Winner of the 2006 Mistresses Of Malarkey "Best Gen Series" Award and 'Perfect' Award
By NotTasha... know-it-all
Annie Greer looked for the boy. It was a common activity for her. The boy had a habit of disappearing – he’d flit in and out of sight, like a mote of dust caught momentarily in sunlight and sent back into shadow – here and then gone. It was his nature, she decided. But she was the kind of person who liked to put her hand to things, who liked to know exactly what she had in front of her, who liked to know where her boy was. So she looked.
She knew that he was somewhere about the house. He was probably quietly reading somewhere, since he obviously wasn’t at the piano. When he was at home, Ezra spent much of his time between those two activities – doggedly learning how to play the pianoforte, or working his way through her little library. Her house held more music than it used to, more laughter, it seemed to breathe now with fresh air, it seemed to delight in daylight. Where once, her quaint house was like a prison, it was a home again.
The day was hot; the birds were twittering in the trees. Perhaps, when she found the boy, he’d enjoy a walk to the lake. The breeze might be blowing there and the park would be buzzing with happy people.
She searched for Ezra, slowly making her way through one room, and then another, not calling for him. She wanted to happen upon him, as if it were by accident. He didn’t seem to be within, so she turned her attention to the yard. Hopefully, he wasn’t on the roof again. The boy certainly enjoyed heights, but his proclivity to climb scared the daylights out of her.
Standing in her kitchen, she gazed out into the little backyard that Mr. Whistler helped tend. If the gardener were here, the boy would be at his side, no doubt, asking him questions, pestering and helping him. Ezra would always manage to find the least strenuous tasks in the garden, the chores that might allow one to stay clean. The old man seemed to appreciate the company in any case.
But it was Friday, so Mr. Whistler would be elsewhere. Annie gazed out her back window, searching. The yard appeared empty at first glance, but Ezra was known for finding the most peculiar places to inhabit. Scanning for him, Annie’s eyes lit upon something else moving in her yard. Her eyes narrowed.
A cat stole across the grass, walking with a certain arrogance– a big white cat with large tabby spots that looked like continents in a creamy sea. The neighbor cat, aptly named Cartography, moved cautiously with his tail held high, but his head low – as if ready to dart off at any sudden movement.
Annie felt a blush of anger reach her. It was that killer! That murderer of her warbling friends! How dare he even contemplate entering her yard again! Oh! He was a fiend! She strode to the back door and slammed it open. Plates rattled on their shelves and a teacup on the table wobbled on its saucer. At the sudden sound, the cat twisted toward her. “Get out!” she shouted. “Get out! Get out!” and standing in the doorway, she frantically flapped her apron at the interloper, looking furious and ridiculous at the same time.
The cat spun, sighting the fluttering widow, and darted off at an astonishing speed. An Africa-shaped spot appeared to be falling off its hindquarters as the cat made a great leap, reaching the top of her fence. It ran across the brace and paused. The cat’s steady golden gaze reached her, and it gave her an imperious look before leaping over and disappearing into the neighboring yard.
Ezra, sitting on the porch steps, jumped to his feet. “Auntie Annie,” he cried. His pale green eyes were wide with surprise. “What’s wrong? What happened?”
Annie paused, still flustered. She took a moment to smooth her apron, reminding herself to calm down. “Ezra… that cat…” and she strained to complete her thought.
“Cartography,” Ezra filled in. How he’d learned the cats name was anyone’s guess. Annie knew it because of the chagrinned neighbors that had brought her a potted plant after a particularly nasty massacre in her yard.
“Ezra, we can’t let that cat in the yard,” she finally stated. “It knows it’s not supposed to be here.”
“But why?” Ezra asked, staring toward the fence where the cat had disappeared. “Carty’s been friendly to me.”
“Don’t let him fool you.” Annie crossed her arms across her chest. “He’s an awful awful cat!”
Ezra ducked his head and stated, “He lets me pet his head and he likes to be scratched by his tail. He seems to be a good enough cat.”
