The very next morning Ruiz was knocking on the apartment door calling,
“Special delivery for Donovan.”
There Ruiz stood holding Percy.
“Oh,, you found Mere’s cat. This morning I looked by the dumpster. I was afraid and really believed I would find Percy’s dead body or his bloody paw inside the trash.”
“Hey, I didn’t get a gold shield for nothing. I’m a detective. A smart cat like this is going to look for better food than that garbage. So I checked out places nearby where a hungry cat might get some food.”
Meanwhile Percy, confused and home sick, ran around the apartment. Finally, he jumped on the window sill where the forlorn cat curled up. Mere’s big maroon chair, his litter box, and Mere herself - all gone. Ruiz scooped him up and scratched his head affectionately and explained, “Sure enough the workers at the bodega, down the block were feeding this guy. When I found him in the store. This cat already understood the word “agua”. I can teach him Spanish in no time. I could tell just by the way he responded on the ride over here.”
“I guess I’ll take him back to Boston where I’ll have to find him a permanent home. My mom definitely won’t have animals in the house with her antiques. My dad just doesn’t relate to cats.”
“Hey, like I said this is a New York cat who speaks some Spanish. The owner of the Bodega is already attached to him and says he will take him. Another reason for you and me to get together in New York. We will visit Percy at the bodega. Maybe even qualify for a family discount. Speaking of family, Abuela was asking if you want to come up some Sunday for dominos and dinner.”
Instantly I smiled. “I would love to on my first trip down from Boston.”
“No doubt that you have made a good impression on Abuela who is a very particular judge of character. By the way, today I was talking to another friend of yours, Horatio. I got a statement from him. It’s sad this guy is homeless. He can write really well. Better than a lot of cops I know. You know what, he even writes in this fancy script. You should see his signature.”
Instantly I said,” Fancy hooks on the capital E?”
“How did you know?”
“Does Horatio last name begin with an E?”
“No, Horatio is his middle name. Edgar is his legal first name.
He’s even known as Eddie by some of the homeless in Penn Station.”
“Wow” I whispered remembering that Spencer said Mere had been dating some guy from the neighborhood. Aunt Claire mentioned Eddie, an engineer. Could Horatio, not Spencer, be the lover who wrote those letters long ago? Having Horatio, a homeless alcoholic and an extraordinary friend, as our missing biological father and grandfather would shatter my fantasy family tree.
This freaked me out too much to even mention it to Ruiz. How could I ever suggest
this to Dad? We were all so raw with emotion from the attacks in the library.
“Zoe, I see you are wrapping things up here. That’s what I gotta do downtown with your grandmother’s case.”
Emilio left in an awkward way. We had been through so much we didn’t quite know what to say.
He did add,” No cop in Boston will have your back like me.”
“That’s for sure.”
As I watched him from m the living room window, Ruiz walked slowly toward his car. I saw him look up at the apartment several times.
So much of the past and the future remained unclear. Would Emilio Ruiz be part of life when I came back to New York to visit my Dad? He was ten years older than me. Was he too old for me now? Would that age difference matter in a few years?
The next couple of days the pressure increased to clean out Mere’s apartment. The real estate agent had a buyer. Sorting out Mere’s things was bittersweet and lonely. Not once did I smell Mere’s coffee or feel a sudden cold spot or entertain a visit from a moth. Mere was not here. I had no idea where she was. I still ached for her.
Little by little, the apartment was emptied. Just a few pieces of furniture that I loved remained. My mom said that we could ship them to our home in Boston. That meant a lot to me.
Toward the end of the week, my father came to help me pack. As we carried out the antique pine secretary, I noticed a tiny, silver key carefully taped under the drawer. As I gently removed the small key I wondered why it had been hidden. The key slipped right into the lock and with a gentle turn of my wrist, the drawer opened. Inside was a lone object, a flash drive with a single file called ITH. That acrostic stood for Inside the Head. My secret password for Mere’s explanation of how authors got the reader inside the book.
I opened my laptop and quickly plugged the flash drive into its port. The words “Inside the Author’s Head” came across the screen. A brain scan of a well known author appeared on one side of a split screen while the text of his novel appeared on the other. As I highlighted the author’s words, different areas of his brain lit up. Dylan’s software enabled readers not only to follow a path of the author’s creative process, but to play a game where the reader competed with the writer in plotting the story.
Could this really be the reason Noah killed my Mere? I hated it for what it cost me. Nevertheless, this cerebral software was nothing less than awesome. Such a futuristic idea hidden in a nostalgic desk. How absurd that the hiding place was right in front of me all al this time.
Many people thought that Dylan and my grandmother’s friendship was weird. What did they have in common? A senior citizen still reading paper books and a geeky kid wrapped up in computer games. Two storytellers, each from a different time, intertwined to craft a story in an unprecedented way.
Dylan was still in a coma, but his brother hadn’t given up hope and the doctors were optimistic about his recovery. After my discovery of this flash drive, Chase and my dad arranged a meeting with the company interested in the software. Working with my dad on the apartment and managing the software improved our relationship. We even discussed the effect of this kind of software on readers and the publishing industry .
I dug out my phone from my pocket and took a chance. I texted my dad: Feel like a cup of coffee now? Meet me at Starbucks across from Mere’s.
Immediately he responded: On my way.
