Pamela Prescott exited the train depot onto Jackson Boulevard and crossed the Canal Street Bridge. She was on her way to Chicago’s Loop to the see the film Harold and Maude.
She paused as she neared the Très Elégant Woman’s Apparel Shop. There was a sign in the display window.
For the Discriminating Woman Over 50.
She chuckled as she read it, ‘That’s me alright,’ but it was the mannequin behind the sign which held her interest. It wore a forest floor green dress fashioned from a material with which she was not familiar. She would take a closer look at this garment on her way back to the train station. Forest Floor Green was a favorite color, one that brought back painful memories of the past, of love lost, of new beginnings, of contentment, and eventually happiness.
She enjoyed the film as well as the elegant interior of the old Chicago Movie Theatre. The live entertainment, in-between the double features, was also fun. She did not recognize the name of the comedian but he was very funny. She could not remember laughing so much. It was a good feeling, one she had not experienced that often.
She left as the second feature began and stopped at the Lola Palooza Soup and Sandwich Bar on Lake Street for a bite to eat before catching her train home to Arlington Heights. She chatted with Claudette, the barista, complimenting her on the delightful meal she was having. She understood the joy Claudette exuded when she found out that she was not only the barista but also the owner. Pamela found it comforting to meet such an outgoing individual. This would definitely be a stopping place on her next visit to the city. With time to spare before her train, she tarried at the luncheon bar, enjoying the atmosphere. She left a generous tip and waved to Claudette as she left.
It was a beautiful hazy autumn afternoon as Pamela strolled up Jackson Boulevard. She smiled to herself as she recalled the film she had just seen. Vivian Pickles played the part of Mrs. Chasen, Harold’s Mother. It was a comedic performance not easily forgotten.
A soft breeze from Lake Michigan added comfort to the day as she made her way to the ladies apparel shop. She thought of Peter, her late husband, and was somewhat surprised when she realized he had been gone almost two years. It seemed like only yesterday he was making plans for retirement. She missed his devotion to her happiness. Freddie and Francis were grown and on their own, leaving her alone for the first time in many years and, perhaps, a little lonely. But, she was content. For that she was grateful.
The lovely forest floor green dress she admired earlier was still there. She regarded her image in the reflection of the display window. In spite of her years, she had kept her figure. As she smiled at the accomplishment she noticed The Olde Book Shoppe behind her on the other side of the street. She was surprised as she did not recall seeing it when she came into town that morning. She turned, looked at her watch and decided to cross the street and have a closer look at this unique bookshop. The green dress at Très Elégant would have to wait.
As she approached the display window of the bookshop she noticed an old trunk similar to the one she had filled with her trousseau of long ago. The dress draped over the opening of the trunk was also green. Upon closer inspection, a sense of familiarity came over her. She remembered in great detail the green dress she had purchased for her wedding trousseau, one she never wore after that unhappy day.
Nevertheless, she found this shop interesting. She checked her watch again and decided to go in and browse before going home. A bell tinkled as she opened and closed the front door. The atmosphere of old books and the smell of aged wood was comforting. She felt at home here and did not fully understand why. She had never been in this shop before.
It appeared she was quite alone and wondered if there was a shopkeeper about. “Hello.”
“I’ll be with you in a moment,” came a gentle voice from the back of the store.
Pamela browsed until she noticed an open book on the round table in the center of the room. As she drew closer to the book she was impressed with the quality of the craftsmanship. She touched the parchment page that lay open and then noticed the white cotton gloves lying next to the volume. She appreciated the care that was being taken in protecting this fine volume as she slipped her hands into the gloves.
The illustration on the right-hand page appeared to be a colorful fairy tale. The text on the opposite page was beautifully rendered in calligraphy but in a foreign language, one with which she was not familiar. She experienced a twinge of regret in not having taken advantage of those language classes offered in high school. Now that she had more time on her hands, perhaps she would look into taking an adult class in some language. French or German or maybe both.
She closed the book and admired the cover. The gold filigree border around the title, The Magic of Fairy Tales, glittered against the leather binding. She smoothed her hand over the surface of the cover before lifting the book, placing it on its spine and letting the book open again, laying it gently on the surface of the table.
The book opened to a different page this time. She immediately noticed the grimness of the illustration. It appeared to be a prison cell of some sort. Heavy dark gray bars at the forefront and the shadow of a seated figure in the background. He was slumped over with his head buried in his hands.
“Good afternoon, my dear.”
