Searching for Gita, the Little Pearl: Part 3
Excerpt from Part 2
It is the thirtieth anniversary of the day Anna and Gita were separated. Anna is sure this will be the day she finds her daughter, her little pearl. On her way to the school she is stopped by busybody Mrs. Hargrove who insists she come in for tea. Anna is broadsided by Mrs. Hargrove's harsh reality check.
"I look for Gita."
"Gita? And who is Gita, dear," knowing full well by rumor who Gita was.
Anna's heart skipped a beat. She forgot she was annoyed and spoke openly. "Gita is my daughter. My little pearl."
"Your little pearl?"
"Gita means little pearl."
"Oh, how lovely. And why do you search for her at the school? No offense, Anna, but you are much too old to have a daughter of school age. More tea?"
Anna felt the sting of the comment as if she'd been slapped in the face. Of course, Gita was of school age. "No, my Gita is six years old."
Hide and Seek
Anna found herself at her front door, heart still racing, mind still in turmoil, and weeping. She was shaken to the core by Mrs. Hargrove's assertion that Gita could not be six years old. Anna's shaking hands kept fumbling the keys. She gave up and tried the knob. Much to her surprise, it was unlocked. She burst into her little home. 'Perhaps,' Anna thought, 'Gita came home and is waiting for me.' "Gita? Gita, little pearl. Where are you hiding, daughter? Come out so Mama can see you."
The house was cold and still, but she paid no mind. "Gita, darling, come out and see your Mama." She heard Gita's muffled giggle. She looked in the coat closet. Gita loved to hide in the coat closet and pop out when Mama opened it. But no one popped out.
"Yum, yum." Gita giggled again.
Anna went as quickly as she could to the pantry. Gita loved to steal cookies from the pantry. "Gita, you better not be into the cookies, you'll spoil your appetite." The pantry shelves were full of cans, jars, canisters, boxes, and sacks on the floor. But no Gita.
"Ah, I know, she is probably hiding under the bed." Anna ran to the bedroom and though it was very difficult, she got down on her hands and knees and peered under the bed. There was nothing but a stray slipper, a box, and a lot of dust bunnies.
Anna sat on the bed heavily, out of breath. She was confused, sorrowful and completely exhausted. "Sleep...so tired...Gita..." She flopped back onto the bed, coat, scarf, boots and all and immediately fell into a deep sleep.
Mrs. Hargrove couldn't concentrate all day on her duties at the grocery. How dare Mrs. Wronski tell her to shut up. She tried to do inventory, but her mind kept working on the puzzle of the old woman. 'Why does old Mrs. Wronski seek a six-year-old daughter? Did she ever really have a daughter? If she had a daughter, where was she and what happened to separate them? When and why did the old woman move here?'
Mrs. Hargrove gave up on inventory and sat behind the counter. Her own feet were showing signs of edema. She took her shoes off, wiggled her toes, and laid her teeth on the counter. She had a sore in her mouth from her ill-fitting dentures. She drummed her fingers on the counter, deep in thought, trying to come up with answers to the mysteries of Mrs. Wronski's life.
A little while later Cowlick and Spectacles, the two neighborhood terrorists who harassed elderly people, small children, and innocent animals, plowed violently through the door assaulting the store with their raucous voices. Mrs. Hargrove jumped out of her chair, startled and shaken out of her reverie. She reached for her teeth but they slipped her grasp and went flying off the counter, slid across the floor, stopping at the canned goods shelf. She tried to run after them, but she was shoeless and her bare feet could not bear her girth steadily. She fell back into her chair.
"Hey, old lady, your teeth are on the floor by the canned peas. That's gross, man," said Spectacles.
"Yeah, that's disgusting. How come you lay your teeth on the counter you old toothless witch?" Cowlick said. He ran over to the other aisle, bent over and looked at the teeth. "Ew. Hey Tommy, get a load of these."
Tommy Spectacles raced over and they both stared down at the teeth. "Hey," he said to Cowlick, "I got a ruler in my bag." He pulled out his ruler and gave the teeth a whack like a hockey puck. It disappeared under the freezer case. "SCORE," he said triumphantly, with his arms up in the air. Then something came down over his head.
"Hey," said Cowlick, "gimme that broom, ya old bitty." He tried to grab it out of her hands but he was no match for her strength and fury and it landed on him as well. Cowlick grabbed a can of spinach and was about to throw it at Mrs. Hargrove when a large hand grabbed the nape of his shirt and a loud male voice yelling, "Put that can down right now or I'll tan your hide and haul you off to the pokey."
Mrs. Hargrove raised the broom up high over her head for another whack on whoever's head was closest.
