Monday, July 8, 2013

Zebulon - Days 78 - 89 - Historical Fiction

Miss Greene and I headed the few blocks, walking toward the Hopkins' Grocery Store. It was just a small neighborhood store that supplied the community with groceries and some dry goods. I guess nowadays it would be called a "Mom and Pop store". My Ma worked the cash register and helped do the book-keeping. She was really smart; my Pa had kept her at home practically locked up. Mr. Hopkins had been married before and Ma was doing the job his wife had done. His wife died of cancer the year before.

Well, we went into the store and Ma took one look at us and jumped to a conclusion.

"Zebulon Seamus O'Hanlon! What have you been up to, that the teacher had to bring you to see me? Young man, what am I going to do with you? Have you been fighting again?"

Well, the customers that were standing around certainly were getting an eye and ear-full and believe me, they were really paying strict attention.

"Ms. O'Hanlon, we really need to speak to you in private. Do you have a store room or some place that we can talk?" asked Miss Greene, with tears in her eyes, and a pleading look on her face.

Ma blanched when she looked at the both of us again, and said, "Yes, of course." She called Mr. Hopkins over and asked him if she could have a few minutes in private with us.

He took one look at all of us, and realized something serious was taking place, so he patted Ma on the back and said, "Yes, use my office back there. Take your time, Ellen."

After we went into the office, and we shared the news with Ma, her screams could be heard all over the store, and then she fainted.

Fortunately for Ma, Miss Greene was about 5'7" tall, and because she had her arm around Ma when we told her about Les and Marie, Miss Greene was able to catch Ma and keep her from falling when Ma fainted. Miss Greene placed Ma in the office chair and we rubbed Ma's hands. By this time, a crowd had gathered around the office door, wanting to see what all the commotion was about.

I began patting Ma's face, trying to rouse her. As I watched her eyelids flutter, she murmured, "What happened? What am I doing in this chair? Zebbie, why are you patting my face?"

Then I could see awareness of the situation returning to her face, only to see her face crumple in response to the knowledge. 

"What happened to them? Have you been looking for them? We have to go... we have to find them right now! Did you call the police? Where is Rosie? Is she gone, too? Oh, my poor babies! How could you let this happen, Zeb? You were responsible for getting them home! Were you off playing somewhere?" 

Then she looked at Miss Greene and asked, "Why are you here with Zeb, Miss Greene?"

"He called me when he got home to ask me about the children. We were practicing for a Christmas program after school, and I went out and told the children that we would be a few minutes and they were playing in the snow. They promised they wouldn't go anywhere. When Zebulon came out a few minutes later, they were gone. I'm so sorry!" By now Miss Greene was crying.

"I looked everywhere for them, Ma! I ran all around the school yard looking for them and went to Freddy's house to see if they were there. We called Rosie and talked to her. Mrs. Grogan next door hadn't seen them, either."

By now the office door had been cracked open and people were listening to our conversation, so now everyone knew what was going on. I could see the judgmental expressions on everyone's faces - especially the women's. There were some looks of sympathy, but not many. 

I snapped my fingers! We needed to call Sgt. Finley and get the police to help us look for them.

"Ma..Ma..Listen... Let's call Sgt. Finley and see if he will come and talk to us and maybe help us look for Marie and Lester!"

"Yes..yes..Zeb. That is a good idea. I want to go to the school, too, and see if I can find any thing that might tell me where they went. We need to ask everyone who lives near the school. Maybe they saw something. Let's go right now."

Miss Greene spoke up. "Look outside, Mrs. O'Hanlon! It's dark out there. We couldn't find anything even if we went looking. Let's go call the police right now. The longer we wait..." She hesitated, not knowing what to say next.

My Ma looked at her with venom in her eyes. "It's all your fault, you know! They wouldn't be missing if it weren't for you. Oh, my little Marie, and Lester...." and she burst out crying again.

Mr. Hopkins came into the room and told Ma that he had over heard and that she should just go home and take care of things. "I'll be along later and see if I can help in any way."

Whoa! Wait a minute, I thought. He sure sounds like he wants to take control of the situation and my Ma, as well. Well, I thought. We'll just see about that. 

