Fiction: (A Fantasy) The Old Lady in the Woods

By Joe Frleta

           “And the Old Man Searching for Her for a While Now”
He had no camera initially.  Had they even existed.  He couldn’t remember.  She had disappeared a long time ago.  A lifetime ago to be exact.  Long even now for search crews to have long given up hope of ever finding her.
Except for one old man.
Jason Barlow.
The man she was running from to begin with.  He still loved Aileen and after all this time was still hoping to find her.
And he thought he had.
Several times.
But each time he told authorities he had seen her wherever he had seen her he had no proof other than his say-so, until he had become in their eyes like the boy who cried wolf one too many times, and they’d rue the moment they’d see him walk through their door.
Which was the reason he started to carry a camera.  
Even if he [n]ever saw her again, he was going to make sure he got a picture of her the next time he did.
That would be all the proof he needed.
He thought.
         “In the [Redwood] Forest”
I saw Sara before she saw me, but she says she saw me before I saw her, which is why she was able to get away before I could take a picture of her.
But I got one anyway.
All these huge trees make this such a beautiful place to hang out in, if you’ve never hung out here before, go, but if the truth of the matter is to be learnt, they also make good hiding places, because I found out later that she probably did see me first or we saw each other at the same time, after I had taken the picture and had it developed.  
The picture that proved I saw Suzy I had, yes, but not that it was Edna, because the picture was of the back of a person, which was no proof of Debbie at all, because it could have been anyone, even a man, I was told by the local authorities in several areas that I showed the picture to.  I snapped a picture, yes, but it only captured her as she was running off.
I tried to explain that to anyone who would listen, but no one really cared to listen.
In other words, the picture got me nowhere just like my “say-so” got me nowhere even though I’d seen her face and knew it was Pamela.
Even when I tried to sell the photo to a local newspaper in Eureka to drum up interest in people wanting to search for the old woman again, I was told the same thing.
“You got no proof, Ben,” the editor told me, “other than the backside of a person that could be anyone.  Sounds more like you’re trying to capitalize on her legend now more than anything else.  You ought to give up searching for Emily and get on with your life.”
“I’m not trying to capitalize on anything,” I said.  “I’m trying to drum up enough interest in helping me find Irene again.”
“Not with a picture like that, you ain’t, you ain’t gonna get anybody to help you find Julie that way.”
“But it’s really her.  I saw her face before she ran off.  She’s still alive.”
“Even if I believed you, I can’t print a picture like that in a newspaper as proof.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.  I’m the old man who’s cried wolf one too many times, right?”
“Sorry, Jim.  If the authorities don’t believe you, I can’t jump over their shoulders like that and put it in my paper.  It’d make me look bad like I’m saying I believe you over them.”
 “The Sierra Nevada Forest”
I’d been following this “legend,” as Lesley was known as now, for as long as both of us have been walking this earth.
Pert near.
Unlike everyone else, it seemed, I was still hoping to find Vivian.  I felt responsible for Marsha running off.  It seemed no one had any interest in Nicky anymore beyond making up rumors about where I’d say Claude would turn up next.  It seemed I had become one of their rumors, too.  
I saw Kim again east of San Francisco and south of Sacramento just north of Fresno and not quite west of Bakersfield but east of it in the Sequoia National Park area there.  
This time, I agree, Rose saw me first, and the best I could get was another picture of her running off.  Being dressed the way she was dressed, yeah, she could have been anyone.
Even a man.  
For all I knew.
Maybe my sight is going on me after all this time.
But I could swear it was her.
Even if nobody else would believe me.
I didn’t bother to show the picture to anyone.
They wouldn’t believe me anyway.
I’m the old man who’s cried wolf one too many times.
          “The Old Man with Nowhere to Go but Seattle”
I was Marlene’s lover and Connie was my lovee.
I think that’s the correct way to put it nowadays being gender specific.
Don’t rightly know for sure.
Don’t rightly care, either.
But we was lovers just the same at one time.
Anyway you wanna put it.
Until Caroline stepped out on me.  
We met in San Francisco, where our romance began.  I guess that should have told me something was wrong right from the start, her being from a place like San Francisco, where I was born across the bay from, and where everyone knows the devil makes his home in the souls of everyone there, otherwise why would anyone want to live in a place like San Francisco in the first place when they can live anywhere else in the country they want to instead?
