…And I Have Promises to Keep

Frost

We all make promises: to our parents, to whatever ever deity we choose, to our family and friends and most importantly to ourselves. And we break them. Small ones, important ones, halfhearted ones all fall by the wayside as we negotiate our way through the potholes and grassy fields of day to day living. We’re humans after all. We can’t be expected to keep every promise we make.  Not without an ultimatum attached in some cases. And even then…everything depends on how seriously we take the words and the actions associated with each one.

“I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God” That’s a biggie. Lies can land you in jail, not to mention the fact that taking the 5th Amendment only assures the legal system that you don’t want to tell the truth. And implies you’re not that good at lying.

“I’ll call you.” Now there’s one we’ve all heard, and probably used. And then we don’t get the call, or we forget about the promise as soon as we say the words. Granted, we didn’t actually promise to call but we implied it. Some people take it more seriously than others, on both sides of the phone. Or text. Or e-mail.

Wedding vows? Well, today that may be the only promise with loopholes. “Til death do us part” is a wonderful oath of enduring love, but it fails to take into consideration many things. These days perhaps we need to amend that promise to “as long as we both love and honor and protect each other, with no malice or harm toward our partner.” Or something similar that reinforces the “cherish” part of the vow. Marriage is not a promise of ongoing bliss…it is a promise of each partner working in concert with the other to create a good and enduring relationship.

New Years’ resolutions? The worst promises of all. You all know what I mean. You know you do.

Okay, you say. We all make promises we don’t or can’t keep. You said it. We’re human, we’re fallible. We goof up. You’re not perfect either, y’know?

Well of course I know. It’s one of the reasons I love Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Frost.  I’m as easily distracted by life and shiny objects as the next person, but this short piece keeps reminding me that while tarrying a minute or an hour, forgetting my destination and the promises I make to others and myself along the way, may be tempting, I do have “promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep”.

Mae

Morning came way too early for my tired eyes. I had been so intent on memories from my time as a nurse (although my title was “Sister” in Dundee) I’d forgotten to get more than a nap before Sylvain and Ray showed up, packages and, bless them, coffee and beignets from Café du Monde in hand. Ye know I’m a tea drinker, but today I needed the fuel of dark roast and chicory. And the beignets never failed to make my mouth water.

“I see there’s no need to caution you about the powdered sugar.” Sylvain chuckled as I took a nice bite out of the still-warm pastry and spattered white all over my sweater. He took a bite of his own, managing somehow to avoid my sweater’s fate. “I should have brought a bib.”

“Aye, don’t ye give me any guff,” I managed to get out as I lifted my to-go cup of strong dark liquid.  At least ye knew enough not to bring me that café au lait.” I pointed at their smaller cups and grinned. “Tourists!”

“You never did say where you two met,” Ray broke in, his own face showing signs of white powdered sugar.

“The Square,” Sylvain said before I could. “We both wanted the same coin. For good luck.”

“Aye, and all ye got was trouble, right?” I finished my beignet and nodded toward the bundles on the floor.  “So what have ye brought me?” Sylvain reached for a square box and pushed it across the table.

“First of all, your hairpiece.”

I opened the box and took out what appeared to be a dead animal…..mousey brown with random streaks of ashy gray.  “Looks about right,” I muttered. “Could have been a bit flashier, but…”

“The whole trick is to be nondescript,” Ray reminded me. As if I needed reminding. But I let him have his caution. “Which is why we brought these.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a pair of spectacles. Not modern, but truly what my gram would have worn had she needed them. “Plain glass,” he added, “but the earpiece has a mini-locator. Along with your phone’s GPS that should give us your location 24 7.”

“All I’m doin’ is getting me brother out,” I said. But I knew that wasn’t true. I’d pretty much traded Ray and Sylvain’s expertise for some snoopery of my own. If Begonia was a flim flam, those being taken in needed warning. “And plantin’ your ‘bug’.”

“Don’t give me that nonsense, Mae,” Sylvain said. “You can’t….no, I know you…you won’t settle for any less than the truth about this place. Find Drummond, but tell him what you’re up to. He can hold on for a day if he knows you’re there.” I had my doubts about that. Drum was easily confused these days and being ill didn’t make him any easier to handle. Harder in fact. Like most men he was a poor patient. And if I told him who I was, he’d slip up in spite of himself. Damn.
“If I’m to be in there for any time at all,” I replied, “I won’t tell him anything. Safer for him .And for me.” Sylvain nodded, but Ray looked puzzled. “I can’t take the time for family issues, Ray. Sylvain can tell you later. But I won’t do more than make sure Drummond is all right before I start my poking into corners and such. Legitimate or not, I’ll find what I can and then make sure me brother is out of that place.  Now, what else did ye bring?”

I wish I’d had a camera with me just to see the look on Sylvain’s face when I came back into the room dressed to the hilt as Mae Fitzgerald, RN. Truth be told, I looked more like a nun who’d opted for civilian clothes to serve her charges than anything else. Right down to the simple gold cross (my mother’s) that hung around my neck. Ray had actually brought some of those rubber clogs that so many people wear these days. Crocs I think he called them. They were comfortable, I suppose. Not my taste though. Brogues are far sturdier. And he wouldn’t have been able to get brogues in neon green. “Call it a fashion statement,” Sylvain quipped when I first saw them.

“Well?” I turned a full circle in front of those two men, chuckling at their faces. “Do I pass muster?”

