At that very moment Charlie appeared with an old tobacco box of bait and even a picnic basket as well as a really fine fishing pole. He smiled and gestured and we followed him some three blocks to a small park I did not realize was there. It was odd for the neighborhood was industrial so a park was unexpected. But it was a sweet park, howbeit small. There was a black wrought iron fence all around it. The flower beds were blooming. The pond was lovely. Somehow, most oddly, the moment we entered the park the sun came out bright and warm. It had been foggy for days and days and days. We sat down on the grass, real grass, and Charlie neatly baited the fish hooks and showed us how to cast the hooks into the water. We sat and enjoyed the park and the sun and the grass. Charlie was clearly a good fisherman. He cast his fishing line so smooth into the water. And quite amazingly, he caught a fish just like Father!
No one else did but then we never caught fish. We were not expecting to catch fish. Charlie hung his fish in the water to stay fresh and at noon he opened his basket and pulled out tins of food and chocolate and even a paper bag of sweets just like the sweets Father always had tucked in his pocket. We had a wonderful time. Then Charlie wrapped the fish in newspaper for us and walked us safely home.
“Can you take us fishing again Charlie?” I asked.
“Ppppplease Sir” Alex chimed in.
“Why not? I have been lonely too” Charlie replied softly. “Someone died in my family too and mourning is hard on children isn’t it?”
“Tomorrow?” I asked as Mary kicked my shins.
“Why not?” Charlie replied. “Noon.”
We slipped into the kitchen and presented the fish to Maeve for dinner. Mary lied and said I stole it.
“Diddddddn’t!” Alex stuttered as Charlie resumed sucking his thumb.
I said Charlie Rose helped us fish and gave Maeve the calling card. Mary said we should not see Charlie again. I said “Why not?”
Maeve felt sorry for us and said “Why not sweeties. Gentlemen always carried calling cards.” She fingered one of her lucky charms and then she tossed salt behind her back as if to scare away the evil that now encircled us.
That night I suggested to Willie he should try to dream of the nice park and he did. He woke at dawn without suffering one of his nightmares. Somehow we felt brighter, happier than we had felt since Father died. For some weeks we met Charlie every day for two hours at noon. Charlie said he could take long lunches. He seemed delighted with us and we were delighted to know Charlie. Even Mary warmed up. Charlie walked us to the park each day from the industrial canal. Sometimes we fished and other times we played games. Charlie taught Mary and me to play chess. He played checkers with the boys. Sometimes he brought his music box to play music. Other days he would read the latest Charles Dickens to us. Charlie would say at a dreadful part “But don’t worry Little Darlings! Any Book Dickens writes always has a happy ending!” Charlie did not want us to be scared and have bad dreams. Charlie was so much like Father. It was so amazing in a way. Charlie came at exactly the right time just when we needed him. It was as if something in us, in me, called out to Charlie. Of course Mary had to go and spoil it all. Mary told Mother.
Mother was furious until Maeve found the calling card and showed Mother the calling card. That made it alright. Every gentleman or lady had a calling card or else a letter of introduction. And by chance, as if knowing somehow, the postman knocked twice (to tell Maeve it was the post rather than the dustman or the green grocer or some other street vender) and there it was in Maeve’s hand! A letter of introduction from Charlie Rose! So it was all right then! I kicked Mary in the shins.
The next day there was Charlie at the door as we all filed out of the front door after Mother. She was dressed in mourning but she wore a black bonnet instead of her veil and was more her old self, like when she used to parade down the aisle of her kirk into her private pew while fussing with her bonnet and lace mittens. And I noticed she wore her starched petticoat under her severe black. It rustled, making that rich sound women liked their wide skirts to make.
Charlie took everyone to the park and we played chess or checkers as Charlie and Mother talked — most respectfully of course! Mother talked about Father and Charlie referred to the recent death in his family too.
For a while we all hoped. Who could blame us? Mother was happy. Charlie was a really nice gentleman. Who could blame us? Who could blame Mother? Charlie seemed well off. After all, he could afford to take long lunches. It would save Mother, financially I mean. Us. Who could blame us? When we were in the park it always seemed sunny. Alex would stop stuttering. Mary and I would stop bickering. Charlie would stop sucking his thumb. Willie would say if he concentrated in the park just before he fell into sleep he did not suffer nightmares. Who could blame us? Charlie was like a dream come true. But then of course that is the trouble with dreams…… which are too good to be true……