I didn’t know that then.  I only realized it afterwards.  When I got home early from work one day and caught her in our bed with Russell.  He was a friend of mine and he moved in on me with my girl.  He said he was sorry but he couldn’t help it when she came on to him all naked and such like that but that don’t change the fact he moved in on me with my girl.  We never spoke about it again and I ain’t never seen him again since that day, neither.
I thought Jane loved me, but it seemed like she was only using me to hang out with until she found a better place to hang out in, and it wasn’t even with Henry.  
That was 40 years ago.
Ellen liked to mess around back then.
Knowing it would mess with me.
After an argument.
But anytime really.
That’s when I went to Seattle.  I had friends there, or I at least did at one time, and I needed to get things straight in my head again.  I realized how fragile we are.
If not physically.
At least mentally.
And that Julie fell into the same category.
When she disappeared afterwards.
          “Mount St. Helens National Park”
It was while I was relaxing around Lake Snohomish and hiking the back trails of Mount Rainier National Park that I saw Ruby for the first time since we broke up.  I called out to her and she turned and ran into the woods.  I tried to follow but lost track of her before I even knew where I was let alone where she was.  I found my way out without any help three days later.
“Did you follow me out here?” I shouted out to the wilderness.
But got no response.
Beyond Mount St. Helens blowing her top.
That was something to see.
Maybe that showed Adeline really did still care about me, or maybe it was only because she had no other place to go and nothing else to do.
I couldn’t figure out which was which.
Ashley’s existence out here proved her strength physically by the same token it also proved her lack of strength emotionally, or maybe it proved she still really had feelings for me, otherwise she wouldn’t have gotten herself lost out here like she has been these last 40 years.
But then she was lost on purpose.
So maybe she wasn’t really lost.
It was only me who was.
I only came to realize that later, too.
Sometimes it takes time to figure things out.
 “Walden Pond”
The reasons Kristen abandoned civilization were many but few.  
One, she always wanted to live like Thoreau at one time, she said, and this gave her an excuse now, so she moved to Walden Pond, but because she was always hounded by people with cameras she had to abandon that idea, especially after winter came.  
That was during our first year apart.  I only saw the pictures later.  I was still searching for Gloria out here on the west coast.
Two, our failed relationship left Laura with feelings of abandonment so she didn’t want to be around people anymore.
I made that one up, though.  
So it might only be half true.
Three, it was rumored she lost her job in an abandoned warehouse trying to help addicts when Nadine was an addict herself and had been evicted from the apartment she was living in after we broke up and had nowhere else to go and didn’t feel street life was the life for her based on her background in the streets and a life in a homeless shelter wasn’t all that appealing to her because she couldn’t be herself there and act like a normal person who didn’t appear to be changeable when she was changeable, but only on her own terms, like everybody else.  
With that in mind, she figured she might as well live in the woods, or the mountains, or national parks, or forests, or some other place like that like she always wanted to do anyway.
So that’s when Doreen got it in her mind to disappear where no one can find her.
    “Big Bend National Park”
The next time I heard about Adrienne she was in Big Bend National Park.  
So I went there.
It’s might pretty country along the Rio Grande River in some parts with plenty of wide-opened spaces that I figured Jackie wouldn’t like to be found hiding in unless you went to The Basin where a lot of mountains and trees were otherwise you were in areas where Hollywood used to film a lot of western movies at one time.  You had to cross the border into Mexico otherwise if you wanted to find woods or forest or things of that kind, which I did.
But I never found Rebecca there, and later found out it was more than likely only a rumor, probably one started by Jamie herself just to keep me off-track.
My god, how I was starting to hate those rumors made up about Chloe even more so when they were made up by her.
        “Black Canyon National Park”
I followed the Rio Grande up to White Sands National Park in New Mexico and searched along every area there and in between except the White Sands area where I found nothing but dry, wide-opened spaces of sand and figured the military tests conducted there killed the area for good because it was no more a national park than the deserts in California or Nevada or anywhere else were considered national parks in relation to the national parks Jenny called national parks that had lakes, rivers and trees and deserved the name park in their names.
Giving a name a park doesn’t make a park a park if all it has is sand in it.
