Before Anne After Purchase Now
Friday ~ July 17, 1987
Low Country Wood Artists
Celebrating forty years serving South Carolinians
She leaned forward to peer into the dark interior of a roll-top desk, at an inscription that she could feel with her right hand. As her fingers brushed it there came a tingle and she immediately saw a vision of a man and a young girl, like a memory that she didn’t understand. It was her name, Annabelle, an inch high, five inches long, obviously carved in the fine wood by a craftsman. The entire inscription read,
For my mother, Annabelle.
She had never before seen this piece of furniture, or the carving, and had no recollection of the man or girl. She pulled away and became startled by a woman standing next to her. She gasped the breath she had been holding and came straight up.
"I’m terribly sorry to scare you," the woman said. "I’d have announced my presence, but you seemed to be rather involved with this desk."
Anne flushed. "I was just remembering something. Very strange. It’s gone now."
"May I be of assistance to you then?"
Anne put her hand on the desk. "Oh, I wish. It’s just too far out of my budget."
"We can work up a payment plan; no interest."
"My husband would shoot me."
The woman laughed. "I understand. Here’s my card in case you should change your mind. This is actually an antique, built by my father a few years before I was born, well before the business was started. It’s a very cherished piece."
She glanced at the card and then slid it into her pocket. "Your father is quite a craftsman."
"Yes, he was. He passed away six years ago. My brothers are the craftsmen now. Actually, we prefer to call them artists. They’re as good if not better than their father."
Anne looked around the showroom. "They must stay very busy."
"They create only the finest pieces. We contract out all the rest or we simply couldn’t keep up. Everything still meets my father’s standards though so you can count on quality in everything we sell."
The movement of the roll-top was exceptionally smooth. "I can’t believe this is, how old?"
"About 55 years give or take a year. None of us kids know for sure."
"This is a family heirloom? Was Annabelle your grandmother?"
"Annabelle?" the woman said with a blank expression.
"The name carved here, under the roll-top; hidden. Don’t know why I noticed it."
The woman peered in and ran her fingers over it. "I don’t remember that."
Okay, Anne thought. It’s not an heirloom. She’s trying to sucker me into a sale. But I still like it and it is well built. "Why are you selling it?"
The woman looked at Anne, blinked several times and then turned back to the desk. "I don’t know." She became silent for a very long time. "This is really strange. I can’t for the life of me remember why I put it out. I don’t remember the carving, although Annabelle was my grandmother’s name. Do you want to know something else that’s very strange?"
Anne only looked at her.
"When I was a little girl, five, maybe six, I was told by someone . . ." She thought for a few seconds. "I can’t remember her name. Anyway, she told me that I would sell this roll-top desk today."
"You’re kidding!" She’s pulling my leg, Anne thought, almost laughing.
"And I didn’t remember that until this very moment. This is very, very weird."
"We are forty years old today, Low Country Wood Artists. This was the day I was told I would sell this, by a woman named . . . I don’t remember."
Anne continued to feel she was being led into a con, but when she looked into the woman’s eyes she saw sincere confusion. The woman backed away from the desk and said to Anne, "You’ll have to excuse me. I don’t know what’s come over me."
"That’s quite all right. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment to get to. It’ll give me some time to think about it. If I come back and it’s gone, then I wasn’t the person meant to buy it."
Anne wasn’t sure the woman heard her. She simply turned and stepped through a door marked "PRIVATE." Anne ran her hands over the roll-top once more and then left for her appointment.
Anne Waring finished dressing and then rested her hands on her swollen belly and looked at the posters and literature on the walls. They depicted various health issues a responsible and health conscious mother or mother-to-be should be concerned about. She was reading about nursing when the exam room door opened.
"It certainly does look like a girl to me." Dr. Rose handed her an ultrasound photo after she settled into the chair. He pointed with a pen to a spot on the photo, which, if it were a boy, would show some kind of appendage or at least some shape. "You know, doing an ultrasound at this late date is unconventional. Being able to tell the sex at eight months is nearly impossible. In this case, however, I’d be willing to put five bucks on a girl."
