The Story of a Little Girl


ChicagoTunnelKid

 

 

Vincent stood in shadows, under an overhang of a business long ago shuttered. It was not the first night he stood there. He watched a huddled young figure across and down the street: a waif, probably all of seven or eight years old. She only wore a thin dress, and summer nights still saw a temperature drop. She would cover herself with scraps of cardboard to sleep.  

It bothered Vincent. He spoke to Zach and a few of the other children, and they set out to learn what they could, and perhaps befriend her and bring her Below.

 

Tunnel kids are a savvy group, and knew not to overwhelm her all at once. They also knew patience would be needed, for trust levels are hard-won with such children, cast-offs wary of anyone and everyone. So the kids worked out a schedule, an order for “meeting” the young girl so as to make it seem natural, and progressively more of them at a time. They hoped to befriend her, so if she wouldn’t come with them, they might help her Above.

 

Zach made sure to stuff a few of William’s biscuits and pieces of cheese into his pocket before leaving. He made a point of hanging around her area, riding his skateboard all around, and laughing and talking with Kipper and Samantha. The two of them left, but Zach stayed to play. He rode closer to her, and sent his skateboard soaring off to one side of her, a distance away, but he was able to “crash” near her spot.

 

“Oh, hey, I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to startle ya or nothin’, my wheel musta hit a rock of something.” He looked at her as he spoke. Her eyes watched him warily. “My name’s Zach. What’s yours?”

 

He waited what he thought was an eternity. The little girl did not speak.

 

“I get it. You are one of those women of mystery.” He exaggerated a wink. Zach settled on the ground with his legs crossed in front of him. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the biscuits and cheese and began to eat. He offered the other biscuit to the girl. Her eyes never wavered from the food he offered, yet she did not reach for it.  He finished his biscuit after setting the other on his napkin.

 

He stood and brushed himself off, conveniently leaving the extra biscuit behind. “Well, guess it’s time I take off. See ya!” He gave a jaunty wave, reclaimed his board, and skated off with a brief look behind. Her hand came up it a half-hearted wave. Zach smiled.

 

The three returned the next day, and it was Kipper’s turn to stay. When the three were together, they made sure to have a lot of give and take between them, showing the regard they had for each other. Kipper was “learning” to rollerskate from the other two, and when they left, he stayed to practice some more. The sidewalks in this stretch of town were not kept in repair, which made skating a challenge, and encouraged skating in the street. So Kipper decided he would skate in the street, and make a jump up on the curb to the sidewalk, and crash nearby. It was a jump he could make with his eyes closed, but not today.

 

He let out a yowl when he crashed, not entirely for show. His ankle got banged pretty good.

 

“Man, that hurts!” He looked down at his skate, which was hanging off his shoe, and noticed a cut on his ankle. He looked and saw the young girl watching him. “You don’t have something I can use to wipe my cut, do you?” On the face of it, it seemed silly to ask a young child living on the street for something for a cut, but Kipper knew that asking for help respected a person’s ability to provide help, by any means a person might have. He hoped that included this little girl.

 

She turned from him and her hand disappeared beneath some cardboard and brought out a rag. He took it with “Thanks!” and wiped off the blood and held it to the cut. He made a show of checking it as he talked about how hard learning to skate seemed to be.

 

“Do you skate?” Kipper asked. Nothing. Not a peep. “I was just thinking, if you could, you could show me what I did wrong, but hey, that’s okay. Maybe I’ll get better and can show you sometime.” He unstrapped his other skate, gathered both up, and stood. “Well, I got to get back. See ya!” He gave a wave since Zach said she waved back to him, and sure enough, he got the same tentative wave.

 

Samantha’s turn came next. These three were crafty in thinking that a young girl might not warm up as much to two boys, but yet seeing how nice they were would help open the door to Samantha. It was time to see if their strategy would pay off.

 

They were playing a version of tag, street tag, which involves a lot of running, ducking, and hiding in doorways and behind cars. In no time, the three were out of breath and taking a break, when Zach and Kipper “remembered” they had to be somewhere pronto, and left Samantha. She pretended to be hurt that they left her, and sat in a huff not far from the little girl.

 

“Boys!” she said. “Who needs ‘em! They ditch girls all the time, like if they hung around with us too much, they might catch girl germs or something.”

