There were no bodies on the roof the next morning, no police cars in the street when Mrs. Parr ventured outside. The gargoyle's enemies were apparently as secretive as the gargoyle himself. They left no trace. Perhaps he had not killed them after all, or perhaps someone else had come before the night was over and cleared away their dead.
She went into the ally where the one had fallen, half expecting to find a black clad body lying twisted on the ground. There was no body, but she did find something else. Lying by a dumpster, some pages torn and stained with muck but mostly intact, was the gargoyle's sketchpad. She picked it up carefully, almost reverently, smoothing the wrinkled pages into place until she came to the cover. She returned with it to the sidewalk and, since the weather was being kind that morning, began to walk. She slowly turned the pages as she ambled around the block, studying each drawing. She hoped to learn something more of him and his life, something definite to go along with her fantasies.
She found a number of sketches in colored pencil of young women dressed as superheroes, whose powers evidently included being able to levitate their rather large breasts. She shook her head at these, unable to figure out if she was amused or not. Young males – the same everywhere no matter what the species. There were also male superheroes, though they paled in comparison to the woman both in the number of portraits and variety of poses. She saw sketches obviously drawn from her neighboring rooftop – of the East River, the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, and one perspective that took in both bridges at once. She was delighted to find several drawings of other gargoyles in their stone form, and she wondered if they, too, were alive and if they were friends of his.
There was one magnificent piece, a double spread drawn from the top of the tallest of buildings, with the city laid out like a galaxy beneath his feet. He had somehow managed to capture the entirety of the city all in one go. Her eyes were drawn down through the canyons of skyscrapers. She could actually discern, even from this perilous height, trash in the alleys, cigarette butts and Blimpies bags in the gutter. And she saw, immediately below her, the peregrine falcons that she had always heard lived in the city, but had never seen. Everywhere she caught glimpses of New York's humanity; through windows, in doorways, in the streets and parks, in bodegas and alleys and restaurants. She saw in his city the lonely, the dirty, the hopeless, the wicked, the monstrously violent, the unexpectedly generous, the strange, the clever, the insane, the genius, the brightly courageous, the enormously funny, and the arrestingly beautiful. She knew little about art. She did not know how he had managed to trick the perspective into revealing a bottle in the gutter and everything else all the way up to a falcon on the wing with equal clarity, but he had, from filth and blood to improbable, transcendent light.
He has signed his name to this small masterpiece: Michelangelo. Oh, I'm sure, she thought. Then again, perhaps it really was his name, either given or chosen for himself. As far as she was concerned he was worthy of it. She likes the way he saw things, the way he could take his visions and with simple charcoal pencils translate them to paper.
Mrs. Parr began to flip more quickly through the pages, searching for some sign of herself in his life. She told herself it was unlikely, even as her need for his acknowledgement of her existence and her disappointment at not finding it grew with each turn of the page.
She did eventually find herself, after a fashion, at last. It was a cartoony self portrait of the gargoyle on her next door roof, playfully flexing a bicep. Across the way a pair of binoculars telescoped a ridiculously long way from her window, obscuring everything of the person holding them except a pair of hands at one end and two wide, bulging eyes in place of lenses at the other. A caption reading 'ENJOYING THE VIEW?!?' was printed in big block letters across the top. She had to laugh at this, flushed with embarrassment. Oh, lord, he knew about the binoculars.
And that was it. The rest of the sketchbook had nothing to do with her. Ah, well, it's something, anyway.
She was surprised to find that her key would not turn in the lock when she tried to return home. Annoyed, she wondered if she had the wrong building. They all looked nearly alike. She tried the next one with the same result. A little alarmed, she stepped to the sidewalk, looking up and down, searching for some landmark with which to get her bearings. She could not remember which number she lived at. Sixty-four or forty-five seemed familiar, but these buildings were numbered in the hundreds. She couldn't be that lost; she had only gone around the block, she was certain.
She walked to the next corner, noticing nothing familiar, and turned up the next street in a rising panic, trying the buildings one by one. Her hip had begun to ache from all the walking, and she was plagued by an increasing need to use the bathroom. After a time she began to ring buzzers as well as trying the various doors, asking anyone who answered if they knew where she lived, if she could use the bathroom, if they could help her, if they knew where Michelangelo was.
In the end, Mrs. Parr lost control of her bladder before she found someone to aid her. She stood helplessly on the steps of some strange building as warm urine trickled uncontrollably down her legs. She sat down slowly where she was, careful of her painful hip, and huddled up, clutching the sketchbook to her breast, nearly weeping in humiliation and fear and anger.
She did not know how long she sat – long enough for the pain in her hip to double and redouble from sitting on the hard stone – when a voice called, "Mrs. Parr! Mrs. Parr!"