I picked up the phone and called the police station, asking for Sgt. Finley. He happened to be on duty, and agreed to meet us at our home.

We pushed our way through the curious throng of people and went the few blocks home...Miss Greene, my Ma and I.

As soon as we arrived at the house, we saw Sgt. Finley and his partner, an older guy with a kind of paunchy belly, get out of their squad car and we walked up the snowy walk together. 

He opened the door for us, and we went inside. 

"Now, tell me what the trouble is again? You say your children are missing? How did it happen?" he asked as we entered the door.

About that time, Rosie came running up the walkway and burst through the doorway. "Ma! Ma! What are we going to do? Have you found Les and Marie yet?" 

"Wait a minute, wait a minute! Let's all sit down and discuss this as calmly as we can, okay?" said the Sgt. "Now, Zeb, why don't you begin. Apparently it began at school, right? Who is this lady with you all?"

Speaking up, I explained the whole thing to him, and introduced Miss Greene. Sgt. Finley's partner, whom I found out later was named Sgt. Beason, just stood to one side and observed the whole proceedings. He was chewing on a toothpick, which I later found out was one of his habits, as though he had just eaten. He didn't seem like he was a lot of help, but it turned out I was wrong about that. Sgt. Finley called him "Bee".

Anyway, after all the explanations had been made, the two men left to do some investigating and said they would report back as soon as had any information. I just knew that if any clues could be found, they would find them.

Just then, Mr. Hopkins appeared at our door, and Ma let him in. 

As Mr. Hopkins came in, he looked around at the crowd that was there. 

"Ellen, what have you found out? Anything new?"

"No," my Ma sobbed, "we just now began talking about the situation."

"We're going to go to the school yard and see what we can find right now. It isn't very late in the evening, maybe we can catch people at supper and ask about the children and if they saw them with anyone this afternoon." This came from Sgt. Beason. "Young man, why don't you and Miss Greene come with us?"

By now, Mr. Hopkins had his arm around my Ma and was leading her to the sofa. Rosie and I looked at one another, wondering about the familiarity he was showing to my Ma. My Ma certainly didn't look like she was objecting to his shoulder to cry on. Looking at Rosie, he asked, "Could you be a dear and please get your mother a glass of water?"

Ma looked at him and asked, "What am I going to do, William? They are my babies!"

"We're going to find them, my dear! They haven't been missing very long, and the police here are really dependable. Please, you need to just get some rest now. I'll be here with you and wait for them to come back. Now please just drink some of this water and then lie down here and rest. I'll just put this afghan over you. Here is a cushion to put under your head."

I nearly gagged as I watched the scene taking place in front of my eyes. I signaled Rosie with my eyes and indicated she was to keep watch over our Ma while we were gone.

Just a few minutes later, the four of us arrived at the schoolhouse yard. Both policemen took their huge flashlights in hand and began their search, looking for anything that would indicate the earlier presence of the two children. By now all the area was covered in a three  inch blanket of snow, and I felt chilled to the bone, not only by the cold wind, but also by the icy fear that gripped my heart. 

Sgt. Beason asked Miss Greene exactly where she had seen Marie and Lester playing. 

She replied, "Over by that big tree. They must have been playing like it was their fort, because they would jump behind it when they threw a snowball." 

"Okay, Fin, let's search over there."

In only a few minutes, they came over to us with the book satchel that Les carried his and Marie's books and stuff in. There was no doubt because it had Les' name on it. They were also carrying his Roy Rogers lunchbox. He wouldn't have willingly gone anywhere without that lunchbox. He had begged for it for weeks, before Ma broke down and got it for him. That told me that the outcome of all this could not be good. Once again I burst into tears and hugged Miss Greene. 

What were we going to do now? How could we go back to Ma and Rosie with this news. I ran over to the tree and began hitting it, so that my hands were soon bloody. I was so angry, and filled with despair, I didn't  know what else to do.

When Sgt. Finley looked over and shone his flashlight on me, I was huddled down at the base of the tree, sobbing my heart out. He stepped over and lifted me up. 