 

Samantha watched the young girl out of the corner of her eye. She was pretty sure she was listening. She pulled out the snack she had packed for their outing, plenty to leave for the young girl. Samantha was hoping that the girl would accept an offering.

 

“Want a biscuit? William bakes ‘em real good.” She held one out. The little girl eyed it, then Samantha, then the biscuit again. Tentatively, she reached out. Samantha held it perched on her palm, her hand flat. The little girl decided, and quickly snatched it off. Samantha acted as if everyone snatched biscuits from hands that quickly.

 

She held out some cheese chunks to the little girl, and this time, the decision was almost instantaneous, and the cheese went the way of the biscuit.

 

The two munched in silence.  Finally, Samantha introduced herself. “I’m Samantha. Not Sam, Samantha.” She looked at the girl. She explained, “Some people like to shorten names, but I like my whole name. Vincent said it was a beautiful name.”

 

“What’s your name?” she asked. Silence. Finally, the little girl looked away. “That’s okay. You don’t have to tell me.” Samantha stood up and brushed off her clothes. “Well, I better head back before I’m missed. Bye!” She waved and got the same slight wave back the two boys had gotten.

 

The young group ventured to Vincent’s chamber to report on their progress. They were discouraged.

 

“We’re gettin’ nowhere, Vincent,” Kipper started.

 

“Yeah, nothin’ really to report,” Zach echoed.

 

“She at least ate with me, but still wouldn’t say a word.” Samantha couldn’t help feeling proud of her accomplishment with the girl.

 

“I appreciate all you’ve done, and the time you have devoted to this little girl,” Vincent looked at each of them. “She gave you nothing?” he inquired one last time, hoping for the slightest tidbit of hope.

 

Three heads shook their heads “no” in unison.

 

That night, Vincent went up again to see the little girl. He noticed nothing had changed – still in a ragged dress, still living under cardboard. Vincent kept vigil for most of the night before returning to the tunnels. On the walk back, he admitted it was time to involve Catherine, and decided he would talk with her tonight.

 

He managed a couple hours of sleep before the rigors of the day started. By late evening, he was on his way to Catherine’s balcony. He rapped lightly on the glass of the balcony door.

 

She came out and into his arms for a hug. He enjoyed this part of their evenings. She expected a hug from him. She didn’t wait for him, she took it, as if it was her right. And it was, he thought; she at least deserved a hug.

 

“I wasn’t expecting you,” she said. “What is the cause of my good fortune?” Her eyes twinkled at his.

 

He released her from the circle of his arms, and walked over to lean against the balcony wall.

 

“I need your help.” He paused. “A child needs your help.”

 

“I’ll do whatever I can, you know that, Vincent. What is the problem?”

 

“There is a child, a young girl no more than 10 years old ... she’s living on the street with nothing.”

 

“Has anyone talked to her?”

 

“I sent Zach, Kipper, and Samantha. They took their time, individually tried to make contact, but ... all they got was a wave.” He slowly shook his head. “Not one sound would she make.”

 

He looked up at Catherine with sad eyes. “What happens to a child to make them mute?”

 

“Is she deaf, maybe?”

 

Vincent shook his head. “No, the children say that she reacted to the words they would say. She hears them, she just won’t speak.”

 

“How long do you think she has been on the streets?”

 

“I only know when I became aware of her – three weeks ago.”

 

“A 10 year-old girl has been living on the street for three weeks?” All of Catherine’s outrage burst forth. “Can’t you take her Below?” The question came out accusatory.

 

“The children tried. She wouldn’t budge.” Vincent looked at her. “We can hardly kidnap a child in broad daylight and lead her Below.” He stepped closer to her. “You are her last hope, Catherine. We will gladly accept her Below if that is best for her. But she must be off the street before something unimaginable happens.”

 

They stood looking at one another. “Take me to her ... now, Vincent.”

 

A nod of his head sent her inside for a light jacket and a flashlight before heading out her door to meet him Below at her threshold.

 

Vincent let the way through the tunnels until reaching a place with a manhole cover above. He went up first, lifted and moved the heavy cover aside, and climbed out. He checked around before holding his hand down to help her out. He set the cover back on and started off, expecting Catherine to follow.