"No, Ma." Officer Raymond Hargrove, son of Mrs. Hargrove, snatched the broom out of her hand, then rounded on the two punks. "Now, you boys get over there, put your hands up and lean up against the wall." He grabbed his radio. "Coop, can you get in here. The terrorists are at it again." He turned to them once more. "Now, what the Sam Hill is going on here?"
"Those little miscreants grabbed my teeth and started playing hockey with 'em. They're under the freezer case. And boys howdy they got foul mouths. Book 'em, Raymond."
Just then Raymond Hargrove's partner, Officer Cooper, came through the door.
"She's a liar," Spectacles said.
"Watch it, pal, that's my mother you're calling a liar," said Raymond.
Cooper put his hands on top of his belt full of police gear and looked from one boy to the other. "You again. This isn't the first time we've met is it boys?" Cooper stared them down.
They stared down at their shoes. "No sir," they said.
"Seems I remember taking you in after you tried to drown Mrs. Whatcom's cat in a bucket of water. She whooped you with the hose, remember?"
They nodded in the affirmative.
Raymond joined in. "And I do believe we met when you set the dumpster at the Methodist church on fire. Reverend Crawley's wife whacked you over the head with the Good Book. Am I remembering right boys?"
"Boys, " Cooper said, "you ought to wise up and realize you are no match for women over sixty in this town."
"Now," said Raymond, "you apologize to my mother here, and then Officer Cooper will be taking you in and calling your parents."
Cowlick cleared his throat. "I apologize, lady."
"Mrs. Hargrove to you, young man," said Mrs. Hargrove. "And what about you, Spectacles?"
He shuffled his feet. "Sorry Mrs. Hargrove," he mumbled.
"You boys are not to come into this establishment ever again. You are banished," said Raymond. "Coop, take 'em in and come back for me. I'm going to get a report from Ma."
"Let's go, boys," said Cooper. He handcuffed them to teach them a lesson and escorted them out to the squad car.
Raymond turned to his mother. She wrapped her arms around her six foot one, strapping baby boy. "Aw, Raymie."
"Don't you 'Aw Raymie me. I know you Ma. I know you're not completely innocent in this incident. Tell me your part."
"Never mind that, Raymond. I have someone I want you to investigate."
Name That Crime
Raymond rolled his eyes. He knew his mother was a busybody and probably looking to stick her nose into someone's business to sate her curiosity, or possibly start trouble. "Ma, if this is another one of your attempts to pry into someone's personal business don't even ask."
She put her hands on her hips and tossed her head to the side. "Raymond Frances Hargrove, I don't pry into people's business just to be nosy. This is a serious matter. You know Mrs. Anna Wronski, the Babushka that walks around the school staring at kids through the window, don't you?"
"Yes, I know of her, why?"
"She was over here this morning for tea. She said some very strange things."
"People say strange things, Ma. Doesn't mean they need investigating. Especially an old woman like her."
"Being an old woman is the perfect cover for her. Anyway, I asked her why she stares in the school windows every day. You want to know what she said?"
Raymond took off his police hat and ran a hand through his hair. "Good grief, Ma. That was flat out rude."
"Rude nothing. If she does it so openly, why is it wrong for me to ask her about it?"
"Ma, you raised me to be respectful. How come you think you're excused?"
"Hush, Raymie. Now listen. She told me she was searching for her daughter, Gita. Her name means little pearl, by the way. She also told me Gita is six years old. Not was, but is." She gave her head a sharp nod of exclamation. "The woman's touched, I tell you." She tapped her forefinger against her temple.
Raymond's radio squawked. He answered it. "What is it, Coop?"
"I'm outside, buddy."
"Okay, be right there." He returned his radio to his belt. "I've got to go, Ma."
"Go? You can't go. I need you to start up an investigation."
"For what? What is Mrs. Wronski's alleged crime?"
"That's what I need you to find out, Raymond."
"Ma, you don't get it. We can't investigate someone who isn't suspected of a crime."
"She is suspected of a crime - by me."
"I'm going now, Ma." He headed to the door. His hand was on the knob when his mother tried one last time.
"Raymond Frances Hargrove, get back here or I'll tan your hide."
He turned around. "Excuse me?"
"I heard what you said. You've not told me one thing that gives me any inkling she could have committed a crime. It's not criminal to do and say strange things."
"I want to file a report."
"Mrs. Wronski assaulted me."
"Oh give me a break. I've got to get back to work."
"She told me to shut up very loudly."
"Well, there's the most sensible thing I've heard all day. Now I'm going."
"Raymond, can you at least get my teeth out from under the freezer case?"
He grabbed the broom and with one stroke the teeth re-entered the store aisle. He pulled out his handkerchief and gave them to his mother. "Make sure you wash them good before you put them in, Ma."
