danny didn’t work in the field right away. Her mother had been diagnosed with a terminal pancreatic cancer shortly before Danny’s graduation. Danny wanted to care for her mother. She knew the move back into the house would be time consuming considering that she was the only one of the three that was capable of carrying boxes and furniture.
The three had been living in a two bedroom apartment just above Harry’s Groceries. They had moved into the apartment a year after Danny graduated from high school. Danny worked at the nursery by day and as a waitress by night before going to college at the age of twenty. Her mother still worked as a receptionist at Mademoiselle Marie’s Bed & Breakfast. Between their two paychecks, they were able to pay the rent for the apartment. Mamma stayed active crocheting and making clothes for homeless people. When Danny’s mother was diagnosed Mamma decided to sell her house in Mossy Grove and use the money for buying back the family house. Mamma knew how important that house was to her daughter and her deceased son-in-law. Being that Danny’s mother was an only child, like herself, there was nobody else to inherit the Tennessee home anyway. One month later Danny graduated from college and everything was finalized for the house.
The day of the move was perfect. It was an unusually cool seventy degrees for a June spring day in Louisiana and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Danny’s mother had been very weak from taking heavy doses of pain medication which kept her tired and despondent most of the time. This day was different; for the excitement of sitting on the front porch of her husband’s home again after so many years made her temporarily forget her cancer. She smiled the entire time, watching Danny skip in and out of the house moving their belongings, including all of the family furniture. Mamma was washing the windows vigorously and pushing a mop across the dusty floor. When she finished cleaning she lit up a cigar on the front porch to celebrate. Danny joined in for a few puffs, while her mother quietly sang an old hymn.
The move was complete and a couple of weeks had passed when Danny’s mother grew weaker. The Hospice nursing staff were scheduled to come by twice daily to monitor Danny’s mother’s condition making sure that she had enough morphine for the pain. Danny had read about pancreatic cancer while caring for her mother. She read that this particular cancer was exceptionally painful and that most victims died within three to six months after diagnoses. Danny didn’t want her mother to die but didn’t want her to suffer any longer. When her mother was awake and responsive they talked about her seeing Danny’s father again. This and living in the family house again gave much comfort to Danny’s mother about leaving Danny and Mamma. Danny’s mother died on her twenty-sixth wedding anniversary, June 10, 1990 while Danny and Mamma sat on either side holding her dainty skeletal hands.
Danny woke up abruptly. She always woke during the dream right after her mother died. The rain had stopped and it was muggy and sticky outside. She got up off the swing to ready herself for her twice a week visit at an orphanage a few miles away. Danny had not been able to work in her field for sometime but was volunteering to council some of the children that were orphaned. Many parents of these children had drowned from an extensive flood that occurred several months prior. There weren’t many jobs due to the population decrease after the flood but Danny wanted to help as much as she could. She knew in time social workers were going to be in extra high demand once people began to move back into to the city and start over.
The early evenings were best to council the children after they had finished their day in school and needed assistance in doing their homework. Danny grabbed her bicycle and rode off into the muggy air then waved to Fritz who was sweeping his front porch. She thought of the day she first met Fritz. He had come over to the house a few days after the move. Danny’s mother was sleeping, and Mamma was hoeing the backyard for a future garden. Fritz came over with a basket full of his big ripe tomatoes as a welcoming gift into the neighborhood. That Sunday began the tomato visits that have occurred for the past sixteen years.
On this bicycle ride, Danny’s thoughts were not of the wonders of the world. The dream had brought about memories of Mamma. Danny had come to terms with her mother’s death over the years and became best friends with her grandmother. Mamma was a very strong practicing Baptist. Danny’s beliefs were more pagan but for those years following her mother’s death she pretended to share in her grandmothers Christian ways so not to destroy their friendship. She knew Mamma, with her old-fashioned upbringing, would never understand Danny’s spiritual path. Danny occasionally felt guilty for her secret and would talk to Fritz about it. He, having an unorthodox catholic and voodoo background, assured her that her secret was safe and a much needed way to protect her grandmother from the unknown. Every Sunday morning Danny went to church with Mamma, but never allowed her resentment toward the church to show. Danny regretted harboring such negative feelings about going to church because she missed her grandmother very much.
Mamma died suddenly of a heart attack, early in the morning on August 18th 1999 at the age of seventy-five. She had been tending to the herb garden when she collapsed in the yard. Danny was working as a social worker at the time and had to maintain long twelve hour shifts during the week. She had already left for work before Mamma woke up that morning. Fritz came by to say hello and found Mamma in the afternoon while Danny was at work. Now Danny was officially and completely alone and spent the next few years working many hours to avoid spending too much time in her house mulling over her isolation. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her home; she needed time to adjust to her new way of life.