Pamela looked up and saw an elderly man step through a partition curtain.
“May I be of any assistance?” She noticed his sparkling crystal blue eyes smiling at her over gold-rimmed glasses perched on the end of his nose.
“Oh, good afternoon. I just stopped in to browse before catching my train home. Would that be alright?”
“Yes, of course. Please, make yourself at home.”
“Are you the owner of this shop?”
“Yes, I am. My name is Morris.”
“This book,” Pamela looked down at the volume in front of her and placed her gloved fingers on the illustration.
“Yes, isn’t it lovely?”
“Yes, it is, but this page seems rather grim.”
Morris moved closer to the table. “Perhaps the story will be of interest to you.”
“I don’t think so. I prefer stories with happiness in them. There doesn’t appear to be any happiness here.”
“It’s a very old book. I’m not certain but it may be hundreds or even thousands of years old.”
“Thousands of years? Not very likely. Nothing lasts that long and looks as beautiful as this book.”
“That may be the magic of it,” Morris smiled.
“Magic?” Pamela looked up at Morris.
“You don’t believe in magic, do you?” He smiled sympathetically.
“No, I’m afraid I don’t.” Pamela moved back slightly.
“What is it, my dear?”
“I thought I saw movement.” Pamela was astonished at what she thought she had seen.
“Yes, I know. That is not unusual. I’ve seen and heard about movement within these illustrations before. It’s the magic part.”
“That’s incredible. This must be an evil book.” Pamela moved back a few more steps and stared at Morris.
“Oh no, my dear. You are mistaken. In all the time I have had this book, only good has come from it. The many who have encountered this book have always come away much happier, often proclaiming it a blessing to them. Perhaps you should have a closer look. I’m confident no harm will come to you.” Morris smiled and moved back to the partition curtain. “The decision is yours, but I would suggest you take advantage of what it may have to offer you. I’ll be in the back if you require further assistance. Good afternoon, my dear.”
“Good afternoon, Morris. Thank you,” She was puzzled but not convince of what Morris had said. Curiosity, however, got the better of her. She moved to the edge of the table to observe.
The quality of the illustration changed. It was more like a photograph. The shadowed figure in the background was no longer slumped over. It was sitting erect. She stiffened as she saw the figure rise to a standing position. As it began to move toward her, she heard, “Pamela?” whispered.
No one ever called her Pamela. She was Pam to everyone as long as she could remember. Morris did not know her name. And the sound of the voice, which seemed to come from the book, did not sound like his. She backed away. A chill went up and down her spine. Her instinct told her to leave immediately. She was afraid.
She hesitated at the front door of the shop, thinking she should tell Morris she was leaving but decided against it. She would never return so it made little difference if she spoke to him. She hurried toward the train station.
When she reached the Canal Street Bridge she glanced back. Her jaw dropped slightly in astonishment. The Olde Book Shoppe was not there. She hurried across the bridge and into the terminal.
As the train left the train shed, Pamela sighed and began to review the event that had just transpired. She had forgotten about the film she had seen earlier in the day. All she could think of was that book and the moving image in the illustration. Now that she had time to think about it, all those bars in the foreground of the illustration must have been some kind of prison and the figure in the shadow was a prisoner. Yes, that was the only logical answer.
She concluded it was nothing, a coincident. Anyone could have opened that book and come across that illustration. It didn’t move. It was her imagination fed by that old man, what was his name? Morris. He was the one who made all those suggestions. And she fell for it. Pamela pinched her lips and shook her head slightly.
She closed her eyes and sighed. She would be home soon and all this would be forgotten. She found it difficult to believe she had been so vulnerable as to believe all that stuff and nonsense about magic.
She sighed again and tried to put it out of her mind. It was the sound of that voice whispering her given name that lingered. Now that she thought about it, the voice had a familiarity about it.
“Arlington Heights,” the conductor called out as he passed through the coach. Pamela was surprised she was home already. She must have dozed off. She smiled at the silliness of the afternoon as she stepped off of the train and began her journey home. She lived four blocks from the depot. It was a pleasant walk through and old well-established neighborhood.
She heard the phone ringing as she entered her home through the side door. “Hello.”
“Hi, mom. How was your day?” came the cheerful voice of her daughter, Francis.
“Hi, Francis. Oh, it was a wonderful film. I’m happy I went to see it.” Pamela stopped short of telling her of the experience she had in the bookshop.
“I’ve been thinking about you all day. Everything okay?”