 

Going places takes longer when you take a circuitous route for safety’s sake, Catherine noted to herself. They stayed close to buildings, ducking down alleyways, and staying away from well-lit places. Eventually, he stopped, and motioned for her to come up to his side.

 

“There she is,” he whispered.

 

Her eyes strained to see in the dark. “Where, Vincent? I don’t see anything,” she whispered back.

 

He pointed to an area strewn with garbage.

 

“That’s garbage,” she whispered.

 

“Look under,” he responded.

 

It took a minute, but she finally saw a small shoe and a bit of ankle under a large piece of cardboard box.

 

“My God,” she whispered.

 

“What do you want to do?” Vincent asked, in case he could help.

 

“I’m not sure. I’ll play it by ear.” She looked at him directly. “It may come to the point where I’ll just have to take her, Vincent. If she fights me, I’ll need your help.”

 

He nodded.

 

She left the side of the building and walked across the street to where the garbage lay strewn. She noticed the small foot quickly disappeared under the cardboard.

 

Catherine sat on the sidewalk next to the box cover.

 

“You don’t know me,” she said, “but my name is Catherine, and I think you’ve met some friends of mine – Zach, Kipper, and Samantha.”

 

She paused to see if there might be a response. There was none.

 

“They asked me to help you.” Nothing. “Is there someone you’d like me to find? Your mother or father?”

 

The box cover stirred. A small set of eyes appeared just under the cardboard. They looked at her. Slowly the head under the box cover shook “no.”

 

“Would you let me take you to a shelter?”

 

Again, the eyes and head shook “no.”

 

“Do you have a name?”

 

No response.

 

“I’ve always liked the name Caroline.” Catherine said frantically thinking, looking for a way to gain this child’s trust. “May I call you Caroline?”

 

No response, and then a slight nodding of the little girl’s head.

 

“Great! Well, Caroline, I am amazed how well you are managing for yourself. You must be a smart little girl.”

 

The eyes stayed locked on her.

 

“Are you hurt anywhere?”

 

The “no” shake again.

 

“Caroline, I’m worried about you. A little girl your age should be in a warm house, surrounded with people who care about you, who feed you good food. Would you let me take you where Zack, Kipper, and Samantha live? Let me tell you a little about that place.

 

“They live in a special place, a place that is a secret, and that secret keeps them safe. No one can come and harm them because they don’t know where to look. Pretty clever, isn’t it?”

 

She waited. Nothing.

 

“Well, all I can say right now is that this place is under the ground. And Caroline, it’s a magical place, full of love and happiness, and caring people of all ages. They help each other. And together, they have made a wonderful home Below.”

 

She paused. The box stirred, then settled.

 

“There is another reason this place is special.” Catherine took a deep breath before trying to explain about Vincent. “Vincent lives there. He looks very different from you or me, and sometimes, that scares people. People like to make fun of people who are different. Have you ever noticed that?”

 

Surprisingly, the small head nodded “yes.”

 

“Well, Vincent can’t be seen above with you or me, so he lives Below where people love him for who he is, inside his heart.” She placed her hand over her heart. “He comes Above when it’s safe – when it’s dark and he can hide in shadows. He was the one who sent Zach, Kipper, and Samantha, to see if they could help you. He’s worried about you, too.”

 

Catherine decided it was time for Caroline to come out from under the box.

 

“Caroline, would you please sit up for me? I feel silly talking to a box.”

 

Catherine hoped, but was surprised when the little girl sat up. Catherine smiled warmly at her in the dark, while trying not to show her surprise. She pegged her to be eight at most. Her heart broke for the little girl, yet she was profoundly proud of her ability to exist. But she was so thin ...

 

“Would you like to meet Vincent?” Catherine paused. “He won’t look like a regular man, his face has more hair on it, but he has the friendliest blue eyes you will ever see!”

 

A slight nod.

 

Catherine turned back and nodded her head. Vincent slowly walked up from where he was hidden. He stood behind Catherine, and then knelt down. He reached up and removed his hood. He looked directly at the little girl and said, “Caroline, I’m pleased to meet you. I’m called Vincent.”

 

The little girl’s eyes widened.

