You wouldn’t think much of me if you met me at the local café. My insipid appearance has been an excellent façade over the years. Nothing can obscure my special powers better than loose jeans and floral T-shirts. I can’t help but giggle at the eye-rolls and gagging sounds my plastic crocs trigger when I stroll downtown.
I no longer wonder why I’ve been entrusted with these powers. Just accept that it’s some type of karmic compensation for the lack of talents in other domains of my life.
If looks matter nothing to me, why do I buy left-behind clothes in a thrift store every Saturday, then, a smart reader like you would ask? That’s how my powers choose to manifest, darling.
Earlier today a young man dropped two gigantic sacks of clothing at the local "Second Life" store. I happened to be there and jumped on the opportunity to be the first rummaging through them. I’ve earned that right – I’ve been patronizing this particular shop for the last thirteen years. It's just five minutes away from my house.
Four items caught my attention in that pile of discarded clothes and shoes that appeared to have been a young woman’s wardrobe.
Red is my favorite color, mind you. Yes, at my age I still wear bright colors. Do you have a problem with that, pet?
I singled out a scarlet dress in a floral print. Poppies, I think you call those blossoms. A straw hat with a crimson ribbon. A pair of red pumps. Not high heels, but comfortable 2-inch heels. Also a blood-red leather purse.
A whole outfit a fashionable young woman would pick for a nice stroll downtown or a romantic dinner, I dare say.
I winced when I heard the total amount at the counter, but forty-one dollars and twenty-five cents were nothing compared to the mind-blowing experience the outfit would later deliver.
“Claire,” the cashier teased after bagging my treasure. “Getting ready for a hot date? This sassy outfit is gonna get you laid, girl."
“Wish me luck,” I smirked demurely and dropped a three quarter-donation on the worn out counter.
I fed my dog an early dinner, feeling guilty for locking him outside the bedroom. I couldn’t be distracted during my otherworldly experience, though.
My heart was beating in my collarbones while I was undressing. I sniffed the bodice of the dress for foul odors, but it smelled clean, except for a faint perfume still lingering on the fabric. I inhaled. The citrus fragrance produced the first image of the former owner of the garment. I blinked a few times, to clear my view, but the image remained the same: a blonde woman with soft shoulder-length curls, green eyes and an inscrutable smile. Sad? Wary? Not a classic beauty, but there was something enthralling about the look in her eyes.
I may have been an older woman who wouldn’t care much about the latest fashion, but I have kept myself in shape. Still a size eight at sixty-two years old. Not bad, huh, love?
I was thrilled when the dress fit me, satisfactorily. I closed my eyes and let the cotton fabric talk to my skin, prompt those blood-tingling images behind my closed eyes.
At once I saw a woman in a white nightgown, laying on a bed. The bedroom was dark and quiet except for the coral embers flickering in the fireplace. Watercolor paintings of gossamery flowers hung on the walls. Her head was hanging over the edge of the bed – I couldn’t make up her face. Her left hand rested on her stomach. The engagement ring on her finger glistened in the spirited light of the flames. She was alone in the room, but I sensed another presence somewhere in the house. I concentrated on the other presence, but it eluded me. The more I focused on it, the more uneasy I become.
Well, it was a good start. I opened my eyes and pressed my sternum to calm my breathing.
Not all these experiences were pleasant. This one was quite unsettling, so I took the dress off and put my pajamas on.
I shoved all my purchases back in the plastic bag and threw it in the coat closet by the front door.
Barney ran into the room and I buried my face in the soft coat of his chest. His kisses on my nose and ears soothed me and we both fell asleep under the warmth of the covers.
After breakfast I walked Barney, fed him and locked myself in the bedroom again.
Luckily, it was a warm Sunday and wearing a summer dress and a straw hat out wouldn’t look too ridiculous.
I let the dress fall over my shoulders and braced for all the wondrous sensations to envelope me, overcome my keen senses. Immediately the images of the young woman flashed before my closed eyes.
She was standing this time, dressed in torn skinny jeans, an olive military-style jacket, ankle boots and a brown fedora.
She loved hats, my dear girl. Probably a romantic, artistic type. She dragged a large piece of luggage behind her. Uh-oh. The engagement ring on her finger was gone as well. I breathed in the faint citrus fragrance emanating from her neck and golden curls. That's all I could sense, for now, so I opened my eyes.
The straw hat in my hands bore the same scent, a bit muskier. It fit my grey head just fine. I grabbed a denim jacket from the closet. It complemented well the rest of the outfit, I decided, turning around in the hallway mirror. I looked at least ten years younger in it.