“Everything is fine. I was just about to begin dinner. I’ll call you later, or tomorrow and tell you all about the film. It was very funny and heartwarming.”
“Bye, sweetie.” Pamela put the phone down. She was glad she had not mentioned the bookshop incident.
She was finishing up the evening dishes when she heard a car drive in. She wasn’t expecting anyone. The rev of the car engine told her it was Frederick, her son. As the side door opened, “Hi Mom.”
“I just came to get some of Dad’s tools unless you think you need them.”
“No, no, go ahead. Take whatever you want.” She heard him go into the basement. Several minutes later he bounded up the stairs into the kitchen, “Thanks, Mom.” He kissed her cheek and paused, “You okay?”
“Just tired. I went into the city to see a film.” She smiled at her handsome son. How he had matured and looked so much like his father.
“Okay, see you Sunday. Bye.” The screen door slammed as he left. The engine revved and he was gone. She was alone again.
She thought of Freddie’s father and how much she missed him. She cared for him a great deal but made sure he never suspected that she did not love him. The only reason she married him was because of his relentless pursuit. He loved and cherished her during their entire marriage, and provided the companionship she so desperately needed to help forget being left at the altar several years earlier.
She was to become Mrs. Clark MacGregor. Everything was ready. She remembered the green dress she had purchased for their wedding trip – and never wore it. Friends and relatives tried to comfort Pamela, telling her she was lucky he got cold feet before the ceremony, saving her from the disaster of a bad marriage.
She didn’t argue with them, but she knew they were wrong. Clark would never have disappeared without a word. It wasn’t his nature to be cruel. She never doubted that. But she did wonder what had happened. Where was he? Why did this happen? She thought and hoped that her love for this man would have waned with time, but it never did.
As she placed the dinner dishes in their cupboard, she glanced at her left hand and the engagement ring Clark had given her. She put it away during her marriage to Peter but began wearing it after Peter’s passing. No one noticed the switch. It was a silly thing to do but it made her feel good.
She touched the ring and remembered something that caught her breath. There was someone, after all, who called her Pamela. It was Clark. He refused to call her Pam. He thought it too childish. She hadn’t thought of it in years. Perhaps the voice she heard, thought she heard, coming from that book at the bookshop was just a long forgotten memory speaking to her.
As she readied for bed, the thought of the prison cell scene came back to her. What was that all about? She tossed and turned throughout the night, waking occasionally with the same thought.
When dawn broke, Pamela was wide awake. She had made a decision. She would go back to the bookshop and find out more about the prison cell. That is if the bookshop was there. The whole incident was filled with so much mystery. She was determined to find some answers.
Pamela stepped off the early train and headed for the Jackson Boulevard exit. As she neared the Canal Street Bridge she searched ahead and gave a sigh of relief, the bookshop was there. How or why it was there did not matter. She hurried across the bridge and slowed her step as she approached the Olde Book Shoppe store front.
The little bell above the door tinkled as she entered. She immediately heard the shuffling of slippers across the floor boards in the back. “Good morning, my dear. I’m so happy to see you again.”
“Good morning, Morris. I apologize for leaving the other day without a word to you.”
“That’s perfectly all right. Now, did you wish to look at the magical Fairy Tale book again?” he grinned.
“Yes, I would, if that’s alright.”
“Of course it is. You just take your time. I think you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise today.”
“Thank you, Morris, I certainly hope so,” she moved to the round table in the center of the room. The fairy tale book lay as she had left it. As she approached, she saw hands clenching the bars. She paused, the fear she experienced before returned. She stood fast to her conviction to find an answer.
She stepped forward and heard it again, “Pamela?” It was a questioning whisper this time, but there was no doubt where it was coming from.
She leaned forward, “Yes, I’m here.” She still was unable to distinguish the features of the figure behind the bars. “Who are you?” There was no response, only silence. She asked again, “Who are you?”
“You’ve already forgotten me?”
“What is your name?”
Pamela was shaken by the sound of that name, “Clark who?”
“My name is Clark McGregor.”
Pamela’s heart quickened. “I know of no such person.” She wanted to make sure.
“You have forgotten me. For that I am sorry. But it is probably for the best.”
“Where are you now?”
She knew her Clark had done nothing to deserve prison, “Why are you in prison?”
“I killed a man,” came a doleful response.
“Are you guilty?” Pamela knew her Clark could never hurt anyone. Her question was tinged with coldness.
“Yes,” came a barely audible reply.