“He kills birds, Ezra.” Annie looked up apprehensively to the branches of her cherry tree, wondering about the safety of the flock. The finches, bluebirds and chickadees, so merrily piping earlier, had all grown silent. “He’s always killing the birds. I chase him out every time he comes into the yard. And I thought he’d finally learned that he wasn’t wanted here.” She frowned, her arms tight against her breast. “He’s an awful beast.”
Ezra bit his lip and furrowed his brow as he thought. He asked in a quiet voice, “Can he come into the yard if I make sure he doesn’t eat any of the birds?”
“You can’t change a cat, Ezra,” Annie told him. “Cats will be cats.”
“I swear, I’ll watch him whenever I’m home. I’ll show him what’s right. I’ll teach him to be good. You can chase him away when I’m not here to watch him.”
Annie sighed, not wanting anything to do with a cat, but the beseeching look on Ezra’s face cut a swath through her heart. How could she deny the boy anything? He asked for so little.
Still, it had taken the better part of a year to teach that cat to avoid her yard. Dozens of beautiful songbirds had been slaughtered before it had learned that lesson. What would happen if she started allowing it to return? “He’s not a good cat, Ezra. Maybe I can find a kitten. Yes, a kitten that could be taught right from wrong, right from the start. There’d be no time for him to learn to be bad. Would you like a kitten, Ezra? It could be all yours.”
Ezra made a strange face, both thoughtful and unhappy at the same time. “No thank you, ma’am,” he answered, his eyes downcast. “That wouldn’t be appropriate, as I have no idea how long I will be here.”
There it was, that thought that always came to Annie at the worst times – Ezra would have to leave eventually. He had no permanence – he was that mote of dust left at the will of the wind.
Ezra continued with that same pensive expression, “I thought, perhaps, Carty could be like a pet to me – without any of the complications that come with ownership. Keeping something for good is never without penalties. He comes when I call him.” Ezra lifted his eyes and met hers. “Please?” he softly asked. “I swear, if he even looks at the birds, I’ll chase him out myself! I’m very good at watching things. I’m very observant.” And his eyes were wide and unbelievably green.
“Well…” Annie started, feeling all of her resolve crumbling.
“Thank you!” Ezra exclaimed, wrapping his arms around Annie’s waist as he hugged her. “He’ll be no trouble at all! I’ll take care of everything. You’ll see.”
Annie sighed, wondering what she was getting into.
The days were long and hot as the last week of August sauntered past. Ezra spent part of every day in the yard, doing his best to fulfill his promise. Annie sat by her kitchen window one afternoon, watching him. Ezra leaned against the cherry tree as he held a book on one hand, reading as if he would never get his fill.
Annie considered joining Ezra when she saw the big spotted cat strolling through her yard, and she felt her ire rising. She strode to the door, laid a hand on the knob, ready to thrust it open and shout at the awful animal… but she’d made a promise of sorts to Ezra.
She suspected that a lot of people had made promises to the boy… yet she figured few had managed to keep them. She could keep this agreement. It was a small thing, really. Let him play with the cat. She trusted Ezra to keep up his end of the bargain. Maybe he COULD retrain the malicious feline.
Ezra sat up as he took note of the intruder. The cat froze and the two creatures stared at each other with calculating expressions. Ezra made an encouraging motion, patting the ground beside him, and the cat continued, choosing a winding path through the grass to be near the boy. It accepted a careful scratch between its ears, just between the British Isles. When Ezra removed his hand, the cat butted his shoulder, then cautiously laid down in the cool shade to keep the boy company.
As she puttered around the house, Annie watched that cat – watched that boy. Whenever the cat would stiffen, eyes upon the branches of her trees, whenever that tail thrashed on the grass, Ezra would give the cat a distracting pat. He’d talk to it… whisper intently…scratch him in those special spots… and the cat would forget about the birds, enjoying the gentle ministrations of the boy.
It did seem to be a good cat, Annie thought, watching the cat raise a paw and gently, playfully bat at the boy – not like her own mother’s cat, Patches, which would nip at her when it became tired of her attention. Cartography rolled onto his back and twisted about, seeming to smile at the boy.
Maybe, Annie thought, just maybe, Ezra could change that cat. It certainly seemed possible, as she watched Ezra set aside the book to fashion a toy from a long piece of grass. He sent the cat running after a make-believe mouse. He laughed as the cat pounced. He brought the shaft of grass upward and the cat leaped. The boy shouted happily.