Danny was at the orphanage for three hours that evening and left when the children had gone to bed. She had to be careful while bicycling home in the dark. The roads were still full of debris and could prove to be quite dangerous without street lights. The electricity in Danny’s neighborhood was still off as well as running water due to the devastation of a hurricane. On her ride home, she thought about the hurricane which hit only eight months ago.
It was an early autumn Monday morning when a category four hurricane made landfall and caused massive flooding due to three levees collapsing. The flooding was extensive and forced the entire city to evacuate. Danny and Fritz’s neighborhood received four and a half feet of water, but Danny would not leave her house. She had lost this house once before and refused to leave it again. Folks, like Danny, could have left before the storm but many of the residents were impoverished and didn’t have the option to evacuate early.
Once the hurricane passed, the levees collapsed and the flooding began. The telephone land lines, the cell phone signals, and the electricity went out during the storm throughout the entire city. Danny and Fritz did not know the extent of the damage without a working television. Fritz was already at Danny’s house and had brought a battery operated radio but it would not get a signal. They noticed the flooding water was rising and decided to get all of Danny’s plants and eventually themselves up to the rooftop with bottled water and canned goods. Danny had a ladder which she placed under a door in the ceiling of her back bedroom. The door led through the attic and up to the roof. Fritz helped Danny get her books and magazines up on the highest shelves and put the rest in the attic. After getting the plants and supplies to the roof, he suggested relocating to a different part of the city. There, the flooding would be less due to higher ground along the Mississippi River ridge and they would have access to the CBD buildings with multiple floors. It was too late to evacuate the city but at least in the CBD they wouldn’t be exposed to the mosquitoes and weather conditions from sitting on the rooftop.
After much persuasion, Fritz was able to convince Danny to leave her house. They spent a month in a downtown hotel eating rations given by the US Coast Guard. After the water receded, Danny and Fritz returned to their homes. They were both anxious to see how much damage the flood waters had caused. They removed the mold stricken furniture and material items out of their homes wearing painter’s masks and rubber gloves. Danny spent the next two weeks cleaning and scrubbing everything. She was saddened to throw out the family sofa and dining table. She helped Fritz with his house as well.
Danny and Fritz’s shotgun homes were built three feet off of the ground as were most of the homes in their neighborhood. They both got about a foot and a half of water in their homes. Because the water had set for over two weeks, the drywall had to be gutted out and many of Danny’s hardwood floor pieces were dangerously warped and curled up. For a few months following, Danny volunteered around the city to help rescue abandoned pets and assist in outdoor animal triage locations around the city. Once she realized the situation of so many orphaned children, she began volunteering at local shelters. She also went to Pete’s Diner to apply for a wait job. Pete was happy to have Danny’s service when he reopened his diner after four months of being closed.
Danny stopped at Harry’s Grocer to buy a replacement block of ice for her cooler where she kept perishables. Harry was closing up soon so he was busy cleaning up the storage room. He told Danny to just leave the money for the ice on top of the cash register. After doing so, Danny was putting the ice block in her bicycle basket when Harry came dashing out.
“Sorry, I fergot ta mention that a man was here lookin’ for ya earlier. I just figured he was wit the press or somtin’ so I told em I hadn’t seen ya fer a while.”
“Thanks Harry. Yeah I guess they want to interview me because of the hurricane and all. Or maybe someone trying to get me to leave my gutted house. You have a good night Harry.”
“Yeah, you too Miss Danny anjou be careful on these streets at night.”
Danny made it home safely. She entered her dark home then lit the kerosene lamp and a few candles in the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth. It was getting late and she had to work the next day at the diner. It had been a long Monday of bicycle riding, working and volunteering. Danny brought her lamp into the bedroom after blowing out the candles. She placed the lamp next to her bed and tucked herself in for a short read before going to sleep. She was reading one her favorite books for the third time. It was a Margaret Atwood novel called “Cat’s Eye.” The novel was an enchanting story about a woman painter and the reflection of her childhood memories. Danny dozed off with the book in hand and the kerosene lamp still burning.
Suddenly there was a knock on her door. Danny sat up quickly and the book fell to the floor. She thought it could be Fritz but realized that he would have been asleep by now. The knock was somewhat forceful and didn’t sound like Fritz’s weak hand. Danny waited for another knock, but nothing. She decided to get up and walk to the door in case it was a burglar testing to see if anyone still lived in the house. Many houses were broken into after the hurricane and the occasional break-ins were still occurring around the city. Danny had been fortunate in the past eight months but stayed prepared with a baseball bat propped up against the wall near her bicycle and her father’s old hunting rifle loaded under her bed.