"Steven wants a boy," Anne said and then lowered her voice to imitate her husband. "The first born should always be a boy. That way the other siblings will always have a big brother to look up to. It’s got to be a boy, Anne, no choice about it." Anne grabbed Doctor Rose’s arm. "He said that last night and I had this vision of a gang of children in single file parading down the street. Was I relieved when he said he only wanted three."
Doctor Rose chuckled. "Believe me, when she’s born your husband will be the happiest man alive. It’s amazing how they change overnight." He picked up her records and stuck them in a slot on the exam room door. "So far everything is just fine. By my calculations I still hold you due . . . let’s see . . . four weeks from today."
She shifted her position in the chair. "August seventeenth and it had better not be a day late."
"First births often are late, so don’t get too upset if we slip past the twentieth."
"I know. I know."
"How is the Lamaze coming along?"
"It isn’t. Steven has gone once. He says it’s just a bunch of hype and was invented by women looking for employment."
Dr. Rose laughed. "I haven’t heard that excuse yet."
"What’s the point in going without my partner?" She had tried that once and felt completely out of place. It was a source of stern disagreement between her and Steven.
"Even by yourself there’s a lot you can learn, Mrs. Waring. It really is important. Would you like me to call your husband?"
"I don’t know if it’ll do any good, but if you think there’s a chance, you’re welcome to try."
"I certainly will. Stop at the desk before you leave to schedule your next appointment. And keep walking."
Anne wrestled her husband’s old truck out of the clinic parking lot. No power steering, no power brakes, no air conditioning, and you needed to be a Sumo Wrestler to roll the windows up and down. That plus eight months pregnant and a hot and humid South Carolina summer afternoon, didn’t make driving around town very pleasant. She was stuck with the monster, as she preferred to call the truck, because her Celica decided to quit on her in the middle of rush hour traffic the previous day. "The timing chain broke and it’s $350," was the report she passed on to Steven on the phone after the shop called midmorning. Great!
In fifteen minutes she was again standing in the furniture showroom, enjoying the cool air, dreading the fact that she would have to go back out in that heat again to go home.
"May I help you?"
Anne turned. A young salesman was approaching. "I was looking at something with . . ." She pulled up a mental picture of the card handed to her earlier by the sales lady and said, "Heather Browning. Is she available?"
"I believe she is. I’ll get her for you."
When Heather appeared, Anne was admiring the desk again. "I was kind of hoping it would already be sold so that the decision would be made for me."
"Afraid not," Heather said coolly. Her earlier pleasant personality was gone.
Anne sighed. Walk away now. You can’t afford it and you know it. Steven will have a fit. "When could you deliver it?"
"We don’t deliver over the weekend. Would Monday morning be okay?"
What are you doing, Annabelle? Leave your credit card in your purse and tell her you’ve changed your mind. "Monday morning would be just fine."
"Wonderful. Please step over here and we’ll do the paperwork. Let me get you a chair, too. When are you due?"
"August seventeenth." Anne looked at the desk again, swore at herself one more time and then followed after Heather Browning.
"Will that be check or charge, or can we work up a payment plan for you?"
Don’t even open your purse. Just leave it in there and go. You don’t need the payments and you certainly don’t need Steven getting upset with you. "Visa," Anne said and her hand passed the card to the saleswoman, seemingly of its own free will.
"Please fill this out. We’ll need directions to your residence for the delivery van. I’ll be right back with your receipt and warranty certificate."
Anne picked up the pen, filled in the information and then waited nervously for Heather Browning to return. She had never done anything like this before—making a big purchase without consulting with Steven first. She felt as though her nerves were going to poke through her skin. In a way, she hoped the card would be rejected.
