Chapter 3 : Ave Maria
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The auctioneer’s gavel pounded loudly in the elegant room as he boomed, “And the painting is sold to Mr Kipling.”
There was polite clapping and Maria joined in as the red faced man waved for the next item to be brought forward. She was at a charity auction for children that had been orphaned due to the 9/11 attacks. This was what Maria had become, after her son’s death, after her first heart attack that morning, she had dedicated herself to attending, organising and joining benefits that aided 9/11 related relief funds. She idly watched the next item be bid on as she absent mindedly fiddled with her white gloves, today marked ten years since all that happened but she could still remember it like it was yesterday. The item on display was quickly sold and on came another, Maria did not even bother to see what it was, she was already going to give money to this function whether or not she bought anything, instead, she thought of what time she would go and visit Philip’s memorial at the cemetery.
“Do I hear 100,000?” the auctioneer’s voice startled her from her thoughts, Maria mechanically raised her paddle and the man boomed, “Sold! To Mrs. Shannon for one hundred thousand dollars.” And with that, he banged his gavel.
Maria looked up to see exactly what she had bought, it was a golden urn with some black embroidery, at least it was pretty, the last time she bid on something without looking, she ended up with a crooked spoon they claimed belonged to President Lincoln.
“Maria!” a voice in her ear roused her from her thoughts once more, she looked to her side and saw one of her friends, Mercedes looking at her, “the auction is done, we can go now.” Her friends bright blue eyes shone too brightly for Maria’s liking, she knew it was not fair to think that because she had been like that their whole lives of knowing each other, but today, nothing was right in Maria’s eyes.
“Oh, okay,” she whispered as she eased herself out of the chair.
“Rebecca said she will catch up with us,” Mercedes said as they walked out of the hotel.
Two old women, one wearing canary yellow, the other wearing black, could be seen getting out of the hotel and entering a plum Rolls-Royce that pulled up in front of them.
“Good day madams, how was your function?” Chives, the driver, said.
“Quite okay Chives,” Rebecca replied, Maria just sat and pursed her lips.
“I believe Lady Rebecca will be accompanying us today?” Chives who was familiar with the ladies’ program from working for Mercedes for twenty years, asked.
“Yes. She will be here a minute,” Mercedes replied.
Shortly afterwards, a petite woman who looked her fifties, wearing a short, green dress strutted to the car, “Sorry for the delay ladies,” Rebecca flipped her fiery red hair as she got into the car.
“That’s okay,” Mercedes replied, “I see you visited your surgeon again.”
“One can never have enough face lifts once you reach a certain age,” Rebecca said, “I could up an appointment for you with my doctor Maria, he’s really great.”
“I told you, I have no desire to look any younger,” Maria replied coolly.
Rebecca and Mercedes exchanged knowing looks, she was always like this during this week, they had tried to console her and tell her that it was not her fault but had given up by the fifth year of trying, now they just carried on like normal, and Maria liked it better like that, if it was one thing she despised, it was when people pitied her.
“So, the cafe it is?” Chives asked.
“Yes Chives,” Mercedes replied.
They drove to a quaint little cafe near Barney’s, the three had always gone there for Sunday brunch and it had sort of become unspoken tradition among them that the like happened all the time.
“So, did any of you hear what happened to Louisa?” Rebecca asked as they took their orders from the handsome young waiter.
“What?” Mercedes asked.
“Bill decided to file for divorce,” Rebecca said scandalously, “can you imagine that? They’ve been married nearly thirty years and he just wakes up one day and leaves.”
“What a shame,” Mercedes said, hand to chest.
“Yes, and do you know what’s worse?” Rebecca asked, “She’s only getting a million.”
“What?” Mercedes asked incredulously, “That’s ridiculous.”
“You don’t say,” Maria said unenthusiastically.
“And he’s leaving her for a twenty year old!” Rebecca continued, she rambled on about men these days and Maria allowed her thoughts to travel to Greta, after Philip died, she offered to help raise Roman, who was fourteen by then, but Greta declined, adamant on raising her son alone, and now Roman was back, working as one of the executive directors at Apex Constructions. He and Maria, though close when he was younger, now barely spoke to each other anymore, it was like there was something Roman knew that he did not want Maria to know, but she did know one thing, he blamed her for his father’s death, she could see it in his eyes everytime they spoke, there was a fire that was not there ten years ago. She went on to think of how little he resembled his father, though they had the same eyes, he looked very much like his mother. This led her to think of when she was going to the cemetery, and what time she would go to the Memorial Plaza, she had received the invitation about two weeks ago, and she was not sure whether she was ready to visit the place where her son had been killed just yet.
“Maria,” Mercedes said besides her, “are you okay? You look off colour.”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Maria replied hastily, “I think I’ll just go home and rest a little, I had a long night yesterday.”