The cat, perhaps, was salvageable. Maybe it could be retrained to be a respectable creature. The cat stopped its antics and rubbed against the boy, making Ezra smile. The animal couldn’t be all bad… if it loved her Ezra, Annie decided.
Suddenly, she didn’t loathe the spotted cat any longer, and she watched contentedly as the boy continued to play with the animal.
Annie spent the morning sorting through fabric in the parlor, intent on making Ezra a suit. The boy was outgrowing the clothing he came with and needed something new. She searched for the fabrics she had long ago purchased for her Harold, and contemplated something bright for the energetic lad.
A knock at the door drew her activity to a stop. The hour was too early for Mr. Ryder, the postman. She set down the pile of muslins, and smiled when she saw two of the townswomen on her porch. Mrs. Leary and Mrs. Kraus stood at her doorway. Buttercup Leary held her mouth as if she’d just tasted lemons. Martha Kraus kept her hands tightly in front of her, a look on her face claiming that she really didn’t want to be there.
Well, what’s all this about, Annie thought as she pushed a stray hair out of the way, tucking it into the bun at the back of her head. She opened the door and cheerfully greeted them. The women smiled tight little smiles.
“Good morning, Mrs. Greer,” Mrs. Leary returned her salutation.
“Won’t you come in?” Annie invited, opening the door wide.
“Thank you, Mrs. Greer,” Mrs. Kraus uttered as she waddled into Annie’s house.
“It’s always so nice to have visitors,” Annie chatted as she showed them into her home. She directed them away from the parlor, currently occupied with too many bits and pieces of her fabric inventory. Leading them to her kitchen table, she said, “I’ve been having so many guests lately. It’s really delightful to get to know my neighbors and I’m so glad you stopped by. Would you like some tea?”
Martha looked as if she wanted to say, ‘yes’, but Buttercup quickly responded for both of them. “No, Mrs. Greer, I’m afraid we don’t have time for such niceties.”
“Oh,” Annie responded, wondering at Mrs. Leary’s curt sound.
The visitors found seats at the table. Mrs. Kraus took a moment to get comfortable while Annie fretted as she waited, finally taking a seat when both of her guests were situated. “What can I do for you?” Annie asked.
“It’s about the boy,” Buttercup got right to the point.
“Ezra?” Annie responded, surprised.
“Is he here?” Martha asked, fretfully looking about the room as if the child might materialize.
“No, no…” Annie replied. “He’s gone to Mrs. Chan’s grocery.”
Mrs. Leary made a face, and Martha asked, “So, he’ll be home soon?”
“Oh no,” Annie replied with a little laugh. “He’ll probably be there most of the day. He likes to help her unpack when she gets new shipments. He’s always coming home with marvelous stories of what new things she’s brought in. Who knows when he’ll be back.”
“So, he’s not under your control?” Buttercup asked.
“He does what he wants most of the time,” Annie explained.
Buttercup creased her forehead. “Do you think that’s wise?”
“Wise?” Annie echoed and then smiled warmly. “He’s quite independent,” she explained.
Martha bit her lip and Buttercup let out a groan. “Independent is the wrong word,” Buttercup corrected. “What he is, is a troublemaker.”
“Ezra?” Annie exclaimed, startled by this comment. “No, he’s a good boy.”
“Trouble,” Mrs. Leary reiterated. “Why, I hear he’s been a terror to half the town!”
Annie’s face fell. “No… he’s not. He’s a well-behaved gentleman.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Leary went on. “I have information from credible sources that beg to differ.”
Annie looked unimpressed. “What’s he been doing?”
“Harassing the Campbells,” Buttercup stated. “…And Pastor Garby.”
“Pastor Garby likes him,” Annie returned, feeling her back stiffen, wondering how the Campbell family and Pastor Garby could equate ‘half the town’.
“Oh!” Martha exclaimed, “Pastor Garby was so upset when that boy got up into the steeple! He was red faced and light-headed and had to lay for the rest of the day.”
“He was only afraid for Ezra,” Annie explained.