It’s more like a beach without water anywhere around it.
Whatever the reason was for Karen to live the way she was living now was anybody’s guess, I figured.  But she had almost become a legendary figure, to quote old Mac up in Eureka, like the legendary Bigfoot people claimed to have seen but no one ever found real evidence of and no one really thinks really exists anymore than the Lochness Monster in Scotland is not really real like the many sightings of Mary that have been made but never verified, neither, when all the rumors of her appearing here or there began, like in Black Canyon National Park in Colorado, where she was never seen, neither.
I know Sharon is real, though.
No one can tell me otherwise.
That’s what I think drove her more than the fact that we weren’t together anymore.
That she didn’t really exist.
And the fact that she still really cared for me.
You can never be found and still be real.
             “The Old Man and the House in Baltimore”
who didn’t care to live in Baltimore anymore but was still living in Baltimore hoping Sandra would come home one day.  He was an old boyfriend of Holly’s who heard of her plight and offered her a place to stay in his house when we all was still young, but she was too proud to accept the offer like that from an old flame she had ditched when she moved out west and really didn’t care to go back in time and be with him again.  He still lived in the same house she and he shared when they were together and he left everything the same as it was when she lived there with him and the idea of that was just a bit too odd to compromise herself to.
The offer was still outstanding, though.  
You could go to any public billboard in any building and his notice is still there.
in big bold letters
and underneath it:
If one is torn down, he puts another one up, if they put a different notice over it, he puts another one of his own over it, after all it’s supposed to be a public billboard, isn’t it, even if one is vandalized or scribbled over he puts a new one up to take its place, it got to the point afterwards people just left him alone after a while and figured whenever he wants to take them down he’ll take them down himself.
He was just an old man set in his ways now and there was nothing no one could do about it.  You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  A number of his girlfriends since then knew that and the ones who couldn’t reconcile themselves to that simply left.  He didn’t really care, and they knew if Molly ever came back to him, he’d take her back, and they’d be out of the door, so they’d just stay or leave on their own.  The ones like Carla stayed as long as he wanted them to stay for the same reason Suzy stayed with anyone herself.  It was a place to live, even if they had to have sex with him whenever the mood hit him.  He really wasn’t that bad a guy.  He was nice enough otherwise.  Just hung up on Wendy more than he was with any of them.
Jackson didn’t want to end up like that.
But he realized he was.
Even more so than Daniel was.
Because he wasn’t the one out searching for Valerie these last 40 years.
Brian was.
He was an old man now like Ursula was an old woman now and although it was a long time ago when they were together and almost as long ago as his offer was rejected he still wondered and worried about her welfare, always listening for news reports or reading in newspapers of sightings of her or at least a picture of her somewhere to tell him she was all right, but after 40 years nothing but rumors of sightings, and nothing more than that.  It’s almost as if she just vanished off the face of the earth and her body went with her.  
The rumor of a sighting or a picture drew his attention but when he saw the photo it could neither prove nor disprove it was her, like his, because it was merely the image of the backside of someone or the head of someone that was hidden behind a tree branch or bush and no one could tell who it was.  There had been many pictures over the 40 years even pictures of someone who was caught nude running off which was why the picture was taken in the first place but the distance of the figure with the person taking the picture was so far away that even when blown up they were blurred to the point of being indistinguishable of features and most men who looked at the pictures were paying more attention to the body areas than the face area anyway and you couldn’t see anything clear there either.  
He still thought each picture was of Bonnie and he’d have to go find out for himself and there was no one anywhere who could get him to believe otherwise.
This was when she was still listed as a missing person.
Before authorities stopped searching for her and assumed she had to be dead by now.
Except for Henry.
To him, Esmeralda wasn’t a closed case until new evidence established otherwise.
Nathan was stubborn in that regard to the point of being unreasonable at times and people who knew him at one time started to worry about him.
            “The Old Man with a Car Driving in Circles”
Unlike the ones who used to wonder and search for Dolly I believe I have seen her several times or at least know where she’s at and it’s not Walden Pond or the Blue Ridge Mountains or Yosemite National Park or Colorado River Park or anywhere else in the United States I’d searched end to end of already, especially in the winter times.