When I got to the coffee shop, he was already seated at a counter on a tall wooden stool, focused on his laptop. Usually I would try to start a conversation. Now I simply ordered his coffee- Americana, with a drop of milk and a vanilla Latte for myself. Then I just sat next to him and checked my messages. He finally looked up on and sort of half smiled at me.
“Great idea - a coffee break. Zoe, you have been working really hard cleaning out Mere’s apartment, I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“I have been thinking. When you get home to Boston, you should find someone who
you could talk to – a psychologist, a professional you could share these horrors with. Your mom could help you find someone.”
“Maybe,” I replied while I wondered if I could ever feel whole again.
“Well, I’ll think about getting help Dad. Maybe you should too.
He said nothing to my suggestion but, he came over to me and gently touched my shoulder and kissed the top of my head. In his hand he had a small, violet paper shopping bag with a sketch of a bobcat with the logo NYU.
“Just something for you to think about for the future.”
Inside perfectly folded was a New York University sweatshirt.
Dad smiled, “It’s a good fit and having you at school here would be terrific.”
“Really, Dad? NYU is a great school in my favorite city. “
Walking back to the apartment, I thought of New York with a myriad of neighborhoods with distinctive streets, architecture and atmosphere. Manhattan stretched out from Battery Park all the way to Harlem and Morningside Heights. In each neighborhood I had scoped out favorite, architecture like the neo-Gothic Woolworth Building in Lower Manhattan with its spires, gargoyles, flying buttresses, vaulted ceilings and turrets. Also, I traditionally celebrated special New York occasions like the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving when Macy’s inflated their giant parade floats outside the Museum of Natural History. Many of my ordinary days in the city were often outstanding. Just recently one early morning in Central Park I sat in the shadows of the huge winged stone angel in The Bethesda Fountain while a three year old child danced to the live music of a sole saxophonist.
More than the urban vibe, New York was home. My dad lived here. For all the joy and pain, my Forty –second street Library still stood with it treasures open. Horatio wandered the streets and Emilio Ruiz protected the public. New York City’s pull plus my father’s enthusiasm might just draw me into a college here.
When I got back to my dad’s apartment, I sat for a moment working the strings of my guitar. Interestingly the sound of the supernatural intrigued me. Lyrics about spiders involved in paranormal story telling swirled in my brain.
The day I left for Boston I calmly put the key into the front door. My grandmother’s apartment was bright with the late August sun streaming into the living room. In the hall mirror I liked seeing my light brown, curly hair touch my shoulders. I took a breath and stood taller. Today I had no problem going home to my mother wearing a comfortable tee and jeans and lip gloss. I felt brave for the first time ever. In truth, I faced and did not succumb to death, even when it was wrapped in the body of a hot musician.
My grandmother’s seven hundred books stood silently about the apartment awaiting their fate. It was up to me. I decided to keep them for today. In the future, I may not. Actually one book I had already given away. That morning at a deserted table in Bryant Park, I placed his coffee, turkey sandwich and Mere’s Confirmation Bible on the wire table. When Horatio slipped into his seat, I looked at him in a new way now that he just might be my grandfather.
“Horatio, go ahead. Open it. I left the picture of my grandmother at twelve years old wearing the long white robe with the red collar at Confirmation. “This Bible was a Confirmation gift. Confirmation – the ceremony where my grandmother publicly announced she would fight for her faith. Luckily these days she and I had you to fight alongside us. Now that the Gutenberg is back home in the Forty Second Street Library, my grandmother and I want you to have her Bible.”
Horatio smiled and said, “The word of God, I know exactly where to keep this.”
He scooped up Mere’s Bible and whispered, “God bless your grandmother and you, Miss.”
I kept thinking about what Ruiz had told me the way Horatio formed the letter E and the possibility that this broken man was my grandfather.
“I ever so gently asked, “Maybe we can see each other again soon, Horatio? My dad lives in New York.”
Horatio, unresponsive to my suggestion, silently slipped into the crowd with the Forty Second Street Library in the background. Horatio made a strong impression on me. Whether or not he was my biological grandfather, I would worry about him and the many paupers on the streets, and in the subways in a more comprehensive way.
Most of the books were already packed. A few favorites Mere had annotated were piled on the kitchen counter. I reached to take another look at WB Yeats Selected Poems. My eyes focused on Yeats’ phrase, “death-in-life and life-in-death”. The mystery of life-in-death since Mere’s passing still so obscure.
Reaching out to Mere now, I said, What about that giant web those spiders wove? Remember how disappointed we were hearing from that one pauper at our séance. Were we wrong? Did you see how that multitude of spiders fought to save me? Thanks those paupers for me.
The hallway suddenly felt cold. In the mirror I clearly saw my grandmother’s face. Her expressive eyes looking at me. She had a look on her face that I had never seen. Clearly she was no longer upset. In a blink of my eye, Mere was gone with so many questions still unanswered.
I did understand that my grandmother’s story intertwined with the fate of tangible books and their digital outlook. Where in the rotunda’s magnificent mural of the history of the written word would Mere’s story fit? Our civilization’s collection as a digital embryo was evolving. What will the library of the first space station be like? The building on Forty Second Street takes up seven blocks. The future library might fit into the palm of my hand or be the size of a thumb print. What kind of stories will illuminate that world? Some may go inside the writer’s brain and have input from the reader.
This advancement intrigued me. As I locked the door to her apartment for the last time, I could still hear my grandmother whisper, “In the beginning was the word.”
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