CHAPTER 19: A TRAGIC TALEf(Episode 5)
Mitzi answers the door to find Fagan the detective, formerly Fagan the pickpocket, standing on her doorstep. Her heart skips a beat. Has he come to arrest her for making a false accusation? How did he find her?
But he quickly sets her mind at ease.
"Hi, there. I brought your wreath. You left it at the toy store.""Oh, you didn't need to do that. I would have gone back and gotten it." Mitzi, of course, is still flustered and embarrassed about the scene she made earlier that evening.
"I thought you might need it, and I promised my daughter I'd get it back to you."
"Oh, well, thank you. I'm sorry I accused you of stealing my wallet. It's turned up and all is well."
That might have been the end of it right there, with Mitzi and Finnegan breathing a sigh of relief and returning to their more comfortable routines, having both escaped the trials and heartbreak that awaited them--but no, leave it to little girls to confound the timid paths of mice and men.
"Who is it, Mommy?"
"Just someone who is returning a package to me, dearest."
"Oh, a Christmas wreath!" exclaims Randi. She looks up at Finnegan. "We're making cookies. Do you want to come in and have yours?"
"Oh, I don't think..." Mitzi and Finnegan say simultaneously. And then they laugh, nervous little laughs, like plastic people do when something unruly inside them doesn't really want an encounter to end, but they're not sure how to take it beyond the awkwardnessof the moment, or even if they truly want to."Please, I decorated one just for you," Randi says.
It is not everyday that someone decorates a cookie for a stranger who appears unexpectedly at the door, and that smacks of Fate. So of course Finnegan must come in and sample it. One does not trifle with Fate when she steps into the picture, less one incur her wrath forevermore.
Besides, the feelings of a little girl are at stake, and no one (except maybe evil villains and the inventor of button holes) would disregard those tender feelings.
That is how Finnegan finds himself seated on a cheap plastic chair at Mitzi's kitchen table, facing a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and a cookie that has probably absorbed too many little fingerprints.
But Finnegan is used to sticky little fingers and so doesn't even gag as he packs away the cookie.
Finnegan can't help thinking that Mitzi has the most amazing blue eyes. Sparks had flown from them when she had confronted him in the store.He offers to put up the wreath for Mitzi while she puts Randi to bed. She hands him the suction cup, grateful for his assistance with this manly job, and he sticks the wreath to the glass door.
Fortunately, when that's done, there are cookies to watch over, so he can feel useful and has an excuse to hang around. A strange feeling of lassitude has come over him and he finds himself reluctant to leave the warmth of the kitchen for the coldness of the dark night...the frigid dark night.Mitzi returns to take over with the cookies. "Where are your children tonight?" she asks Finnegan.
They're spending the night with their grandparents."
"They seem like very nice children." Just a few hours before she thought they were little thieving sociopaths, but even then she had thought they were nice little thieving sociopaths.
"Oh, the little boy is not mine. We dropped my son Toby, off at his therapy session and decided to shop for his Christmas presents in the meantime. The other boy is a neighbor, his mother is deathly ill, we don't expect her to last out the month, so we offered to take him shopping with us."
"How sweet. So where is Toots and Toby's mother?"
Mitzi's soft heart is touched. "I'm so sorry. Car accident?"
"No. Alien abduction."
Mitzi gasps. "I was afraid of that." Mitzi has read about alien abductions and has hoped it never happens to anyone she loves. She is certain nothing could be more trying. "How tragic for you and the children," she says, a tear rising to her eye.
"Yes, you never really understand until it happens to someone you love."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
It was a beautiful end-of-summer day, the kind that comes only at the end of summer, when the fireweed is in bloom and the berries are ripe on the bush. Annabelle--that's my wife--and I had taken the kids for a picnic. We found a lovely spot near a lake, with a view of the mountains.
The day was idyllic. A fox dozed in the brush nearby.
An eagle watched us from a tall tree.
I was very much in love with Annabelle, who was as lovely then as she was the day I met her. To others she might not have been anything special, but in my eyes she was a Goddess.
She had a creamy peachy complexion and hair like a shimmering waterfall--or a silky curtain, I was never sure which. She tiptoed everywhere on dainty little feet that seemed hardly capable, biologically speaking, of supporting the weight of a grown woman. Her waist was as thin as a wasp's, her...you know, those parts just above the waist... were full and firm as melons--not watermelons, more like canteloupes or muskmelons.Birds would alight on her hands and flowers would spring up wherever she stepped. The last part was kind of a problem, actually, as we were constantly being thrown out of restaurants and other places because they didn't like flowers growing willy nilly all over the place. But we were happy just the same. True, most people wouldn't have given her a second glance, women like her are a dime a dozen--or, as some would say, $8.99 on sale--but I didn't care. She was special to me.
There we were, happy in paradise, enjoying some wine and snacks when nature called. Oh, I blame myself for leaving her and the children alone, but what could I do? When nature calls, you have no choice.
I went off behind a tree to conduct my business.
I was not gone long, but sadly, it was too long.
I was not gone long, but sadly, it was too long.
I returned just in time to see Annabelle being pulled into the air on a beam of light. The children were terrified. It was their first alien abduction. Well, actually, mine too. And that was the last I saw of my darling. My final memory is of her lovely face as she turned it toward me, her expression serene as ever, while she mouthed the words, "I will always love you.
She was pulled into a hovering spaceship. Then it zipped across the lake and disappeared in the clouds, taking my love away from us, leaving me and the children stunned, our lives shattered.
Poor Toby has not spoken a word since.
"You mustn't blame yourself."
"I cannot help it. What kind of husband was I?"
"It's clear that you were the best husband to her. You did all that you could."
"Which was nothing."
"Yes, but...sometimes that's all we can do." She lays a comforting hand upon his. A jolt of something leaps from his hand to hers, startling them both. It cannot be electricity, for plastic-based lifeforms are not good electrical conductors. Whatever it is, it penetrates to the heart.
Some would say that plastic people don't have hearts, but those are people who have never seen a plastic mother shed a tear for her child, or a plastic man lay down his own life for that of his fellow. Those are people who have never loved a tiny person, who step over them without a downward glance. Such people are spared the truth, which may be too complicated for their simple world views, and so they prefer their ignorance.
Mitzi and Finnegan don't need to think about whether they have hearts buried inside of the hard shells that they show to the world. They feel them stir.
For a moment they look into each other's eyes, and somewhere a star is born. No, make that a constellation, a birth the likes of which has not been seen since Ingrid Bergman and Humphry Bogart showed how it is done.
Finnegan jerks his hand away, a little too quickly, as if he has been burned. He says, "I must be going. It's late." But his heart makes it a question: "Is it too late?"
And because of that question, he hesitates, for at least another hour or two. Then again, maybe it is only because, every time he is about to get up, one or the other of them will think of something that he or she really must say. More amazing yet, it is always something the other one really wants to hear. But at last Finn does get up and Mitzi sees him to the door, the one with the wreath on it, the symbol of eternity.
Forever. All ways--in every direction.
Not for the first time, as he goes out into the dark night, Finnegan wonders if she feels the weight of that promise as much as does he.