The winter times in any of these areas would have surely have killed her a long time ago no matter how strong or resourceful she may have been, especially if she was running around naked now, as some photos showed her, which would only garner police interest more than anything else and investigations would ensue, not anyone really interested in her well being, and she wouldn’t be that dense in the head to want to draw that kind of attention to herself.
So I didn’t believe the nude pictures were of her.  
But she was an exhibitionist, though, when I knew her.
When we were young.
So she might still be now, too.
I believe if she’s anywhere though she’d be in Mexico or somewhere in South America especially during the winter months.
She can run around naked all she wants down there even in the wintertime.
   “The Rivers, Parks and Forests of Mexico and South America”
So that’s where I went next.
I traveled through Venta de Aqua to Guadalupe y Calvo to Bosque los Colomos on my trek through the parks woods and forests of Mexico to the Sierra del Lacandon and everywhere in between in my search for Deborah.  So far it’s like the whole area of Mexico from one side to the other and one end to the next is one huge park or forest broken down into several little parks and forests with towns cities and villages scattered here and there throughout it and dry desert dead land like in Kansas New Mexico Texas mixed into it where you thought you had died and were in hell.  I almost got lost dozens of times in each area I went through.
And who would’ve come to look for me?
No one.
And here I am wasting my time and energy looking for Jocelyn all this time.
Okay, well, first of all, I told no one I was going anywhere beyond the social worker handling my monthly stipend and the only reason I told him was because he needed to know in order for him to continue to debit my monthly stipend into my account.  I had to promise to keep in touch with him on a quarterly basis to establish I was still alive in order to continue to receive the stipend.  If I didn’t, he’d assume I no longer existed and close out my case.
Secondly, no one would care beyond him, anyway.
And I doubt whether he really cares or not, either.  He’s simply performing his duties as assigned.  If it wasn’t him, it would be someone else I’d have to report to.  
The last reality check is, everyone who knew Flora knew she just disappeared and they were searching for her for the longest time but were unable to find Evelyn and simply gave up.  They had lives they had to get back to.  Authorities had new cases that needed their attention and would investigate any new evidence, if it proved valid.  Friends who knew me knew I continued my search.  I didn’t just disappear.  I was on my own out here willingly.
Whatever way this ends my troubles will all be over and Kathy could live a happy life knowing I’m out of her life forever.  It’s not a pretty story, but that’s life.
All I know is I must have put a 100,000 miles on my car the whole time I was down there.  I’m lucky repairs and upkeep are cheap anywhere but in the U.S. down there.
The area I was driving to was the Lacandon area which is at the lowest end in south Mexico’s central area north south east or west of it where you drive past Tijuana Mexico City Guadalajara Acapulco and circle near or far north south east or west before you cross over into Guatemala which I didn’t cross over to but I had to drive through all the other areas near and far and in between to reach the borders of for days like I did everywhere else parking in areas that looked safe and walked all over the places where cars couldn’t go but never found Cindy.  It was hot as a son of a bitch and I knew she’d at least be safe most anywhere here even at nights in the rainy seasons where the temperatures never seemed lower than the upper 60s or lower 70s and she could take a warm shower in the rain wherever she was at.  It was the humidity that could kill a person, even if you went around naked all day, which I was almost tempted to do in some areas on several occasions.  It was like sitting in an oven morning noon and night no breeze to cool you down no air conditioner if you were outside.
All the time like I was.
And Shelly was.
It was unbearable!
I’d be sweating my balls off
if I wasn’t freezing my ass off.
For some odd reason, I liked Chihuahua best of all, and I didn’t even stop there, just drove past it on the 480, thinking about it, but knowing I wouldn’t find Lola there, and drove right past it on the 180 onto the 186 that took me to the 203 that led to Boca del Cerro and headed further south to the other side of Mexico into the Sierra del Lacandon.
Don’t ask me why.
It was just a hunch I had.
Afterwards, I thought later Toni was in Chihuahua and I was just fooling myself into thinking Trudie wasn’t there but you can’t go back and retrace your steps anywhere you haven’t been before without going back in time and no one can do that even if they wanted to.
I often wondered how Marilyn got around back in those days.  We did a lot of hitchhiking in our younger days, but I didn’t see Bridget doing the same thing at the age we were at now.  