"I understand how angry you are, boyo. But you can't let anger take over and cloud your thinking. Now... can you think of anyone that would want to do harm to your Marie and Lester?"

I picked up a handful of snow and cleaned my hands with it. The snow stung the cuts in them, but right then, I just wanted them clean. Miss Greene came over as well and as the four of us stood there, I considered his question. The other kids had stopped bothering us about our Da being gone. Les and Marie seemed to be doing okay in school. No, I couldn't think of anyone, I told him.

Sgt. Beeson came over and asked if it had been our house that had been the scene of a disturbance several weeks earlier. That flashed a memory through my mind of my grandmother beating down my Ma and slapping me. But then, she hadn't done anything to my brother and sisters. 

"Well, yes, it was my Grandma O'Hanlon, but she went back home. In fact one of your officers escorted her to the train." I replied. "And I can't see why she would snatch my brother and sister, anyway. It seemed like she couldn't stand to be around us."

"Well, we can't seem to find anything else around here this evening. We will inquire at a few houses around here and you two need to head on back home. We'll be in touch. Don't worry, Zeb! We will do our best to find them. We'll see you later this evening at your home. Don't forget to pray. Prayer can do a lot of good. Good night, Miss Greene."

So that was it, I thought. Now we had to go back to my home and give Ma and Rosie the bad news.

When Miss Greene and I got back to my home, my Ma was asleep and Mr. Hopkins was sitting in an armchair beside the sofa, watching over her. He jumped up and put his finger over his mouth as if to shush us when we came in. Then motioning us into the kitchen, he pulled out a chair for Miss Greene and we all soon were seated at the table. 

"Rosie went to bed, but I could hear her crying through the closed door, then no more sounds. She must have gone to sleep as well. Young man... what news do you and your teacher have for us?"

"We couldn't find any thing except for Lester's book satchel and lunch box. Sgt. Finley kept those for evidence, not that it will do any good." By now, I was about to give up hope that we would find them, and it showed in my answer to him.

Miss Greene replied, "Now, Zeb. We don't know that. They are going to question some of the neighbors to see if they saw anyone with Marie and Les after school. We mustn't give up hope! I am going to stay with you until Sgts. Finley and Beason get back to report to us. I'm going to excuse you from school tomorrow if you wish. You will probably be needed here." 

We waited another hour and by this time I had gotten really anxious. 

"Miss Greene, would you pray with me? You know Sgt. Finley suggested that prayer would help. Mr. Hopkins, will you pray, too?"

"Of course, I will. I'll be glad to pray with you both, in fact, if you like, I'll pray first and then Miss Greene can follow."

"Dear Heavenly Father, please watch over the children and keep them safe. We trust them to your care. Please help them not to be afraid and return them to us. In Jesus name, we ask it, Amen." Mr. Hopkins spoke to God like he was an old friend of God's. I was glad to hear him and realized perhaps I might have been wrong about him. 

Then Miss Greene prayed for their safety too, and just as she was saying "Amen", we heard the police ringing the door bell. Ma jumped up from the sofa as we ran into the living room.

Running to the door, I flung it open, and I could see by the looks on their faces that the news was not good, as could my Ma. She crumpled and would have fallen had we not caught her. Sgt. Finley and Mr. Hopkins helped her back over to the sofa. 

"Oh, William...William... what am I go to do without my babies?"

"Now, Ellen, don't give up hope. It's early days yet. Let's see first what the officers found out in the school neighborhood, okay? Officers? What can you tell us?"

"Mrs. O'Hanlon, we talked to all the neighbors around the school and while many of them saw and heard the children playing and having snowball fights, they took no notice of anything or anyone unusual. We plan on having an assembly at the school tomorrow and seeing if any of the children can tell us anything. Perhaps those that were playing with Marie and Lester saw something or someone out of the ordinary. I'm sorry, but that is all we can do right now. We will check in the morning with the ticket agents at the bus and train stations to see if they were seen with an adult. You know they close the windows around 6 p.m. We'll do everything we can when daylight comes."

They had removed their hats in deference to Ma, and now they put them back on and left. 