“That child is a naughty boy who can’t behave civilly!” Buttercup said with a pout. “A boy climbing a church steeple! It’s unconscionable! He nearly killed Pastor Garby with his shenanigans.”
“I told him not to do that again,” Annie said as calmly as she could, but she could feel a heat of indignation rising in her. “And he hasn’t been up there again. And Pastor Garby was fine… he was just a bit excited is all.”
“So you say,” Mrs. Leary said with a sniff. “Let’s not forget that the child has been in the company of a bad element in town.”
“Bad element? In this town?” Annie responded.
“He was playing cards in the tavern,” Buttercup told her. “Any child that spends time with those sorts of people will be ruined, beyond saving.”
“Months ago!” Annie countered. “And he hasn’t gone again since I told him he couldn’t.”
“And you believe that?” Mrs. Leary asked leadingly.
“I do,” Annie responded with conviction.
Martha leaned forward, pressing her ample belly against the table as she told her friend, “Nobody’s seen him there for months, Buttercup. Maybe he did stop going.”
“The damage is already done,” Mrs. Leary decided with a harrumph. “He’s probably spent most of his life in a saloon. Dreadful place for anyone. That can’t help but ruin a child. He’ll never grow up to be a normal, decent man.”
“He will,” Annie insisted.
“Science has proven against it,” Buttercup said with a nod. “Then, there are the older boys up on Palmer Street. Your boy gambles with them.”
“He plays marbles.”
“It’s gambling just the same,” Buttercup pointed out. “A child should know better than to be with ill-bred boys like that. He’ll turn out just like them, no doubt.”
“They seemed like good boys to me,” Annie defended, thinking of the older boys who’d let Ezra in on their games – who’d encouraged him to come back. They were the only children Ezra’d made friends with in town. “I see nothing wrong with them.”
“As if you could be trusted to judge,” Buttercup countered. “You’ve had no contact with children outside of the disreputable urchin under your care.” Buttercup continued pointedly, “I don’t think he knows how to behave correctly. I don’t think he can.” She raised her chin and said derisively, “We all know where he came from.”
Martha continued, sympathetically, “We know what his mother was and how she left him.”
Annie’s frown increased, annoyed that so many people had found out about Ezra’s origin. “What’s that have to do with anything?”
“He has bad blood,” Buttercup continued. “His mother is a felon, no doubt. She’s probably imprisoned as we speak and that’s why she hasn’t returned. Either that, or she’s figured that he isn’t worth returning for. In any case, she has trained him to be a criminal as well. He’s headed down that same path.”
“Bound for jail… or worse,” Martha said, clucking sadly.
“He’s a bad one,” Buttercup further illuminated.
“He’s not bad,” Annie sharply responded.
“He is,” Buttercup corrected her. “He was born bad and has been brought up bad. He’s destined to turn into something immoral, unnatural. It’s been proven by scientists! I heard they’ve done experiments with orphans to prove it. There’s no denying science, is there?” She continued in the same haughty tone, “We need you to keep him under control. To stop him from desecrating our holy church again. He needs to be kept from those Palmer Street boys. He should never hurt innocent people like the Campbells.”
“He’s naughty,” Martha said softly. “He seems to like being naughty. I saw him laughing after he left that package of… of…” She blushed and waved her chubby hands…negating any need to say the foul word. “… in front of the Campbells store and then lit it on fire!”
“Horrendous beast!” Buttercup growled. “People could have gotten hurt… killed even! Playing with fire! He should have been locked up, but …” and Mrs. Leary’s face took on an even nastier expression as she stated, “Because you have a certain friend in the police office, the boy was able to go home without even a sound thrashing! The child deserves a good flogging. It probably won’t fix him, but it might teach him a lesson.”
Annie turned from Buttercup’s incensed expression to Martha’s pasty, confused look. “I’d never hurt him,” Mrs. Greer whispered.
“Well, if you don’t, I know people who’d be more than willing to do the job,” Buttercup exclaimed. “Lord, I’ve been wanting someone to apply a little leather to that brat since I first laid eyes on him. Punishment is the only thing a child like that will understand. Little criminals like him should be locked up before they’re allowed to cause any real harm. Locked up and kept away from decent people, and whipped until they know right from wrong. He’ll never amount to anything good.”