The phone lines were still down in her Mid-City area along with the electricity and Danny didn’t own a cell phone so calling the police or 911 was not an option. Danny grabbed the rifle and a flashlight. She tiptoed through the house without the flashlight on; her eyes had adjusted to the dark. Without street lights or any other kind of illumination in the neighborhood, there was no way for Danny to see any shadows outside her house. As she crept closer toward the door she heard footsteps on the porch. She cocked and readied the rifle gently so not to make too much sound, then moved forward again slowly. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears as she approached the front door. She was about five feet from the door when suddenly a hard knock made her jump. “Hello, hello Miss O’Brien, Daniella O’Brien?” It was a man’s voice.
Danny tried to respond, but swallowed hard instead. Finally she replied, “Who is it, and what do you want? I am armed!”
“Ma’am, I know it is late, but I have been looking for you for eight months now and would like to talk to you if that’s ok.”
Danny slightly pulled her curtain and peaked through the opposite window of the bicycle. She could see that the man was tall but couldn’t make out any features in the dark. He was wearing long pants and a short sleeved shirt. She pulled away from the window, “Who are you, and why have you been looking for me? I am not leaving my house, so go away! It is my house!”
“Ma’am I am not here to make you leave your house. I know it may seem suspicious a man outside your door so late but please open the door and I will tell you who I am.”
“Are you with the press? Do you want an interview or something? What do you want?”
The man leaned closely and spoke into the door. “No ma’am, my name is Andersson. Elliot Andersson.”
Danny’s heart felt as if it hit the floor. She swallowed hard and struggled to breathe trying to process what she just heard. She took a deep breath then opened the door slowly and stood staring at the man in darkness. “Is this a joke? Who are you really, and what do you want?”
“Ma’am, I have this picture and…”
“Don’t move, this thing is loaded” Danny interrupted.
“Miss O’Brien, I believe you are my mother.”
Danny shined her flashlight in the man’s face. She almost dropped the rifle. She set the rifle on the floor instead; not taking her eyes or the flashlight off of the man’s face. She noticed his eyes were bright green and he had dark curly hair which was pulled back into a ponytail. “Elliot?”
Danny reached out, grabbed Elliot’s hand and pulled him inside. Elliot let go of his mother’s hand and wrapped his arms around her.
“I thought you may have died in the storm” he said while holding his mother.
Danny dropped the flashlight and silently cried into his chest.
“I have been looking for you since the hurricane. My adopted parents told me about you when I turned eighteen. They said that you lived somewhere in Louisiana when you gave me up. They knew your name and that’s all. I wasn’t sure whether or not you still had the O’Brien name or if you were even alive. I found you because this house and your old telephone number are listed under my first given name, Elliot O’Brien.”
Danny leaned back and wiped the tears from her face. She was overwhelmed with excitement.
“I knew you would find me someday. I left the decision, in your hands.”
Elliot pulled out the photograph. Danny wept again and told Elliot about his grandfather who took the photo. She also told him about his grandmother and great grandmother, both of which died at this family home. The two of them talked all night. Elliot was a musician and a published writer of children’s novels. He wasn’t married and didn’t have any children. When the sun began to rise, Danny called Pete to ask for the day off. Pete invited Danny and Elliot to have lunch at the diner on him.
Elliot went into his suitcase and brought out a gift for his mother. The gift was wrapped in a lavender silk cloth with purple ribbon. Danny opened the gift and it was a scrapbook that Elliot had made. The front cover read, “To My Mom, Daniella O’Brien, Hurricane Survivor.” Danny opened the scrapbook and it was filled full of newspaper clippings of articles about the hurricane and its effect on the city. There were also clippings of horoscopes from every Sunday paper since the storm. All of the clippings were from “The Florida Times Union;” the paper that Elliot received in Florida where he lived.
Elliot went back into his suitcase and brought out his Sunday papers from two days before. Danny was delighted to read a more current paper. The two sat on the top sixth step of the front porch drinking coffee. Fritz had seen them from his house and was curious about the mystery guest. He knew Danny hadn’t received many visitors since the hurricane so he decided to gather some tomatoes and walk down to Danny’s house. When he arrived, Danny and her son were clipping coupons from the Sunday paper. Fritz smiled and said hello as he stared at Elliot’s face setting the basket of tomatoes on the porch.
“Welcome back ta Newa’lins, Mista Elliot!”
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