Marlene Olin: “The Maid of the Mist” a Story from a Collection In Progress

The dream was always the same. Sunlight from the window threw a yellow cone on the floor. She stood as if on a theater stage. Her back was to her students, a chalky hand scurrying up and down the blackboard like a mouse. The names Herrick, Suckling, Carew, Lovelace were columned like a grocery list. Then a man’s voice, an Elizabethan lilt, Burbage perhaps. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may!…Shifting her feet, mumbling, writing, enveloped in a tornado of dust motes, her hand gyrated in cursive loops until she was through.

Only then would she turn her head to face the class. Her heart lurched at the very thought, the very moment of that pivot, the second her dream turned into something else. For instead of looking at a sea of thirty acned and awkward high school seniors, she gazed at a group of geriatric patients. Wheelchairs, walkers, papery skin. Noses plugged with plastic tubes.

She would wake up vibrating with shock. An arm would violently salute, a foot would jerk. Her entire body trembled with fear and recognition, a visual montage of her future and her past.

Over the course of her career, Blossom Bakerman had taught high school English to almost every inhabitant of Hornell, New York. If she hadn’t taught the child, she taught the parent. In her mind, each and every citizen of the small town in upstate New York was frozen in time, forever a teenager. Her internist was still Stevie Culpepper, the kid who suffered stomachaches before every grammar quiz. Skippy Schumacher may wear a policeman’s uniform but to Blossom he was always the scoundrel who handed in his older brother’s book reports. Newspaper clippings from the Upper Valley Register, Christmas cards and graduation announcements filled a scrapbook album three inches thick.

But “time’s winged chariot” stopped for no one. Now she attended their funerals and was one step away from a convalescent home herself. Blossom’s throat tightened as if someone wrapped their fingers around it and squeezed.

A little forgetfulness. A quart of milk left out in the tool shed. A set of keys thrown in with the wash. A Monday so flat and gray the sky merged with the horizon. She had circled Steuben County for hours, forgetting exactly which road led to her hometown. Skippy, that cheat, that spineless amoeba without a conscience, found her on the side of the road sitting in the Mercedes, weeping. Practically announced it on the five o’clock news. Now they were ready to lock her up and throw away the key.

Can you spell the word institution?

Blossom had become a nuisance, a worn suitcase heaved into the dumpster. And if she were marched out of her home, her son Elmore would lead the parade.

It wasn’t always this way. When Frank died, Elmore visited her every week, changing her light bulbs and shoveling the front walk. He’d sit at her kitchen table for hours, gossip about his co-workers, share fresh-off-the-press company news. No detail was too small to be shared. Elmore would pat her hand. Share a few jokes. Then he’d leave with an armful of Campbell soup casseroles until the following Sunday rolled around.

Now he’d gone and married Charlotte Mosely. Twenty years ago she wouldn’t give him the time of day.   Instead she buzzed through the school corridors like a queen bee flitting from football player to football player. Two years after graduation, while Elmore was away at the state university, one finally knocked her up. Elmore may have gotten himself a PhD in Ceramic Engineering but he was always a fool when it came to women or money or buying a pair of properly fitted shoes.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Charlotte Mosely set her sights on Elmore and like a stealth drone zeroed in.

Anyone in his right mind could see that she was as tattered as a used book. Blond hair dyed crispy. A pair of too high heels that rounded her rump in her too tight jeans. Blue jeans for Pete’s sake! Forty-years-old and still dressing like a cheerleader! No wonder her son was a juvenile delinquent.

Now Blossom and the boy had been reduced to keeping company. George and Lennie. Huck and Jim. Two misfits. The blind leading the blind.

“It’s only temporary, Mother,” said Elmore. “It’s only until you get your bearings.”

Can you spell prevarication?

A year earlier, she was teaching three classes of twelfth grade honors English and two classes of eleventh grade SAT prep. But suddenly the dizzy spells started. Once or twice a day she had episodes where she couldn’t speak or move her hands. She’d sit at her desk and stare at her arms as if they belonged to someone else. And no matter how hard she concentrated she couldn’t seem to move her lips. She felt like both ventriloquist and dummy, unsure of who was in control.

Something was unraveling inside her and slowly changing the definition of who she was. She always wore white shoes and sweaters in the summer and black after Labor Day. But lately she marked the boxes on the calendar to remind her of the seasons. Her closet had morphed into chaos, a kaleidoscope of colors and textures with no rhyme or reason. Looking in the mirror, she embarrassed herself. She had lost her grasp of nouns.