We looked at one another. That seemed to be that. Now what?

My stomach began to growl and ache; I realized we hadn't had any supper, but how could I mention food when we were all in such an emotional turmoil?

My stomach growled again, only louder. I looked around, embarrassed. Had anyone else heard it? Miss Greene looked at me, and spoke very softly. 

"Zebulon, are you hungry? Would you like me to prepare something for us to eat? I know your mother is in no condition to do so; and I would be happy to do that for all of you." Giving me no chance to answer, she took me by the hand, leaving Ma and Mr. Hopkins sitting on the sofa. 

Ma was still quietly sobbing into his handkerchief. Apparently, Rosie was still in her room, having cried herself to sleep. Not even the doorbell had awakened her.

Going into the kitchen, my teacher looked into the refrigerator and found a dozen eggs, a block of cheddar cheese, and a plastic container of margarine. In the bread box, there was an almost entire loaf of bread. She washed her hands, and began cracking eggs into a bowl, instructing me to wash my hands and then to begin buttering the bread. I did as I was told. 

Rummaging around in the stove drawer, she pulled out a large fry pan, and put some Crisco into it to melt. She found an onion in the vegetable bin in the lower cabinets and began chopping it up. 

"Where is your cheese grater?" 

"In that wide cabinet drawer, I think," I replied. "I have all the bread buttered and on the cookie sheet."

As she stood there grating the cheese to go into the eggs, Miss Greene's face was so sad, it seemed to reflect the feelings I had inside. My mind was racing with thoughts of what could have happened to my younger siblings. Where were they? Were they safe? Were they scared? Who had them? Would we ever find them, alive? I didn't dare think any further. I could not.

Turning to Miss Greene, I threw down the butter knife and just grabbed her around the waist and hung on, unable to speak, tears flowing once again from my eyes and an unbearable ache in my heart.

Miss Greene put her arms around me, and hugged me tightly. 

"Zeb, my dear, I know things are difficult right now, but we mustn't give up hope. It is early days yet, and we must be brave for your mother and sister, and look to God for strength to get through the next days and weeks. Okay?"

I nodded agreement, and once again dried my tears.

"Let's get supper on the table, now. Would you please put the bread into the oven, so it can toast? Thank you." 

Supper that evening was a sad affair. When it was ready, I went in to ask Ma and Mr. Hopkins to come and sit at the kitchen table. She came slowly shaking her head "No", with Mr. Hopkins leading her like a child, and urging her that she must have something and keep up her strength for the days ahead. 

In the meantime, Miss Greene went to Rosie's bedroom to waken her for supper. I heard Rosie shout "Go away! Leave me alone! I don't want anything."

We sat at the table staring at the food and saying nothing. Mr. Hopkins then bowed his head and asked for God's blessings on our food. We ate in silence, mostly just picking at it, except for me; I really was hungry. My instincts took over; I was a growing boy and somehow felt that things just had to turn out okay. At least, I hoped so.

The next morning, I woke up, bleary-eyed and disoriented. Looking over at Les' bed, all at once remembering that he and Marie were missing. I dragged my body out of bed, fearful, yet hopeful, wondering what kind of news we might hear, if any. 

There was nothing that day. Nothing at all. We went to school hoping the efforts by the police would net some kind of news. A couple of kids remembered playing snowball fighting with Marie and Les the day before, but they left before my siblings did and saw nothing or anyone amiss.

 Three days then passed with interminable length, and hope was beginning to disappear on all fronts. 

I woke up on Saturday morning.The day appeared gray and forbidding as I looked out the bedroom window. The snow was just the dirty slushy stuff. My Ma had gone back to work this morning, and I was going to be left to my own devices today.

There were no sounds coming from the rest of the house. Looking over at the wall calendar, I noticed my birthday was only two days away. What kind of birthday it would be, I didn't know. I certainly didn't feel like celebrating. Would anyone else remember? 

Going into the kitchen, I found dirty dishes in the sink, as though no one cared. There were remnants of toast and jelly in a plate, like someone had been going to eat, but couldn't bring themselves to put it into their mouth.

(To be continued)

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