Last week Cassie left Brandy, fifteen year old Briana's baby, with Faye after finding the infant hanging on Beulah gate. Now we return to the day Faye met five-year-old Briana, several hours after watching her swing on Beulah gate after hanging her rag doll twin upon its fretwork.
Faye was holding Inny’s hand that afternoon, watching his face for any sign of a return to himself. But he only stares past her with the beatific smile that seldom left his face these days. She struggles for something to say to him, to fill the silence, to prevent him from picking up the slack by lapsing into one of his long Biblical quotations that were his only mode of communication since he woke from his drug induced coma.
The feel of his hand in hers is fragile and ephemeral. And so still. It is like holding a pressed leaf or a preserved butterfly. Too firm a grasp and it would crumble to dust. The form and memory of vitality but… Faye drew herself up. It doesn’t do to fret, to think too deep, she reminded herself. She reached up with her free hand to brush a wispy curl off his forehead and found herself humming a song one of her students had once--years gone--performed at a recital. The words slipped from her lips: "Yesterday all my troubles seemed to fade away, now it seems they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday…" She broke off with an ironic chuckle, her mind suddenly full of the memory of Briana singing "Tomorrow." An old lady, a young girl, the only thing they have in common is longing. One sings wistfully of yesterday; the other of tomorrow.
"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ…the same yesterday, and today and forever." Inny piped up.
"Hush, now." Faye patted his hand and planted a kiss on his lips, startling him to silence. For a time she keeps him calm by singing hymns. But, haunted by her encounter with Briana, her voice trails off. Every thought returns like a boomerang to thoughts of Briana and her cloth twin. Snatches of the songs Briana sang echoed in her mind, threatening to possess it. She imagined the child singing other songs and caught herself humming counterpoint and harmony. She yearned with the passion of love to have the privilege of training Briana’s voice. For the first time since she had lost Inny she had music in her heart again.
She found herself recounting her morning experience to Inny. Her account was animated, her voice resonant with the mixture of emotions she had not yet sorted out. When she related the part where Briana had asked if she were a gardener because her name was Gardner, Inny turned and looked right at her and spoke. "Out of the mouths of babes."
Even though it was just another quote, its relevance and his manner sent a thrill of recognition through her. She was sure with an inner assurance that he had just spoken to her, recognized her, acknowledged her--for the first time since that dreadful day one of his students had slipped him that Mickey in an apple. The awakening that had begun in her that morning when the first notes of song had reached her through the layers of insulating numbness, found its completion in that moment. She squeezed his hand and continued. When she told of Briana christening the gate and of her convoluted logic, Inny interjected musingly: "Suffer the little children to come unto me."
This second occurrence confirmed the reality of the first and served to fluster Faye for several moments. Gathering her wits Faye went on with her story. She told of Briana’s antics upon the gate with an accompaniment of hand gestures and giggles. Once again Inny responded: "Except ye become as one of these little children ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven."
"Oh Inny!" Faye laughed exuberantly. "Aren’t you the limit?" Whereupon Inny lapsed into a lengthy quotation of the Sermon on the Mount. Faye listened, patting his hand. The sound of his voice was music to her heart.
Wilma arrived with the evening breeze for her daily visit with her brother. She took a moment to catch her breath and to secure stray strands of storm-gray hair in the knot at the nape of her neck. "Workman," she always called her twin by his middle name, "This is the day the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." she greeted him.
"Say unto wisdom, thou art my sister." Inny’s face beamed in recognition.
Wilma laid her hand on Inny’s head entangling her long fingers in the white, summer-cloud fluffiness of his curls. "It is long past time for a haircut, Works, my dear."
The nearest thing to tenderness that Faye ever saw in Wilma was in her touch, her voice, her eyes, whenever she dealt with her twin. At moments like these Faye felt like an intruder. She slid her hand from Inny’s and folded her palms together, entwining her fingers, creating a womb-like enclosure--a furtive and fertile place where this day’s events could gestate until they had gathered enough life-force to fulfill their implications.
