Carol Mays wrote a self-help book, 103 Crazy Ideas for Surviving Suburbia. She also co-wrote Escape from Sunny Shores with her husband, William. Her new novel , NEVINS, is about a cat who adopts a homeless boy.
Nevins, a black cat, is sophisticated, tech-savvy, and wealthy. When he sees Clay, a homeless boy, in the park, he feels sorry for him. Read the first chapter.
Merry Christmas, you say? For you maybe, but not for me! I mean, who ever heard of one of Santa’s elves getting arrested and having to do community service? That’s the mess I’m in now! You see, I’m an elf -- a real elf -- who just so happens to have made one little mistake and now I’m sentenced to 60 hours of community service during the Christmas season at this stupid mall as -- get this -- are you ready? An elf -- helping the imposter Santa at the Picture Gallery. It’s a mind numbing nightmare. On top of my 60 hours, I have to go to anger management sessions with this complete idiot -- some psychologist, named Dr. Phil. He kinda looks like the Grinch with his bald head and beady eyes. And, really I shouldn’t be here. The mall, I mean. It’s kinda all your fault -- well, maybe not yours but people like you. You see, most people think elves live at the North Pole, are short, eat tons of sweets and make toys all day long. WRONG!!!!!
Elves are everywhere doing all sorts of jobs -- not just toy making and baking. I don’t have tons of time to explain this to you but let me see if I can. There are two kinds of elves: Green Hats and Red Hats. Green Hat elves are construction workers, plumbers, electricians, you know -- skilled labor stuff. At the North Pole they do the baking, card making and any sled repairs needed. Red Hat elves, which is what I am, make toys at the North Pole, and are often teachers, doctors, nurses, writers and stuff like that everywhere else. I used to be a top Red Hat Elf before the Incident. I made simple things which kids used to want for Christmas: blankets, pillows, stuffed toys, and my best of all: Sock Monkey. That’s been popular for a long time until that bitch stole it from me and mass-produced Sock Monkey -- and not very well made I might add. I found out about it when Spike -- oh, you don’t know him. Do you? You might. He’s a Red Hat hot-looking elf with spiked blue hair, edible piercings, and a tattoo of a red hat on his right arm. Well, Spike makes wild, cool, crazy cool toys that do amazing things. He invented pop rocks, exploding volcanos, motorized scooters just for kids, well just about anything that explodes or flies. He’s so cool. Well, Spike is the one who told me that Candy Land -- the bitch -- stole my Sock Monkey and changed the look to get away with it. She thinks she is so wonderful just because she’s from the wealthy and famous family who invented the game -- Candy Land. She’s used to getting her own way and when -- oh, yeah she’s a Red Hat elf too if I failed to mention that but I guess you could’ve figure that out. Oh, where was I? I get so mad I forget what I’m talking about. Oh, yeah. She stole my pattern of Sock Monkey off my desk and instead of him being the usual brown sock she made all different variations of Sock Monkey -- that part was fine -- all she had to do was ask me. But the part that is not o.k. is that she makes them talk and say some nauseating, high pitch-voiced phrases that when you pull the string it makes a: pooshk sound and says, -- “Candy Land is my favorite game! Pooshk -- Candy Land is where I want to live! Pooshk -- Candy Land is fun for you and me!” It’s selling at an over-priced store ironically at this stupid mall.
Well, I got so mad that I confronted her at one of our Christmas parties. It was such a perfect party too. Chocolate fountain, pizza, a crystal ball and rock- n -roll Christmas music. Spike was playing the electric guitar and singing. Oh, he’s so hot!
“Candy!” I yelled. “What the hell do you think you’re doing stealing my Sock Monkey and making it your own?” She turned and looked at me with her perfect grape eyes -- all the guy elves love purple-grape eyes -- I have chocolate-brown eyes but you can see that -- and in her annoying fake-whisper sweet voice she had the nerve to say, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I checked and your Sock Monkey didn’t have your name on it. You didn’t register it. So, I just perfected it and made it more up-to–date and cool. Oh, and my Sock Monkey -- registered in my name -- has accessories. So, I don’t know what you’re talking about Peppercane.” She patted me on the head -- because she’s taller than me. I snapped. I completely lost it. On her. I never lost it like I did at that party. I can remember Spike yelling, “Way cool! An elf chick fight!” I kicked her knees then, I punched her face making her red velvet Louis Vuitton Hat sail across the room and land at Santa’s feet. Candy’s eyes rolled back, then she hit the floor with a wobbly thud. Santa looked at me with a grave expression.