The minute I put the shoes on, there was no going back, my darling reader. The surge of energy I felt in my feet soon took over my whole body.
Lord, help me. I exhaled slowly, in an attempt to temper the adrenaline coursing through my veins. I grabbed the red purse, threw in my phone, house keys, wallet from my old purse and, here I was, out in the busy street, ready for my new adventure.
With a grin, I clicked my heels together three times and proceeded on Main Street. The gentle buzzing in my red pumps was a clear indication I was on the right track. It finally died out when I arrived in front of the local café.
I walked in, nervous at the thought of meeting the young woman and whatever that encounter would ensue. It was too late to chicken out now.
“Miss Laura,” the barista behind the counter said in my direction. “Long time, no see.”
I looked up from my hat and smiled, uneasy.
“Pardon me, ma’am,” the barista apologized. “I thought I recognized that hat. Sorry. What can I get you?”
I ordered a coffee and sat down in a leather armchair by the window. I looked around the room, checking every face buried in steamy coffee mugs, but the young woman from my visions was nowhere in sight. Was she in the bathroom?
Laura. Was that her the name? It was lovely – a name I would have given my daughter, if I'd had one.
I waited a while longer, sipping my coffee and surveying the room. Suddenly, a watercolor painting on the wall caught my eye. I got up – a bit wobbly - and leaned in. It was the same style of pastel, fine-grained flowers as the ones in my visions. It was signed “Laura Crawford, 2021.”
Great job, Claire Mason. You still got it, I beamed and slouched in the chair with deep satisfaction.
My first clue. I waited 10 minutes longer and left the café in the search for the next one.
My next stop was just a block away, in front of a small blue-grey house. A silver SUV and a white Subaru were parked in the driveway, lined with fragrant rose bushes. Laura and her fiancé were both home, I assumed.
On the porch, two rocker chairs, a cozy swing and a coffee table invited visitors to sit and enjoy a glass of lemonade and idle gossip. In a corner, on a pedestal, sat a large bird cage with a colorful bird inside.
Did people still keep live birds as pets? In cages, I frowned. That must have been the man’s birdcage. Laura didn’t seem the type to cage animals for entertainment.
As tempted as I was to walk up to the porch and check out that birdcage, I stayed put. Better not engage with the residents while dressed in the clothes they just disposed of the day before.
3827 Northwood Street, I wrote down, discreetly, in my small notebook as I was, nonchalantly, walking away.
At home, I was happy to kick off the red shoes, put on my old house robe and slippers and fix myself some lunch and a snack for Barney and plan my next move.
Monday morning. I woke up early, dressed in my usual jeans, t-shirt and crocs. I gave Barney a brisk walk, fed him breakfast and gave him a God-awful stinky bully stick to chew on until I got home. Barney had a sophisticated palate and sensitive tummy - he didn’t go for the nasty rawhide they sold at the grocery store.
The white Subaru was gone, so Laura was not home. I walked up to the porch and the first thing I did was to check that bird.
The inscription on the cage read: “Arnold.” The parrot inside was fake. A good likeness, still, made of wood, painted yellow, green and Hawaiian blue. I no longer had to come up with a plan to rescue the poor feathered creature. Hallelujah!
I cleared my throat before pressing the doorbell button. “Good morning, dear” I said to the young man, in pajama bottoms. “So terribly sorry to bother you, but I’m trying to get a hold of Laura. She’s not answering my calls—
“She’s not here,” he said abruptly and tried to close the door in my face.
“I’m here to purchase two of her watercolors,” I insisted and smiled, undeterred, trying not to stare at his toned chest and abdomen. “She gave me this address, just a week ago.”
He hesitated for a second, searching my face for clues. I must have appeared feeble-minded and harmless enough, so he opened the door wide and let me walk in.
I hoped to God I wasn’t getting myself killed in that house. I would have had nobody to blame it on, but myself, though. My ghastly curiosity, too.
The entryway had a musty smell. The living room was unkempt, littered with dirty socks and towels, food containers, empty bottles. I made an effort to hide my shock and disappointment at seeing Laura’s house in such a state. It goes to show how little we know people, huh, love?
I followed the young man into the other room. It was exactly the bedroom in my vision, but dark, messy and in desperate need of fresh air. He reached up and grabbed the paintings off the wall, one by one, laying them on the unmade bed. Four of them.
“You can have all four for the same price,” he offered, without a smile. His manners were unnerving, to say the least.
“What time is Laura gonna be home, dear? I’d rather discuss this with her,” I replied, positioning myself closer to the door.
“Two hundred dollars, lady. Take it or leave it.” His voice had gone up half an octave. How did my sweet Laura put up with this man?
