“Good morning,” spoke the sandy-haired young woman fresh out of high school. “Lovely day outside isn’t it? What can I do for you?”
“Yes it is. I’m wondering if I can use your phone?”
“Of course. But it’ll cost you,” said the young woman with mock seriousness.
Sheepishly, Howard smiled. “Okay.”
“Don’t you want to know what it’s going to cost?
Howard continued to merely smile, not knowing what to say.
“Hey, Margaret,” came another voice from the back, “stop picking on Mr. Moreland and let him use the dang phone.”
“Oh, I was just talking with--”
“--Yeah, yeah, blah, blah. You was just talking.” A short heavyset woman walked out to the front desk carrying a full plastic grocery bag. “Kids these days, huh? They just don’t respect their elders. These are for you, Howard. I’m glad you dropped in.”
Howard reached down, lifted the sack, smiled, and nodded his thanks. The bag held some fresh fruit.
The woman’s name was Joy and for all the years she’d worked at Lester County Library, Howard was her favorite patron. Though he rarely, if in fact ever, to her recollection, borrowed any books, he would usually just come inside to read or to take a break from the extreme weather.
Joy led Howard to the office where a simple rotary phone sat on the edge of a desk. “Just pick it up and dial away, the old-fashioned way. Ha! I’m a poet don’tcha know it!”
“Greenwich Realty, Susan speaking.”
“Yes ma’am, I’m inquiring about a property?”
“Okay, what property sir?”
“It’s on Marigold.”
“Uh, lemme see here. Oh yes, 3223 Marigold. Just became available yesterday. Let me get George. He can tell you all about--.”
“--Um, actually. I already know about it. Can you tell me what happened with the owner? I’m aware she had a terminal illness.”
“Well sir,” said Susan slowly, “she did in fact pass away. I’m not sure what this has to do with--”
Howard could not help himself. He blurted out, “There was a child--lived with her. Do you know anything, what happened to him?”
“I’m very sorry. No, that’s not something we would know.”
“You wouldn’t know who would know, I suppose?”
“Umm, the family I’d think?”
“Of course. Thanks.”
Howard peeled a banana as he descended the library steps. He said a silent prayer of gratitude for the food.
Six blocks later Howard walked up the long ramp into the Lester Medical Center. For the first time, Howard laid his eyes on the same hard cracked concrete floor as had Michael. The walls were bare, except for a single cheap bulletin board with announcements and upcoming health events haphazardly pinned to it. A couple of royal-blue worn fabric benches clung to either side of the wall and straight ahead in the center of the floor stood a sign which linked floors and office numbers with names of doctors. It was at this point Howard realized he had no idea what doctor or specialist Michael had been seeing. And as there were some 15 or so medical offices, he would be looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, assuming Michael’s doctor would even know, much less be willing to impart any information helpful to locating him.
Howard stood before the sign and studied the names of the offices.
A couple minutes passed before a security guard approached.
“Sir, can I help you?”
“No,” Howard mused aloud. “Just looking for my son. He used to come here for some kind of treatment. Don’t even know which doctor he saw.” Howard’s voice was resigned. When he realized he was actually speaking aloud, he looked up at the guard and apologized.
“Now you wouldn’t be talkin’ about a young boy in a wheelchair, Mister, would you be? Came every day about?” came the reply.
“Yes. Light brown hair. Came alone the last few days, but with an old woman before that.”
“Yes, yessir. I know that child. I seen him all the time. But lately sir he don’t come in here. He’s your son?”
“It’s a long story. You say you’ve seen him?”
“Now like I said, lately he don’t come in here no more, but when he did he’d go straight down the hall that way, see.” He leaned toward Howard and pointed his arm to Howard’s right. “Now there’s only two offices down there and one of ‘em’s a ladies' doctor, so he musta been goin’ to the other place. Straight down that hall there. Don’t know if that helps. Mebbe they knows somethin'.”
“Thanks. Thank you very much,” replied Howard, already off the bench and turning down the corridor.
Moments later Howard entered the Blue Ridge Rehabilitation Center and stepped to the front desk.
An attractive young woman with straight long blonde hair and green eyes dressed in a nurse smock met him with a smile and said, “Hi, can I help you?”
“I’m looking for my son. I believe he was a client here recently. He’s a young boy who I think just recently stopped coming. He was in a wheelchair."
The blonde held her eyes with rapt attention. When Howard ceased speaking, she stammered, “Uh, yes, yes. That would’ve been--” cutting herself off, the woman said, “Can you stay right there? Don’t go away. I’ll be right back,” she said.
Not a minute later a young Asian man in dress shirt and tie stepped out into the waiting room and offered his hand to Howard, “Dr. Yamamoto. Pleased to meet you. So you’re the father to this young man--what was his name?”
“Yes, Michael. We’ve been concerned about Michael. He hasn’t been here all week and his is a treatment that requires strict adherence to his regimen.”
“Have you any ideas where he may be?”
“--No no. I heard you. You don’t know where he is?”
“I’ve not seen my son for years and was hoping you might be able to shed some light on where he is.”
“Oh. Oh, I see.” Light seemed to be dawning now and the doctor made a brief glance back toward the office where the blonde was sitting, trying to look busy. “Just a minute,” he said, as he strode back into his office.
After failing to make out the whispers behind the closed door, Howard saw the blonde reappear behind the front desk window and motion to him.
Trying to appear sincere, the woman said, “I hope you’re able to find your son. If you do, please bring him back here so we can continue with his treatment. Okay?”
“Can you tell me what he was being treated for? Perhaps it would somehow help me to locate him.”
“I’m very sorry sir. We really can’t divulge that information.”
“To his father? I’m his father.”
The woman gave a sympathetic look and slowly shook her head. “Sorry.”
Down to his last idea, Howard walked out the door.