I didn’t.  
Bernice might.
But wouldn’t.
Because I knew that Bessie knew I knew that would leave her open to eyes on the road for anyone to see driving by and that I might be the one stopping to pick Aurora up.
I’d driven most of these last 20 years up and down the highways and backroads of Mexico and South America especially the areas through Brazil Peru Bolivia Venezuela and the Rainforests in those areas because it was a place Leah often spoke about when we were together and we were fighting to save the trees that were being destroyed but found no sign of Nora in any of the areas or woods and since I was in a car and because I figured if she wasn’t in the rainforests tied to a tree she wouldn’t be in any of the other parks or wooded areas in South America so I decided to leave and I drove off and only bothered to drive through Central America again because that area never held any interest to her and there was no way to get from Mexico to South America and back to Mexico again than to drive through Central America but even as I drove through Panama Costa Rica Honduras El Salvador Nicaragua Guatemala and knowing I’d never find Dolores in any of those areas my eyes were still searching for her anywhere and everywhere I went when I was driving through those areas.  It was a habit I developed over time even though I didn’t consider it a habit at the time.  I took different roads going through and coming back from South America through Central America hoping to find Dorothy in places and areas I’d never dreamt of looking for her before figuring she might be trying to fool me and hide in one of these countries instead of elsewhere.
I put another 100,000 miles on my car in those years and found most places in South America were a lot cheaper to repair my car in than Mexico.  I won’t even mention the U.S.
I didn’t do much mingling otherwise during the time I was down there just enough to get by and picked up a little of the language in the process in each area I was in to help make things easier for me where car upkeep gas food little things like that was concerned when I had to interact with anyone.  I was too busy searching for Lucille to waste time on anything else.  My needs weren’t much that’s for sure, I lived in my car, used the forest and woods as my restroom, the rivers and lakes to shave bathe and wash my clothes, nobody really bothered me much like they do in some states, in some cities, where cops don’t like people sleeping in their cars or anything else out of the ordinary.  I found that out the hard way up there.
A water snake attached itself to me one day when I was bathing in an area a man fears most.  I was lucky they don’t have teeth.  I had to pull it off me.  It didn’t let go easily.
If you don’t think that freaked the hell out of me you’re wrong.  I’d of liked to get away from areas where snakes or other wildlife lived because of that one particular instant but that would mean abandoning my search but since then and even before then I have had other encounters with wildlife where I’d seen black bears a couple of times they didn’t see me or I guess they didn’t expect to see me and I got back to my car as quick as I could after that, a crocodile once it was huge, a jaguar tried to attack once I was lucky I was in my car it jumped on the hood and stared at me through the windshield I just sat as quiet as I could and didn’t move a muscle it laid there for a while until it finally went away, there were other moments that messed with me and almost made me abandon my search for Sherry but after I’d leave certain areas I’d calm down and get back to why I was down here in the first place, actually these other moments are more than I care to recall right now but for the most part I’ve gotten through everything without a scratch except for that water snake and have to consider myself lucky in that regard all the time I’ve spent down here in Mexico and South America.
These mishaps did make me wonder how Eve was though.
Did she have a car, too?
If not, how was she surviving living out in nature?
The thoughts only made me more resolute.  They made me more intent on finding Alice as soon as I could.  I had no residence anymore to go back to except my car with the hope of finding Phyllis one day where buildings no longer exist and mountains have become homes and trees are free to grow and live again like we were meant to live as God meant us to live.
Not in a car.
That’s for sure.
But in wide-opened spaces.
Naked if we wanted to.
Even in nests in trees like birds.
Or in caves like bears.
Rachel talked about that at one time.  It made me laugh when she said it because we had just finished making love and it was almost like we had taken acid and we were on a contact high and laughing our asses off and having ourselves one hell of a good time in the life we were living together then and it made me wonder if she was talking about the Rocky Mountains when she talked about living like bears in caves or in nests like birds.
She said no.
“I like lakes and trees,” she said, “not mountains and high places like that.”
I told her I’d always had a dream of going to the Grand Canyon as a kid and hiking along the trails there.
She laughed.
  “The Old Man Who Spent All His Time and Money Looking for the Old Woman”
First of all, I want the reader to understand she’s not a woman she’s a lady and when I started my search for Melissa neither of us were old.