Her friends nodded in understanding as she got up, “I’ll call you later tonight,” Rebecca said.
Maria walked down the street and entered the florists shop, “Goodmorning Mrs. Shannon,” Gloria, the owner said as she saw who had come in.
“Hello Gloria,” Maria replied, “do you have any orchids?”
“A fresh batch came in today,” Gloria replied.
Maria nodded as she gave the young lady her credit card, one of the assistants came in with a bunch arranged in a pretty bouquet, Maria got the flowers and left the shop, she hailed a taxi and asked to be taken to the cemetery, once there, she did not have to walk for long as she reached the tombstone she had erected in memory of her son. She slowly walked up to it and read the words that were engraved there, even though she knew them by heart, she always read them everytime she came there. It read:
In loving memory of Philip Gregory Shannon
July 16 1963 - September 11, 2001
Loving Father, Husband and Son,
He will forever be remembered
She pulled out a single orchid from the bunch and laid it gently on the tombstone, just like she had done for the past ten years.
“So, they are opening a memorial for all those that lost their lives today Philip,” she said softly, “and they invited me, they said family can come if they want to today. So I guess I’ll go,” she whispered, “Wish me luck Phil,” she said with a small smile. She placed a kiss on her hand and lay in on the tombstone before turning around to go back to the taxi she left parked at the entrance.
Halfway there, she saw Greta walking towards her, a single white rose in her hand, red rims around her eyes. She looked older than her forty four years of age, she and Philip had gotten married while young and contrary to what Maria had expected, Greta never got remarried. From the distance, Greta had also seen Maria and started to walk towards her, her once voluminous black hair had lost its volume and was mousy, she wore an old flannel shirt Maria recognised was Philip’s, and had on some faded old blue jeans that hung loosely. Maria shook her head, she had stopped taking care of herself again, once they met, Maria gave her a hug.
“Hello Maria,” Greta said silently.
“Hello darling,” Maria said kindly, “how have you been?”
“I’m okay, I’ve been holding up well,” she lied unconvincingly.
Maria nodded, “Do you want to....... would you like to come home with me afterwards?”
Greta shook her head, “No, no, I need to get home,” she replied.
“Aren’t you coming to the...........the memorial?” Maria asked tentatively.
Greta violently shook her head, Maria could see her faded green eyes fighting back the tears, “No, I asked Roman to go instead.” She said, “How is he by the way?”
“What do you mean?”
“I haven’t spoken to him since last month, when I told him he could um just take one ticket and go to the memorial,” Greta replied.
Maria nodded and reached out to hold Greta’s hand, “I’ll speak to him if I see him today, are you sure you don’t want to come over?”
Greta smiled sadly and shook her head, “No Maria, but thankyou.”
Maria nodded as she dropped her hand, “But if you change your mind dear, my door is always open.”
After another embrace, the two women parted ways and Maria got into the taxi and asked to be taken home.
Once at her penthouse, she slowly walked to her living room and turned on the TV, there was a reporter talking about the opening of the 9/11 Memorial Plaza. Maria sighed and put the remaining orchids on the table next to the picture of Philip. Just then, Clara walked in, carrying a tray of medicines.
“You did not take the medicines ma’am,” she said in a thick Jamaican accent.
“Do I look sick to you Carla?” Maria replied, she had never really gotten round to knowing Clara’s name and so called her anything that sounded close.
Clara did not reply as she put the tray of medicines in front of her boss, she walked to the orchids and proceeded to put them in a vase.
“Did anyone come for me?” Maria asked.
Clara hesitated before cautiously saying, “Your grandson, Roman, he come earlier. He said to give you this,” she took out a piece of paper from her apron and put it on the tray.
Maria got the note which read:
You will need to come to office tomorrow
Urgent meeting discussing shareholders
Maria laughed bitterly, he could not call her secretary, better yet, he could not call her, he just decided, of all things to scratch a note and give it to the domestic to deliver to her. Roman really needed to get a grip.
“Tell Bentley to get the car ready,” she said curtly, “I will be going to the Plaza, and get my ticket from my room will you?”
“Make sure you take your medicine,” Clara replied.
“I know that Christy,” Maria replied sourly.
Clara nodded and went to carry out her tasks, Maria increased the volume on the TV so she could hear what the reporter was saying.
The little man in the black suit had a large crowd behind him and was saying, “As you can see Arlene, the masses have already gathered here and are lining up to get into the Memorial Plaza. This place, once known as ground zero, has been transformed into a peaceful haven where those that lost their loved ones can come and visit them.” He gestured to the crowd behind him, “As you know Arlene, today, the plaza is only open to direct family of the victims of 9/11 and the people you can see here could arguably be also called victims of the attacks and-”
Maria clicked the TV off and looked at her medicines, she swiftly opened the numerous bottles and took the pills all at once, downing them with a glass of water. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Clara walk in with an envelope in her hands. She handed it Maria and said, “Mr Bentley said he is ready whenever you are ma’am.”