Heather returned and sat before Anne. "Please sign here," she said. Anne did so. "Here is the warranty. We guarantee it for five years, unconditional. If you or someone can be home between 10:00 and 12:00, Mrs. . . ." she looked at the delivery form, "Waring, our delivery guys will . . . ah . . ." Her mouth closed and she looked at the charge card she was starting to hand back. "Annabelle Waring?" she said quietly and then looked at her customer.
"Yes." Anne said.
Heather’s mouth slowly came open. "Oh my!"
"What’s the matter?"
Heather’s mouth closed again. "Nothing. Nothing. You just look so familiar and your name is so similar, but it’s been so many years. It may just be my bad memory. Never mind. Just a coincidence I guess."
"What kind of coincidence?"
"The person I told you about earlier, who told me I would sell this desk today. I would swear she had the same name as you. But that was over 40 years ago. I was just a child so how could I possibly remember the name? Very strange."
"It certainly is."
"Well, congratulations on your purchase, Mrs. Waring. Do you have a place picked out for it in your home?"
"No, I don’t actually. That might turn into a problem." She stood and extended her hand. "Thank you, Mrs. Browning."
Anne noted 97 degrees on the bank clock and then had to brake hard for a sudden yellow light. The red light glared at her while her leg strained against the clutch pedal. A trickle of sweat ran down her back. She had a nearly overwhelming urge to lie down on the seat. Instead she closed her eyes, for only a second she was sure. A honk snapped her eyes open. The light was green. Her aching leg gave up the clutch with a jerk and she, the monster, and her eight-month-old fetus bounced into the middle of the intersection where she found the brake and clutch at the same time, bringing them all to a sudden halt. Then, with the skill of an Indi driver and a scream of burning rubber, she left the intersection and the honker behind.
By the time Anne pulled into her driveway her embarrassment had eased, but her frustration with the heat and her anger at having to deal with the truck had not. She ached and felt like she had been beaten up and then thrown into a sauna. She struggled out of the truck, slammed the door as hard as she could and marched into the townhouse. It was a brand-new unit they could hardly afford, but, thank God, it had central air conditioning. "I do not want to ever again be pregnant in the summer," she told Steven. "After spending three summers in Charleston, we should have known better then to plan a summer pregnancy."
There was no blinking light on the answering machine, so she poured a glass of orange juice and went directly upstairs. A cool shower was all she could think about. It was 5:15 and she had to be out the door by 6:30 in order to pick up Steven by 7:00. Plenty of time. She dropped her clothes into a pile and stepped into the shower.
The cool, hard spray beat against her head, cascaded off her face, down her swollen breasts and around her protruding belly. She thought she heard the telephone, slid open the shower door and listened. Nothing. She stepped back into the spray and ran her hands around the skin-covered cocoon in which her baby girl grew. She smiled. Since the day they were married she dreamed of having a little girl, but Steven was insistent on a boy. They had already agreed on her father’s name, Robert, and his father’s name, Troy. Steven wouldn’t even discuss a girl’s name. Anne felt a kick. "Hi, Elizabeth Anne," she said in response. "This is your Mommy."
On the fourth ring the machine came on and Steven’s voice told the caller they had reached the Waring residence and to please leave a message. "Anne Honey, it’s me. It looks like we’re going to have to work late. I should be able to get a ride. I’ll call again if I don’t. I love you."
He approached Jerry who was bent over a computer terminal, scrolling through a series of pie charts. He watched for a minute and then said, "The spectrograph is calibrated. I believe we can do the test tonight if everyone is in agreement. What do you think, Jerry?"
Jerry stared at Steven for a couple of seconds before responding. "Get the word to everyone to meet in the conference room at 1900 and we’ll do the final talk-through. After the meeting we’ll perform the full power test and check grid and RP3 alignments." Jerry was the team leader, and nothing happened without his knowledge and say so. Everyone knew it, and accepted his authority without question.
"And if everything is ready?"
"We’ll sedate Charlie."
