At sixteen, Thommy Lemolo broke her leg while playing high school softball. She’d been tracking a pop-up in the outfield and had stepped in a small hole, which did big damage to both her right tibia and fibula. “Never break a bone before, kid? By the look of that leg I’d say you got two for the price of one,” said the vaguely cute X-ray tech as he prepared to take images of her injury at the hospital. A good thick shot of morphine had knocked back her pain, and it also made people funnier and vaguely cuter than they were prior to the drug’s administration.
The tech’s breezy attitude failed to continue after he took six pictures more than what had been ordered. Something sweetly mournful had entered his eyes. Thommy hadn’t known that he’d seen several images like hers while he had been in college, and that this was the first time he’d seen such in the wild. Osteosarcoma—bone cancer. Her leg was amputated below the knee; she endured endless months of chemotherapy; her Charleston High teammates shaved their heads in a sign of support, and a bit over a year later she later she gained a clean bill of health; yet this clean bill came with the less than fully committed name of remission. During her long convalescence, Thommy had delved into the net and had become an expert on her disease. She knew that there is seldom a one-hundred percent cure for her variety of cancer, and that the best the patient can hope for is that the demon inside has been beat back to a manageable size. For eleven years, however, Thommy continues to come away clean from check-ups that have spread out from once per three months to the yearly variety.
Persons who fight death and win quite often develop a truly healthy perspective on life. They better know the difference between what they must suffer and that they do not have to accept. In Thommy’s case this involves the bar she sets for the suffering of fools. Its height varies from fool to fool.
And the best place to seek a fool is within one’s self. As an associate photographer/fill-writer for The Torqwamni Sun, Thommy has plenty of time to seek her inner fool. Just the day before, as an unwilling plebe in the all-too-cozy relationship that exists between the pushcart Sun and the Torqwamni County government (which runs Boss-hog in the county-seat of Thommy’s hometown of Charleston, Washington), she had “volunteered” to take the pictures of a man who had died of a heroin overdose inside Newtown Cemetery. This happened because both the county photographers had been out with the flu (“flu” as in that catchy strain found exclusively at the White Pig Tavern), and her City Editor, Dick Edwards (aka, “Dick Ed.”), who, for reasons not-so-obscure, has his smart-hand down the pants of the county government. In the slim scope of Thommy’s Torqwamni County experience, nearly all the male dominated T-County employees are “dozzles” (a clipped portmanteau, which joins “douche” and “nozzle”—not to be confused with the adolescent “dozzling”). Being dozzles, they are unspeakably knuckle-draggish and tend to play puerile practical jokes on the female of the species. This is what she had thought had happened when a goatish dozzle had handed her a relic camera most likely last used at Ford’s Theater. Through the lens she had seen—
“Ghosts,” Thommy said the next morning as she peered through the lens of an equally ancient microfiche machine the next morning. The push-cart paper’s computerized archives reached back only to the 1970s. Thommy didn’t complain about this because there stood the extreme likelihood that she’d be the one completing the unfinished task if she pointed it out. She was looking for the earliest mention of Newtown Cemetery’s resident ghost, “The Dow Lady.” Fortunately, Thommy knew that the infamous and alleged spontaneous combustion event at the Dow Hotel had happened in the June of 1943; from there she found a “sighting” in the December of that year. A transient had told police that he had gone inside the cemetery to sleep it off because he had been invited inside by a “pretty lady-ghost.” Reputable newspapers probably wouldn’t have reported such an item, but pushcart is what pushcart does. And from that point on Thommy had discovered no less than thirty-nine sightings over the years—minus the dozens annual obligatory mentions of the Dow Lady around Halloween-time.
The Dow Lady moniker didn’t pop up for keeps until 1951. In a full length Sunday article, which was an installment of an ongoing tongue-in-cheek weekly “Local Characters” profiles, a self-styled “mysterian,” who called herself Madame Zarp, had built and opened a “college of the occult” down on Corson Street. The structure was dubbed “The Temple of the Dow Lady,” and it still stands to this very day. Zarp (who claimed to be Hungarian, but was observed by the reporter as hailing from “da Bronx” section of that nation) believed that the “pretty lady-ghost” was that of one Mamie Rothschild, who, according to the local BS of the time, had “gone up,” so to speak, at the Dow Hotel in ’43; thus the legend was confirmed.
