The telephone rang early Monday morning. “I would like to speak to Artie, please,” Mrs. Denton said when I answered. Artie was lying on his stomach, still asleep.
“Artie,” I said, “It’s your mother.”
He groaned. “Tell her I’ll call her back later.”
“He says he’ll call you back later.” There was a heavy silence. “Can I take a message?”
“Yes,” she said coolly. “You can tell him someone has contacted us about David. Social services is investigating, but it looks as though they’ve found the boy’s paternal grandfather. I just though you all should know.”
“Well that’s wonderful news!” I said. “Thank you for calling. And do let us know-” She hung up the phone. “She cut me off,” I frowned, turned to Artie. He sat up in bed, kissed my shoulder. “But she said that social services thinks they’ve found David’s grandfather.”
“Really? I’m surprised.” He stood and started to get dressed.
“Are you?” I asked.
“I thought his family sold him into this mess.”
“I know,” I paused, trying to remember his story. “Your mother said this was his paternal grandfather. I think it was his mother’s family he was living with before.”
“It’s good news anyhow. We need that around here,” he said.
I thought of the flowers last night, feeling hope rise within me. I couldn’t speak it though. It felt as if that would break the magic, the way nobody is supposed to announce what they wish for when they blow away an eyelash, or blow out candles on a birthday cake. I dressed quickly. We were meeting Mrs. Thomas at a diner at 9.
“Aren’t you coming?” I asked, as Artie sat back down on the bed.
“I have a call to make first,” he said. “The optometrist in Nashville; I’m supposed to start working a week from today. I’m going to ask for a week’s extension.”
“It might be longer than that,” I said, biting my lip.
“I know,” he said. “This will buy me time anyway.”
I kissed his cheek. I exited our hotel and walked around the block to Forbes Street, a warm breeze blowing hard from the ocean, the hem of my skirt rising in the wind, some of my hair coming loose from its bun and falling in front of my eyes. Mrs. Thomas was in the back of the diner, in an area marked “Coloreds.” I walked uneasily past the roped barrier towards her. I sat down and ordered my coffee.
The waitress didn’t look pleased at the two of us together. A couple of the patrons, dock workers wearing overalls and rubber boots, scowled at us.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” I said.
“It’s alright,” she replied. “Maybe we should have met in your hotel room.” She gave a subtle nod in the direction of the other white customers.
“We’re not doing anything wrong,” I said.
“I know that,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean it won’t cause trouble.”
I felt my heart sink in my chest. What would it be like to always be treated so rudely? To always live in such fear? “I want to do whatever makes you feel most comfortable,” I offered. The waitress came back with my drink.
“You have your coffee and we’ll go,” she said. “There’s not too much to say, is there?”
“I suppose not,” I said. I wanted to tell her that for the first time in weeks I felt hopeful, that flowers had formed a blanket of white all around me, proof of my son’s existence, somewhere. “Artie and I tried to figure out a new plan of action. We haven’t come up with any new ideas. We can put posters up, same as we did in Chatom.”
“How’d that work for you in Chatom?” Mrs. Thomas said. She arched her eyebrows. It hadn’t proved useful at all, of course.
“It kept us busy,” I said. “When I’m not doing anything, just wondering where he is, I go crazy.”
“Well, that’s something then,” she said. Then she leaned in closer. “I hope you won’t think me forward, but I’ve been wanting to ask you about Mr. Denton and yourself. You’re not married?”
I shook my head, “No.” I wanted to be tactful. “We were just children when James was born.”
“So you put him up for adoption? And then he was adopted by the Andersons?” I nodded, feeling ashamed. I must have looked it, for she quickly added, “I don’t fault you for it. I was only nineteen when my eldest, Clara, was born. Frederick and I were married, both attending school in Jackson. Even so it wasn’t what I’d envisioned for myself. I wanted to be a career woman for a few years before we started our family. Frederick and I had to grow up fast. He finished college, and then took a teaching job in Chatom because it’s the first he found. Not an ideal place to raise a family, perhaps, but we were doing alright until this.”
The waitress came approached our table. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. “But I was wondering if you’d be willing to move tables. You’re making some of our regulars feel uncomfortable and I-”
“We were done anyway,” Mrs. Thomas said, rising. “Thank you.”
As we left I heard one of the men utter an obscenity under his breath. Mrs. Thomas held her head higher. I admired her restraint.
We bumped into Arthur on the sidewalk outside the shop. “You’re done already?” he asked.
“There were some very unpleasant men in there,” I said. “They didn’t like that we were sitting together.”
Artie frowned. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Thomas,” he said. “Anything I can do?”
“Not unless you can change the South in a day, I’m afraid,” she said. She gave a little laugh.
“We’ll I’ve just gotten off the phone with Deputy Harris. It seems the news that the boys were in Florida did jog the Andersons’ memory some, that and a sound threat to strip their girls of the Andersons’ land holdings if they weren’t cooperative soon. Suddenly they remembered a great deal. No name or address yet but a lot that’s useful. The Deputy sounded very hopeful. He wants to meet with us later with more details. 3 o’clock, our hotel room.”
“Well this is wonderful news!” Mrs. Thomas said, clapping her hands together once. “I’m going to call me husband and catch him up.” She headed to a pay phone at the end of the block.
“Meanwhile I’ve a bit of a setback, I’m afraid,” Artie said, his hand on my elbow. “My boss wants me there Monday, no excuses.”
“You told him about James?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said. He ran his finger through his hair, awkwardly. “He didn’t seem to think that was much of a reason, the boy having been in an orphanage so long, and then with the Andersons. He wasn’t entirely sympathetic.”
I sat down on a sidewalk bench. “So you’re leaving then?”
“I’ve got a plane ticket for Sunday morning. I wasn’t sure what you would want to do.”
“What can I do?”
“You can come back with me. Stay in my apartment in Nashville until this is all sorted. Until there’s news.”
“But it seems there was news, just today. I don’t want to be halfway across the country if he’s here somewhere. I want to be close when they find him.” I took a deep breath, composing myself. “Is it alright if I wait a day or two to make my decision? If there’s no news before Friday I suppose I’ll buy a ticket and go with you.”
“To Nashville?” he said, the faintest smile beginning. He took my hand, looking happy I would be joining him. I couldn’t share his enthusiasm. Not until James was found.
“It would only be until there’s news. And then we’ve quite a lot to figure out. When they find him,” I said, “We’ll have to what- petition for his adoption? Or argue that our giving him away was null? Or-”
“I don’t think you should get ahead of yourself,” Artie said, shifting on the bench. “If they find the man, that doesn’t mean James will still be with him. We’ve no idea what it will mean.”
“I’m choosing to be optimistic, Arthur.”
“I know,” he said. “I just don’t want you to get your hopes up and -” He paused, seeing that tears were coming to my eyes.
Mrs. Thomas coughed politely. “I’m going to go back to my hotel now, but I’ll meet you later to talk with the Deputy.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Thomas,” I said. “We’ll see you this afternoon.”
I waited until she was out of earshot, and then turned to him. “Arthur, I need you to believe, do you understand me? I need you to believe that something beautiful is about to happen.”
“No, I mean it,” I was trying to stay calm but my voice was faltering. “I need you to picture him, seven years old, as beautiful as the sun. Our son.”
He looked at me fiercely, nodded, and wrapped me in his arms. The wind blew harder around us. Sand flew up from the pavement. It whipped our ankles. We went to the beach anyway. We watched the waves roll in and out over our bare feet. We watched the way pelicans and sea gulls fall with the wind, rising with their wings outstretched.