Steven beamed. He had been waiting over a month for this test. Back in early June they did a test with a baseball. The ball was sent forward 24 hours. That was 24 of the longest hours any of them had ever spent. Few of the team hardly slept. Right to the second, 24 hours after it disappeared, the baseball reappeared exactly as calculated. After analyzing the data, the team agreed that in two weeks they would repeat the test with a live subject. And then disaster. A lightning strike. Visible damage was minimal; however, nothing could be trusted to chance so every piece of equipment, every circuit board and every component had to be inspected. Expensive surge protection equipment was installed along with four lightning rods. Now, finally, after nearly a month delay, they were ready once again. Steven headed for the control room to tell the others.
"Let’s go, Steven," Jerry half suggested and half ordered as he headed for the conference room. Steven paused briefly to reset everything back to zero, which was the routine when walking away from the controllers. "Steven!" Jerry yelled, this time from down the hall. Steven paused one more time and then turned away. The computer display still read July 17, 1943; 16,437 days. He didn’t want to delay this meeting.
"Be back soon, Charlie," he announced and then rushed to catch up with Jerry. Charlie had already been placed in the huge, glass transport cage. He wiggled his nose but otherwise sat still. His overly floppy ears drooped by his side. He hadn’t been fed in eight hours in the hopes that this test would happen tonight.
To pass the time she pulled the ultrasound photo from her purse. "Elizabeth Anne." She smiled and put the photo in her pocket to show Steven. The heat in the truck was unbearable and it was certainly air conditioned inside the building. She slid out of the truck.
She was wearing sensible shoes; however, the mixture of dirt, gravel and dried up ruts nearly caused her to fall several times. By the time she stepped into the building her ankles hurt more than usual, and there was no place to sit. It was just a room full of lockers and pictures. She wandered around the room, analyzing the pictures of ships and men in the old uniforms, until she was bored out of her mind. A large clock on one wall read 7:13.
"Where the hell are you?"
Looking down the hall, she could see that the door with the cipher lock, the one that was always closed all the other times she'd come, stood open. She listened for sounds but heard only the hum of equipment. "Hello?" she announced with apprehension. No response. She started walking down the hall, taking slow, hesitant steps, again announcing her greeting. Still no response. She continued on until she arrived at the open door whereupon she leaned in, lightly brushing against the ten-button security lock.
The room was indeed empty. She considered proceeding farther down the hall in hopes of finding someone even though she knew she should have stayed in the entry room.
Where is he, and what the hell would they do to a pregnant woman anyway?
"Oh, how cute." She placed her purse on a shelf above a workstation consisting of a panel of gages and switches and then stepped across the room and into the glass enclosure. The rabbit sniffed her hand and then lay back down. Anne eased herself down, sitting cross-legged next to him. "You’re hungry, aren’t you baby?" She stroked his soft fur. "Sorry I don’t have anything for you."
She spotted something move at the corner of her eye, immediately followed by a click. She looked but when she saw nothing she returned to the rabbit. Several seconds passed and then came another click; another movement. This time when she looked she noticed her purse dangling from the workstation, hanging by its strap. And then a variety of lights started glowing throughout the room along with the whir of motors starting up. She started to rise but was forced back down by a deafening high pitch wail. She covered her ears, and again tried to struggle to her feet, but without her hands it was impossible, and uncovering her ears wasn’t an option. When she finally made it to one knee she was suddenly blinded by an intense white light. In an effort to cover both her eyes and ears, she collapsed to the floor and curled up into a ball. Just when she thought she would go insane, the sound stopped, but the white light persisted. Instinctively she remained curled up, an effort to protect both herself and her baby. And then she felt the rabbit attempting to find safety within her arms. She pulled it in and hugged it close.
Her head started spinning as though she was coming off a carnival ride and she lost track of what was up or down. Then she heard a voice, foggy and far away, the words confusing.
"Steven?" Anne whispered. Her world just kept spinning.
"Steven!" And then there was darkness and silence.
And sleep. Deep, deep sleep . . . and dreams.