Annie stood, and brushed at her skirts. “You need to go,” she said softly.
Martha stood, and looked to her companion. Buttercup remained planted in her seat. “I want to discuss what you’re going to do about him,” Mrs. Leary continued.
“I need you to go. Now,” Annie said, her face furrowed.
Martha moved a step or two toward the door, and glanced to Buttercup again.
“We came here to have a discussion with you,” Mrs. Leary uttered.
“Nothing you say is worth listening to,” Annie said softly, trying her hardest not to yell, wanting to calm the beating of her heart, to quell the heat that reached her face.
“Butty!” Martha cried. “Mrs. Greer asked us to leave. We’re going now.”
“But, Martha!” Buttercup insisted.
“We’re leaving,” the large woman said sharply to her companion. She turned to Annie and repeated in a softer tone, “We’re leaving now. I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
Buttercup grumbled and fussed about as she stood and then followed Martha up the hallway and to the door. “Mark my words,” Mrs. Leary uttered as she stood in the doorway. “That boy will come to no good. He’s a wicked delinquent who’ll never amount to anything but a thief. Nobody will want him, and you’d best be rid of him as soon as possible.” She threw back her head and stepped onto the front porch.
Charging the last few feet to the doorway, Annie caught the door before Mrss. Leary could slam it behind her. “You listen to me!” Annie hissed out, with more anger than she thought possible. “You don’t know anything about Ezra. He’s had nothing but strife in his life, nothing but loneliness, yet he’s turning out to be a wonderful young man. He’s funny and thoughtful, and smart and dedicated and sweet and patient…” Annie stopped to take a breath before continuing with, “And he’s full of life and he doesn’t suffer fools. That’s something I need to learn about. Now get off my property before I throw you out.”
Buttercup made a startled gasp, and Martha covered her mouth. “Why, I never!” Mrs. Leary exclaimed, turning. “Come on, Martha. We’re leaving!” and she stomped down the porch stairs. Martha gave Annie a strange look, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, before she turned and followed her scurrying friend down the pathway to the gate.
Annie stood in the doorway, watching them go, feeling her breath heaving in her chest, feeling angry and sad at the same time. She stomped her foot in frustration, in a rage over the small-mindedness of some people. Oh! Mrs. Leary could be infuriating! How dare she talk about Ezra like that! The imprudent woman knew nothing about her boy!
She turned sharply, letting the front door finally shut, and walked through her home, searching for some privacy -- to sit, to calm down, to put aside the vile comments of Buttercup Leary. She had to quiet her racing heart, get some control on her galloping emotions. She moved through the house, wringing at her apron, heading to the rear porch.
Annie came to an abrupt halt as she looked through the rear doorway’s pane. Two figures rested on the top step.
Ezra sat with his back to the door, and the cat with the map of the world sat beside him. The boy’s posture was stiff, his hands tucked in front of him. The cat’s bearing had a contemplative quality, its head bowed, as it sat on its haunches beside the boy, looking like a small furred person.
They weren’t touching each other – they were just quietly poised on the top step as if the entire world revolved around them.
Beside her, the curtain on an open window moved in the light breeze. Annie let loose a low breath, realizing that the conversation at the kitchen table must have carried to that back porch. Had he heard everything? Well, no. He wouldn’t have heard her comments to the ladies in the front hallway as they left.
With a heavy heart, she started to open the door. The alert cat turned, spotting Annie at the window. Its dark pupils widened to fill its eyes and it turned. It hesitated a moment before leaving the boy’s side. But another glance over its shoulder sent it darting off. Ezra raised one hand, lightly running it over the continents of Europe and Asia as the cat made its dash for the fence.
The boy didn’t turn as she opened the door. He must have realized she was coming. She came beside him, fussing with her skirts until she could sit down on the porch step beside him.
Before she could speak, Ezra said softly, “I can’t help it. I just can’t stop myself sometimes.”
“They didn’t mean what they said,” Annie tried.
“But they did,” the boy responded. “They meant every word of it.”
Annie tried, “I don’t believe any of it.” When the boy said nothing, Annie said, “I think you’re a good boy.”
