Madrona cast her eye around. He’d been there since they’d started work in the park. This’d be their last day and so, she was hoping she’d see him. But she’d better get to work. The attendant wasn’t always in the best of moods.
She was glad to be able to get onto this work assignment. Anything would be better than staying inside the prison. Maddie had gotten into a fight two days ago. It had been bloody, but because she clearly hadn’t started it, they hadn’t taken away her privilege of the work assignment—thankfully. A few other prisoners had spoken up on her behalf.
Maddie was just defending another woman who clearly didn’t know the ropes, so to speak. “If you’re gonna survive inside, you gotta know the rules of the game and always, always show respect to your fellow inmates. Don’t look at anyone. And trust no one,” Maddie had stressed with her afterwards.
“Hey Maddie, have you got any extra trowels?” Maddie looked up and gave Pettie a thumb’s up. “Thanks. I can’t seem to find mine.”
“Yeah, I’ve got a couple extra here.”
“Oh, great. It’s looking really great now, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. “Many hands make light work, my nan used to always say,” Maddie said. Pettie wasn’t on the work assignment, but she worked with the nursery who was sponsoring the work at the park. Before she put her head down to work, Maddie quickly cast her eye around to see if he was around. And across, by the fountain, she saw him pushing his trolley towards the benches. She smiled, relieved he was here.
Maddie worked steadily, but as soon as the time struck 10:30, she hurriedly put everything away before making her was across to see him. She’d only learned his full name a couple of days ago—Spencer Bartholomew Crispin. Apparently, he was named after his father who’d fought in the first world war, someone whom Spencer held in very high regard. And the Bartholomew was from great grandfather who’d done the family proud in some manner. Spencer hadn’t elaborated on that just yet. But she loved listening to the stories he’d tell.
They’d been working there for almost a few months. The nursery was essentially refurbishing a place where there used to be a store. Maddie thinks someone said it was once an old Woolworth’s store.
When she first started working here, that’s when she’d met him. He always wore a hat, like men used to wear in the old days. It’d fallen out of the trolley he always pushed. She’d picked it up and given it back to him. He used to proudly say all his worldly possessions were in that trolley. From that moment, they’d become fast friends.
At her dinner break, she’d always go and sit down by him and he’d tell her stories. They’d be spell-binding, speaking sometimes of the well-to do folks back in England, from where he obviously must’ve come. There’d be stories to of an old fisherman whose life had transformed when one of the daughters of a lord had fallen in love him and she with her. Every day she came to work at the park, Maddie would look forward to meeting him. Although, he seemed to be limping a bit just now. Maddie hoped he was okay. She’ll have to ask him.
“Hey there,” she said as she walked over to his bench. She through herself down onto the bench and gave him a small peck on his cheek. “What’s wrong with your leg, old man?” He smiled.
“Oh, it’s nothing, my sweetie. Just a bit of old age. We can’t last forever can we?”
“Well, no. But you’re all right, aren’t you?” He nodded his head, a smile on his face.
“I think this is our last day here. I’m not sure, but I heard one of the women who works for the nursery saying so.” She sat down and started to eat her sandwich.
“I’ll be sorry to see you go. Still, like everything, I’m afraid nothing lasts forever. Not even us.”
“Yeah, I know, but …,” Maddie said.
“No buts about it, my girl. Besides, as they always say. It’s always darkest before the dawn. Never forget.” Maddie offered him a cookie which he gracefully accepted.
“I’m not going to be able to see you any more,” Maddie said, putting her head down. She looked up at him, sorrow in her eyes. “And I’ll only get out in a few months or so.”
“Well, the most important thing is that you’re getting put soon. We met one another and now we can both enjoy knowing we have a loyal friend. I thank you again for sticking up for me when those young fellows were making my life a misery. I’ll never forget.”
“O, it wasn’t a problem. Believe me, I’ve seen worse,” she said, rolling her eyes. “They had no right.”
“I’ve always known the importance of knowing you have a friend on whom you can count to be there when you need them. I know, in my heart I can count on you.”
“Don’t you worry about that,” she said, her hand gesticulating with assurance and determination. “The minute I get out, I’ll get a job and wherever I live, you’ll be more than welcome there, I can tell you that! Then, if you want to come to the park here, you can, but then you can go home afterwards because you’ll have a home!” Maddie said, beaming, her hands clasped together. Spencer smiled at her confidence. “And I’ll work to get a job somehow. I’m not saying it’ll be all fancy living or anything like that. But I’m determined to try.”
“That’s wonderful. Life is full of second chances. If we look, we’ll always find them.” Maddie nodded her head.
