- 2014 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
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Read Online: Superimposed Chapter 5 by Rae Kary Staab and Elizabeth Staab Van Deusen
Holly drove to her next meeting with Mr. Grimaldi with little more information than when she had left Karen’s office at Hospice. Against her better judgment, she had signed the ridiculously stringent papers that she had been presented with. She couldn’t imagine agreeing to leave her cell phone at the gate if she were in her right mind. She wasn’t exactly a total pushover, though, she told herself – she had bought an extra, prepaid cell phone just so she could turn hers in when she arrived and still have one on her person in case of emergency. Tightening her fingers on the steering wheel, she tried to convince herself that there was no need for paranoia.
As Holly parked her little red Honda at the end of the big brick-paved circular drive, a middle-aged man approached her car. He had a deep tan and salt-and-pepper hair, and he exuded an air of casual confidence.
“Hey, you must be Holly,” said the man, who was dressed in grass-stained blue jeans and a red plaid shirt. “I’m Philip. I do most of the landscape work and maintenance here. Joe asked me to collect your cell phone and give it back on your way out.”
“Oh, hi. Yes, I’m Holly. Thank you so much.” Holly handed over the phone, not without a tremor of nervousness in her hand. Philip seemed friendly enough, but he still worked for a man who had ordered him to confiscate a hospice worker’s cell phone. Something was not as it seemed. Holly swallowed hard as she shut and locked her car door, feeling a bit stupid for saying thank you to the guy who took her phone.
Holly spent the morning helping Joe sort photographs by size before he put them into his latest scrapbook. This one was from his trip to the Grand Canyon, so the pictures were full of rocks, trees, mules, and people wearing backpacks.
“This is the last one I have left to put together,” said Joe. There was only a slight waver in his voice to betray his feelings about it being the last.
“When did you go?” Holly asked, trying to keep the focus of the conversation on Joe’s travels instead of his condition. She looked up from the stack of photographs and pushed her hair back behind her ear.
“Oh, I went two summers ago,” said Joe, picking up a photo of one of the famous Grand Canyon mules and holding it a little closer to his eyes. “I thought it would be cooler in September, but I was wrong. I got fried.”
“It looks like the trip of a lifetime, going by these pictures,” Holly remarked.
“It was all right,” said Joe modestly. “I’ve seen a lot in my lifetime, though.” He waved his hand vaguely toward a wall of shelving that contained scrapbook after scrapbook, from floor to ceiling. “Kept a record of as much as I could. I was kind of a glorified treasurer hunter when I was young, you know. I was in the MFAA at the Offenbach Collecting Point, but you’re too young to know about that. If you ever go to New Orleans, though, Holly, promise me you’ll visit the National World War II Museum.”
“I think I can promise that,” said Holly. It seemed like a harmless request. She’d keep the promise, too, if she got the chance; it would be a good opportunity to educate herself a little. “What was your career, Joe?”
“Oh, you don’t buy the treasurer hunter statement? I worked with museums. I always did have a mind for numbers and analyzing things,” Joe reminisced. “They said I had a photographic memory, too. But I always said I just have a mind that can’t forget things. It sure came in handy, I can tell you. I scanned real objects with my own eyes like the computers scan images today. And I was very good at what I did. But it’s a mixed blessing; you know, never forgetting things.”
“I suppose so,” said Holly, neatening the stacks of photographs she had just sorted. “But what a gift to have! You could learn anything you want. You could learn mathematics, history, even languages.”
“I speak German, Italian, and French, as well as English,” said Joe, with a hint of pride in his voice. “And I play several instruments – a little. The languages were each useful in their turn, but the music is my joy, especially the violin.”
“Could you play something for me?” said Holly, putting down the photos and looking up. She fought down a slight queasiness when she remembered the last time she’d heard violin music. James had played the violin, but Holly had been too busy working to go to more than a few of his concerts before he was deployed. Still, she could tell it would be healing for Joe to play, and it was Joe who was the patient. Holly’s own feelings must be set aside.
Without answering verbally, Joe walked across the room to a display cabinet containing no fewer than three violins. He picked out what appeared to be the newest one. In fact, it looked exactly like James’ violin. There was some sort of decal on the handle that Holly recognized – an abstract design that was hard to describe but easy to recognize. She had never seen it anywhere else. However, before she could remark on the decal, Joe began to play the violin. Holly recognized the tune as “Clair de Lune,” and Joe’s playing made her think about everything she knew that was sad and lovely at the same time. She thought about James again, but this time there was no nausea – only a bittersweet longing. She was unable to speak when the music ended.
“This violin belongs to a friend of mine,” said Joe, breaking the silence after a brief pause. “I hope he comes to get it before I’m not here to give it back to him. He’s traveling abroad at the moment.”
