Excerpt from THE GENTEEL POOR
From Chapter 3 "Katherine"
It must have been a cold winter's night during those first
few years in the Bay that Katherine came to this guilt ridden conclusion,
because it was the unlikely weather that caused the motorist to notice her
at the middle of the two mile bridge across the Bay. She must have made a
dramatic sight. A beautiful woman in expensive clothes, be they ever so
worn and outdated, moving with painful slowness against the drizzling wind
and the unhappy goal she had in mind. She was weak with hunger, the cold
damp weather made her arthritis almost crippling, and she was suffering from
'female' complications that only surgery could alleviate. She had convinced
herself that, upon her death, her mother, sister, and wealthy friends would
adopt and provide for her children far better than she could. She hated the
cold and feared the thought of drowning, but could think of no other means
of accomplishing her deed.
I suspect it was Mimi who watched over her granddaughter that
night and slowed her steps as the motorist made his way into town to report
the strange apparition he had seen on the bridge. Surely there was some
guardian angel who insured that the motorist's tale fell upon Dr. Horton's
ears, although the good doctor did not need any prompting to know who the
girl on the bridge was. I only know that, years later, I was told the details
of that night to reassure me of the humanity beneath that old man's gruff exterior.
Dr. Horton probably 'cussed' or, at the very least, 'fumed' as
he tried to crank start his temperamental old Model T Ford coupe on that cold
wet night. Neither was it easy to negotiate through the mists on that rickety
old wooden bridge which shuddered each time its pilings were buffeted by high waves.
Finally, the yellow glow of his headlamps barely revealed her shivering figure
bent over the railing at the deep channel in the center of the bridge. The wind
and water kept her from recognizing his barking voice until he repeated himself.
"Katherine, get in this car, you silly girl."
Katherine shielded her eyes from the headlights, then turned
back to the railing. "I'm all right, Dr. Horton. Please leave me alone."
The chatter of the Model T's engine played a staccato counterpoint
to the wind and rain, and a brief silence took the edge off of Dr. Horton's voice.
"Come here, child."
Katherine lifted a grimly smiling face to the wind as raindrops
camouflaged and washed away her tears. "Really, it's okay. I know what I'm doing."
Katherine moved a few feet away and sat on the lower rung of the railing.
Her arthritis had thwarted her earlier effort to climb the railing. Now, as she sat
beneath it, she looked behind her and wondered if she could fall backwards through the
Dr. Horton exited the car and moved toward her. "Katherine?"
He stopped when she leaned slightly backward and stared at him threateningly.
"So, you know what you're doing, eh, Katherine?"
She looked down into the water. "I know that what I'm doing is in
everyone's best interest."
"In the best interest of your children to lose their mother,
to be separated, to be raised by strangers?"
Katherine stared at the churning sea. "They'd be with their family
and god parents."
Dr. Horton snorted. "An aging widow and an old maid who knows
nothing about boys? And even if the infant's godparents do happen to be millionaires,
ain't no amount of money gonna make that woman human, much less a mother.
Dammit, Katherine, you're the best mother any child could hope to have,
and you'd deny your talents to your own children?"
Katherine spoke in a whisper to the water below. "It's in
everyone's best interest."
The old man hobbled a little closer. "What you say, girl?"
Katherine turned and angrily raised her voice. "I said it's in
everyone's best interest."
Dr. Horton leaned over her. "Well, child, it's not in my best interest."
She wiped the rainwater from her forehead with the back of her
hand and looked up at him perplexed. "Your best interest? What do you mean?"
He threw up his hands. "I mean, how long do you think I'd last down
there trying to fish you outta that water?"
She frowned at him. "You couldn't. You've got a bum leg."
He leaned down again, resting his hands on his knees. "You don't
think that would stop me. You know me well enough to know I'm just like you.
We wouldn't give up on life, ours or anyone else's, until we had spent our
last ounce of strength and our last breath trying. Would we?"
For a long time tears streamed down Katherine's face faster
than the raindrops could wash them away, until finally Dr. Horton said, "Well,
are we gonna jump or are we gonna go home, 'cause we couldn't get any wetter
down there than we're getting up here?"
Katherine threw her arms around him so hard he almost lost
his balance, but she held him too tight to let him fall. Then, wiping the
tears from her eyes, she let him help her into the old Model T which was
still chugging away.
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