 

“Please, don’t be frightened. I will not hurt you. I live Below, underground, where Catherine was telling you about.  It’s my home. There are people who love and care for me there. And we offer help to others when they need it. I thought perhaps you needed some help.”

 

“If you want, Caroline,” Catherine said, “Vincent and I will take you there. If you don’t like it, I will bring you back. No one will keep you there if you don’t want to be.”

 

“Yes,” Vincent echoed. “No one will make you stay. Kipper, Zach, and Samantha and many other children are there, and you can make many friends.” He slowly held out his hand which Catherine noticed, wore a glove. “Will you come with me?”

 

The little girl had been staring at Vincent the entire time. Vincent could see the moment she accepted him. She nodded, and stood up.

 

“Is there anything you want to take with you?” Catherine asked. The little girl went back under the cardboard and finally popped out with a very ragged doll and a small box.

 

The small group took off. Catherine leading, Caroline in the middle, with Vincent behind. They came to the street where the manhole cover was, and Vincent stepped up and moved it. Catherine started down, and waited for Vincent to help Caroline. Together, they finished going down the ladder. Vincent started down, paused to replace the cover, then joined them Below.

 

“We have a ways to walk before we get to where I live,” Vincent explained. “If you are tired, I will carry you.”

 

In the age-old language of children, the little girl raised her arms outward, still holding her doll in one hand and the box in the other. Vincent picked her up, noticing her slight weight as he did so. Once again they set off.

 

By the time they made it to the hub, Caroline had fallen asleep in Vincent’s arms. Lucky girl, Catherine thought. She went ahead to awaken Father and then on to get Mary.

 

A sleepy Father met Vincent as he entered Father’s chamber.

 

“This is the girl?”

 

“Yes, she fell asleep as we walked.” Vincent still held her. “I’m afraid to let her sleep without introductions as she would wake up in a strange place and be afraid. Yet, I hate to wake her, she looked exhausted.”

 

“That is a dilemma,” Father acknowledged. “Why don’t you sit carefully on the chair,” Father pulled it out from the table as he spoke, “and we’ll talk and perhaps she’ll awaken when ready.”

 

Vincent carefully sat at the chair so as not to disturb Caroline.

 

“You know who this child is?”

 

“No. Catherine asked if she could call her Caroline since she never would volunteer her name.”

 

“This is the little girl Zach and the others were trying to help?”

 

Vincent nodded.

 

Ever the physician, Father commented, “She looks malnourished.”

 

“I fear she was on the street much longer than when we found her.”

 

Catherine came back with Mary. Vincent looked up and said, “She’s sleeping.”

 

“I’m not surprised,” Catherine admitted. “Probably the first time she felt safe, being in your arms.” They looked at each other, each wishing the situation could be different.

 

Mary spoke up. “Vincent, you should wake her, so she has time to acclimate to all of us here, before she gets taken to the dormitory to meet the other children later when they wake up.”

 

Vincent hesitated.

 

“She can sleep tomorrow, and I’m sure she will. The poor thing is exhausted. It’s tough trying to survive.” Mary came over and crouched nest to the sleeping girl. Gently, she brushed her hand over her hair.

 

“Caroline? Wake up, honey.” Mary spoke softly. The child’s eyes fluttered open. Suddenly, she sat up and flailed about to get out of the hold on her, a wild look on her face. The doll and the box hit Vincent a few times.

 

Vincent gently, but firmly, held her, “Caroline, you are safe. Do you remember meeting me?”

 

She leaned back, slowly she nodded. She stopped trying to wiggle loose.

 

Catherine knelt beside Vincent. “Remember that place I told you about? Below the ground?”

 

The girl nodded.

 

“This is it. And these are two important people who want to meet you” She reached up and took Father’s hand. “This is Father, he’s a doctor, and in front here is Mary – she watches over all the children here Below as well as helping Father as a nurse.”

 

The little girl studied first Father, then Mary.

 

“I was thinking you might like a quick tour, before going to bed, so you know where you are when you wake up.” Mary explained. “Would you like that?” She waited. Finally, the girl nodded. Mary held out her hand, and Vincent loosened his grip as she slid out of Vincent’s lap, holding firmly to her only belongings: the doll and the box.

 

Mary led her out, talking all the way, setting the girl at ease with her.