You can guess the rest. Rudolf couldn’t keep a secret if his red nose and Christmas depended on it. I was arrested, booked and put in a cell across from the real Grinch -- not Dr. Phil. There were some others there on the naughty list. I can’t believe I just snapped like that. I really can’t explain myself. I’ve been taking it from her all my life and I just couldn’t take it anymore. Dr. Phil says I’m a disgruntled elf and says I should, “just let thangs go -- invent somethin’ new and register your inventions from now on.” I wanted to punch him when he said that, but I just smiled and said, “Thank you, I will do that from now on. I am so fortunate to have your help.” Santa bailed me out and is giving me a second chance.
Well, I guess I better get back to work my break is almost over. I see a long line of kids waiting to tell the fake Santa what they want for Christmas. I hope it’s not Candy’s stupid talking Sock Monkey. Wait -- I’m getting a text. It’s from Spike! He’s asking me to the annual Christmas Ball! I guess it’s a Merry Christmas after all!
NEVINS, by Carol Mays, tells the story of Nevins, a proper domesticated short-hair cat. He is no ordinary talking cat. He is tech-savvy and wealthy. He has a staff. Even so, the world is prejudiced. A lot of people don't like the idea of a cat adopting a human
Nevins Davenport, a proper British domesticated cat, sat on the windowsill of his three-bedroom two-bath white bungalow house as he always did at three in the afternoon. His tail swished left and right as he watched the children play with the various playground equipment at the Botanical Gardens. The sun sparkled on his black fur, creating a beautiful blue hue.
Today was obviously one of those special days, because the tables were set with bright blue plastic tablecloths, which kept blowing off the tables and interrupting the mothers’ conversation. Nevins watched them desperately chase the cloths. The wind blew one over a mother, making her look like a blue ghost. Nevins chuckled. Finally, the mothers anchored them back on the tables using an ice chest and treat bags. Red, yellow, orange, green, and purple balloons tied with string and tethered to a small tree danced in the wind.
On one side of the field, two boys were throwing a ball to each other and when one of them caught it, the other would yell, “Good catch!” Near the swing set, one girl hung upside down from a bar, her long brown hair blowing like fringe in the wind. Others played hide-and-seek, darting behind large rocks and tree trunks, then running fast to get to base which was a giant metal pirate’s treasure chest.
Nevins found the human customs endlessly fascinating, but, one thing in particular caught his keen, yellow-green cat eyes. A young boy stayed by himself in the clubhouse and never played with the other children. Come to think of it Nevins had seen him in the clubhouse before.
The clubhouse, the latest edition to the Gardens, looked like a miniature pirate ship. Volunteers had spent weeks building it using recycled materials. Four, heavy eight-foot fence posts were sunk in the ground and an old red wooden row boat was perched in the middle attached to the posts by sturdy iron bolts. Recycled pine wood was used for the walls, door, and roof. Tree-log steps with a wooden pole railing led up to the pirate’s clubhouse door. A black and white skull and crossbones flag hung from a plastic pole at the front of the boat.
The boy sat alone watching the other children play. He didn’t interact with anyone and seemed invisible to everyone.
“Ok kids, come sit down!” one of the mothers yelled. “The pizza is almost here. Let’s light up the cupcakes and sing happy birthday.”
Nevins watched this strange custom. He thought humans did the strangest things, but this was the strangest. He wanted to get a closer look and smell, so he jumped off the windowsill and went out his cat door which was a small square hole covered by a thick plastic flap attached to the heavy oak front door.
As he emerged on the big front porch, a red Pizza World van with a giant globe on the van’s roof pulled up to the curb and stopped. It played music just like an ice cream truck. Nevins thought it sounded like the music box his human used to play every night. A teenager wearing a red t-shirt with a globe on it that said PIZZA WORLD hopped out of the truck. He carried three large boxes to the children and placed them in the middle of the table. A frenzy of arms reached into the boxes, grabbing slices. They ate fast and talked with their mouths full. Nevins thought the children devoured the pizza like a pack of wolves. No self-respecting cat would eat like that, he thought as he twitched his whiskers.