Now, I’m not an independently wealthy person but I do have a steady enough of an income to live comfortably for the rest of my life however long that may work out to be.
Something some people probably are hoping is not that far off from now.
Public charges are thought to be a waste of public funds, which is funny, because public funds are supposed to be to help the public; but we all know they’d rather give those funds as tax revenue write-offs to the rich for sitting on their fat asses all day and not pay any taxes and chiseling us every chance they get.  The world can fall apart for all they care otherwise.
I didn’t ask for any help.  I was given it as a person with physical or mental problems, well, mental mostly, over my obsession with looking for Joyce rather than waste my time making a living like normal people do and certain people thought I’d lost it searching for a person most people thought was dead already.  They didn’t know Dinah like I did, though.
Why people saw that as a problem in the first place puzzled me but I wasn’t gonna argue with them over something stupid like that if they were willing to provide me a steady income otherwise I wouldn’t be able to search for Sandy at all because I’d have to have some sort of job wherever I went at least part of the time in order to make a living for myself like normal people did, hell, even the rich had to work overtime to screw people over if they wanted to fatten their accounts, so I figured if it’s okay for them it’s okay for me to be given some sort of stipend that’s legal if they wanted to consider me someone who doesn’t have all his marbles in one bag.  
I know what’s going on, though.
I think Michelle does, too, but I can’t say for sure.
She’s not here for me to talk to anymore.
I hired a couple of private investigators early on to help me in what I called our search to find Celeste after she was evicted from her apartment and didn’t want anybody’s help least of all mine and went and got herself lost somewhere only she knows in other parts of the country but also here in San Francisco across the bay in Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais as well hoping no one would find her there, not even the private investigators I’d hired to help in our search, since I wasn’t paying them for nothing and considered their fee our search to find Amy, but I never really got anything back in return, but we can’t locate her, so I’ve been searching on my own ever since then, seeing as I can do well enough on my own in not finding Ruth without throwing good money away and get nothing back in return for it.
I have a couple of cat’s eyes and pearls up there no one knows nothing about.
You’d be surprised what you can see sitting on top of Mount Shasta with high-powered binoculars.
A lot.
But not Grace
or Janis
or whatever other name she’s going by now.
So far I have been unsuccessful in this endeavor, I admit, but I have not given up hope and will continue my search until Susan is found or whatever remains of her are found.
But I don’t want to get negative here.
So strike that last remark.
It’s already out there so I can’t take it back.
So just forget you heard me say it.
I thought about going overseas to Europe or somewhere like that but I knew Renee would never chance planes or boats and wondering about getting caught on one of them being in enclosed and tight-fitting spaces like that where there’s no way off once you get on and knowing once she gets to her destination I’ll be waiting for her and there’ll be no running off this time.
I even thought about Canada but knew she was a warm-weather person and would more than likely not go there and have to cross the border during fall and winter months.
You can get lost in Mexico or South America better anyway.
Guinevere knew this, that no one would come looking for her – well, other than me, that is, but that didn’t count in her eyes – that’s why I know she’s still alive and well and will turn up one day whenever she wants to.  Until then, I’m not worried, as I said before, she’s a very resourceful woman.  She may be older now, but I have no reason to believe otherwise.
Age hasn’t hurt me much.
Just slowed me down some.
Aubrey’s the same way.
     “The Old Man Who Didn’t like Southern California”
Los Angeles was a dead end.
I never liked southern California all that much.  It has to do with when I was a kid and wanted to go to Disneyland and my parents never took me.  They blamed Disneyland for being where Disneyland was.  My dad told me he got in touch with Walt Disney and asked him to build Disneyland in other states so other kids in other states could go to their own Disneyland in their own state and enjoy themselves but Walt Disney said no.  This was long before another Disneyland was built in Florida, bigger than the Disneyland in California, Walt Disney was long dead by then and probably would have said no to that one too.  We never stayed in one place long enough for one to be built because we moved so much, but I didn’t understand that as a kid, and I believed what my parents told me.  I still wouldn’t go to neither now if my life depended on it.  I had never been to southern California before and never cared to go there now.
But he was searching for Emma now.
And he had to put personal opinions aside.
Even if I didn’t care to.