“Well, for me, I’ll never steal anything again. I used to make a living from that,” she said, laughing. “And I’m off the drugs, now. I’m sure of it. Thanks to you. When you told me about your grandfather working in that mine and what he put up with, I thought, no, I can do it.”
“Well, we can look back at our forebears and take a bit of the strength their lives left behind. Oh, I have no concerns that can do anything, once you make up your mind.”
“No question. Anyway, I better get back to work. I’ll pop by before we go.” She held his hands, her eyes sparkling and fixed on him. He smiled again.
“You better get going, you silly girl.” She through her things in the bin and ran off to finish her work.
When they got done, Maddie looked up, but couldn’t see Spencer. She put everything away, ready to be put back onto the truck. Then looking up again, she spotted him coming out of the toilets. She hastened over to the bench and sat down next to Spencer.
“Well, that’s it for us.” Looking over the grounds, she smiled. “It looks so beautiful, now. Mirabelle took a photograph of it before we started and then now, again, and it’s miraculous.”
“Well, I was sold as soon as you put these benches here,” he said, patting the bench.
“Yeah, it’s like night and day. It’s hard to believe the change.”
“You should all be proud of yourselves.” She smiled brightly at him.
“And I just learned there’s another place where we’re going to be working. It’s on the other side of town, though.”
“The time you have left will go by like that.” He snapped his fingers, smiling. Maddie smiled, but then her face became serious.
“But I won’t be able to see you. And I’m not sure, but will you be around in these parts when I get out?” He shrugged his shoulders.
“Who know’s what’s going to happen. As I said to you, what matters is we know one another now. What’s in the past doesn’t matter and frankly, what lies in the future doesn’t matter much to me either. Right now, I’m sitting in beautiful park chatting with one of my dearest friends, for you are.” Maddie put her head down. “Now, none of that.” She raised her head and he smiled. “You’re precious and you have so much yet to give to the world. I know that.”
“Come on Maddie. We’ve gotta get going,” one of the guards said, calling from the bus.
“Well, I gotta go now. Oh, it was the most wonderful gift I was given when I met you.” She gave Spencer a long hug. “I’ll never forget you. Thank you,” she said as she got up and then started to walk away. Maddie turned around again and gave him another wave, blowing him a kiss and then turned around and jogged to the bus.
Maddie ran her hand along the curtain. It was nothing special, but it was furnished and she at least had a roof over her head. She’d contacted numerous places to ensure she had a place when she left the prison. This one was the only one that got back to her. It was good, as it seemed they were in the business of providing at least a temporary home once someone left prison.
The goal was to see if she could find Spencer today. Although, who knew if she’d have any luck. Later, she set out, catching the bus across town to the park where she first met Spencer.
“Thanks,” she said to the bus driver, who’d clearly chosen well when deciding to go into public service. One the first bus she’d taken, the bus driver had clearly not chosen well. But Maddie shrugged her shoulders. Didn’t matter anyway. She walked to the park and headed over to the bench where Spencer always sat. She looked around, but no Spencer.
Maddie sat down on the bench and took out the books she was reading. She decided she might as well wait around for an hour or so because he might have just stepped away.
She had no luck on the first day and tried again on the next. But Spencer was also a no-show on that day.
“Excuse me,” she heard from behind as she walked away from the park bench. Maddie turned around and she saw a middle-aged woman walking and then running and then walking towards her. Maddie smiled.
“Yes. What can I do for you?” The woman caught up to her and then took a breath.
“Oh, my goodness. I’m not used to that much exercise,” she said, laughing. She was only a little over weight, but was obviously not in the habit of jogging.
“No worries. How can I help you?”
“Just to explain who I am. I used to watch you chatting with Spencer. I work in the shop over there.” She pointed across the street. “It’s a café and Spencer used to come over every now and then and use our facilities, so to speak. Anyway, I saw you here yesterday and now today and, well, I just wanted to tell you why he’s not here.”
“Oh, my goodness. Don’t tell me …”
“Yeah. I’m so sorry to say he passed a few weeks ago actually. You obviously were a good friend. You always used to chat with him.” Maddie lowered her head.
“O, that’s too bad, y’know. I was so hoping he’d still be okay.”
“I know. It’s always horrible to learn about things like that. He was such a fine man.”
“I know. He was full of stories and it always seemed so sad he was homeless.”
“Well, in the winter, he used to stay at the mission on Hanover Street. And when he came to the café, we’d always give him a cup of tea and a sandwich. But yeah. Hard times ‘n all.”
“Yeah, well thanks for letting me know.” Maddie headed home, her mind awash with memories of her friend. Maybe she’d try to find where he was buried and at least leave some nice flowers. She could secretly plant some crocus bulbs. He’d like that, she was sure.
Over the next few weeks, Maddie spent her time looking for work. She went to the library to prepare and print her resumé. She just decided to give it in to as many places she could find. One of them was bound to be looking for a worker.