Deciding to stay on the porch and watch this show, he jumped on the old wicker rocker which had been his human’s favorite place to sit. The momentum of his jump caused the rocker to move back and forth. Nevins had to balance, which is no problem for a cat. He sniffed the air. There was a smell of rain mixed in with the heavy scent of pepperoni pizza. A gusting wind blew his black fur forward. Bad weather was coming.
“Presents time!” The mother announced, her arms loaded with brightly colored packages.
“Yes!” the birthday boy exclaimed, shoving an unopened box of pizza and a cupcake box to a bench. Then he jumped on top of the table and sat down in the middle with his legs crossed. Unbelievable! Nevins thought to himself. My human would never have tolerated such bad behavior!
As the birthday boy ripped the wrapping paper off the gifts at a frenzied pace, the wind blew a blue plastic tablecloth over the box of pizza and cupcakes. The boy in the clubhouse, who was watching the whole scene from the pirate ship’s window, smiled when he saw the cloth cover the food. Why?
The wind kicked up fiercely, and it ripped the paper. Nevins’s ears went back with every RIP, SCRUNCH, and SWOOSH of the paper. A small fragment of brightly colored paper blew through the air and landed on Nevins’s shrubs. How annoying.
The parents rushed in to pick up their children. Each was given a party bag, but one fell under the table. Nobody noticed— except the boy in the clubhouse. The birthday boy’s mother frantically swooped up as much of the wrapping paper as possible and threw it in the park’s trash can. But she forgot the pizza and cupcakes covered by the tablecloth. Then, she and her son carried the gifts to their brand new black minivan and loaded up the loot in a side door that opened with just a push of a button. The birthday boy ran back to the tree with the balloons, untethered them, and scurried back to the minivan. They drove off in a hurry.
The boy in the clubhouse carefully walked barefoot down the log stairs. His blue jeans were torn on both knees so that each step he took down the stairs made his knees protrude from the holes. He wore a light green button down shirt, which camouflaged him whenever he sat in the grass. He walked over to the bench and picked up the pizza box and cupcake box that had been covered by the tablecloth. He carefully placed them on the table, and ate slowly, chewing the pizza and wiping his mouth with a spare clean napkin. That is what I call proper manners. Exactly how a proper housecat would eat. I like this human.
The boy carried the pizza and cupcakes up to the clubhouse and then came down the log steps and retrieved the treat bag from under the table. He dumped it out. Two pieces of bubble gum, one black plastic comb, a pack of playing cards, some sunglasses and a chocolate bar spilled across the table.
“Score!” the boy exclaimed, hastily stuffing the loot back in the bag. He then ran toward the creek.
Satisfied that the boy was okay, Nevins hopped off his rocker and back into the house. The next morning he woke to a strong wind blowing leaves against the windows, and he started worrying. How is that boy in the clubhouse doing? Without even washing himself to make sure each strand of fur lay back perfectly, he jumped through his cat door and onto the front porch. The boy sat all alone in the clubhouse. He was wearing the same torn jeans and green shirt. I can’t stand this. Bad weather is coming. How do humans coax a cat out of a tree? Hmm. I know! With food!
He went back inside to his computer. What do humans eat for breakfast? They are not like cats who eat the same thing. He remembered his human used to like a burger place, but he could not remember the name of it. So, he did what any intelligent cat would do—he looked in the history section of the computer and found the name of the burger place: Wonder Burger. It made Nevins sad to see it, because it was his human’s favorite place to eat. With a heavy heart he pressed the button and typed the order. He paid for it using his human’s credit card. It would be delivered to the house.
While he waited, he pressed the button of the dispenser for the dry cat crunchies which he ate every morning. He loved the mixture of chicken, beef and fish flavor. His fountain circulated cold water. I love the way this water stays fresh.
The wind gusted even more. Hmm… Now, how do I get the boy here? Do I go over to the clubhouse and speak to him? Do I coax him over to the house by meowing? I’ll just have to wing it!