He thinks he saw Eunice in Newport then again in Bel Air and as far southeast as Santa Ana and Palm Springs where she was seen walking in Anaheim outside Disneyland of all places and as far northeast as the Angeles National Forest and the Mojave Desert but each time he wasn’t sure because whenever he took his eyes off the road he’d have to watch the road again and by the time he’d look again it was a different person and he wasn’t sure if his eyes were playing tricks on him or by the time he looked again if it was her she was gone now and another woman took her place or if every woman he saw looked like Nina and he was going nuts.
Why she would behave like this, he personalized, I had no idea other than the fact I knew she didn’t want me to find her but somebody else but even the private investigators I hired couldn’t find Amanda because Penelope knew I hired them.
How’d Tiffany know that?
Who told Tracy?
If you think that sounds confusing just put yourself in my head and think how I felt.
San Diego was a dead end, too.
     “The Old Man in New York Who Remembers How It Used to Be at One Time”
Who the hell was he kidding?
Some people don’t know the difference between their ass and a hole in the ground let alone anything else and I’ve been told that I fall into that category.
I’d met Nicole in Manhattan near Niagara Falls coming back from Toronto not Seattle coming back from Vancouver or San Francisco coming back from Ciudad Juarez like when we were both young.  That was 40 years ago and we’re no longer young now.  But that’s the image I still hold of her in my mind that’s lost to me now and I’m afraid if I were to let go of it I’d lose her forever and I’d never see her again even if I were to find her again I’d no longer recognize her, nor her me, but that would be okay with me so long as we found each other again.
“Love Affair”
“An Affair to Remember”
“Sleepless in Seattle”
There’s probably others but I can’t think clearly right now.
But in the perfect relationship we were supposed to meet at the top of the Empire State Building or the ground floor at the Mark Hopkins for lunch but I forgot the date time and the place and I never saw her again even though every day for the last 40 years I spend my days at the top of the Empire State Building and the ground floor of the Mark Hopkins waiting for her to return so we can have lunch like we planned 40 years earlier.  
But she’s never came back.
In fact, I have no idea if she even showed up for our first date.
Because I wasn’t there.
And I’ve kicked myself in the butt everyday since then hoping she’ll show up now.
Charlie Dexter is helping me in Manhattan.
And Walter Holmes is helping me in San Francisco.
I think she was disappointed by my not showing up that she never bothered to come back again not knowing I’d show up now if I didn’t show up the first time and all I’d be able to tell her is I’m sorry babe I forgot if she’d only show up now.  
Don’t ask me to shut my eyes before I find her again.
I might open them and never see you again.
“The Old Woman 40 Years Later”
decides to leave the woods and go home again.
Okay, she’s not a woman she’s a lady, guys.  
I hope I don’t have to keep repeating myself here.
Who’s writing this anyway?
Why do you think I titled the piece The Old Lady in the Woods for?
Anyway, Alison still doesn’t want to be found so she changes her appearance and looks old now instead of young and figures no one will ever recognize her now.
And no one does.
Not even Lester.
Because he’s not hoping to find an older woman.
He’s thinking he’ll find the image of her he has in his head.
Even though he knows there’s only one of them left now.
“The Old Man In Austin, Texas”
Willie Nelson said he saw Susie last week at one of his concerts.  She was alone, he said, which made me feel good.  
She hadn’t found another guy yet or if she had over the years she was alone now.
Why is there a moving on period before you feel you can deal with another relationship again?  It seems when I fall I fall hard or I don’t fall at all and I need time to heal afterwards.
Willie laughed.
“It’s the way we’re wired, bud,” he said. “It’s how we’re put together.”
He said he never got a chance to talk with Daisy so he had no idea where she was staying but he did say she didn’t smile once the whole time she was there.
That actually made me feel good, too.
“Sort of like you haven’t smiled once since we said hello,” Willie said.
Yeah, I said, I guess I’ve been down in the dumps lately I told him but I guess if I was down in the dumps since she went away no matter how many relationships I may or may not have had since those days for some reason I was glad she’s down in the dumps, too.
Maybe that was a good sign.  
“We’re all getting old,” Willie said.  “Don’t let it get you down.  I’ve got a good decade on you.  If it’s meant you find her, you’ll find her.”
