This work is dedicated to my Jesuit
at Seattle Prep High School. I learned
the Catholic Church, the dogma and get
This is the best preparation for a
questioning, courageous life.
Dorothy woke to another beautiful June day in her
three-storey Colonial overlooking the Long Island Sound. A cardinal landed on
her windowsill, stretching its all-red wings and wiggling its small body in
satisfaction as it raised its breast to the sun. At 6:00am, the old lady’s body
clock announced, ‘Time to rise and shine.’
Dorothy had slept fitfully. She couldn’t stop
thinking about the TV special on child molestation by Catholic priests in
Boston, Indiana, and San Francisco, that ran for an hour after the previous
evening news. She had become a Catholic because her husband was one. She wasn’t
devout but she did feel the Catholic Church did good work in the community. She
even served on the Catholic Community Service Council as a children’s service
volunteer for Long Island. She could not imagine anyone, especially a priest,
touching any of her charges inappropriately.
But she had to clear her head. It was nearly time for
her first cigarette before breakfast. She pulled the thick bed covers off,
rolled her legs over the side of her four-poster bed and, with some effort for a
seventy-seven-year-old, slipped into her baby blue house slippers beside the big
The old lady stretched her arms up in the air, trying
to reach the ceiling. She swung her thin body down toward the floor, stretching
out her hands to tumble on the rich blue and red Persian carpet. Not bad for a
person approaching eighty years old, she thought.
Moving out of her yoga pose, Dorothy teetered, off
balance, and flung out an arm to catch herself at the windowsill. The cardinal,
seeing the ominous shadow descending, took hurried flight. Dorothy caught the
full window frame with her skinny, varicose-veined arms and hands. Her brain
still spun, her vision blurring as she began to faint. As she slid down the
wall, she caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a man lying face down on the
Dorothy plopped down on the floor to wait for the
spinning to stop. In a minute, she struggled over to the bed and lifted herself
up to her feet. Her first thought was, either I’m having some kind of delusional
spell, or there’s someone passed out on my lawn. How dreadfully inconvenient
either way. First things first: I need a cigarette.
She moved to the closet and pulled out an old sweater
and a pair of slacks. As she passed the mirror, she glimpsed her full head of
long grey hair, her beaked nose. She knew all her neighbours in Douglas Manor,
the wealthy waterside small community where she lived, called her the ‘Witch of
the Manor’. A few of the nasty ladies of the Manor dropped the w and
substituted a b in their invective descriptions. She realised she was a
snob, a recluse, and a terror to anyone who crossed her path uninvited, but what
of it? She couldn’t abide the wealthy women of the Manor, with their brat kids,
inhabiting her space. Hal, her late life mate, had confined his closest friends
to the world banking community in Manhattan and international agency types like
the World Bank and similar organisations in other cities in Europe and Asia. As
a result, more of their time was spent in the city than in the Manor or even
Dorothy held onto the balustrade as she carefully
stepped down the three flights of stairs to the front hall. Still feeling a bit
dizzy, she pulled her frail body across the large living room and her equally
grand dining room, to the small kitchen on the back of the house. The ex-yoga
queen needed a cigarette. She approached the old gas stove shakily, turning on
the first burner and almost simultaneously opening an old-fashioned jar labelled
‘Cookies’ from which she extracted two Lucky Strike cigarettes, her self-imposed
daily quota. She put one of the white tobacco sticks in her mouth and leaned
over the burner—a dangerous and stupid thing to do at any age—but Hal never
cured her of this folly. She didn’t smoke in public. She drew in a long and
satisfying breath. Yes! That’s what I needed.
With her cancer stick lit, she lifted her coffee pot,
filling it with water and coffee grounds and placing it on the same cigarette
lighter burner. She shuffled over to the old wooden table in their
1950s-purchased home. The old chairs remained sturdy. Hal always repaired things
before they wore out: cars, furniture, light fixtures, so almost everything
remained in good condition, just as his investment portfolio did as well.
Dorothy needed to think. After coffee, she planned to
venture out to explore who or what might be on the sidewalk. She puffed. ‘Damn,
it’s Clara’s day off,’ she said out loud. Clara, a young, pretty black girl who
had dropped out of high school at sixteen, had come with the house as a maid.
The previous owners had hired her only three months before they sold the house
so they felt guilty about dropping the young girl and begged the Kennedys to
Now, decades later, Clara and Dorothy behaved like
sisters, not housemaid and lady of the house. They spent more time laughing and
talking than doing any housework. Larger jobs like laundry could be sent out, or
extra people brought in to complete onerous tasks like yard work or prepare
parties. Dorothy sighed again—she hated the idea that they’d have to bring in
others to roust this person imposing himself on her privacy and her lawn.
Dorothy picked up the old black phone, dialling
Clara’s number. Clara answered on the second ring. ‘Dorothy,’ she said before
her mistress could utter a word, ‘this is my long weekend off, and Rufus and I
are going to Boston on the train to be with young Hal. He passed his bar exam.
We’ve not seen him since he received his degree at Boston University Law School.
‘What? Of course, I remember. I am not old, damn
‘So Miz Dorothy, why are you calling?’
‘Well, I may need to talk to the police. There is a
man—dead, half-dead, I’m not sure—on my front sidewalk.’
‘Dorothy. First, Rufus is retired from the police—for
five years now. And second, if he’s a dead white man, call the white cops.’
‘Listen to me, Clara. First, I think he is the black
man who moved into the house next door. I can’t be sure—all I could see is the
back of his head because he lay face down, with black people’s hair; second, if
he is black, the Nassau cops will hush it up. They don’t want black people here,
dead or alive.’
Clara didn’t try to disguise her exaggerated sigh.
‘Well, madam, why don’t you get off your ass and go out and determine who he is
so you can come back and tell me about it. I will wait, but I am not going to
miss the train. We can only wait a few minutes before we dash to the subway for
a train to Boston.’
Dorothy put the phone receiver on its side, pulling
her thin frame out of her chair. She opened the back door, walking slowly
towards the front of her house. It was still early morning. The street was
quiet. The birds were singing. Rather nice, she thought, except, of course, for
The old lady knelt over the creature on the ground
beyond her low dwarf hedges. She crawled over, gingerly touching a shoulder and
shaking it. She peered at a pool of blood coming from underneath the prone man,
noting the small, round bullet hole in his back. The male figure lying in her
view was definitely her new neighbour. Lying prone, he stretched a bit over six
feet, well built with a deep bronze complexion. Even in this position, the man
seemed stately. As Dorothy touched the man’s body, a car drove past, moving too
fast. A woman in the passenger side peered out the window, catching Dorothy’s
eye, but quickly averted her gaze.
Well, do I put a blanket over him like in the
movies? she wondered. She stood up, straightened her stiff
back, and shuffled back to her phone.
‘Clara, it is my neighbour, Jack Borne, the black
guy. Dead for sure. He is the first black to move into this neighbourhood and—’
Clara interrupted, ‘Jesus, Dot, let me talk to
A moment later, Clara’s husband came on the line.
‘Mrs. Kennedy, Clara outlined the issues. Please do not, I emphasise, do
not touch him or anything. I will call the Nassau County Sheriff’s
Office. A young friend of mine is on the force and he will take it from there.
Here is my cell number. You got a piece of paper and a pen?’
‘Yes, I do, Detective,’ Dorothy responded with
authority in her voice.
Five minutes later, Dorothy heard sirens blaring and
three police cars pulled up in front of her house.