He jumped through the cat door and sprinted across the street. The cars always drove so fast that he had to be careful. One time he started across the street and a car sped up and tried to hit him! Humans could be so rude at times.
But he wasn’t going to let that bad experience stand in the way of trusting the boy. After all, how many cats have scratched a human? He used all his cat skills to sneak up to the clubhouse.
“Meow.” The boy did not hear him. So, he let out his most pitiful, “Meow! Mew! Meow!”
The boy poked his head out of the window and looked down. His sandy-blonde hair is a bit overgrown for most humans.
The boy smiled. “A cat! I love cats!”
Music to my ears! This is all I need to hear to convince me I have chosen the right human.
The boy scurried down the stairs and bent down. “Ahh. You are cute. You can live with me here if you want.” The boy held out his hand for Nevins to smell it. Then, the boy petted him lightly on the head. Nevins looked at the boy’s brown eyes.I wonder how old he is? He is very thin and small for a human.
Nevins tried to think of all the important things to remember about humans. He was impressed that the boy did not try to pick him up. Cats consider that very rude. The only thing ruder would be comparing a cat to a dog. That was the rudest thing in the world!
“Would you like to live with me in my clubhouse?”
Nevins was not sure this was the right time to speak to the boy. “Meow.”
The boy laughed. “O.k. I’ll take that as a maybe. Wait there.” The boy went up the stairs—barefoot—two at time and sprinted down with some of the leftover pizza. “I wish I had some fish for you, but this is all I have, and it’s pretty dried out.” Nevins politely ate a few bites.
The roar of a blue convertible sports car rounded the corner. The radio was playing some loud boom, boom, boom type of music that disturbed Nevins. The driver pulled over to text something, and the noise of the radio was so loud that Nevins wanted to press his ears all the way against his head. But the annoying music stopped abruptly, and a piercing loud beep was followed by an announcer’s urgent voice.
“We interrupt this program to give you the latest emergency broadcast!” The announcer’s voice was anxious. He stumbled over his words and took a deep breath. Nevins noticed it, but he was not sure humans could detect it. All he did know at that moment is that for sure trouble was coming and fast.
“The tropical storm is now upgraded to a category 5 hurricane. Hurricane Hector is expected to hit land tomorrow at 12 p.m. All citizens in the Corpus Christi area should evacuate immediately, especially if they are in low-lying areas.”
The sports car sped off and the voice of the announcer faded.
Jumping tuna! What do I do? Take in this young boy and reveal that I can speak?
“We’re in trouble little cat,” the boy said. “I only have this clubhouse to live in and I don’t think it will hold in a big storm. There is no way I am going to a shelter. There is an abandoned house a block away, but I’m afraid it may not hold either. Then, there is an old building four blocks from here.”
Nevins could not stand it any longer. He sat up and spoke in his British accent. “You can stay with me.”
The boy did not speak for a long time. He just stared at Nevins. “Oh, I think I need to eat something, little cat. I think I just heard you talk to me.”
Nevins spoke again. “You did. And, my name is Nevins. Nevins Davenport. I live just across the street.”
The boy fainted. Jumping tuna! Nevins thought frantically to himself. Now what do I do? He began to lick the boy’s face and slowly he regained consciousness.
The boy lay flat on the ground just staring at Nevins. Suddenly, a Wonder Burger car pulled up to Nevins’s house and a woman jumped out of the car carrying a small bag. Oh, this is a mess! I flat forgot about ordering the breakfast.
Nevins scurried quickly across the street and positioned himself behind a bush. The woman rang the doorbell. Nevins cleared his throat then said, “Just leave the bag on the small table next to the rocker. I included your tip with my credit card payment.”
The woman smiled, placed the bag on the table, and left. Nevins ran back across the street. The boy was now sitting straight up. “Little cat, did you just speak to me and tell me your name is Nevins Davenport?”
Nevins sighed. “Yes. And, I am trusting you.”
The boy looked at him and smiled. “Thank you. My name is Clay. I’m an orphan. My parents died in a car accident a year ago. I lived with my grandmother on Elm Street, but she passed away a month ago.”
Nevins interrupted, “Listen, I want to hear your whole story, but we need to get to my house.”
Clay nodded. “Let me just get my things.” He ran up the stairs and came down with a small white plastic grocery bag. “Ok, let’s go,” Clay said as he jumped down the last two steps. They quickly crossed the street and walked up the steps to the front porch.