“Alright, sounds fair,” I acquiesced and pretended to look through the items in my purse. My fingers were shaking. “Dang! I forgot to bring my checkbook, dear. How silly!” I exclaimed feigning embarrassment.
“What the fuck?” he said and reached for my purse.
The front door opened, mercifully, and a woman’s loud voice rang in the entry way:
“Babe! Are you up? I got coffee and bagels!”
“There she is,” I exclaimed and stormed out of the bedroom, my voice strangled with fear and relief.
The woman in the living room was a petite brunette in shorts and a tight tie-dye tank top. Not my Laura.
“Well, hello there,” she said and gave me a scornful up and down. “A bit early for God and shit, don’t you think?”
I walked fast by her and let myself out into the street.
To make things worse, the next day, Laura’s clothes no longer talked to me. Her essence was gone. I placed the now spiritless outfit in an old valise and pushed it under the bed in the bedroom.
I sat, dejected, afraid to face the truth. It was very possible that Laura was dead, my dear reader. And at the hands of those two horrible people I was lucky to escape from the day before.
For three days I moped around the house and contemplated my next moves, only to dismiss them, one after another.
I considered going to the police, love, surely. And say what to them? That the clothes I bought the week before told me the couple living at 3827 Northwood Street killed Laura Crawford, a young woman I’d never met? A woman I’d only seen in my visions?
I might have been old and in my second childhood, but I was lucid enough to know how that story would have sounded to law enforcement, or anybody in any authority. I preferred to spend the rest of my golden days in my own house, not in an asylum, thank you very much.
I was pretty sure they had gotten rid of all her things by now, anyway. Or any trace of her in that house.
Friday morning when I walked Barney by the house on Northwood Street, there was a “for sale” sign on the lawn.
My Laura was forever gone.
Saturday morning, I woke up after a restless sleep and, grumbly, went through my usual routine. I was stiff and sore when I left the house, but the sun felt good on my cheeks.
There were already lots of cars in the parking lot at “Second Life.”
My eyes popped out of my head when I saw the birdcage in the shopping cart of a woman, pushing it gingerly towards her car.
I leaned over the shopping cart and whispered: “Bye, Arnold. Take care of yourself, now.”
The woman shot me an annoyed look. “Get lost, you.”
“I know Arnie, hon. Put him someplace nice, in the shade. On a porch. He’d like that.”
I shuffled away with a brave smile, but my heart was heavy.
“Hi, Claire,” the cashier welcomed me in.
I nodded and grabbed a shopping cart. I wandered aimlessly through the rows of clothes, but no garment, no matter how bright a color or cheerful a print, enticed me. The shoes lined up on shelves were dead to me as well.
The shop that had brightened my weekends - my existence for that matter – for more than a decade was now as desolate as a graveyard.
I groaned and trudged to the art display. Dozens of frames were lined up on low shelves. Landscapes, portraits, still nature. Reproductions, amateur pieces.
A lady in silk tights was hunched over the shelves, struggling to extract a particular frame from underneath, without disturbing and sending the whole pile to the floor. It was a tricky business – I had broken a few frames myself over the years.
I tried to maneuver my cart around hers, but the isle was ridiculously narrow. I grabbed the handle of her cart and pushed it a few inches out of the way. I froze when I recognized two of the floral watercolors from Laura’s bedroom.
As surreptitiously as I could, I wriggled one out of the cart when I felt an iron grip on my arm.
“What do you think you’re doing?” an indignant voice erupted in my ear.
“How much do you want for them?” I replied matter-of-factly and released my arm from her grip with a dignified shrug. “Ten bucks?”
“You gotta be kidding me, lady,” she scoffed and reached for her cart.
“Twenty? Last offer,” I warned her in a deep, threatening tone and reached for my cart.
“Twenty-five,” she countered, squinting her eyes at me.
“Deal,” I said.
“There’s two more of the kind under there,” she offered, grudgingly, “if you can get them out.”
“Oh, I got this, hon,” and managed eventually to extricate the last two of Laura’s paintings from underneath.
My Laura is back, I whispered and closed my eyes in gratitude.
Dear reader, my Laura is not just talented, she’s also smart.
Just as my last vision of her revealed, she walked out on that unfortunate affair. And I don’t need a garment to know she’s in New York now, strutting around in her cool fedora and caramel leather boots, admiring canvases and snazzy sculptures in a gallery in Chelsea.
One day, she’ll have her own pieces displayed there.
Laura and I will visit it, arm in arm, in matching fedoras. We will sneak up behind people and bask in their praises of Laura Crawford, the daughter I've never known I had.