 

Father turned to Vincent and Catherine. “We need to find out more about this child, reunite her with her family if she has one.”

 

“I’ll do my best to find out,” Catherine said, “but there may be a reason she ran away, if that’s what she did. I don’t want to return her to an abusive family situation.”

 

“No, of course not, “ Father agreed.

 

“Catherine will investigate, and we will concentrate on making Caroline feel at home. Perhaps, she will tell us what we wish to know when she feels safe enough.”

 

Vincent walked Catherine to her threshold.

 

“Thank you for your help, Catherine.” He scooped her into a hug.

 

“You know I would do anything to help a child,” she smiled, “and you knew that when you came to the balcony.” She luxuriated being in his arms.

 

Vincent smiled. “Still, you didn’t have to agree!”

 

A few more moments spent heartbeat to heartbeat, and then Catherine pulled back. “I need to go. I’m due at the office in,” checking her watch, “an hour and a half. Just time enough to shower and change.”

 

“You’ll let us know when you find something?”

 

“Of course.”

 

He watched her fade in the light, and stood watching as he heard her climb the ladder. “Godspeed,” he wished her in her search, and left.

 

**

 

Caroline saw the dining hall, and where the bathroom was, before Mary took her to the dormitory. She stopped outside to explain before going in.

 

“This place is the children’s dormitory – where all the children who are younger sleep. Everyone has their own bed, and there are a few candles left burning so it will never be dark.”

 

She knelt next to the child. “You’ll get to meet everyone tomorrow, but right now, you need to sleep. There is a cot at the far end that will be yours. You can set your box under it and sleep with your dolly, if you want.”

 

The girl held the box up tight to her chest.

 

Mary quickly amended, “You can sleep with your box, too, if you wish.”

 

The girl nodded.

 

“Okay,” Mary stood. “Try not to wake the others as we get to your cot. Be quiet like a mouse!”

 

They entered the chamber and the girl looked around as best she could in the limited light. There were many cots, and each held a child. Finally, they came to an empty cot. Mary took the blankets from the end, laid one down and patted it to let the girl know to climb up, and then covered her with the other.

 

“You’re safe now, Caroline. No one will hurt you. Sleep well.” Mary learned down, and stroked her hair back. “See you in the morning.”

 

**

 

Catherine showered, changed, and wasted no time going to the office. She grabbed a bagel from the deli on the corner and was at her desk before even any of the interns.

 

She went over to the computer banks, logged in (Bless you, Edie!), and quickly pulled up any missing children reports from the last six weeks. Only three names popped up. She printed them off and headed back to her desk. Looked like her lunch hour would be busy.

 

**

 

The children woke, and a few noticed the new kid. Zach quickly told them to let her sleep. He suggested Samantha wait while the rest went to breakfast, in case she woke up. Zach knew he wouldn’t like to wake up alone in a strange place.

 

Samantha sat on the cot next to Caroline, reading a book. Slowly, Caroline started to wake.  Her eyes settled on Samantha. She watched her read. Her eyes darted about the room, and she saw that they were alone. She sat up.

 

“Good morning!” Samantha said. “Glad to see you. We’ve been hoping you would come. Would you like some breakfast?”

 

The little girl nodded.

 

“Then come with me.”

 

She led the girl out, stopping in front of the bathroom, asking if she needed that before breakfast. The girl nodded.

 

“Let me show you how it works. It’s different than what you have Above.” Samantha stated it matter-of-factly. She showed the girl a curtained area, and showed her where to sit. Essentially, it was an outhouse. A crevice with a small stream ran below and tied into a sewer pipe lower down. All they lacked was the ability to flush. But at least it didn’t smell like an outhouse.

 

“I’ll be right outside the curtain here. We’ll go to the dining chamber together when you are ready.”

 

Soon they were on their way. The little girl held back when see saw all the people in the dining chamber.

 

“Don’t worry. These are all nice people. They care about us, help us. They’ll let you be until you are ready to meet them.”

 

She showed the little girl through the food line. Her eyes opened wide at the selection. Samantha put one of everything on a plate for the girl, and then made her selection. She chose a table off to the side for them to sit and eat.

 

In a few moments, Vincent came over, plate in hand. “May I join you?” He sat down hearing no dissention.