“The Wonder Burger bag is for you,” Nevins said. “I ordered you some breakfast. Come inside and we can talk.” He stood up on his hind legs, reached with his two front paws, pulled the handle down, and opened the heavy oak door.
Sylvia Garcia-Peterson rifled through her purse before she went into Shady Oaks Retirement Home. Counting the change, she had a few pennies less than 25 dollars. Paying for lunch for her and her mother, Maria, would take at least 10 or 11, even if they ate kids’ meals at Whataburger. That didn’t leave much for shopping or to feed her son that evening. She wouldn’t eat lunch. She would get her mother something to eat, and say she was dieting. She was too fat, anyway. Maybe if she hadn’t let herself get fat, she’d still have a husband.
Shady Oaks was a miserable place. Located in Corpus Christi on the forgotten side of town, it was the last stop before death if you were old and poor. And to make matters worse it was Texas-themed. From the rusting Lone Star to all the cowboy pictures on the walls everything reminded her of her ex-husband, Bryce.
Residents were parked in their wheelchairs in the dingy hallways. One elderly man slept on a gurney next to a public restroom. The stench of urine and bleach emanated from all the rooms, and the worst smell came from a room where a woman screamed dangling off her bed. The workers never moved to help her. Sylvia yelled at them, but they ignored her, so she walked into the room and helped the woman back on the bed. “Thank you, my dear,” the woman said.
Sylvia’s mother was right next door. “Ola, mama!” she said, trying to sound as cheerful as possible, as if their lives hadn’t completely fallen apart.
“Ola, mija,” her mother replied, barely looking up.
Sylvia felt horrible. Not only did Bryce break her heart when he ran off with his girlfriend, he had destroyed her parents too. They had trusted him when they plunked down their life savings for the down payment on the home in the Royal Grace Subdivision where they would all live together. Her father couldn’t take it when the bank foreclosed. His heart had been failing for years anyway.
“I have thought of the perfect thing for us to do today. Going to garage sales.” Sylvia tried to sound enthusiastic, like it was trip to Disneyland instead of the only thing they could afford.
Her mother didn’t seem fooled. “Si. Vamanos,” she said in a sad voice.
Sylvia wheeled her out of the room and past the smirking nurses.
Her mother scolded them in a loud voice. “God watches everything you do. And everything you don’t do!”
The nurses glared back, and that made Sylvia feel a little better. But would they be mean to Maria later when she was alone in her room?
Desperate for something good to happen, Sylvia stopped at the first garage sale, but as soon as she got out of the car, she wanted to jump back in and drive off. There was a pair of boots, fancy with some rhinestones. And a saddle, and oil paintings of cowboys on horses. It all reminded her of Bryce. Even though she was Hispanic, and he was Anglo, they had many things in common. They had grown up in the Texas countryside and both of them were Catholic. She remembered how handsome he had looked in his camouflage outfit when he went hunting. How could he have let her and her parents drain their savings for the down payment on the house when all along he had been having an affair and was planning to leave her?
“Mama, let’s go,” she said.
Her mother, who had barely been able to walk when she left the nursing home, had made it out of the car on her own, and was standing at a table looking at a book. That was unusual. Sylvia raced over to her.
“Look, mija,” Maria said with excitement, pointing at a scrapbook full of old black and white pictures. “I want this.” Sylvia flipped through the pages. It was thick, dusty, -- and strange. The photos were quite old. They showed scenes from farms and ranches. Men on horses. Women quilting. In one photo a Model-T was parked next to a barn.
“How old is this?” Sylvia asked, as much to herself as her mother.
Maria’s eyes glittered. There was more life in them than she had seen in a while. “I want it,” she repeated.
It was on a table with a note that said all items were a dollar. What a bargain. Such a small price to pay for making her mother happy. The woman running the sale walked over to them. Sylvia handed her the dollar, and she took it.
“Do you know anything about this?” Sylvia asked her.
“Not much. My parents were antique dealers, and this was something they had in their store. I have no idea where it came from.” She motioned to all the other items around her. “A lot of their stuff came from the farms and ranches around here.”
“Who are the people in these photos?”