“Come and have a glass of lemonade before you have to leave,” said a voice behind Holly. She turned to see a thin, elderly woman standing in the doorway. Holly had been introduced to her briefly before helping with the scrapbooks, so she racked her memory for her name. Victoria – that was it. Victoria was Joe’s cook and was standing in place of family as far as Hospice was concerned. Been in the household so many years she might as well be a sister, was the way it was jotted down in the files. Holly supposed it was a rough quote from Joe. Still, it was peculiar and almost heartbreaking to know that the gardener and cook were the closest thing Joe had to family. Holly politely accepted the glass of lemonade, making an effort not to show how awkward she felt, and then excused herself as gently as possible to go to her car.
She had not driven far on Gage Boulevard after turning off Interstate 70 before an uneven tilt and the dreaded whomp-whomp-whomp noise informed her that she had a flat tire. Biting back an exclamation of disbelief, she pulled off the road and realized that she was fairly close to Gage Park and the Topeka Zoo. Holly locked her car doors and hiked over there, mentally kicking herself the whole way for forgetting to get her cell phone back from Philip before she left. Then she realized that she did have the spare phone she’d bought — but she couldn’t call anyone at Joe’s place with that phone unless she was willing to admit that she’d tried to work around the agreement she’d signed. At least there was sure to be a landline at the zoo that Holly could probably use, maybe even a pay phone. She hated to call anyone at Joe’s place for help, but Philip did still have her cell phone. She supposed he was perfectly capable of changing a tire, and he could return her phone while he was at it.
Half an hour later, Holly was sitting on a bench near the Gage Park train and waiting for Philip to show up. Idly watching all the people getting on and off the train, she thought that one of the women looked familiar. She was trying to figure out where she knew her from when the woman glanced over.
“Hey, do you remember me?” said the woman, who was holding one preschool-aged child by each hand. “I’m Lauren West. We had Psych 101 together at Washburn, freshman year.” Now that she was looking at her directly, of course Holly recognized Lauren. She’d been a decent student but less driven than Holly herself, a little too prone to go out to a movie instead of study for midterms. Lauren had gotten married halfway through school to a man whose first name Holly couldn’t remember.
“Oh, yeah, Lauren!” said Holly, enthusiasm creeping through the exhaustion in her voice. “It’s great to see you. It looks like you’ve got your hands full lately.”
Lauren laughed. “This is my son, Hunter, and my daughter, Becky,” she said, indicating the small children beside her. “Tom is getting our train tickets.”
“It’s great to see you all,” said Holly. “Sorry I’m a bit distracted. I’m waiting for someone to come help me fix a flat tire.”
“Oh, no!” said Lauren. “I’m sorry. Tom could help you change your tire if we weren’t all about to get on the train. Maybe we could help with the tire first and then ride the train, but the kids are getting kind of anxious. Here, let me give you my phone number, just in case.” Holly could see that Hunter was pulling on Lauren’s left hand and straining toward the train’s loading area, while Becky was pulling on her right hand and aiming for the playground. Lauren was struggling just a little to keep her balance, and she had to let go of Hunter to reach in her purse.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” said Holly, though she did give Lauren her own number. “Someone will be here any minute now. Enjoy your train ride. I’d love to chat sometime, though.” She watched Lauren and her family squeeze into one of the tiny train cars and imagined what it would have been like if James had not gone missing. The wedding would have been six months ago by this time, and Holly would have been looking forward to having children of her own someday. She brushed away an unexpected tear and reminded herself to focus on the present. The train departed.
“Holly?” said a voice behind her. It was Philip at last. Holly reached for the cell phone he was holding out toward her. “What a time to forget your phone. Let’s go take care of that tire and let you get home.”
Holly showed him where her car was, and Philip jacked it up and changed the tire. It was all done much more quickly than Holly could have done it herself, even if she had known where to put the jack. Examining the tire Philip had just removed, Holly finally found what had caused it to go flat. She had been expecting to find a nail or a screw embedded in the tire, but what she actually found was some sort of military pin. At first glance, it reminded her of the one that James always used to wear. Before she could get a proper look at it, however, Philip worked it out of the tire and put it in his jeans pocket.
“That must belong to Mr. Grimaldi,” said Philip. “I’m awfully sorry for the trouble it caused you. What a thing to pick up with a tire.” He started putting away his tools. Then he followed Holly in his pickup to Sam’s Club, where she could get her tire repaired. She grabbed a slice of pizza for dinner while she was there, and by the time she got home, she just wanted to go to bed early.