“Um…well, Mae….you look positively…um…dreary….But…um… great!” Sylvain seemed to be searching for words. “I would not know you if we passed on the street. But,” he added, “how did you get so….”

“Old? That’s what you meant to say, right?” I baited him just a bit. “Admit it. I look a good ten years older than I am.” At least that’s what I’d been trying for. Nice to know it worked.

“Well…”

“I’m just having a laugh at you,” I said. “I’m non-threatening, or so it would seem. I can blend in better that way. My story is that I’ve had a rough time of it, having to leave my home and travel to the colonies (yes, I said colonies) to practice my trade. Seems I’ve an affinity for the holistic area of treatment but also retain my original medical expertise. Didn’t set too well with my last employer you see. I heard some gossip about a new Center for Holistic Treatment in this area and made some inquiries.”  I peered over my specs at them. “Did you have any luck finding Begonia?”

“We did,” Ray said. “One of my associates saw the van cruising the Riverfront and just happened to be going in the same direction.” He chuckled. “Fortunate, no? He got to the 4000 block of Eve Street and watched the van stop in front of an old brick building. Kind of like the one we’re in. Old factory offices or some such. Abandoned before Katrina and not pretty from the outside. Big enough for offices and examination rooms I wager, but we don’t really know until you get there. Which brings me to this.”  He held out a small chain with two keys dangling from it. “Here.”

“And just what am I getting into once I take these keys from you?”

“Begonia’s location is a good distance from here, Miss Mae. No regular bus or streetcar service and I wouldn’t feel good about you walking it. Not a sketchy neighborhood, but not St. Charles Street either. The square one is for your ride. The heavier one for your apartment.”

“My what?” I stared at him. “Just who are you, Ray?”

“You could call me an expeditor, but really I’m just a guy who tries to cover all the angles.” He grinned. “Don’t thank me until you see the car.”

“The address for the apartment is the same as the one on your license,” Sylvain added. “And Ray has one of his men installed next door. Just in case.”

“Like a nanny? Really.” I scowled at them. “I’m good on me own.” Although truth be told, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone in shouting distance. Just in case. I didn’t say that, but the inner me sighed a wee bit.

“Never hurts to have a backup to the backup, my friend. And we’ll stop at the apartment before we head over to Eve Street just so you know how to get there. After that, you follow us to Begonia. We’ll drive past, but you can pull to the curb once you see the sign.”

“More like a shingle,” Ray said. But my guy says it’s hard to miss. Walk up those steps, open the door, and you’re on your way.”

“On my way where, I wonder,” I muttered as we gathered the rest of my gear, stuffed it into a brown duffel that had seen better days, and locked up the loft for the time being. Time to go find me poor brother and discover just what Begonia meant.

It turns out me temporary crib was almost as big as Sylvain’s loft. Which suited me even if I knew I’d not have the need of that much room for just myself. Sylvain went in with me, checked out the usual things, locks on the doors, decorative but sturdy grills on the windows, and the lights. I dropped off a few things, me tea kettle and such, and then we headed back out.

Ray laughed as I settled into the driver’s seat of the gray and rust sedan. At least it was an automatic. Although I could manage a stick shift, it had been a good while and my first few blocks following Sylvain’s car had probably given them a few chuckles as they viewed my stops and starts. Once I got the hang of it….

“You sure you can handle this beast, Mae?” Sylvain tried to look concerned but the laughter in his eyes gave him away.

“She’s no beast, sir,” I replied grandly. “Not if you treat her with respect. We’ve come to an understanding in the short time she’s known my touch. No need to call names.”

“She? And I suppose you gave her a name,” Ray joined in. “Ah la femme.”

“Actually, she told me hers,” I smiled. “On the recommendation I keep it to any who might make fun.”

“Of course, Mae.” Sylvain was choking back laughter at the expression on Ray’s face. “Now. Are you sure you want to go through with this on your own? Begonia is…”

“…where Drum is, whether willingly or not. I have to at least find that out. And tell you whether it’s legitimate or bogus. If he’s getting help in some way…well, I won’t know ‘til I get inside.” I turned the key in my car’s ignition, buckled myself in, and nodded. “Let’s go.”

I wasn’t prepared for the unkempt streets and lots we passed as we drove toward Begonia. Sylvain had told me about Katrina, and how his beloved city was still, even now, not recovered in many important ways. I could see that in the vacant lots and empty buildings with peeling paint and debris of every shape and size as part of their décor. Good God, I thought. If Begonia is anything like this….

The blink of the turn signal on Ray’s car brought me out of my thoughts. I couldn’t afford to let anything about my surroundings hinder my task. I had promised Drummond long ago that I would be with him as long as he would have me. Maybe longer. I turned the wheel to negotiate the turn onto Eve and immediately saw the brightly painted sign proclaiming the presence of Begonia Healing.  As I pulled to the curb, I caught sight of my protectors turning yet another corner. Out of sight maybe, but not far from me. Just in case.

The broad walkway to the ground floor entrance of the scarred brick building was nicely lined with small flowers. Pansies perhaps, or some other small botanical. The door opened easily, and I found myself in a cool hallway, just steps away from an area marked Reception/Registration.

Welcome to Begonia Healing and Holistics.” A young woman dressed in scrubs came out from behind a small desk and walked toward me, her hand outstretched. In for a penny, I told myself and went over to meet her.

“I was wondering if you good people were hiring,” I said, thickening me brogue just enough. “I’m in search of a job.”

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