Ezra kept his head down, not daring to look at her. “It’s like they said,” the boy commented. “I was born bad and will always be bad. My mother even tells me so.”
“She told you that you were bad?” Annie exclaimed, incredulous.
“She said I have talent,” Ezra corrected. “Talent for certain nefarious schemes. She says I was born to it. I have nimble hands, excellent for pick pocketing and stacking a deck; I have a capable mind best suited for the art of the con; and an able memory that is best used for counting cards and ascertaining the weaknesses of others. She tells me it would be a waste for me to attempt any other profession.”
“But you can use those same talents for other things,” Annie explained.
“It’s all I know,” Ezra said softly, eyeing the porch step below his feet.
“You don’t have to take that path.” She smiled and softly said, “Listen, you can start by leaving the Campbells alone.”
Ezra sneered and finally looked up to his Aunt. “They started it!” he defended. “They started by charging you too much for your groceries. It was shameful what they were doing. And you weren’t the only one. All I did was tell the other folk about what they’d done.”
Ezra frowned. “Well, until their darling boys tried to corner me in an alley and dole out some retribution.”
“Ezra?” Annie called, surprised. “Did they hurt you?”
The boy shrugged. “I was able to hold my own, in a fashion.”
“They beat you? You were hurt? You didn’t tell me?” Annie wanted to reach out and hold the boy, to check him for bruises and hurts, but something about his posture told her that he wanted nothing to do with that at the moment.
“They’ve been paid back,” Ezra returned, and smiled.
“It’s time you let them be, Ezra,” Annie tried to scold, wondering about Ezra’s comment, but not wanting to push it. “They’ll leave you alone if you stop pestering them.”
“And they’re mean to Mrs. Chan,” Ezra said softly. “They called her awful names and told people that she sold dog meat in her store. They hurt her.” The boy rested his arms on his knees. “I made them pay for that, too.”
“Ezra, dear,” Annie started. “You can’t be mean to the Campbells anymore. It’s time you changed this. If you can just stop annoying people, maybe you won’t have so much trouble.”
Ezra nodded and poked at the step with the toe of his foot. “I’ll try.”
“And maybe you shouldn’t go down to Palmer Street anymore.” She heard Ezra’s intake of breath, so she continued. “Those boys are too old for you and some of them may be trouble.”
“I can take care of myself,” Ezra answered surely. “And we’re only playing marbles.”
“Those boys aren’t always nice, Ezra. Some people are just bad and I’d prefer you stay away from their company.”
Ezra sighed and nodded. “I’ll try to be good,” he said softly.
For the week that followed, Ezra swore he’d stopped his campaign against the Campbell family. Emma Chan later told Mrs. Greer that the Learys had always been good friends with the Campbells, so there was little wonder why Buttercup had come calling that day.
The Campbells gave her smug smiles as she passed their store. She was certain she heard them laughing behind her back.
When questioned about how the Campbells had treated her, Emma Chan was philosophical. “Sometimes,” she said, “People hurt what they don’t understand.”
Early one morning, Annie caught the Chinese woman and her daughter, hurriedly washing down the front of their store. Both wore stony expressions as the scrubbed at the windows and siding. When Emma looked up and met Annie’s gaze, Mrs. Chan said quickly. “It’s nothing. A joke.” She smiled joylessly. A few melon rinds still littered the walk outside their door, tell-taling that someone had pelted the store with the fruit. When Annie offered to help, Emma shook her head, and said that they were nearly done, and asked Annie to go on her way, to not tell anyone, especially not Ezra.
Annie didn't miss the hurt and haunted look on her friend's face.
And Ezra had been well-behaved. There’d been no more talk of rude behavior and no further pranks about the town. He was as good as gold. It made the boy seem sadder as he moved about her house – it made him quiet. Officer Costello talked to Annie one night, asking about the boy. “He’s changed,” Aaron said. “Is he all right?”
Annie noted the change, too, and tried to make Ezra happy. She taught him new tunes on the piano – but a stillness seemed to follow the boy – a quiet that didn’t fit him.
Annie met Buttercup Leary in town one day, and the lady was congenial, telling Annie how proud she was that her visit had changed the boy’s behavior, how glad she was that the little scamp was acting more like a gentleman. It was good for the whole town.