The woman took the book and leafed through it. “I don’t know any of these people. My parents told me that some of these old photos dated as far back as the 1890s. I did some research. The Kodak camera wasn’t available until then, so these would have been some of the first pictures taken in this area. I think they were taken at our local ranch just outside Corpus Christi. You may know it -- Legacy Ranch? My parents found it there, I think. They handled the estate sale for the ranch when the owners died. But honestly, I don’t know much about this scrapbook. It was in my parents’ store for years, and it never sold. Customers would come into the store and look at it for hours. Older people. But no one ever bought it. Strange, huh?”
As the woman leafed through the book, she got a funny look on her face. “Hey, something’s not right. I think there are more pictures than they’re used to be.” She stopped talking and looked bug-eyed at one of the pictures. “I don’t think I can sell this to you.”
“I want it,” Maria said.
The woman shoved the dollar back toward Sylvia. “Here’s your dollar back. Plus, I’ll give you anything else off the dollar table that you want.”
Maria shook her head. “I want it.”
“No, no, I can’t let it go.”
“I want it,” Maria wailed.
Why would the woman back out of the sale? Probably because she was letting it go too cheap. All the other customers turned to look. The woman was momentarily distracted, and Sylvia snatched it out of her hand. How dare she try to take that scrapbook away from her mother? “A deal is a deal. You had it on the dollar table. I gave you a dollar. You can’t take it back.”
“But, but,” the woman sputtered.
Sylvia turned and walked away, pushing her mother in front of her. Maria took the scrapbook, and she smiled and thumbed through it all the way to Whataburger and all the way back to Shady Oaks. She was still smiling the next week when Sylvia came to visit. And she was still looking at the scrapbook.
“Come on, mama, let’s get out of here for a while.”
“No thanks, mija. I just want to sit here and look at the scrapbook.”
Sylvia thought the book was Maria’s way of coping with her horrid, new surroundings, and she was delighted to see her mother happy. Besides, she was flat broke, not even five dollars in her purse. The Catholic Church had given her a job teaching at a middle school after the divorce, but payday was almost a week away, and she was overjoyed not to spend any money.
The next Saturday, paycheck in hand, she found her mother sitting with the scrapbook again. She refused to go out, and Sylvia started to worry that the scrapbook was turning into an obsession.
All week she couldn’t concentrate at work. The students looked at her with blank expressions. She had trouble remembering what she had said, and what she was supposed to say next. Deciding to see what her mother was up to during the week, she skipped her lunch hour and asked one of the other teachers to cover for her if she came back late. When she got to Shady Oaks, she sneaked down the corridor and opened the door to Maria’s room without knocking. As she’d feared, Maria sat there with the scrapbook.
“Mama, you’re spending all your time with that.”
“It makes me happy. It’s where I want to live forever.”
Sylvia tried to dismiss it as a mental escape-- a type of coping mechanism her mother had developed. But she kept worrying. That Wednesday she skipped morning mass and tiptoed to the door to her mother’s room. Maria was talking to someone. Carrying on a conversation. But no one was answering.
When she pushed the door open, she found Maria by herself in her vinyl recliner with the open scrapbook in her lap.
“Who were you talking to mama?”
Maria did not answer which was unusual for her. She just stared at the scrapbook almost as if in a trance. And it seemed to have more pictures and pages than Sylvia had remembered. That was exactly what the lady at the yard sale had said! Feeling a chill of fear, she ran out of the room to the nurses’ station.
“I need to talk to someone about my mother.”
One of the nurses looked up with a smirk. “Which room?” she asked in a nasal voice.
She knew which room her mother was in. How horrible she was acting. Sylvia was about to yell at them, but the phone rang and the nurse answered. It was a personal call, and their conversation droned on. Sylvia glanced around. A young college student who was interning there looked back at her with what seemed like sympathy. Sylvia walked over to her.
“Could you help me?” She looked at the intern’s name tag, “Darlene, is it?”
Darlene looked around nervously. None of the nurses were paying any attention.
“Could you keep an eye on my mother and call me if she does anything unusual. She’s the one in Room 166.”
Darlene nodded, and then hesitated. “I know which one she is. She talks in her room all the time. Like she’s carrying on a conversation. The nurses think she’s senile. But she seems pretty sharp.”