She realized the voice was calling her. A dark woman, almost as black as the things that had hunted the gargoyle, approached her. "Mrs. Parr, it's me, Denise." She did not trust the voice; it was too rich, too ingratiating, trying too hard to be kind. But the woman's hands were on her, soft yet irresistibly strong, helping her to rise. "What happened?" the dark woman said. "Oh, you poor thing, I'll get you home. I'm gonna call somebody who can help you, okay? Don't worry, I'll stay with you."
More strangers in her home, asking questions. They demanded her name. Did she know her address? The date and year? Her late husband's name? She tried to answer that last one. "Michael," she mumbled, and then said with more certainty, "it's Michael." The strangers looked to the dark woman, who shook her head.
They directed the rest of their questions to the dark woman, talking about her. "She has good days and bad days," was the reply. They asked about any living relatives, her Social Security and Medicare benefits, and who, if anyone, had power of attorney.
Mrs. Parr asked, then ordered them to leave, but they only gave her empty reassurances and ignored her.
"Can I see that book you're holding?" the dark woman asked suddenly. "I've never seen it before."
"No!" Mrs. Parr cried. She could not have been more horrified if they had asked her to strip naked.
"Do you draw, Mrs. Parr?" one of the others asked. Patronizing, oily ingratiation. She knew they meant no kindness. They were all the gargoyle's enemies, searching for him. She would never let them see the book.
"I'm not going to hurt it," said the dark woman, "I just want to see." She put a hand on the sketchbook and gently tried to pull it away.
Mrs. Parr couldn't believe this. Hadn't she clearly said no? Overcome with outrage and desperate to protect the gargoyle, she gripped the book with all her strength. She sought for some way to drive the dark woman back. She recalled her parents and their language of easy contempt for people like the dark woman (nothing wrong with it back then, oh no – back then you were free to say whatever you wanted) - words she had learned and eventually learned not to use. She called them up now and hurled them, screaming with hostility into the dark woman's face.
"I said don't touch it, you goddamn nigger!"
The dark woman let go. There was a moment of stunned silence, and then the others quickly turned to the dark woman, consoling. "It's not her. It's the Alzheimer's talking."
Staring defiantly at the dark woman, Mrs. Parr saw an old, deep, implacable anger stirring in her eyes, before being quelled and mastered by a show of pity. "I know…I know. She doesn't know what she's saying. God, I'm sorry, Mrs. Parr."
Mrs. Parr felt her own face pucker and crumple up like a small child about to cry, and she broke. She lowered her head and hid her face in her hands, sobbing.
She came back to herself, unsure of where she was and how long it had been since that terrible morning in her apartment. She was lying in a bed in a spare, bleak room with worn, once white walls. An old beige dresser with a television on it stood at the wall past the foot of the bed, with a nightstand and a small lamp by the side. To her left was a setup identical to her own; the other bed's occupant motionless under the small mound of blankets. There was a curtain between the two beds that could be drawn for semi-privacy, although it was now pulled open. A powerful odor of antiseptic and bleach permeated the air, but not enough to completely cover the stench of urine and diarrhea and illness.
She suddenly understood, with terrifying clarity, where she was and what her future held. She would never leave this place. She was going to languish alone in this desolate nursing home, enduring the indignity of perfunctory basic care, until she finally died. Even worse, the disease that was eating at her mind would eventually consume her, leaving everything that could be identified as Mrs. Parr effectively dead even before the end, with her caretakers only waiting for the formality of the body to follow suit.
In the next bed, her fellow resident began to whimper – a small, despairing sound of suffering and loss. Mrs. Parr clamped her jaw shut to keep from joining in, but knew it was only a matter of time before her own voice matched the other in accompaniment.
"I'm right here," said a voice, warm and husky, so real it seemed to vibrate in her ear as much as in her mind. A riot of color rose in her vision and blotted out the drab room – bright orange and living green, a wash of gold ricocheting between river and sky. But no, none of this was real.
"It doesn't matter. I'm here."
She felt the gargoyle's arms around her, and she was young again and her body supple. She could mold herself easily to his hard chest and entwine her legs with his. They were back in her first apartment, just a small studio with a narrow twin bed, but that was okay. That made it easier to lie close. She closed her eyes, allowing her existence with the gargoyle overlay her existence in this dismal room. She could feel the both the thin pillow under her head and the gargoyle's muscled arm, but the gargoyle was the stronger presence. He was right, what did it matter? Like that old song said – Whatever gets you through the night, 'salright. She had never been a high maintenance or demanding person, and she had long been used to making a little go a long way. For as long as this lasted, this would do. There was relief here, and comfort, and – in the end - such love.
She drifted, and let it carry her.