"What do you think I am, an uncouth slob?"
Raymond gave no answer and walked to the door. "I'm done here, Ma. Behave yourself." And he was gone.
"Well, how do you like that?" she said to no one. She shoved the teeth back into her mouth. "I'll just have to take care of things myself. I'll bet Mrs. Wronski would appreciate a nice pot of chicken soup."
Where's Anna Wronski?
Mrs. Hargrove locked the door and turned the open sign around to closed. It was an hour early but she didn't care. She had some cooking to do for Mrs. Wronski. Just as she started to walk away she heard a rap at the door. She turned around to see Mr. Elvin Neville, Principal of Roosevelt Elementary at the door.
"We're closed, Mr. Neville," she said loudly behind the locked door.
"Yes, I see that, Mrs. Hargrove," he said. "I need to talk with you about something important. It should only take a minute."
"I'm closed, Mr. Neville. I'm sorry." She turned to walk away.
Mr. Neville rapped on the door several times, loudly. "Please, Mrs. Hargrove, this is very, very important."
"Mr. Neville, what could be so important that you have to beat down my door?"
"Please open the door, Mrs. Hargrove. Please."
Mrs. Hargrove unlocked the door and opened it a crack. "This better be good, Mr. Neville. What is it?"
"I was wondering if you've seen or heard from Anna Wronski today."
Mrs. Hargrove pulled the door wide open, full of great interest. "Do come in, Mr. Neville."
He gratefully stepped in. "Hoo boy, it's chilly out there. Going to rain again soon."
"Come have a cup of tea with me, Mr. Neville, and you can tell me more about Mrs. Wronski."
"Don't mind if I do. I will keep it brief."
"No need. I have plenty of time. Follow me." He followed her to the back of the store, up the two steps and into her apartment. She invited him to sit at the table while she put the kettle on. He sat and noticed a plate with a cold, congealed Entenmann's danish right in front of him. He pushed it away, grossed out.
"Oh, don't be shy, Mr. Neville, please feel free to eat that. Anna Wronski left in a hurry this morning without even a bite."
He perked up. "Mrs. Wronski, you say? This morning? Here?"
"Why yes. She was downright rude to leave without a bite or word of thanks."
"How did she seem to you this morning?" he asked.
"She was fine at first. All excited to see her daughter."
"Her daughter? Her daughter is here, now, today?"
"Not that I'm aware of, but she insisted today was the day she would see her daughter. She thinks her daughter is still six years old. The woman's a bit kooky if you ask me." She drew invisible circles with her finger, next to her temple.
"Really, Mrs. Hargrove, that is in very poor taste. Perhaps I should go."
"Oh no, you must not go. I apologize if I offended you. That was off base just a bit."
"I should say so. Now, when did Mrs. Wronski leave and how was she feeling?"
"She left around eight thirty and she was madder than a wet hen, that's how she was. She had the gall to tell me to shut up. That Mrs. Wronski is no lady, Mr. Neville. May I ask what your interest is in her today?"
"Anna never misses a day at the school and today she didn't show. Someone had seen her walking toward your store this morning. We are worried about her because she never showed up. I went to her house but she didn't answer."
"Really?" said Mrs. Hargrove. "Well, that is most unusual. She was physically in good shape here, but as I said, she was very agitated and rude."
"Do you mind telling me why she was upset?"
"I simply asked her a few questions about her habit of looking into classroom windows. She said she was looking for her six-year-old daughter. I pointed out to her, ever so gently, that she was much too old to have a small child. Women don't like to be reminded of their age, you know. She was very touchy about it. But to tell me to shut up, why I never."
Mr. Neville bit his tongue, a very difficult accomplishment. "Did she say where she was going, Mrs. Hargrove?"
"She did not, but I assumed it would be to the school. You know, Mr. Nevliile, my son Raymond is on the police force. Perhaps I should call him to do a welfare check on her."
"Oh, that's a very good idea. I didn't want to barge in and frighten her. But I'm worried she's sick."
"Wouldn't surprise me one bit. Bitter people get sick all the time. The price they pay, don't you know. All right, I will call Raymond this very moment. He should be off his shift about now." She picked up the phone and dialed.
"Hello, Raymond. I'm calling to ask you to do a welfare check on Mrs. Wronski."
"You don't give up easily, do you Ma. I told you not to bother Mrs. Wronski."
"Raymond, Mr. Neville, Principal of the elementary school is here this minute inquiring about her. Seems she didn't show up at the school today and this is very rare. Now, do a welfare check."
"Let me talk to Mr. Neville."
"Hmph. Fine, you don't believe me. Here he is."