Maria nodded and waved her away, she slowly walked to the door and took the elevator down to the entrance where the driver, Mr. Bentley, was waiting outside a black Cadillac. He opened the door for her and went to the front of the car.
“Hello Mrs. Shannon,” he said, she could see his good natured face looking at her from the rear view mirror.
“Hello Bentley, you do know where we are going?”
He nodded and slowly snaked the lush car through the streets of New York and stopped at the plaza.
At the sight of her car, one of the security guards went inside and in and in a short while, a tall, handsome black man of strong build wearing an expensive suit came out to greet her.
“Good day Mrs. Shannon,” he said as he helped her out of the car, “we’re glad you could make it.” He said kindly as he led her through the gates.
“Hello Kevin,” she replied as she placed all her metal objects in a tray that was put in front of her, once past the metal detector, she looked up to him and said, “Is it okay if......” she pointed to an old wrist watch that was in the tray, “if I could carry that with me?”
Palmer sighed and looked at war with himself for a moment before finally saying, “Okay, just for you,” he said gently.
Kevin Palmer and Philip had gone to school together, and had remained the best of friends even after they both went in their different career paths, Philip going into the family business and Palmer going into the FBI, though he did not tell her, Maria knew that he obviously had become a high ranking officer as the years went by. Once in a while, he came to visit Maria and check up on her and had taken it up on himself to make sure she had a smooth entry into the Plaza.
“Thankyou,” Maria replied, “it belonged to Philip.”
“I thought I’d recognised it,” Palmer replied, “I’ll have to go back to work now.”
And with that, he disappeared behind a door that said ‘Personnel Only’.
Maria went through the gates and was greeted by gigantic white oak trees on either side of her as she slowly walked on the cobblestoned path that seemed to go for about two hundred yards. In the distance, a small Asian woman was holding a toddler and pointing to the sky and trees as they walked on. Behind her, Maria saw two teenagers and a man she deduced was their father, walking hand in hand, the place had an unsettling silence about it, but it was not the deathly silence Maria was expecting, instead, it was more of a serene, peaceful silence, like the whole world had held its breath, in the distance, she could hear a soft whooshing sound, like water cascading down a waterfall. She slowly walked on, taking her time as she looked around to take in her surroundings, she saw a red-breasted robin jump from tree to tree, there was a little lizard that ran up one of the trees and the soft autumn sun was overhead. The whooshing grew louder as she drew closer and a few yards ahead, the stone path stopped at two wide canyon-like pits. Maria drew closer and saw that they actually were where the twin towers had been, she walked over to one of them and saw that there was water cascading deep into the dark void that was once a world business centre. So that was what made that loud whooshing noise, Maria looked around her and saw over a hundred people around her, they all seemed to be lost in their own worlds, Maria understood how they felt, it was like it was only them in the place, each person seemed almost unaware of the fact that there were almost a thousand other people where they were. Only they and their loved ones mattered then.
Maria placed her hand on the bronze plate in front of her and saw that it had something engraved there, she lifted her hand and saw the name Grace Saunders. She traced her hand forwards and saw that there were rows and rows of names, the names of the 2,997 people that had lost their lives. She walked on, finger underneath the names, she wondered where Philip’s name was when an old man next to her said, “If there is someone you are looking for, the directories are over there,” he pointed to a nearby sectioned off place, there were a few people that had lined up there.
“Thankyou,” she said softly, she looked at where the man was standing and noticed that he had left a flower where the name Grace Saunders was.
“She was my wife,” the man said quietly after he saw Maria staring.
“I’m sorry,” Maria whispered.
The man smiled and shook his head, “There is no need to be, I know that wherever she is, she is smiling down on me as we speak.”
Maria nodded and smiled, “I will now go to look at the directory,” she whispered, “Nice to meet you Mr. Saunders.”
Mr. Saunders gave a firm nod as Maria went over to the directory booth, once there, she walked over to one of the electronic devices and tentatively typed the name Philip Shannon, a few seconds later, about fifteen Philip Shannons showed up on the screen, using her index finger, Maria traced downwards until she saw the name Philip Gregory Shannon, she clicked on the name and the directions to his name showed up on the screen. Maria took in the instructions and slowly walked to the place she was told to go to, once there she saw it; the name Philip Gregory Shannon, it was there, engraved in the bronze plate, her son’s name, right between Eileen Hunter, his secretary and Mohit Patel, one of his business associates.
Maria stroked the engraved name and tried not to cry, heaving a sigh, she pulled out his wrist watch from her pocket and placed it under his name.
In the distance, somewhere in her head, or somewhere in the city, Maria could not tell, the song ‘Ave Maria’ begun to play.
(A/N: So there's chapter 3, what do you guys think?)