And while she goaded her pupils into saying shall instead of will and may instead of can, she found herself speaking in stops and starts. Random thoughts rolled out like loose change. She blurted. She bleated. She yammered.

Henry Carruthers, the biology teacher, was even older than Blossom. A veritable wind bag within and without the classroom, the smell of a Port-a-let followed him everywhere. Then one day he cornered Blossom in the teacher’s lounge. He was at least seventy-years-old and probably hadn’t washed his slacks since the millennium.

“My dear Mrs. Bakerman, you’re looking lovely today. A breath of Giverney in an arctic wasteland.”

Blossom cocked her chin. Even in her prime, she had never been a beauty. Now her face looked like a waffle iron, her hair a scouring pad.

“An aura of spring,” he continued, “amidst the detritus of our dull lives.” His stomach rumbled louder than the radiator. Blossom instinctively stepped back.

“You need to get a handle on that IBS, Henry. You smell like an outhouse.”

His flappy jowls and sagging neck reddened like a turkey wattle. Blossom appraised his two thin legs and the gut that cast its own shadow. She was about to make some gobbling noises when the bell rang.

She told parents who ignored their children that they should be tarred and feathered and children who disrespected their parents that they should be shackled. For over forty years the townspeople had tolerated her insistence on proper grammar and clean nails. But their good humor had limits. After the end of the school term, just when the magnolias were in full bloom, she was given the boot. A gold-plated charm . A stuffed animal with the tag “Hoppy Retirement.” A lifetime of work was crammed into a small cardboard box.

“He’s a good kid,” said Elmore. “He’ll drive you around. Carry your groceries.”

They met in her kitchen. A surprise attack launched by her son. One minute she was eating her Sunday breakfast. Oatmeal and a cup of Bosco. The next thing she knew a gangly intruder was staring down at her. She must have left the back door open. The previous week Blossom had found a raccoon scavenging her pantry.

The boy cleared his throat. “I’m Cash. Elmore sent me. ”

At first glance Blossom thought she had the boy pegged. Tall, long hair skimming his chin, not a lick of fat on his bones. Arms so skinny they could snap like a wishbone. She pictured a skateboard under his elbow during the summer months, a snowboard during the winter. Shoulders rounded, knees bent. If he could have folded his body like a map he would have. The sort of kid who tried to shrink into the surroundings, disappear.

“Why’d your parents give you such a ridiculous name?” asked Blossom.

He snorted. Then he spoke over his shoulder instead of looking her in the eye. A look to the right meant they were setting up a lie. To the left only meant shame.

“Guess they thought I was the key to their good fortune.” A practiced speech. Another snort.

Blossom appraised him from stem to stern. Must have been weeks since he washed his hair. “So now you’re supposed to ask me why my parents named me Blossom.”

He glanced at her and shrugged.

Blossom counted one mississippi two mississippi. A perfectly timed caesura. “Guess they thought I would be pretty.” She turned towards the sink and watched his reflection in the toaster. The corners of his mouth curled into a smile.

“You quit school after tenth grade, I understand.” Blossom itched for a pair of scissors. The child’s hair was so long he looked like a human toothbrush.

Again the shrug.

She made a show of keeping busy, opening and closing cabinet doors. “We’ll you’ve officially designated as my driver and cohort in crime. Can you manage a stick shift? My husband Frank always insisted on stick shifts. Said he wanted to drive the dadgum car instead of the car driving him.”

“I can drive anything,” said Cash.

“Just don’t drive me crazy,” replied Blossom. “It’s a short trip.”

He showed up at nine o’clock promptly the next day. He wore camouflage pants two sizes too big so the elastic in his boxer shorts inched out. Blossom rummaged through a drawer, grabbed a handful of safety pins, and thrust them into his hand.

“My father used to lash me with a belt,” said Blossom. “So I married a man who never wore one. Suspenders. That’s the ticket.” Then she scooped twenty dollars out of the cookie jar and grabbed her sweater. “We’re heading to Dansville, today. To the quilt store.”

He drove the Mercedes at the speed limit, lifting his foot off the gas the moment the gauge hit forty-one mph. Blossom kept a steady stream of banter going. Her head was still filled with the din of the high school corridors, the sounds of kids talking, the slamming of lockers. She wasn’t sure which noises lived inside her head and which ones were real. It didn’t seem to make a difference anymore. One shoe always stepped ahead of the other.

