I remember the day the detective moved into 307. I watched from my window and wondered about the new tenant. He is a big man, tall enough that I have to crane my neck to look up at him. Back then he walked like a soldier, he still does, just not all the times like he did then. I remember thinking he didn't bring much with him. When I realized he was the same man who I'd seen on the cover of the magazine, I understood. That was a long time ago.
There was the day that I first met him. His pale, haunted eyes reminded me of people I hadn't seen in nearly fifty years. I am too disciplined to show fear or pain, but his eyes flicked over to me in the elevator. It was years before I ever allowed him to catch me alone in the elevator again. It was years before I learned that the detective was a decent man. Oh, I knew he was a good police officer; had been a great soldier. But there is a big difference between a good policeman or a good soldier and a good man.
The day he brought his bride home, I watched. They were smiling and happy. She was a beautiful bride, all white lace -- glowing and blushing when I wished them a long happy life. It didn't last long. The silences, the arguments that shook the wall we shared. The long undercover stints when he didn't come home. When she left, the movers took everything she had brought. I watched that too. On that day, I actually felt for him. I knocked on his door, offered him a six pack of beer and went home. I remember thinking his eyes weren't haunted any longer. They were dead, devoid of anything.
After that, the only time I knew he was home was when his music would ring through my quiet. But that was rare... sadly rare. By then I already knew a lot about James Ellison, good policeman, good soldier, lonely person. Most of us are, not that many people really understood. I think he did. I remember that was about the time he first acknowledged me in the hallway. Knowing he knew who I was relief and fear. I watched him, from my window as he tinkered with his automobile.
Everyone knew he was police. Everyone in the neighborhood knew because he had been in the newspaper. He had done his job and saved someone's life. I remember reading about it and wondering how a man with such dead eyes could save someone. It was a mystery. I understand mystery. Mystery is the way of life.
It was a few years back that things changed. The detective became... driven. I had seen him come in the day of a bad case; clothes torn, bruises on his face, bandages, smelling of gunpowder... that is a scent you can never forget. But this was different. For a moment, memories of men about to break flooded me... that is what he looked like. Fragile, cracked and breaking. I avoided him then, I am not afraid to admit that. I did not want to be there when he broke. Men like him, they take everything with them, including everyone who happens to be nearby.
One day I ran into a boy, well, a young man in the elevator. Long haired, bright smile, torn clothes... clean but disgracefully torn, earrings, friendly like a young growing puppy that had not yet learned the hardship of life. I remember thinking the boy had missed the sixties and their so called freedom years, I also thought he would have fit in perfectly. Somehow, he made me smile and his smile grew because of mine. It was an odd feeling, to care again. Then he knocked on the detective's door and I must have made a sound because the boy turned and smiled again. The detective knew him and actually let him in the door. I knew that I was missing something, but I am not one to ask.
I watched from my window as the detective helped the boy... no he is a man now, was one then too, pull boxes from an old car and bring them into the building. I remember thinking the boy must be the younger brother or maybe a cousin. I nodded to myself. Family is good for the soul. I nodded to them both in the hallways after that. That was when the detective started smiled again. I hadn't seen him smile since his wife left.
Everyday, the young one would say hello to me in the halls, always with a smile even when he was obviously distracted. I would see him in the market down the road or in the park and he would come by to say hello. I watched him and the detective. I ignored the music that made my pictures jump. I found the poor lad's spare key one day when I tripped over the welcome mat he had put out. The detective was out the door and helping me up in less than a minute. He apologized, his eyes startled and worried about me. That was when I knew. Somehow the boy had found the detective's soul and returned it to him. That was a good thing to do. It was the right thing.
That was when I found myself watching them. The detective knew I was watching. He would look up at me and nod. I would nod back, through the curtain. In the park, if his friend had not been by, the detective would ask if I had seen him yet that day. But as days went past, the detective didn't need to ask. He knew without fail where the boy had been.
The park down the street is a good place to watch people. The detective and the student, that is what I finally found out he was go there often. Well, he works at the police department too... he observes. I do not quite understand that term. I had never met an observer before, and I remember thinking it must be some sort of special police officer. The detective was often silent in the park, listening to the observer. That one, he was always moving, always doing. The detective would sometimes laugh and order him to sit still. I laughed the first time I saw him do that, the detective looked up and winked, still laughing.
One night, I saw a shadow in the skylights. I waited, wondering if it was burglars or worse. It was worse. I heard and felt the door go down next door. I called for the police but the lines were busy that night. Not long after I finally got through, the detective raced through the hall. He knew, he knew before I could tell him what I had seen. It has been a long time since I have seen such devastation. The detective looked as if he had lost the most precious thing in his life.
I waited until the dawn, praying through the night. I remember the relief in my heart when the detective half carried and half led the boy into the building. I had seen them coming and met them with the elevator. Both men nodded to me and I nodded back. For days afterwards, the observer was silent, still, pale as the ghosts that visit me at night. It took a long time, but he recovered with the help of the detective.
The days past and suddenly it had been months since the observer had moved into the loft next door. I remember the day the detective brought home doors for the boy's room. He was trying to wrestle them up the stairs when I first saw them. I don't use the stairs, they are hard for me; but that day I did. I ignored the detective's quiet words and took one end of the glass door. After a few moments he gave up and let me assist. Glass is heavy and awkward. He could have done it alone, but I am strong still and saw no reason to make him do so. The observer was all smiles and thanks the next time I saw him, so I guess the detective told him I had helped. All I did was be neighborly.