Her family had always been on social assistance. It had always become a way of life. But she couldn’t wait to get off it. All that chatting with Spencer, it made her feel there was more she wanted to give to the world—more she could give to the world.
On Friday, she went to the post office to pick up her post. In the pile of mail, one seemed official-looking, but the other one was obviously from one of the places where she’d applied for work.
When she got home, Maddie, buoyed by hope, ripped open the letter from the potential employer. But the minute she spotted those well worn words, “We regret to inform you …”, there was little reason to continue. Maybe out of spite, she made sure to rip it into pieces before throwing it into the recycling.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said to herself. Spencer always used to say, it’s darkest before the dawn.”
She threw herself onto the sofa and opened the other letter she’d received. Reading it through, her heart began to resound in her ear, suddenly the world closing in on her. She read aloud: “I trust this letter finds you well. I am reaching out in my capacity as the Executor of the estate of Spencer Bartholomew Crispin. Following the fulfilment of all legal and financial obligations of the estate, it is now time to proceed with the distribution of remaining funds to the designated beneficiaries as per the deceased last will and testament.
Total Funds Remaining in Estate: $113,478,012.83
Your Entitled Share: $1,000,000”
It went on about the distribution and how the funds would be transferred to her. But Maddie was in utter disbelief. Spencer was homeless. How could he have been worth so much money. She looked on the letter for contact information. This can’t be for real.
It had to be someone having a bit of fun at her expense. Maddie found the contact information and rang the number, not really sure of what to expect.
“Hello,” Maddie said. “Hi, my name’s Madrona Sykes. Everyone just calls me Maddie.” She laughed nervously. “Um. I think I just received a letter from Spencer Crispin’s estate and, I guess, I’m just ringing to see if this is for real. I’m not sure if you’d know anything about that. You’re Malcolm Digby,” she said, looking on the letter for the name of the Executor of the Estate.
“O yes. I’m Malcolm Digby and yes, I’m the executor of Mr. Crispin’s estate. Your question is more than understandable. I’m also Mr. Crispin’s lawyer and he made the changes to his Will only last month or so. But no, the letter you received is indeed genuine.”
“O, I see. I mean, I just don’t understand. I met him a few months ago and I thought he was homeless. And I just …”
“Yes. Sorry to interrupt. But in a way, he was homeless. For him, though, it was by choice. His business is still doing exceptionally well. He was in IT support and technology and I guess he’d had enough of it. He happily handed things over to his children and just decided he wanted to experience another part of life. He’d always remark on how it’s so common to miss the sheer richness of life from 40 floors up. So, in the latter part of his life, that’s what he was determined to experience and savour, I dare say.”
“Sorry. I’m at a loss for words. Y’know, it’s like everything’s upside down. Things for me aren’t in place anymore.” Maddie laughed nervously. “Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean I’m not beyond grateful. It’s just difficult to understand.”
“Well, I’m not surprised it was a shock. But there’s no question you made an impression on him, given his desire to add you to his will.”
“Yes, thank you so much. He was a beautiful person. No question. Thank you very much, sir. Good Bye.” Maddie put the phone down and picked up the letter and closed her eyes, still not able to comprehend.
Over the next few months, Maddie spent some of the time not always worrying about being able to afford things. Not that she went on a spending spree. It was more a matter of not always saying ‘no’ to things such as fresh vegetables which she could now afford. She’d always tended to avoid that section of the grocery.
She’d done as would be expected, sharing her new wealth with her family and friends. Maddie also made an effort to find Spencer’s grave, not to mention, secretly planting a few crocus bulbs.
And last night, Maddie’d had an epiphany. It seemed impossible to conceive of it as being possible. Still, she’d begun looking through the programmes at university. Fancy a member of her family actually going to university. Even finishing high school was an achievement. But she would attend adult basic education classes to get the grades to finish her high school and than apply to university. Her plan was to go into social work.
She got off the bus. “Thanks,” she said to the bus driver. Walking to the park she was keenly looking for it. It was only when she got a little closer that she could she see it, there, front and centre—the Spencer B. Crispin Memorial Park. She’d written myriad letters making the suggestion they name the park after him. Maddie hadn’t known it, but he’d been a big supporter to the community against homelessness and their various other efforts over the years. So, it wasn’t that difficult a sell. Afterwards, she’d given them a big donation, sort of a thank you. It was the least she could do.
Maddie stood there looking at the sign, thinking. People are often never who you think they are. Despite his riches, Spencer spent the latter part of his life giving honour to the men and women who lack what so many take for granted—a home. She clasped her hands together, “I’ll do you proud Spencer Bartholomew Crispin. I promise.”