“Please, please, help me.”
“I can’t. They have all kind of rules.”
Sylvia wrote down her name and cell phone number on a piece of paper. “Please call me day or night.”
Darlene crossed her arms. No one had a good heart in this miserable place. There were no favors done for anyone -- ever! Sylvia resorted to the only thing left: money. She had just cashed her paycheck and had fifty dollars left after paying her bills and buying some – but not all – of her groceries. She would have to ask for food from the church pantry. She just fell another rung down the ladder of life.
She thrust the money in Darlene’s hand. “I can pay you more if you call me.”
Darlene looked side to side and shoved the money into her pocket.
Sylvia planned to go back to Shady Oaks the next day, but when she got home, her son had a high fever. He had caught the flu, and she had to stay home with him. When he got well, Sylvia had to catch up with grading papers and volunteer extra shifts at St. Mary’s to repay the church for all their kindness and generosity. Then, her son had several basketball games, and Sylvia attended all of them to make up for the boy’s absent father.
One night as a blue norther blew into Corpus Christi, Sylvia’s phone rang.
It was the nasal-voiced nurse. “Sylvia Garcia-Peterson?”
Sylvia knew it was bad news. “Yes.”
“We are very sorry to inform you that your mother is missing.”
Sylvia bolted upright. “Missing? What do you mean?”
“The security guard was making his rounds,” she stammered. “He heard a man’s voice in the room with your mother.”
Sylvia trembled. “A man’s voice? What man?” Could it be her ex-husband, Bryce?
“No one was admitted into the building past six this evening. Your mother had her dinner with the rest of the residents in the dining room. Darlene, one of our interns, said she heard your mother telling the other residents at the table that she was going away to a beautiful place. No one thought anything of it, because residents say things like that. But, when the security guard heard a man’s voice in the room, he was concerned. He tried to open the door, but couldn’t. We’ve called the police and would like it if you could come here right now.”
Sylvia left her son a note on the kitchen table. It was better not to wake him. Where could her mother be? Why hadn’t Darlene called her? Thankful that she did not live in New York or San Francisco or any other crowded city in the United States, she sped off in the dead of night down the deserted streets of Corpus Christi to the part of town where no one wanted to live.
When she arrived, no one was there to greet her. The nurse’s station was empty. A janitor mopping the floor knew nothing about her mother or police, merely mumbled something about being the only person working during shift change.
Anger spiked inside her, then yielded to fear.
She slowly pushed the door to her mother’s room open. No one was there. The scrapbook lay on the night stand open to the last page. The large black and white photo showed a picnic in an open field on a sunny day. It was captioned “Legacy Ranch Annual Picnic 1875.” Sylvia had seen all the pictures in the scrapbook, but this was new. There were a hundred people all smiling. They were seated at one long wooden table under a large oak tree. The table was covered with all kinds of delicious foods in iron pots and pans. There was cornbread, barbeque and a pot of pinto beans that Sylvia thought looked just like the kind her mother made with the jalapenos in it. Men, women, and children all sat together happy and smiling. The women wore cotton prairie style dresses and sun bonnets. The men wore cowboy hats, boots and guns in holsters. A cattle dog sat next to a little boy.
Suddenly, she could hear happy voices. It sounded like a party. Some were speaking Spanish, others English. A cowboy played a guitar and sang, “Home on the Range.”
The smell of the food wafted up to her. That startled her so much she almost dropped the scrapbook. Then the people started to move, like a video. Sylvia stood motionless. How could this be happening? She felt faint as the images became more three-dimensional. They came loose from the page and floated around her. They were translucent.
One young woman floated in front of her wearing a cross like her mother had. “I’m fine, Mija,” the woman said. “Don’t worry.”
It was her mother for sure, but when she was young, barely in her twenties. Next to her, another familiar-looking woman waved at Sylvia. Who was she? She moved next to her mother and smiled.
It was the woman who had held the garage sale.
Sylvia felt light-headed and started to faint. The scrapbook slipped out of her hand and fell into a large crack which opened up in the wall and foundation.
Now, it waits for the next person to wish as hard as they can to live somewhere else in a place far away in a time that even time has forgotten.
Originally published in Texas Tales II