“I understand you quit school. Stopped after tenth grade. You got some sort of a goal in mind beside escorting old ladies to the craft shop?”

“My father was a mechanic and his father was a mechanic.” Side-glancing again. The sun was fighting its way over the horizon, splintering light off the hood, throwing rainbows onto the windshield.

“My mother was a teacher and her mother was a teacher.”

Blossom watched as the boy sat up and gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. Paying attention now. Any second his hand would shoot straight up.


“No. Not really. ” She waited a few seconds for her reply to percolate.

“Mother spent most of her life in hospitals. In those days, you see, they lumped crazy together. There was no early onset Alzheimer’s or clinical depression with paranoid-schizoid tendencies. If you conversed with Elvis, you were considered crazy. End of story.”

“She thought she saw Elvis?”

“Mother believed in her hallucinations like children believe in Santa Claus.” Blossom narrowed her eyes and turned towards Cash. “You ever been so hungry all you can think about is pie? You ever dream so much about the Rocky Mountains you wake up breathless, your legs cramping, your face hot and cold at the same time? My mother’s visions soothed her. They comforted her. The alternative was not nearly as inviting.”

They drove another five miles listening to the local radio. The university at Geneseo played hard rock. On the Christian station, a preacher was thumping his chest. They compromised and settled for Mozart broadcast from Rochester.

“She was in and out of sanatoriums for years,” said Blossom. “Collecting dust like a plastic plant. I’m going to put a gun to my head before that happens. Or maybe jump up off a nice tall cliff.”

“I live with Maple Brewster,” Cash replied. “Elmore pays her fifty dollars a week.”

Now it was her turn to percolate. His response rooted deep inside her brain and germinated, sending out little green feelers. But the harder Blossom tried to think, the blanker her mind became. Within minutes, she was snoring. An hour later they were home.

The boy left. Blossom slipped $11. 43 back into the cookie jar then stood in front of her refrigerator like she was greeting a stranger.   Her mouth gaped like a trout’s. Then she placed three yards of folded poplin fabric into the crisper.

Their days followed the same routine. Trips to Wegmans for groceries, forays into East Bethany for cheese. Mornings they often cruised the rolling hills, thick with apple trees and corn fields, stopping at fruit stands for fresh pears, pole beans, lettuce. In the afternoons, Blossom packed a picnic basket and a folding chair while the two of them set up camp by Keuka Lake. Cash liked to fly fish. Her chin bobbing, her gnarled fingers struggling with the knitting needles, Blossom liked to watch.

“The writer Norman Maclean started writing when he was seventy. I figured there’s hope for me yet.”

She laid the needles aside and pulled a book from her sewing basket. “A River Runs Through it. Mighty short. Almost not worth the price of admission.”

Cash’s hand lassoed the air as the fishing line coiled then landed on the water’s surface. Meanwhile Blossom read theatrically to herself, chuckling, frowning, miming each page with dramatic verve. At each guffaw, she glanced towards him and made sure he was glancing back.

“When you read,” said Blossom, “when the reading is really good, it’s a kind of escape. I block out the world and let the story take me to another place.”

“Fishing,” said Cash, “can take you there, too.”

When he went home that night, she slipped the novel into his windbreaker pocket. A week later he asked for more.

“About Mann Gulch,” said Cash.  He wasn’t much of a talker but the fishing helped. His eyes focused on the bubbles, the shadows, the dirt brown glint of the smallmouth bass. “Three men escaped the fire and thirteen died.”

He spoke in question marks, his voice rising at the end of sentences. The sort of kid who injected “like” and “you know” in every other phrase, who didn’t have the confidence to speak a simply declarative sentence without qualification or excuse.

“That’s right, said Blossom. “Two men outran the flames, but the leader stayed behind.” She always had a preference for fill-in-the -blanks. They made the kids think.

“It’s like every instinct is screaming go go go,” said Cash. “But that one guy, Wag Dodge, the head smokejumper, stays behind and sets the grass in front of him on fire. It’s his only way out, he’s surrounded by flames, there’s smoke in his lungs and, and…”

He looked up to the sky to find the right metaphor and like a magician with a top hat pulled the perfect one out. “And even though the ashes are falling like rain, he takes out his matches and lights another fire.”

“He fights fire with fire,” said Blossom.

“Then he lays down in the embers, I can’t imagine laying down in those embers, and waits for the fire. He just lays there flat and waits for the fire to hit.”