“Well, I’m very sorry for you, but you are not the Clark McGregor I knew. He would never hurt anyone. I wish you well. I’m leaving now.” Pamela got up and turned toward the front door of the bookshop.
“I see you still wear my engagement ring.”
“What?” Pamela turned back to the book, “What did you say?” she came up to the table and leaned down.
“I see you are wearing my engagement ring.” Pamela collapsed onto a chair and cried out, “Oh,
Clark, my dear, Clark . . .”
Morris entered the room, “I’m sorry, my dear but we’re closing. You’ll have to leave. Thank you for visiting.” He walked up to Pamela and took her arm to help her stand.
“I can’t leave. Please, Morris.”
“I’m sorry, my dear. Your need has been met so now you must leave.” He ushered the confused Pamela to the front door, opened it and escorted her outside. ‘Good-bye, my dear.” Morris shut the door.
Pamela stood transfixed, staring at the façade of The Olde Book Shoppe as it began to disappear. She began to sob pitifully as the last glimmer of the bookshop and the love of her life faded away again. Standing alone in front of the blank wall of the parking structure, she turned and walked slowly toward the Canal Street Bridge. She composed herself as best she could, crossed the bridge and entered the train terminal.
As she moved through the great hall she thought she heard her name called. She kept walking thinking it was her imagination playing more tricks on her. Then she heard it again, “Pamela!” She stopped and turned around only to see a tall middle-aged stranger walking toward her. He stopped a short distance from her. “Hello, Pamela.”
“Clark?” she could hardly believe her eyes. He smiled and nodded.
“I just found out you were in prison – for murder. Is that true?”
He nodded, “Yes, Pamela. It’s true. How did you know?”
“You would never believe me.”
“How have you been?” he asked with the gentleness in his voice she remembered so well.
“I’ve been content.”
“I’m glad for that. And your children, Francis, and Frederick, how are they?”
“They’re fine. But, how did you know?”
“Yes. She kept me informed of your life.”
“That’s impossible. Marge has never kept a secret in all her life.”
“I made her promise.”
“Why didn’t you let me know where you were?”
“I was arrested the day before our wedding and had no opportunity of communicating with you. When I was able, I decided silence would be less painful for both of us. I got in touch with Marge and made her swear on a stack of bibles never to tell you.”
“That must have been a pretty big stack.” Pamela chuckled. “She never hinted that she knew.”
She remembered how her sister had changed toward her after the canceled wedding. She was kinder and more considerate. Pamela decided it was out of sympathy but now she knew it wasn’t that at all.
Clark smiled lovingly at Pamela, “I hope I did the right thing.”
“Yes, it probably was the best decision. Back then, I don’t know what I would have done. Of course, you know I married.”
“Yes, there isn’t much I don’t know about you, thanks to Marge. She told me when Peter passed. I am sorry.”
He was a wonderful man. The children are all grown now. How often I thought how it would have been if they were our children.”
“Did you love him?”
Pamela hesitated, “I cared a great deal for him, Clark. But no, I did not love him. How could I?
“Oh, Pamela, I am so sorry.”
“No need, Clark. So, tell me, what are your plans?”
“Finding you, and hoping we could be friends.”
“Yes, Clark. Of course. I would very much like that.”
Pamela smiled as tears welled in her eyes. “Are you hungry? You look drawn.”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. I could eat a bear.”
“Well, come along with me. I know just the place. The Lola Palooza Soup and Sandwich Bar.”
“The what?” Clark laughed.
Pamela’s spirits soared at the sound of Clark’s laughter. How she had missed it.
“The barista’s name is Claudette. You’ll love her.”
“What about your train?”
“There will be another.” Pamela put her arm through Clark’s and led him to the exit. “Where are you staying?”
“At the Palmer House.”
“Why don’t you come stay with me? I have a big house with no one in it except me.”
“What will people say? What will they think?” Clark smiled devilishly.
“You know, Clark. I don’t give a damn what they say or think. I’m through living a life that is expected of me. From now on I’m going to live according to my heart’s desire. What do you think of that?”
“Sounds good to me. But the children. Have you thought of their reaction?”
“They will be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, my dear. I’m sure. Frances found my diary stored away in the attic. She knows all about you. When Peter passed away she told me she had read it. We talked about it in great detail. She and Fredrick will be surprised to meet you but I’m certain they will grow to love you as I do.”
Clark took Pamela’s hand and kissed it gently. “I will take you up on your offer.”
“Oh, Clark. I’m so glad.”