Before dawn broke, Oliver slipped out into the early morning fog. His body ached; his eyes stung; and his head felt twice its weight. Once he started to cry last night, he couldn’t stop. Not until every drop of moisture was drained from his body. It felt good to cry, like he was emptying out all the ugliness of yesterday.
As he turned down the street, he realized with a jolt to his heart that he remembered there was a yesterday. He walked on, passing lampposts, street signs, stairs, cafes, park benches and grew infinitely more optimistic that today held promise; because they looked familiar. And then yesterday’s events flooded his mind like true memory. The city and its vast glistening body of water; the streets and their numerous stairs; the man in black and his blazing beacon of light; the towering woman and her gardening store.
The woman. Rude or not, she had saved him last night. Lied for him. He owed her heaps of whatever passed as currency here. Somehow, he’d repay her.
For the next few hours, Oliver climbed stairs, rolled down slopes, jumped off ledges, and discovered small alleys he could sneak through. His pants gained at least five more grass stains, but he didn’t care. Running and getting dirty seemed to nurture his soul. His body relaxed; his mind wandered lazily; he even caught sight of his reflection, smiling back at him.
It grew late all too quickly, and the question of where he would sleep returned. He had a crazy idea and stole back to the store, keeping an eye on the streets for the man in black. Maybe, just maybe, the store would be unlocked. She had taken pity on him once…he hid behind a nearby bush until the streets were deserted, then snuck up to the door.
It was unlocked.
Inside, he snuggled down, ready to shut his eyes when he caught sight of something that made his heart swell. A pillow and a bowl of soup. He drank the soup like water–burning his throat in the process–and lay his head down on one of the softest fibers he’d ever touched. Before he could even remove his shoes, he had fallen asleep.
The next night, he discovered a loaf of bread and a glass of milk next to the door, along with a large bowl of soapy water, in which he used to rinse out his hair. It took at least three times dunking his head in the bowl, but the results were worth it. His hair sprung back to a normal bounce and smelled uncharacteristically like springtime.
And as if a silent agreement were struck, Oliver returned each night to an unlocked door, tasty food, and his cloud-stuffed pillow. Once a blanket appeared, and folded neatly beneath it, a new shirt and jeans. He was in them in seconds. His old clothes reeked like the park after it rained; and yet he stashed them under a loose floorboard just in case; they were the only tokens of his from the past.
His past. Nothing but blank pages of his life. For right now, he repeated firmly to himself. Rather, words scrawled in invisible ink filled those pages and all he needed was to find its key.
With a full stomach and a fresh attitude, Oliver grew eagerto explore his new surroundings and spent hours writing things down on a small pad of paper he uncovered in the store.Things he liked–mornings and dirt; things he didn’t like–the smell of fish and a black night’s sky.But as weeks passed, Oliver’s excitement began to wane. No matter how many notepads he filled, he still had no memory of life before his nook. And no matter how much he became acquainted with the drizzly city, an emptiness grew in him no present memory could abate.
A terrible thought stabbed at him one day when, alone and tiny, a kitten meowed up at him from inside an abandoned box. A sign read, “FREE. Please Take Home.” Peering over, Oliver locked eyes with the kitten’s and immediately felt an odd jolt of connection pass between them. Something about the creature’s eyes reminded him of his own–bright, pleading, lonely; quickly, Oliver shuffled away. For the rest of the day, a gloomy cloud hovered over him, and all that night, ”FREE. Please Take Home,” blared like fire behind his eyes as he fell asleep, haunting him until he woke.
* * *
Rain ticked against the windows of Helena’s store early that morning. Staring out into the dreary dusk, Oliver wrapped his blanket tightly around his body. Another day. Another rainy day. The grey weather was beginning to wear on him, and with every cloudy day that passed, his body seemed to curve more and more inward. “Don’t like cold days,” he scribbled on his pad. He scanned the list and like always, recited back the information–repeating the three things that mattered most. Where he was–in a city named Queen Anne, Seattle. What he remembered–from waking on his nook to Helena rescuing him. And who he was–Oliver Pastorius. He’d written his name in big letters across the top of his notepad the day he found it. It felt good to remember something. The flicker of his former self seemed to burn brighter because of it.
* * *
“Do you have some kind of name directory?” he asked minutes later, trying to catch his breath. A brilliant idea had come to him and he raced to the first place he could think of that could help–the library. A red headed woman with tightly curled hair and pursed lips stared at him from behind a desk as if he were telling a joke.
She paused, then asked, suspiciously, “You mean a phone book?”
“Does that list a bunch of people’s names in it?”
She narrowed her eyes and leaned forward on her desk, sending a cloud of perfume up Oliver’s nose. “Am I supposed to believe you don’t know what this is?” she asked, pulling a large paper book out from under the desk and waving it in front of his eyes. Oliver frowned. Adults never seemed to want to believe kids. He should write that down.
“Sorry, I don’t have a–a phone,” he said, eyes wide, hoping to conjure up some sympathy. It didn’t work.
“I hardly believe that, what with kids having cell phones and text plans and tablets and such, now-a-days. Can’t get them to read anymore,” she said with a strong eye roll.
Oliver kept his mouth shut. There was no way he was about to admit he didn’t know what any of those things were.
“Fine. You can borrow this,” she continued. “But take it over there to the table where I can see you. And no writing in it.”
He plopped down on one of small chairs and flipped open the large floppy paper book. As he quickly turned the pages towards the back, he was aware of the woman eyeing him, so he slowed his fingers against the pages until he found the Ps.
He had been so focused on where he was and who he was that he hadn’t focused on who he belonged to. Seeing his last name across his notepad stirred something in him. Someone else had to share it.
But as he scanned the long list of names, a nauseating wave rolled over him. “FREE. Please take home” appeared in his mind again like a billboard. A tag line screaming, Oliver Pastorius: Abandoned! Quickly, he shut his eyes, forced the thought out of his mind, then focused laser-like on the names before him.
His heart nearly skipped a beat.
Debbie Pastorius, Michael Pastorius, and Steve Pastorius, each with a different address beside his or her name, seemed to radiate on the page. And for the first time since that day on his nook, hope enwrapped him. One of them must be related to him; one of them had to know him.
Quickly, he scribbled the names and numbers down on his notepad, left the book with the woman at the desk and rushed out the door. He read the first address – 820 Lee Street – and headed in that direction. Ten minutes later, he arrived at Debbie Pastorius’ house. It stood three stories tall, with an entire brick exterior. Warm lights glowed through the windows, hinting at life inside,and the framed glass door was flanked by two hefty columns. Oliver felt small against the home’s magnitude. He stared up the long pathway of steps that lead to the door. Saliva suddenly filled his mouth at rapid speeds. His hands gripped his notepad. He could either bolt or knock. So before he lost his nerve, he hurried to the door and knocked three times. His mind raced with different thoughts as he waited–what would she look like? Was Debbie family? Was this home?–and waited. Time seemed to pass at slug-like speed. He pressed his ear to the door then knocked again. But after several quiet minutes, Oliverknew it was time to leave. He fought against the ache forming in his heart–there were still two more addresses. Two more possibilities. Then, just as he turned away, he heard the door creak open.