When we left off in Part 1 of this four-part serial, artist Mia Bailey, a DELIVER HER darling whose back story was snuffed during the novel’s editing, had returned home after receiving a troubling message from a prison case worker regarding inmate Felix Delgado, Mia’s birth father.
Alarmed, I scanned my mother’s face for evidence the caseworker had connected to champion Delgado’s cause. “About what?”
“Your paintbrushes, silly.”
“Right.” I sagged onto the porch steps in relief, recalling my text to her from the art depot, and offered her my bag. Reaching inside, she stroked the mongoose’s angled tips. “Perfect, Mia. I know you’ll do great things with them.”
With that, she stood and stretched, and I followed suit, trailing her into Swiftriver, the store redolent of cedar and cumin. For the next few days, I wrestled with the caseworker’s request before deciding to drive down to the Concord jail.
That’s how I found myself in the prison parking lot deconstructing the visitors’ clothing. Across its concrete campus, the penitentiary operated a sign shop, print shop, and a tailor – a regular maximum security Main Street – churning out products with names like GraniteCor and JailTuff. Somewhere on this cement horizon, Felix Delgado lounged on a JailTuff cot, reading his bible—a model prisoner, sober, reborn. The man even led a prayer group, the caseworker contributed in a subsequent call, ticking off the prisoner’s fine points like a girlfriend coaxing me into a blind date.
Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos. My lips moved with childhood supplications, echoing my birth mother’s unanswered prayers. Damn him for playing the cancer card. If we did meet, would he still tower over my five and a half feet, stare back at me with my own pewter eyes? If my steely black curls came from him, would his be dusty with age? And if my words provoked him, as my birth mother’s often had, who would shield me from his fury?
He only asked for a few minutes. And the world. Conflicted, I turned on the radio and drove out of the prison gates.
Back home again, in our apartment over Swiftriver, I found only my mother, my father out tending to the latest crisis of his preservation society, a band determined to restore The Old Man of the Mountain, the jagged profile nature hewed from Franconia rock. A decade ago, his society employed all manner of engineering to cleave the deteriorating formation to its mountain base. In the end, neither the iron net of chains nor the cement band-aids they fabricated could prevent Great Stone Face from crumbling on a May morning after a late spring snow.
My father grieved, The Old Man in his blood from the winters he skied Cannon Mountain as a boy. He tried to instill this passion in me, but I only read disapproval in all the silhouette’s sharp, angry angles. A year after it fell, he took me up to the scenic overlook his society constructed. Hoisting me onto the viewfinder’s pebbled step, he slid a New Hampshire quarter into the slot and angled the viewer at blue cotton sky, toward the ledge where The Old Man once presided. “There he is, Mia. If you hold this just right, you can see him. Just like before.”
I pressed my face against icy green steel and squinted. The actual, living mountain appeared in vivid relief, but the shimmering outline of Old Man at the cliff’s edge was only a shadow, a reconstruction by those determined to remember. I leaned away to examine the actual granite notch, then squinted into the viewfinder again.
My father’s hand warmed my shoulder. I longed to see what he saw, to reconcile the disparate images. But no matter how often I refocused, Great Stone Face remained a gauzy relic.
That day at the overlook, I had my first grown-up thought: the real Old Man was just a pile of dust somewhere.
End of Part 2. To Be Continued.