Mr. Neville confirmed Mrs. Hargrove's story. "We are most concerned, Officer Hargrove. If it wouldn't be too much trouble we'd appreciate a welfare check."
"Sure, of course," said Raymond. He got the address and said goodbye. In a few minutes, he called back. "Hey, Ma. It seems there's a big bank robbery downtown and most everyone on the force is there as back up. The guy is holding hostages. I'm off duty. Someone will check on her but it may be awhile."
"Well now, that is just plain unacceptable."
"Tell you what, Ma. I'll ask the fire department to check on her if they aren't too busy."
"Well, don't sit here talking to me, get on it."
And so he did. He called back. "Ma, there's a big warehouse fire over on Industrial Way. They're trying to find someone also. I'm off duty but I'll just come."
"Good heavens, Raymond. Hurry up about it." She hung up and turned to Mr. Neville. "Well, Raymond's on his way, but he lives twelve miles from here, and with evening traffic it will take awhile. Why don't we just head over there? It may be life or death."
"I suppose, but Mrs. Hargrove we can't break in."
To the Rescue
Mr. Neville drove and they arrived at Anna's house in just a few minutes. They went to the door and knocked. There was no answer. They knocked again. While they were waiting, Mrs. Hargrove noticed something shiny in the corner of the stoop. She bent down to pick it up.
"Oh dear. Here's Mrs. Wronski's key. That's not a good sign. Shall we unlock the door and go in?"
"I'm not sure that's the right thing to do. Perhaps your son will be here any minute."
"That's the problem with men, they're always indecisive in the thick of problems. I'll go. You can do whatever you want."
She put the key in the lock only to realize it was already unlocked. She opened the door and stepped through the threshold. She turned around to Mr. Neville. "Well, are you coming or not?"
They stepped in and noticed immediately how cold the house was.
"Brrr. This is not a good sign," said Mr. Neville.
"Indeed not. You look around the house, Mr. Neville and I will check the bedroom and bathroom."
Mrs. Hargrove came to the bathroom first. It was cold, clean, and empty. She found her way to the bedroom and what she found gave her great concern. "Mr. Nevile? Mr. Neville, come here, please. I found Mrs. Wronski. It's not good."
Mr. Neville was right there and they went up to check on Anna. "Good heavens, she's in her outdoor clothing, even her scarf, and her boots," he said. He checked her pulse. "She's still alive."
Mrs. Hargrove took over. She shook Anna hard and leaned down to her ear. "Mrs. Wronski," she shouted. "Mrs. Wronski, wake up."
"You could be a little softer, Mrs. Hargrove."
"Nonsense." She shook Mrs. Wronski violently and yelled once more in her ear.
"Mrs. Hargrove, you are being entirely too rough." Just then Raymond was in the bedroom doorway.
"MA!" he said. "Quit shaking and shouting. Mr. Neville, will you call for an ambulance. Hopefully, it won't be too long of a wait." He went to the bed and checked her out. "It feels like she's got a fever. Ma, take her boots off, see if you can find some slippers or extra socks." He went to the hall closet and found another blanket. Mrs. Hargrove found one slipper wedged in between the bed and the nightstand and looked under the bed to find the other. She pulled on Anna's left boot but it wouldn't budge. She yanked hard, with the same results. Then she tried the right one. Same thing.
"Ma, stop. You're going to dislocate her legs. Leave them on."
"Probably the edema," Mrs. Hargrove assessed. "Poor thing."
Three hours later Anna was admitted to the hospital. The three waited to hear from a doctor.
"Are you three here for Mrs. Wronski?" asked a silver-haired, distinguished doctor.
They nodded yes.
"I'm Dr. Reynolds and I'm tending Mrs. Wronski," he said, offering his hand to the three. "I think she'll be fine but we'll know more when we run some tests. Certainly, the edema in her feet and ankles is concerning, as well as elevated blood pressure, but as far as the fever goes, I think it is probably just a bug. We'll treat her with an antibiotic and some blood pressure medication and she should be better in a day or two if the test results are good."
"May I see her?" Mrs. Hargrove asked, inching toward Anna's room.
"NO!" said Raymond and Mr. Neville in unison. The doctor, not knowing Mrs. Hargrove, told her calmly that Anna needed her rest and perhaps will be ready for visitors in a day or two.
Indignant, Mrs. Hargrove complained. "Well, I am practically family."
Raymond, standing behind her mouthed "no" to the doctor, shaking his head. The doctor diplomatically handled it. "Mrs. Hargrove, Mrs. Wronski is very lucky to have a close, caring friend like you. I will tell her if she wakes how concerned you are and that you'll be in to see her tomorrow. It will give you both something to look forward to."
Mrs. Hargrove was tired. "Yes, tomorrow."
© 2017 Lori Colbo