It had been their longest conversation. Slowly a screw had turned, a rusted hinge had loosened.

“And low and behold,” continued Blossom, “there’s oxygen, inches of oxygen for him to breathe while the inferno passes.” Like any good teacher, she couldn’t resist the impulse to drive her point home. “He not only faced his fears but embraced them. He didn’t run. He met those fears head-to-head. He even survived.”

At first she didn’t tell him about the missing money. She knew each and every time he pilfered from the cookie jar. A five dollar bill here, ten dollars there.   Either he thought she totally lost her marbles or it was a test. Blossom had always been an A-plus student when she was young. She intended to pass this exam with flying colors.

“I assume my son is not remunerating you adequately,” she told him one Friday. “Seeing how you give yourself a tip week-to-week.”

He looked at his right shoe.

“So starting tomorrow you’re working every Saturday at Stan’s Shell Station. Seeing how your life’s goal is to be a mechanic, there’s no time to start but the present.”

Blossom swallowed a chuckle. The boy looked like he was going to melt into a puddle on the floor. “And watch your P’s and Q’s while you’re at it. Stan Schumacher’s the police chief’s older brother. He’s the smart one.”

Autumn was approaching. The leaves were turning a burnt orange. Farmer’s markets were offering pumpkins and spaghetti squash and the breeze at the lake had a chill in it that reached right down to Blossom’s bones. Somehow their last afternoon fishing had a finality that was difficult to accept. Curtains seemed to be closing one by one. Blossom took nothing for granted. She savored each day as if it were her last. She didn’t fear death. Nor did she anticipate an early one. She just didn’t know what version of herself the future had in store.

“We’re going to Blueberry Hill today,” she told him. Her knees ached, her wrists were rigid, and she was terrified of appearing foolish. She had picked berries since she was a child. Out of all of her early memories, this one was pure and unsullied, a picture perfect moment of her mother’s hand upon hers, weaving through the branches, their fingers and their mouths stained purple, laughing. Now she felt like the scarecrow that always greeted them, its wooden arms and legs ramrod stiff, its stuffy straw-filled head lolling on its neck.

They parked the Mercedes on the dirt path and paid for their bucket. Then Cash simply took over, bending low and reaching high, leaving Blossom only the fruit within her reach. A rush of affection poured out of her. The sun pierced her wide-brimmed hat and caused her to squint. She watched each step carefully, inching forward, avoiding random roots and rocks. Then suddenly the bee appeared from nowhere. It lighted first on a bush then on Cash’s hand.

“Shit!” he shouted. Within seconds, a large welt appeared.

“Are you allergic?” asked Blossom. Her heart somersaulted. Everything before her receded into a small black dot.

“I don’t know.” Cash sat down on the ground like a three-year-old waiting for his nursery school instructor’s commands. It’s time to take out the crayons! Line up for the bathroom! Can anyone spell CAT?

“Just stay right where you are,” said Blossom. “I’ll get help. Don’t move.”

By the time they got to the hospital, his wrist was swollen and red. Blossom remained at a distance, affording him the privacy she never would have given Elmore. When Elmore broke his wrist sledding as a boy she remained by his side through the x-rays and through the casting. As if she could trust that Stevie Culpepper to do anything right! With his good hand, he squeezed Blossom’s while they positioned the bones. His pain traveled like electricity from his fingertips to hers. Blossom had never felt such pain. Together they cried.

Now she cared for Cash as if he were a son and yet he wasn’t. Blossom peeked through the curtains while they took his pulse and blood pressure. And when they asked him to take off his shirt, she was yards away. Still she saw everything.

The scars traveled up and down his torso like a moonscape. Thick keloids pitted his back. Dime-size holes puckered his chest. Blossom’s hand shook like the needle on a compass. She looked for a chair to steady herself. When she sat down, she was afraid she’d never find the strength to get up. Then she noticed her shoes. One was brown, the other black.

That night she poured herself a glass of Frank’s whiskey and winced while she sipped it. When she felt her pulse slow and her jaws loosen, she called Elmore.

“Tell me his story, the whole story.”

She heard papers shuffle and doors shut. Elmore was traveling to another room, carrying the phone with him.

“You remember Chuck, right? He and Charlotte divorced when Cash was two. Chuck was drinking heavily. Had Charlotte in the hospital twice.”

Blossom saw the belt flicking like a serpent’s tongue, her father hovering over her, her mother hiding in the corner of the room, mumbling to no one.