 

“How did you sleep?” he asked.

 

“I slept fine,” Samantha said. “I never heard her come.”

 

“We call her Caroline,” Vincent said. “Catherine suggested it, and she agreed.”

 

The girl slowly ate, listening to, but not participating in, the conversation.

 

They finished the meal, and Vincent suggested that Samantha take her along to class with her. He looked at Caroline with a tilt of his head and said, “Just because we live Below doesn’t mean that children don’t go to school.”

 

She observed the classes silently, not really participating. She kept to herself, but seemed to enjoy just watching the others.

 

Caroline met all the children, and many of the adults, before dinner. Each spoke gently to the child, and gave her space to not feel threatened in any way.

 

Vincent and Father sat with her, Mary, and the two boys, Zach and Kipper, for dinner. The boys kept up a chatter about the day’s activities and how well Caroline did through it all. 

 

Vincent was waiting for dark. He intended to visit Catherine, on the off chance she may have found out something.

 

**

 

He paced before a dark balcony door. He felt her tiredness, as she was nearing her building. He almost decided not to stay, and let her get some rest. But he also thought she might try to make it down to see him, and that would only keep her up later when he knew she needed sleep.

 

The light flicked on, and soon the light in the bedroom followed. She opened the doors, and walked into his arms. They stood, locked together, until Catherine started to fall asleep in his arms.

 

“Catherine!” Vincent gently woke her. “What did you find?”

 

He led her over to the chairs at the corner of the balcony and sat down across from her. “Tell me.”

 

“There were three missing children reports. I tracked down all three, and she wasn’t any of their children.” She looked wearily at him. “I struck out, Vincent. But I’ll keep looking.”

 

“Maybe ... it is meant to be that you don’t find anything,” Vincent stated carefully.

 

“I have to try, Vincent!”

 

“I know, of course you do.” He took care with his words. “Perhaps, we, our community, are the best thing for her. And some day, when she speaks, we will know more about what happened to her.”

 

“I’d certainly rather you have her than Children’s Services,” Catherine admitted.

 

He stood, and held out his hand to her. She took it and rose up to be engulfed in another hug. “Get some sleep,” Vincent commanded in her ear. He pulled away. “Thank you for helping.”

 

Catherine did as he directed, collapsing on her bed and passing out.

 

**

 

Vincent stopped in to see Father. He was reading at his table, where several books were piled on one another.

 

“Did Catherine have anything to report?” he asked, barely looking up.

 

“No. None of the missing child reports fit Caroline. Catherine will keep looking.” He sat down on the chair opposite to Father.

 

“Light reading?” he asked Father.

 

“Hmm? Oh, yes. Reading what I can find on selective amnesia and self-mutism. Perhaps I can find something that will help Caroline open up.”

 

“What if she never speaks?”

 

“Let’s cross that bridge if we come to that.” Father looked at his son. “This community has wrought miracles before. Perhaps we will again.”

 

**

 

Despite tremendous effort by Catherine, and even Edie, nothing was ever uncovered about the child. She adjusted to the routine of Below, but did not go Above with the other children.  When they would go up, she would go be with Vincent. He would read to her, and show her some of his treasures.

 

While Caroline attended the classes with the other children, it was difficult to tell if she knew how to read or write. When offered paper, she would draw. When asked to print something, she would refuse. As Vincent read to her, he thought she was following along, rather than just listening.

 

When Catherine would come Below, Caroline would run to her, hugging her. She would grab her hand and pull her along to see some thing she made, or a picture she drew. There was a special bond between them.

 

Caroline played with the children Below, being partial to Zach, Kipper, and Samantha. The children did their best to include her, and accepted that she wouldn’t speak. As was the way Below, people were accepted for themselves.

 

**

 

Catherine took Caroline to the falls. She wanted to show Caroline a childhood treasure, and asked her to bring along her treasure box. Perhaps sharing a memory with Caroline would prompt her to share one from her box. Catherine still hoped to solve the mystery of the little girl – if for no other reason than to give her an identity.

 

“This rock looks like any other rock, doesn’t it?” Catherine asked. “Yet, if you hold it up to the light,” she brought the lantern over closer, “you can see the rock glitter, can’t you?” The little girl nodded. She handed it over to Caroline to examine closely.

