Mary, John and the Tramp
As I was approaching the exit door of hospital ladies room late that night, on my way back to John's bedside, it suddenly opened. A towering figure was looming, a man, dressed in hospital staff whites. Stars flew as I felt a blunt thud on the left side of my head. Everything went black as I felt myself collapsing to the hard tile floor.
Horror and pain surged through my swollen, bloody face when I realized as I regained consciousness, that I was stripped bare, and bound hand and foot.
A cold pair of intense eyes shown out from under the tattered hat of a man lying in the dim light of a dying camp fire. He stood up, approached and spoke softly as he untied me. Handing me a blanket, He offered to escort me through the woods, back to the boardinghouse room. I had little choice.
My mind was racing so, I hardly heard him, but as we walked he told me about how he'd been a factory worker, and like John and I, had lost everything in the economic collapse of 1929. He said he knew the reputation of the man who abducted me, and explained that among the men in the camp, this man was considered to be best left alone. Most even avoided direct eye contact with him. My mind raced on. He said that he'd like to report what he'd seen to the police, but he had relatives he feared for. He further explained that this man would not stop pursuing me now, and I should pack my things and leave the area, tonight.
Our room was still as it was when I'd found John there just a few short hours before, on the floor in a widening pool of his own blood. I threw the blanket that the Good Samaritan had so graciously given me across one of the dining chairs, and started walking carefully toward the open suitcase on the bed to retrieve a candle and some clothes. To my horror, out of the darkness the iron grip of a man’s hand clamped down around my shoulder and spun me violently around. Desperately grasping in all directions, I pulled down one of the window drapes. And, in the cold moonlight, looked up into the face of my slayer. With finality, his hands tightened around my throat. It was not the face of the drifter who had abducted me as I feared, but to my utter dismay and heartbreak it was that of my husband John. I began to weaken, unable to fight. My small frame dangled limp from his unyielding hand. But suddenly, he released me, then embraced me. I felt the embrace not of the broken, defeated John, but of a man who was whole, strong.
We talked for a while, and between the two of us could piece together a clear picture of what exactly had transpired. I pressed my cheek and both palms gently against his chest. With closed eyes and open heart, I stole a moment of warmth and rest for my soul from the heart of my intimate partner and friend. We had been through so much. My tears began to flow as he wrapped me in his overcoat.
As Mary and I looked for something more to wrap my bleeding wound with, there was a sudden, hard knocking on the door. "You have a phone call", a man’s voice said from the hallway. "From the hospital.” I began frantically looking around for something to use as a weapon. There were three more rapid knocks. As my eyes met with Mary's, she called out, "Okay, thank you. I'll call them back. Can you get their name please?"
I was somehow drawn a step closer to the door, still under the effects of the mind-bending drug that this psychotic killer, posing as a cook, had given me. Lifting my hands and resting them lightly against the door, with my face pressing against it, I believed that at that moment I was seeing through that door, and into the fearsome image emanating from an abyss. The hellish world, that was the very soul of this unnamed drifter, an aggressive evil, altogether without boundaries.
The knock on the door became a heavy pounding, rattling the room. I knew I had to stay alive long enough to get Mary to safety, or her life would undoubtedly come to a gruesome, unspeakable end. I quickly rigged a harness with the bed sheets and lowered her to the ground from the second story window, watching her in the moonlight as she ran across the yard and faded into the shadows.
I knew what I had to do. Grabbing a fireplace poker, I threw the door open, but was met with only the dark empty silence of the Boardinghouse hallway. In a blind panic I turned, knocking over a table. And, in the thick darkness, stumbled head over heels down the staircase, as a large China vase bounced down behind me, shattering and cascading over my face as I lay sprawled out at the foot of the stairs.
After searching the grounds through the night, daybreak brought only despair.
Mary came home safe and sound later that morning, but then died suddenly about a year later. I am an old and dying man now. I spend my day's sitting, gazing into the warm darkness of her memory. I see her face in my dreams. She haunts my heart.
Robert Palmer 6/28/17
If you enjoyed this, and feel like reading some more, follow the link below to episode 1 of the series, “The Boardinghouse.” Thanks!