I TELL CHAR that Meredith and I would like to take her out for breakfast. Her reply is instantaneous: “I usually have a bagel and coffee, so that would be a treat. Pick me up at nine o’clock.”
We do, and as we are getting into Meredith’s car, Char says to her, “Don’t know why you and I never spent some time together. I really loved your grandmother. She and I had a special connection.”
“I know that. She spoke of you often.” Meredith pauses and adds, “She felt that you really understood her.”
“In some ways, a complicated person,” Char answers. “Her life was a challenge, but she handled it with grace. And by the way, she spoke of you often, too.”
As we are about to close the last door, a woman taps one of the windows with her cane, making a rather solid clanking sound.
“Whoa,” Meredith says.
“Where you going?” the woman asks.
Charlotte rolls down her window. “Trudy, this is my brother and that is Claire’s granddaughter. They’re taking me out to breakfast.”
“It’s too early,” Trudy replies.
“Well, it’s after nine. Some people get up early, you know.”
“I don’t eat breakfast. It sits on my stomach. I take my vitamins with prune juice, that’s all.”
“That’s nice, Trudy. See you later.”
“Claire died, you know.”
“Yes,” Charlotte says. “Bye now.”
Meredith drives away and Charlotte says, “Believe it or not, Trudy is ninety. Her memory isn’t so good anymore, but she is a determined woman with very strict rules.”
“I could see that,” I say.
“Hope she didn’t crack my window.”
“No,” Charlotte says. “It was a wooden cane. She is a butt-in person. I mean she doesn’t respect private conversations.”
“Where shall we go for breakfast? What’s a good place around here?” I ask.
“Tell you what,” Char says with a whimsical look, “how about if we drive about fifteen minutes into New Hope. It’s early enough so not too many tourists are there. A favorite spot of mine is Wally’s– and I’ll tell you another reason for going there. It was Claire’s favorite too.”
“She never told me,” Meredith says, a wound in her voice.
“It was sort of her secret. Since she always needed transportation, she would whisper to me when no one was near, ‘How about Wally’s tomorrow morning?’ And I would nod and go pick her up and off we’d drive.”
“Must have been a chore for you,” Meredith says.
“Oh, I’m used to pushing wheelchairs–and of course hers folded and I could put it into my car. She wasa closeted French Roast coffee connoisseur, your grandma.”
“What is so special about Wally’s?” I ask.
“Aside from excellent coffee and a variety of omelets–and a great list of wines if you dine later in the day–Wally himself is special. I want you both to meet him. He was very nice to Claire.”
“Wally’s it is,” Meredith says toward the windshield.
Meredith is vulnerable and adaptable. She gets insulted, yet seems to recover quickly. The loss of her grandmother is a heavy burden, and her eyes, still amazingly green and deep, seem to have lost a bit of their luster.
Her route takes us past Peddler’s Village, an upscale shopping area a couple of miles from New Hope, located along gently rolling hills, it boasts three or four good restaurants and two yummy, quick-serve spots: a coffee store with pastries and gourmet brews, and a parlor serving the richest and creamiest of ice creams. Char and I had landed in Peddler’s Village a couple of times in past years to partake of the goodies–and also to buy a certain kind of yarn and patterns she needed for her needlepoint. On this morning, we can already see a crowd gathering for what is clearly a classic car exhibit, something that does not attract me, so I am happy we are only passing through.
In New Hope we luck out and Meredith finds a parking spot on the main street only a hundred yards from a funky sign hanging on heavy ropes that reads, Wally’s: The Brew for You, with an accompanying slogan below proclaiming, Nutrition for The Hearty.
We enter an unpretentious vestibule area–on the West Coast we rarely have them since the weather never gets too cold–through one door and then a second, which on this day is open. The interior is gaily colored, with whimsical paintings on the walls, each looks as if rendered by children. I note this, to which Charlotte replies, “They were painted by Wally’s kids. They’re grown now, but they helped decorate the place when they were younger. Neat, isn’t it?”
Soon Wally, himself, approaches us, menus in hand. “Well, Charlotte, I am delighted to see you–though it saddens me that you are without your sweetheart of a companion.” He catches his words, and quickly adds, “Not that your present friends aren’t welcome.”
“Wally, this is Claire’s granddaughter, Meredith, and this is my little brother, Greg Smart.”
“Ah, all part of the family. Come in, come in. I have a lovely table,for you that looks out on the fall colors and the Delaware Canal.”
His almost gushy manner is a bit too much, but I trust Charlotte’s judgment that he is truly caring.
Following coffee, Charlotte places both hands on the table and says, “I need to tell you something. I went to the hospital unit last evening, and tracked down the doctor who was called when Claire passed. His name is, of all things, Doolittle, Dr. Frederick Doolittle. He was most accommodating, and I came away with some useful information.”
“Information that we didn’t know before?” Meredith asks, her voice high and troubled.
“Well, yes, because I don’t think the right questions were asked.”
“Such as?” I ask.
“Such as…where was Claire when she was…uh, discovered? We knew she died in the night, but there were no specifics about her body’s location. I presume everyone obviously expected that she died in bed, but Doolittle said no. She died in the bathroom. When her caretaker came to get her in the morning, she was curled up on the bathroom floor. The doctor told me that his first reaction was to search for a wound, in case she might fallen and hit her head. But there was none. Doesn’t mean she couldn’t have simply passed out on the toilet and collapsed from a heart attack or maybe even a cerebral hemorrhage.”
“Wait a minute, Charlotte. Are you saying my grandmother fell on the bathroom floor and…and maybe was alive for a time?”
“The doctor didn’t know that. She did, however, expire there and not in her bed.”
“And since the apartment was locked and all that,” I say, “there was no reason to think of any foulplay. It was simply, as they say, her time?”
“Yes and no. No one did anything to her in that immediate span of time, but Dr. Doolittle, when I pushed a bit, admitted that a build-up of toxins in her body could have been introduced over time, and by another person. He, the doctor, of course, had no reason to believe anybody wanted to hurt Claire, so his examination was rather routine, and he reported that she died of natural causes. Unfortunately, that is the procedure too often with the elderly: an attitude of ‘Oh well, she was old and ready to go.’”
If you’re enjoying CHARLOTTE and would like to blog about book two in the series, ACCIDENT, please contact my publisher who will hook you up with a free copy!