 

“Do you see how the places that glitter are goldish, yellow flecks?”

 

Again, a nod.

 

“This type of rock is called ‘Fool’s Gold,’ because some people confuse those yellow flecks for gold. My Dad and I were on a hike when I saw this rock glinting in the sun. I was about your age, and thought I had struck gold!” She smiled at the memory. “My Dad explained to me what it was, and I was so disappointed. I thought I had found a way to increase my allowance. But I put the rock in my pocket, and I’ve kept it ever since.”

 

Caroline handed the rock back.

 

Catherine looked at her. “Caroline, would you share one of your treasures from your box with me?” She practically held her breath waiting for an answer.

 

Slowly, Caroline opened the box, placing the lid next to her. From what Catherine could see, it contained mostly papers. Caroline pulled one out, a drawing made by an adult given the skill evidenced in the drawing. Caroline handed it to her.

 

It was a drawing of a woman holding a young child in her lap. The drawing clearly showed the love the mother had for the child. Caroline pointed to the woman. “Mama,” She said.

 

Catherine hugged her to her side. She spoke! A beginning.

 

“And is that you?” She pointed to the child on the mother’s lap.

 

Caroline nodded.

 

“Who drew this? Your Daddy?” Catherine held her breath.

 

She shook her head “no.” “Mama”

 

“Your mother drew this! She’s very good. I see from where your talent in drawing comes.” Catherine held it up closer to the lantern. There was a name in the corner!

 

“Do you miss your mama?”

 

Again, a nod.

 

“Do you want me to try and find your mama?” Catherine was oddly hoping her answer was no. This little girl has captured my heart, Catherine thought. I would miss her so much if she left.

 

A tear ran down Caroline’s face. She shook her head.

 

Catherine pulled her into her lap and hugged her. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I lost my mama, too, when I was 10 years old. I still miss her every day.”

 

Catherine resolved to find out what happened. She owed it to Caroline.

 

**

 

Later that night in Vincent’s chamber. Catherine recounted her outing with Caroline.

 

“She spoke, Vincent! Only one word, ‘Mama,’ but she spoke!”

 

“Perhaps it is a beginning,” Vincent replied. He loved her optimism, and wished more than ever it would bear results.

 

“She showed me a drawing. It was one her mother had made. Vincent,” she came over to face him, “it had a name in the corner – ‘Davis, ’85.’ Perhaps I can use that to find out what happened.”

 

“Then she would have her name, at last.” Vincent understood the importance of a name. He always wondered if he had been given one by his mother, before she abandoned him.

 

**

 

The next day, Catherine looked for any news clipping with the name “Davis” as well as searched birth records from 1978, 1979, and 1980, hoping Caroline’s birth was local. If not, she was at a dead end.

 

It only took about an hour to find the information. There were times she wished she wasn’t such a good investigator, and this was one those times.

 

**

 

Catherine went Below as soon as she could wrap up work at the office. She entered Vincent’s chamber. He had felt her sadness earlier in the day. He stood up from his chair to take her hand and lead her to sit on his bed.

 

“You found something.”

 

“Yes.” She sat a moment, collecting herself. “Vincent, that little girl watched her parents be murdered.”

 

Catherine’s eyes pooled with tears. Vincent sat back, stunned by what he heard.

 

“She must have hidden in a cupboard. The police never knew she was there. They had only just moved there, and no one in the building was aware of the child. It took a day to find the bodies. She must have stayed in that cupboard over 24 hours, Vincent, staring at the bodies of her parents. Her address wasn’t far from where we found her. She may have been waiting for her parents to return.” Catherine collapsed against Vincent, crying for all the pain of that little girl.

 

She sniffed. “I didn’t see any mention of family members. The obituaries were pretty sparse. And, to be honest, I didn’t look too hard. I don’t want to lose her. I think she’s where she needs to be.”

 

“Now we know. Now the healing can begin, we can help her, and perhaps she will speak again.” Vincent hoped. “Did you find out the little girl’s name?”

 

“That’s the strange part,” Catherine said. She looked up at Vincent. “It’s Caroline.”

 

**

 

The little girl, crouched by a building, abandoned to an unknown fate, was no more. Caroline had found a home.

 

 

 

~

 

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