Mr Davis and Tom
|Charlotte and Gus Stark|
Virgin Islands there were many characters. One of them was Mr. Davis. He lived building no more than 10 X 15 feet with a door at one end and two windows on at least one wall. I never went inside.
The shed was on the property of Charlotte and Gus Stark who were close family friends and it was Charlotte who took care of Mr. Davis.
He had once been an artist, who lived at
, caretaking the place when my grandparents were not in residence. Grammy took his art work, which was quite good, to Trunk Bay Puerto Rico and sold it for him in gift shops and art galleries. He mostly did etchings on tiles, scenes of buildings and ruins.
Mom said he was cantankerous even back in the 1930’s. By the time he was living in the shed he had become a reclusive hermit who snarled at people. What he did in that shed all day is anyone’s guess. He didn’t do art. Perhaps he read. Perhaps he sat in a chair and mumbled to himself about how badly life had treated him. Perhaps he slept.
Whatever he did, one thing is certain, for me at eight or nine years old, Mr. Davis was a scary and mysterious person.
Off the kitchen there was a long covered porch or veranda. It was about six or seven feet wide and ran the length of the house. By the kitchen door was a small round table and a single chair.
Charlotte would set the table and have a plate of food in place. Then, in her thin high voice, she’d call him.
“Yoo-hoo! Wilber! Dinner!” She was the only one who called him by his first name.
A minute or so later Mr. Davis would appear out of the depths of his self-imposed exile. He was a large, imposing figure and always wore the same thing, no matter the time of year or the weather: dark trousers, dark long-sleeved shirt and often an ancient knee-length over-coat that was probably made of wool. Sometimes he wore a battered fedora. He’d walk the 30 or so feet to the back porch, eat, get up and return to his dark den.
Charlotte called Mr. Davis for dinner, she also called a wild tomcat. She had several house cats, but she fed the wild cat separately.
She’d put out a dish of food in the same place every evening and in her high thin voice she’d call, “Yoo-hoo! Tom. Yoo-hoo! Dinner, Tom!”
Out of the tangle of catch’n’keep and wild tamarind that grew behind the house would come slinking a great huge battle-scarred orange tomcat. Part of one ear was nearly chewed off. He fur was scraggly and lumpy with cuts and scabs and scars. He’d come slinking in, wary of anything different or any movement that was not part of his frame of reference.
He’d come slinking in, eat his bowl of food, then slink back into the bush.
Mr. Davis and Tom ate their meals together in hostile, untrusting silence.
Mr. Davis ate without looking around; as if angry he might see something which would necessitate an acknowledgement. Tom crouched in tense expectation that he might have to bolt at any moment. After each gulp of food his head swiveled from side to side, taking in his surroundings, making sure nothing had changed.
They were the same kind of creature, Mr. Davis and Tom. They were wild, Mr. Davis having chosen it and Tom because he’d been born to it. Yet between them they had
Charlotte, whose sweet face, quiet voice and non-judgmental manner, brought the two together each evening.
Perhaps her ministrations momentarily soothed the savage beasts within them. Though the moments were not enough to civilize the misanthropic old man or tame the wild old tomcat, they were enough to keep them coming back and to develop a routine.
Daily they came to the borderland of civilization, a neutral zone on the back porch. They could have come inside the house any time and been welcomed, but the porch was as close to the smell of humanity either of them cared to get.
As a little girl I caught glimpses of the old wild man and the old wild cat as they made their journeys to the edge of that reality where they could not live. Frightening as they were I dared to take peeks at them, hoping they would see me as harmless and thus allow me to befriend them. I was equally terrified that if they saw me they would run away and never come back.
I walked a thin brittle line. Common sense, instinct or some part of my unconscious knew not to intrude and kept me from causing a break in the fragile connection
Charlotte had with them.
In that time with
Charlotte, perhaps a memory was made which lingered like a salve, easing some of the pain. Perhaps it was the lingering trace of that memory which kept them coming back. Her calm, quiet, unhurried, patient demeanor taught me that even the most damaged or wild of creatures can be coaxed out of the darkness and into the light, even if only for a moment.
Have there been any special characters in your life? Do you ever use unique characters to inspire your writing? What do you think might cause someone like Mr. Davis to go into seclusion?