But Emma and Aaron, and other friends weren’t sure what to make of the somber child. Mr. Whistler, Mr. Ryder and the Beverlys, the cigar shop owner, the barber, Pastor Garby… nearly anyone Annie came in contact with seemed to miss the boy they’d come to know… and wanted to know what was wrong.
Annie and Ezra arrived home one day, after taking a walk to the park. Mrs. Greer walked into the house, while Ezra circled around the outside, looking for his little companion. Annie had walked as far as the kitchen, when she heard Ezra shouting -- shouting frantically.
She hurried through the back door, horrified at what she might find. She barely caught sight of the terrified spotted cat as it leapt onto the fence. Its ears were back as it darted up and over, disappearing from her yard in a flash. A hail of rocks and sticks followed Cartography’s departure.
“Get out! Go! Run! GET OUT OF HERE!” the boy was shouting, still finding projectiles to throw at the fence. They made a tremendous racket as they bombarded the space where the cat had disappeared. “Never come back! NEVER! YOU’RE NOT WANTED!” and a particularly large rock crashed against the fence, splintering one of the planks. “Nobody wants you!”
“Ezra!” Annie shouted, running down the rear steps.
“You’re an awful cat! Evil!” and more rocks flew. “Bad!”
“Ezra! Ezra!” Annie cried, holding up her hands toward the distraught boy.
Ezra let the last stone drop as he turned to her. His voice became a hushed whisper as he stated, “I tried.”
“What’s wrong, Ezra? What happened?” she asked, laying her hands on his shoulders.
The boy pointed. “He’s no good. He’s never going to be good. He’s always going to be bad!” Ezra cried, revealing the bloody pile of blue feathers near the base of the cherry tree.
Annie’s gaze dropped to the sad little remains of a bluebird, and for once her pity didn’t rest with the bird.
“He can’t be changed!” Ezra shouted, and with that, the boy spun from her grasp and ran.
“Ezra!” Annie called after, but the boy was gone.
Annie waited in the parlor, not in one of the plush chairs, but rather in the big old rocking chair. It had been her mother’s and she’d brought it to this house as a reminder of her. Rocking made her feel better – she’d spent months in the rocker when Harold had passed. She’d not needed it since Ezra came to stay with her.
She listened to the house, waiting until she heard a creak at the door that let her know that the boy was back. He entered quietly, slinking across the floor.
“Ezra,” she called softly to the shadow that crept toward the stairs. The shadow cringed and then the boy came into the soft light of the parlor. “Ezra, are you all right?”
“I’m sorry, Aunt Annie,” Ezra said contritely, head bowed. “I shouldn’t have been so rude.” He buried his hands in his pockets as he added, “I’ll make certain that the cat doesn’t come back. I was wrong about everything. He couldn’t be changed.”
“Come here, Ezra,” Annie called, holding out a hand. The boy came closer, lingered a moment outside her reach, but stepped nearer when her arm didn’t lower. She grasped his hand.
“I’m so sorry about the bird,” Ezra murmured “I really tried to make Carty good. I thought I could teach him how to be good.” He shrugged and continued, “There’s just no changing some things.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“It wasn’t meant to work out,” Ezra continued, still holding Annie’s hand, but staying a step away from her. “There’s no changing some things. Some just can’t be made good, no matter how hard someone tries.”
“You’re a good boy, Ezra,” she whispered.
The boy made a soft sound and then muttered, “I know what I am. I know what I’m supposed to be. There’s no changing it. Cats will be cats, after all.”
She smiled warmly at the boy, who kept his head down and a long space between them. “I think I might like cats,” Annie said softly. “I might like them just the way they are.”
The boy glanced up, giving her an incredulous look. “But cats will eat birds,” he stated.
In the dim room, still holding the boy’s hand, Annie whispered, “I like you just the way you are and wouldn’t change it for anything.”
“You don’t care?” he said, his voice low. “You don’t care what I am?”
Annie smiled wistfully. “I think I might rather like it that way.” She smiled, gazing at Ezra’s perplexed expression. “It keeps things lively. It makes my life exciting. I’m tired of a quiet little house and I don’t want a ‘perfect boy’. I like Ezra.”