“Then one day while she’s at work he takes the baby and disappears. She looked for them for years but he changed their names. They moved from town to town, never staying in the same place twice. Then about a year ago, Cash’s PE coach sees him undressed in the showers and calls the cops. They throw Chuck in jail and ship Cash to Charlotte.”

“Hold on a minute.”

Blossom needed time to think. Her thoughts flew like birds, one moment nesting in her head then the next moment gone. She made herself a cup of coffee, stirred in two teaspoons of sugar and a little cream. Then she sat back down at the kitchen table and stared into the mug. A foamy Milky Way swirled inside, the universe in the palm of her hand. She picked up the phone once more.

“So just to make him feel right at home you ship him off to Maple Brewster’s house. He doesn’t see him his mama for fourteen years. For fourteen years he’s treated like some mangy…like some mangy…”

“Dog?” said Elmore.

Blossom exhaled a sigh. “Like some mangy dog. And instead of being embraced by his family, he’s put on the curb with the garbage.”

“Mother, it’s not that simple. Charlotte tried. God knows she tried. But Cash did everything he could to push her away. Stole her car and went for joyrides. Knocked down mailboxes for fun. Emptied her wallet. ”

“Kids’ stuff.” It was Blossom’s turn to snort.

“There’s worse,” said Elmore. His voice was softer now. Blossom could picture his ears redden and his nose twitch. When Elmore got upset, he morphed into the Easter Bunny. A six-foot tall chubby white man with red ears and a twitchy nose. Blossom closed her eyes.

“A lot worse,” said Elmore. “But because of his history, Skippy gave him some slack.”

“I’m not buying whatever you’re selling,” she answered.

Elmore cleared his throat. “You see, Mother, Charlotte’s four months pregnant. It’s been tough. She forty-three years old and needs to stay in bed and we don’t know whether the baby is okay or not.”

Another drone attack.

“So you stuck him at a stranger’s house? Is that your modus operandi, Elmore? He’s a difficult child. I think I’ll dump him on Maple Brewster. Maple Brewster who couldn’t conjugate a verb and keep her shoelaces tied at the same time.”

Blossom felt like she had boarded a train that left the station. There was no engineer and no conductor. It was driving on its own.

“Perhaps she has another room available. Is that the game plan? Maybe she has a…a… two-for-one special?”

She heard an intake of air. Elmore was breathing hard, probably rearranging his words before they came out.

“Why do you think we sent him to you, Mother? This town has a line of people a mile long who I could employ to chauffeur you around. Hell, half the town would volunteer.   If anyone could straighten Cash out, we thought it could be you.”

The next day he moved in. There were no more secrets. The boy watched the Fishing Channel and The Simpsons. His favorite meal was franks and beans and he ate cereal straight from the box. And as Blossom slowly receded, as more and more words slipped from her grasp and one day merged with the next, their roles reversed.

When they hovered over the computer and worked on his GED preparation, Cash now led the way. He read the passages to Blossom out loud and leafed through her old grammar books. Elmore visited on Sunday evenings, tutoring Cash in Algebra and gossiping with his mother. On Saturdays Henry Carruthers stopped by. With a bouquet of forget-me-nots in one hand and a biology textbook in the other, he’d stay all afternoon, sitting on the living sofa across from Blossom, watching the late afternoon sun sink in the sky.

Her former students took turns keeping her company as well. They’d bring a casserole or a book of crossword puzzles or perhaps The Saturday Evening Post. For in their minds’ eye, Blossom was frozen in time as well, her back as rigid as a ruler, her voice strong, her command unquestioned.

“Do you miss it?” they’d ask her.

But the past was of no concern to Blossom. All of her memories were compressed into a series of snapshots. Blueberry picking. Her wedding day. Elmore’s broken wrist. The wheat was separated from the chaff, her earlier life winnowed, abridged. It was her future she was trying to discern. Would there be a sense of loss? Perhaps it would be like the click of a light switch. One minute on, the next off. Light. Darkness. Awake. Asleep.

It was the alternative that frightened her, that kept Blossom up at night, her forehead sweaty and her stomach cramped. The months before her husband died were a slow relentless grieving, a death march, as if his cancer worked its way into her bowels as well. She couldn’t bear going through that twice.

Would she miss it? Would she miss the snowflakes sitting on her windowsill or the smell of pine cones heaped in a basket?