The more Thommy got into the back-story of the Dow Lady, the more she doubted that if there were such a thing that it would be Mrs. Rothschild. For one thing, nearly everyone who sees the Dow Lady comes away impressed with her looks. Neither tall nor short, she’s described as extremely pretty with a stunning head of extremely long red or auburn hair. For what it’s worth, she dresses like Mary Poppins. Also, the few people she has spoken to swear that she has a faint British accent. Zarp had supplied the Sun with three photographs of Mrs. Rothschild ; Mamie was six-two, German and at very best, plain.
Although Thommy hadn’t heard the woman she had seen through the lens of the coroner’s camera speak, it sent a chill through her to read the descriptions; because, just yesterday, she had seen a woman with what Thommy knew to be Titian hair in the camera. Her hair was very long and braided, and she had looped the braid around her neck and it flowed down the front of a very Mary Poppinsish white dress. Thommy also knows fashion history, what she had seen was known as the “Gibson Girl” look, over a century ago. And there was a nagging sense of de ja vu which had accompanied the woman’s face: “Where do I know you from?” had popped into Thommy’s mind more than once since the event had occurred.
The Dow Lady and the man who had died at the foot of a great oak tree both smiled at Thommy through the camera before they vanished. It had taken all the will and self-control Thommy could muster to keep from making a peep about what had been very real. Yet, looking back, there seemed to have been an external presence that had calmed her, that had desired to communicate something to her without her freaking out.
Thommy leaned back in her chair and stretched her back and arched her neck. She closed her eyes and saw the Dow Lady’s face imprinted in her mind. But this time it was a different image, in black and white. Then the connection was made.
Thommy had attended Charleston Elementary, and in the main hall there was a mural of the school’s first graduating class. Sixteen kids in all; and behind the students stood four teachers and the principal. Thommy had seen this mural every school day for seven years. Excitedly, she wrapped up her microfiche search and went to her desk in the common area. She opened her laptop and went to the Charleston History Society page and searched for a copy of the mural, which, sadly no longer existed after the original Charleston Elementary had been razed in 2006.
There it was, and more importantly, there she was. Emma Wick, third through sixth form teacher.
Thommy immediately delved into the county records and found Emma Wick. She died in 1943 at age seventy-two. Her place of birth was listed as London, England, and she had immigrated to the US shortly before the turn of the century. Cross checking showed that both Emma and Mrs. Rothschild had died on the same day, and both were buried in Newtown Cemetery. But what made Thommy gasp was Emma Wick’s place of death, 1542 Corson Street. When Dick Ed. sent her out on the pushcart errand the day before, it had been the same address on her assignment sheet: Newtown Cemetery.
“Joey!” Thommy bellowed. And as sure as the rain in the Pacific Northwest, the mail room kid who had an obvious crush on Thommy appeared at her desk. Joey was nineteen, extremely sweet, naïve, funny, intelligent and certainly still awaiting his first kiss. Thommy, at twenty-seven, was very careful with Joey because she had once been on the other end of such a relationship with someone who had been mean to her.
“How’s your inner Scooby-Doo?” Thommy said.
“As good as any,” Joey said confidently, even though both of them knew that if Thommy suggested that he should set himself on fire, he’d go up willingly.
“Scooby-Dooing is a pangender activity,” Thommy continued. “I need you to be Thelma to my Daphne.” Thommy then scrawled a list of names and places on a piece of paper and handed it to Joey. “Rick-Ed. has me assigned to snap pics at the Lil’ Britches rodeo today. If I don’t hang myself from the grandstand, I’ll be back by three. Could you, between pizzas and naps in the mailroom, be a doll and sniff out the details on this list for me?” (Thommy always said “Rick Ed.” to Joey. Speaking anything remotely sexual to him felt plain wrong.)
“I’m on it,” Joey said. The light of joy in his eyes tugged at Thommy’s heart. Where the hell were you ten years ago, honey?
As Thommy gathered her gear and assignment chit, she knew that there most likely be a report the size of Moby Dick waiting for her upon her return. Thinking such, she called out to Joey, who was quickly exiting the common area: “Don’t forget to do your five or six minutes’ of work first, either. Remember, Thelma is the brains of the outfit.”
On her way out to her car, Thommy began to whistle. “Jesus Christ,” she whispered to herself, “maybe there is more life to come.”
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