Fervently she prayed they would not be stillborn, for a return to the glacial barrenness of her grief was not to be endured.
Later, nestled in the back seat of the Chevy, Faye hummed contentedly to herself, but softly so as not to be heard over the news program Julia and Wilma were listening to. She had no wish to be teased or chided. She wanted to savor the moments of her day, cherish them to herself. She was jarred out of her reverie by the sudden blaring of the announcer’s voice. Julia had--in her usual excess of impulse--twisted the dial too far. In the moments before Wilma’s officious twist of the dial back to moderate volume, the car reverberated with the name that had been thrumming Faye’s consciousness all day: "…BRIANA MORGAN…"
Faye thrust herself forward over the back of the front seat, exclaiming: "What?"
"Sssh!" Julia and Wilma shushed simultaneously in each of her ears.
The announcer’s voice filled the vacuum of their silence like a viper’s hiss: "…missing…"
"Dear Jesus, No!" Faye moaned, despairing for that small vibrant child that had brought joy and music back into her life that morning. "What happened?"
Her wail drew a reproving gaze from Wilma and a withering reprimand from Julia "For crying out loud, Sister! Must you? That’s what we’re trying to find out."
"...anyone with information please contact the Westmont Police Department…"
Julia switched off the radio with an exasperated sigh as Faye began pounding her fists on the seat back, crying: "Stop the car! Stop the car! Please!" Tears welled in her eyes, oozing onto her shock-cold cheeks as she squeezed her eyes shut and pled: "Oh Sweet Jesus don’t let it be!"
"What is it Sister?" Julia asked, concern now mixed with the impatience in her voice as she stopped the car on the shoulder of the road and turned toward her twin.
Faye was already fumbling with the door handle. "I’ve got to get to a phone. That poor child. I’ve got to call the police."
"Faith you’re making no sense at all." Julia said. "Will you please get a grip on yourself and tell me what you’re babbling about."
Faye grabbed Julia by the shoulders and spoke the child’s name like a prayer. "Briana Morgan." She paused so long Julia opened her mouth to speak but Faye went on, saying each word like a sentence through her tears. "Morning. Bus stop. I. Saw. Her." She gave Julia a shake and said once more. "Phone." as though it were the word ‘Please.’
"You saw this child this morning at the bus stop?" Julia translated. "And you want to call the police." Faye nodded and Julia continued. "Well we’re halfway between town and the gate. You can use the public phone at the bus stop there. OK?" Faye nodded and collapsed into her seat as Julia pulled back onto the road.
The car slid into the maw of darkness and Faye watched as the mile or so of sinuous highway swallowed them. The past years’ loneliness and alienation hovered--poised to strike, to infuse their numbing poisons, impose that constricting despair that threatened to strangle all hope. Her newborn elation was defenseless against the shock of hearing that the child who had blessed her with it was missing. "Briana." She whispered and the silence resounded.
A stricken gasp from Julia and a whispered "Lord have mercy." from Wilma brought Faye upright in her seat. They were just making the turn off the highway onto the graveled approach to their gate. There, pinioned in the headlights was the form of a child crucified on the gate. Faye opened her door and swung herself out before the car had stopped rolling and went toward the gate in a stumbling run, sobbing: "Briana! Briana!"
Faye fell against the bars reaching up for a Keds clad foot just out of her reach. The gate gave under Faye’s weight, swinging inward and dragging her to her knees. Julia gasped. "It’s just a rag doll."
"I know." Faye said, taking the doll into her embrace. "It’s her twin, Dollbaby. They were here together, playing on the gate when I caught the bus. Briana must still be nearby. Maybe she tuckered herself out and fell asleep under a bush, or something." Her voice trailed off.
"Yes. And it’s some of those ‘or something’s’ that worry me." Julia strode off to the phone booth.