The previous week she had stared at the toilet for an hour with not an inkling of recognition. Then she tossed in her neighbor’s apple strudel and flushed. She was falling, arms up, fingertips out, watching the walls around her shrink. Her answers were shorter now, compressed, an insight grasped before it was forgotten. “Carpe diem,” she’d tell her former students. “Lillies without/Roses within.”

One night they both couldn’t sleep. Blossom tiptoed down the stairs in her bathrobe to find Cash buried in the computer’s blue screen. As soon as he heard her footsteps, he closed the link and shifted his shoulders to block the keyboard. Caught with his hand in the cookie jar once more.

“If it’s naked women, I’ve seen them,” said Blossom. “If it’s naked men, I’m just as interested as you.”

Cash grinned. “Did you know you need a Bachelor’s Degree to be a firefighter? At minimum a two-year. There’s a program around a hundred and fifty miles away in Syracuse.”

Ever since he read the Maclean book, Cash had been obsessed with smokejumpers. He had a map in his room that tracked every major fire in the country and checked the forest service website three times a day.

“You can do it, Cash. Whatever you have your heart set on you can do.”


“You think I can’t get along without you?”

Blossom had long ago memorized the script. Now she brandished it. “Well think again. The minute you pack your bags I’ll be having a party.” She looked up at the ceiling and held her hands over her head like quotations marks. “Thank God Almighty I’ll be free at last.” Joking now, waltzing around the sofa, hamming it up like it like a holy roller at a revival. “Thank God Almighty I’ll be free at last!”

They both knew it was time for the boy to move on.

A week later Blossom told him that she wanted to visit Niagara Falls. At first Cash balked. “It’s nearly November,” he reminded her.

Looking back, he should have stood firm. “Look out the window,” he could have replied. The skies were slate. Branches were barren. Laundry hanging from the lines stood horizontally in the wind. “Anyone would feel this way. It’ll pass. It always passes” could have been his response.

Instead he said, “It’s probably closed.”

Cash was glued to the computer screen, memorizing vocabulary lists. A pot of soup was simmering on the stove. A load of wash churned in the machine. Looking back, that was the moment, the moment when the pause button should have been pushed. Instead the plot took on a life of its own.

Blossom had already called the Visitors’ Center. The Maid of the Mist was scheduled for its last weekend before winter weather set in. She had taken Elmore years ago. Now she wanted to take him.

Spring would have been a better time, he could have told her. Think of the rainbows we’ll be missing, he could have said.

The following Sunday morning they bundled themselves in their winter coats and drove the three hour drive to Canada. There were more people than Cash expected. And the roar. The falls sounded like a freight train closing in, like a tornado sweeping over your house. A three-foot stone wall with an iron railing ringed the tourist area. Children scampered up to get a closer look while their parents clutched their jackets. An Asian woman stood on the wall teetering with her camera while her friends laughed. It was shockingly easy to fall right in.

They walked through a long tunnel, entered an elevator and dropped down an endless shaft. The moment the doors opened, they heard the waters. The thick dank air slapped their faces. The ground was slick. Along with a hundred other tourists, they were herded into the boat and pushed through a membrane of mist.

Afterwards, while they were sipping hot chocolate in the cafe, she urged him on. “There’s the Cave of the Winds,” she told him. “Go ahead. You must see the Cave of the Winds.”

He left her in the gift shop, in the aisle between the snow globes and the postcards. A camera in one hand, his coat in the other, he forgot to peck her cheek to say goodbye. “It’s a long walk,” she told him. “Lots of stairs.” Then she shoved him off and waved her hand.

She had shown him the snapshot. Blossom and Elmore with their backs to the wooden walkway, a spray of water soaking their heads. Elmore stuck his tongue out and clowned while his father fiddled with the lens.

“Enjoy it for me!” she said while she waved. “You must remember to enjoy it for me.”

An hour later, he was back in the gift shop. He walked up and down the aisles then quickened his pace. Did you see an old lady? he asked. White hair? Brown coat? Scarf?  He raced to the restaurant and checked the restrooms next. Did you see an old lady, he asked. White hair? Brown coat? Scarf? He retraced their steps to the parking lot and finally rushed back to the water’s edge. Then he ran along the railing shouting her name. Did you see an old lady? he asked. White hair? Brown coat? Scarf? But the faster he ran, the surer his conviction that he would never find her.           

Read Marlene’s interview about “The Maid of the Mist” and her collection in progress.