The detective changed, expanded, became a good person under the eye of his friend. They would have the other detectives over for cards. On those nights, the laughter echoed through my loft as well as theirs. I could feel the quiet friendship and the louder release of their tensions. Police are like soldiers, I remember thinking, they have to release what they see and feel at their jobs. After that I always added a prayer for them when I lit my candle. Their friends too.
Not that having them next door was always nice. The two men could find the oddest things to fight over. Color codes and late night noises. Women and duty. Friendship and roles. Then there are the people who have come after them. Men with guns, men with loud angry voices, hard faces, vicious tendencies. I have removed all the momentos from the wall that I share with them. It saves my memories from harm.
The day that the detective took everything out of his loft frightened me. The look I had seen on the guards fifty years ago, it was on his face as he hauled things past my door to the elevator. I did not offer to help. I knew better. Death walked in the guise of the detective. Everything he owned he carried down the stairs, not waiting for the elevator. I listened, hearing things being tossed haphazardly into boxes and then dragged out the door. I wondered what had happened. I thought the worst, the boy had been killed in a police shoot out ( they were always getting hurt by criminals, my neighbors were). But what was happening was even worse. The detective kicked him out of his loft, the home he had lived in for three years. The next day, the boy was dead, killed by a criminal. But the Lord sent him back here, his works were unfinished.
He is back. The observer. I prayed with joy the day he came back and the detective let him in. I think everyone in the building sighed in relief that day. I remember the tears on my face as I told my joy. The women in the building, married, divorced, widowed, young and old, they all stopped by to welcome him and to praise the detective with their quiet appreciation of his return. Both seemed dazed by this. I understood. I have seen its like before in another world.
When I was attacked by the rough boys who gather to laugh at those of us who follow the old ways, I thought it was the end. I thought I would die, alone and unnoticed. I have lived a long life and have few regrets. My children have grown and so have their children. None of them lives in Cascade, they write me often but it is not the same. I knew they would mourn me, but it would be a long time before anyone would find me. That I regretted. The teachings are firm about death and the proper timing of things.
To this day, I have no idea why the detective decided to break down my door. The ruffians had painted evil things on my door, yes, but there was no way he could have known I was lying on my floor bleeding slowly to my death. He did know. I thought at first they had returned. I closed my eyes and waited for the death blow. Instead, I felt gentle hands and heard a soft voice. I opened my eyes to meet theirs. The detective looked grim, the student, he cried as he whispered to me. He whispered prayers for me, prayers I could not sing he sang. I had not known he was of the faith. For him I held on. How could I not? All of his prayers were prayers for strength, for healing, for life. None were for the passing over.
When I woke again, I was in a hospital room. Beside me was a note, carefully scripted in flowing ornamental letters. A wish for healing. I was not the only one who knew the old ways. Sitting on a chair outside my door was a police officer. When the nurse came in the room, so did he. He told me that the detective would be back soon and so would the observer. They had chosen wisely in this officer. He was young, his eyes alive with light. He was also dedicated to protecting me from the ones who had put me here. He made that very clear. So did his relief.
Several days later, in the afternoon, my younger neighbor entered. The light in his step, the joy in his eyes it was infectious. I smiled against the pain. In his arms he carried a box as if it held the treasures of the universe. Behind him came the detective, no longer so grim faced. My guard followed him, carrying a smaller box. While the boy and the police officer fiddled with what was in the box, carefully keeping their back between me and the table where they worked, the other told me that they had arrested the ones who had broken into my home. I nodded, knowing that was good, but it had been long enough that I knew my losses would be great. The detective understood and nodded, admitting that the most valuable pieces were already sold.
Then, as he told me that there was some pieces the thieves had been unable to sell, the two men at the table moved. There it stood. Four hundred years of legacy, gleaming brightly on a white cloth. Beside it sat a worn leather bound book, its ancient binding was cracked from misuse, but it was still in one piece. I felt my eyes fill with tears. Against hospital policy and regulation, we lit the candle at the first touch of dusk. They sang quietly, the words comforting in their familiarity. Me, I listened, wishing for the first time since the day I lost my voice to experiments that I could still sing. I knew that this day the words were heard above.
I consider both of them friends. We nod when we pass by. I play chess in the park and sometimes one or the other of them plays too. I have yet to win against the detective, his mind is too orderly and strategic for that. The student, he I have beaten and he has beaten me.
Yes, I heard the commotion about the detective being a superman this past spring. I ignored it. I ignored the reporters. When it got too bad I had groceries delivered to my door and then took them next door. Those two poor men could not leave the building without being mobbed. I think it shocked the young one's mother when they came over to my house for Sabbath prayers and dinner. She looked around wide eyed and then wordlessly pulled her shawl up. She may no longer practice but she taught him well so she knew the proper words. For her son's sake she acted properly, as if she understood. Here they both were welcomed no matter who or what they were.
I still watch them. I still play chess with them. Some days are good.
Some days are bad. But they gave me a new chance at life. They also gave
me something I had unknowingly missed... as I said, they are my friends.
I have few friends left, at my age that is to be expected. These two, I
think they will outlive me. That would be nice.