The next few weeks were quiet and uneventful as Holly spent each day at Joe Grimaldi’s home. The elegant surroundings made it seem almost resort-like, a fitting background to the unfolding of a person’s last days. Holly tried hard to listen to Joe and let him lead their conversations as she had been trained to do, but it was sometimes difficult not to ask more questions than was really appropriate — some things just didn’t add up, and on occasion he would say something so odd that Holly wondered if he were starting to become delirious. Most of the time, though, he seemed perfectly lucid.
“Holly, I wish I could say I’ve lived with no regrets, but I do have a few of them,” Joe told her one afternoon, as they sat in cushioned chairs on the large, shady porch.
“Would you like to share? I’ll listen if that would help you.”
“When I was a young man in a crisis situation, I made a choice or two that affected the rest of my life,” said Joe. “Now that my time on earth is growing short, I see things differently and wonder what would have happened if I had chosen another way.” Joe’s voice caught and he cleared his throat. “Let’s go inside, Holly. I’m tired of sitting; I need to lie down.”
Holly was glad it was Tuesday. Joe’s pastor always stopped by once a week, and his visits always lightened Joe’s mood. When the pastor arrived, Holly usually retired to another room in order to give Joe privacy and to respect his need to find comfort in his faith. Today she wandered about a lovely little flower garden in the huge front yard, enjoying the white irises and the decorative statue of St. Francis. It was hard to know when to return without either waiting too long or interrupting anything; but after a while, Holly went up to the doorway and knocked gently.
“Please excuse me,” said Holly. “May I come in? Or I can certainly come back a little later.” She knew how important it was to give Joe a little control over as much of his situation as possible.
“Do come in, Holly,” said the pastor, gathering up his Bible and a folder full of notes. “I was just leaving. Yes, Joe, we will certainly include Romans chapter eight, especially the last two verses. You take care. Call me anytime.” He shook Joe’s hand, and with a slight nod to Holly, walked out the door.
“What do you believe about God and Heaven, Holly?” Joe asked abruptly.
“Oh, Joe, I’m not sure. Some things seem so unfair…” Holly was surprised enough that she began to answer without thought of her training, but she quickly regrouped and turned her focus away from how distressed she still was by James’ disappearance. “What do you believe, Joe?” she asked, remembering that it was her place to listen.
“I have peace,” said Joe, “At least about what’s going to happen to me. It’s what I’m leaving behind that makes me wonder a bit. There are so many things I’ve been involved in that I just don’t have time to finish up. And some things more time wouldn’t help with – there are choices a man only gets to make once. But that’s all for someone else to take care of now.”
It was eight days later that Victoria met Holly at the front door with a dishtowel in her hands, twisting it between her fingers. “I’m glad you are here,” she said. “Joe isn’t feeling well this morning.”
“Where is he?” said Holly.
“In the recliner in the big sun room. I’ve called his private doctor, and he is on the way here now.” Victoria’s voice was tense as she held the door open for Holly.
“Hi, Joe. Can I come in?” said Holly, hoping she wasn’t intruding.
“Holly! I’m glad you’re… here. I’m just not… up to par… today.” Joe was having trouble breathing. “The doctor…”
Holly carefully steadied her voice to sound calm and reassuring. “Victoria called your private physician, and he will be here soon.” She took Joe’s hand when he held it out to her. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No, Pastor Steve is coming. I just need to… rest. I couldn’t sleep last night.”
“Go ahead and rest then.” Holly gently stroked the back of his hand with her fingers, relieved that the pastor and doctor were both on their way. Joe seemed to relax after a few minutes; his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep.
Chapter 6 will be published next week at http://www.tscpl.org/community-novel
About Elizabeth Staab Van Deusen
Elizabeth Staab Van Deusen lived in Topeka as a small child and as a young adult, spending a year at Washburn University before transferring to Oral Roberts University and receiving a writing degree. She participated in and won her first two National Novel Writing Month events with the Topeka NaNoWriMo group, and she is particularly proud of having written her 2010 novel draft entirely on the Topeka area group dare–a red sock, which she lost on page one and spent 50,000 words finding again. Elizabeth enjoyed co-writing with her mother on a chapter of the 2013 community novel and was excited to participate again in 2014. She has written and illustrated one children’s picture book of her own. Elizabeth currently resides in Oklahoma with her husband and toddler and can be contacted at elizabethsinventions.blogspot.com.
About Rae Kary Staab
Rae Kary Staab participated in two previous Community Novel Projects with TSCPL and thoroughly enjoyed writing with the group and with her daughter. She has a B.S. in Geological Engineering and is a certified E.M.T. Rae stayed home to raise her family and now that they are grown she is looking forward to writing and working. She enjoys reading, rope spinning, and sewing. Rae and her husband live north of Topeka. Rae Kary Staab may be contacted at email@example.com