“Mrs. Greer,” a deep, genial voice called. Annie turned to Officer Costello as she paused on her walk through town. He smiled at her, his eyes warm and brown, his hands pulled behind him as he stood so regally in his uniform.
“Mr. Costello,” she returned and smiled as well. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
“Delightful,” he responded, sidling up beside her. “And getting better by the moment.”
Annie let him draw near, enjoying his presence. She felt like a silly girl with him so close.
Aaron stated, “Awfully good to see Ezra happy. He seemed so sad before. I missed him. It’s nice to see some spirit in him again. “
“I wouldn’t have him any other way,” Annie responded with a little laugh.
“And speaking of ‘spirit’…” Costello cocked his head as he watched the Campbell family lined up in front of their store, all of them loudly complaining about the mess. Someone had splattered the entire façade with eggs, and the disgusting matter had dried hard in the Sunday sun. “Strange weather we’ve been having,” he commented offhand.
Annie covered her mouth with her hand, trying to hide a giggle, before she responded, “A very odd rain indeed.”
Aaron rolled his eyes, pausing as he gazed upward, to the roof of the courthouse. “At least it’s not the church steeple this time,” he commented softly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m afraid I may need to take a turn through some of the backstreets of town.” He tipped his hat and swinging his baton, slipped into a convenient alley, moving quickly to avoid the Campbells before they noticed the lawman on the street.
Annie shook her head, watching as the Campbells labored in their Sunday best. They didn’t look so smug now. Too upset with the vandalism to their store, they hadn’t thought of changing into more appropriate clothing. She turned, glancing upward to where Aaron had indicated and finally caught sight of her boy.
Up at the clock tower of the courthouse, Ezra crouched, remaining unseen by the grocers. He smirked as he held onto the roof, watching intently to the scene below. Something caught his eye and he turned to see his guardian.
His expression changed, and Annie saw the worry flit across his delicate features. She smiled at him, unable to find any expression that would be more appropriate. And he returned her expression with a relieved grin of his own. He waved with his free hand, and she made a little wave of her own, doing her best not to reveal his position.
He looked happy. He looked madly happy on that rooftop, watching the results of his work. Seeming satisfied, he let loose his hold and crab-walked toward the far side of the roof to dismount.
She turned, not wanting to see him scrambled down from his high perch. Already, her heart was beating fast in fear for him. But as she walked home, she couldn’t hide the quiet delight she felt in seeing the boy enjoy himself again – in seeing him act like himself once again.
She’d only managed to walk a block or so when a fast moving creature came to her side, and a hand reached out to take hers. She looked down, meeting the bright eyes of her Ezra. He grinned up at her, his face flush with excitement and exertion. She smiled back, and he let his other arm swing as they walked.
They headed home.
He was a good boy, Annie knew. She loved him for his every flaw, and she wouldn’t change him for the world. She only hoped that she'd be able to keep him with her long enough to convince the boy of how wonderful he truly was.
THE END - by NotTasha
Okay, the whole song really doesn't fit... mostly just the chorus, but I love the chorus.
Facts about Cats – Timbuk3 - Written by Pat MacDonaldWell, Rocking Robin said "Oh mama, please,
I'm begging you down on bended knees
I wanna go down, wanna jump and shout
Down on the corner where the cats hang out
Down on the corner where the cats hang out."
Her mama said "Rockin, you're making me cry,
But a robin's gotta rock, and a bird's gotta fly
but before you go jumping, go out rocking tonight
It's time that I tell you a few facts of life
It's time that I tell you a few facts of life”
"Cats will be cats, and cats will be cruel
Cats can be callous, and cats can be cool
Cats will be cats, remember these words
Cats will be cats, and cats eat birds
Cats will be cats, and cats eat birds”
"So Robin, get wise, use good sense,
And better brush up on your self defense
It's a jungle out there, and hunger strikes deep
Better take care, better watch where you sleep
Better take care, better watch where you sleep."
"Cats will be cats, and cats will be cruel
Cats can be callous, and cats can be cool
Cats will be cats, remember these words
Cats will be cats, and cats eat birds
Cats will be cats, and cats eat birds”
-- Copyright 1985 by Pat MacDonald