We shared a joint, before I went on my way.
“Haven’t had one of these in a while.”
“Helps unclog the brain cells and tones down the arthritis, among other things, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, feel it already, some pretty powerful shit, Willie.”
“Only the best, man.  Only the best.”
“Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?”
That was a song Judy liked, so I went there, too.
“She’s Not There”
Another song we both liked.
          “The Old Woman Who Went Looking for the Old Man”
She’d heard he was looking for her.
And she wanted to find him, too.
Even though she had no idea what to expect
when she found him.
[Another overlap follows]
She’s not a woman, guys, she’s a lady, I just want to remind the reader once more of this to try to keep that straight in your heads, okay?
She’s a lady.
Why in heaven’s name do you keep referring to her as a woman?  
Well, for one thing, woman compliments man better than lady does. If you want to use lady you should use the term gentleman to define yourself then.
But I ain’t no gentleman.
I think the reader knows that already.
[End overlap]
Silvia couldn’t find Jack in Arkansas or Alabama or Mississippi because even though she wanted to find him again she was looking for him in places she knew he’d never be while he was looking for her in places he knew she’d be.
She didn’t care to be in any of these states herself so she went looking for him in Georgia Texas and Louisiana where she didn’t care all that much to be either but she could say if he ever found her she was trying to find him too.  She thinks she saw him in Austin then again in Fort Worth and New Orleans but each time she couldn’t be sure because she ducked out of sight right away before Mark could see her until she felt it was safe again but by that time Paul was already gone but the thought of knowing Ralph was still looking for her after all this time made her smile and she could tell Dirk she was looking for David too but never found Eddie, either.
Knowing that Oscar was still searching for her didn’t bother her.
It was the reason why Robert was still searching for her that was bothering her.
Was he still upset with Agnes for what she’d done?
For some reason that old song by George Hamilton wouldn’t leave Esther’s head.
And right now Peter was looking for Abigail in Abilene.
So Louise made a point not to go to Abilene because she didn’t want to end up hiding from Matthew again while she was pretending to look for him.
But at the same time Lydia wasn’t all that far from Scottsdale now where she was looking for Amos in Tucson, Arizona.
           “The Old Man in Detroit City”
I could swear I almost hear “Baby Love” and “Where’d Our Love Go” by the Supremes as I drove by Motown Records.
And I was right.
I did.
They were playing the songs at the same time through two different channels with each overlapping the over and sounding like the same song playing over each other like that.  
I had to write myself a note to do that once I got home.
If I ever got home.
Because I hadn’t been home in over 30 years and I didn’t really have a home anymore other than my car to go back to.
But if I ever got home I didn’t want to forget to play both them songs back to back at the same time like I heard them in when I drove through Detroit that day.
That might be in another 30 years if I didn’t hurry up and find Jean again.  She can try to hide from me all she wants with all the disguises she uses to trick people into not finding her but I know I’ll see through them and find her one day.
Delia wasn’t in Detroit, either, and she was a big Motown fan.
It made me think of “Detroit City” by Bobby Bare as I drove away.
How’d that old phrase go?
You can fool all of the people all of the time and some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool none of the people none of the time.
I’m pretty sure that’s it.
Fact is, I’m sure it is.
Fool me once shame on me fool me twice shame on you.
As I was driving out of Detroit “My Girl” by The Temptations and “Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops was playing back to back this time.
Everything reminded me of Elizabeth.
I made a mental note to myself never to play any of those songs again.
    “The Old Man Who Got Lost in Philadelphia”
If you try to find Philadelphia on a map it’s not in New Jersey anymore.  They moved it to Pennsylvania out of respect to those who thought Philadelphia was a city that should be at least 100 miles away from New York City.
I wanted to ask why but didn’t want to bring up any old wounds that might piss somebody off so I kept my mouth shut.  Besides I didn’t really care.
I was busy searching for Joan and didn’t want to get sidetracked.
Dawn was old like me now.
How fast could Martha move to keep ahead of me?
I felt Doris could almost be around the next corner, but Della never was.
I might be a 100 by the time we found each other again.
It sounded like something Edgar Allan Poe would write when he lived in Baltimore not far from where he lived in Philadelphia when it was in New Jersey not Pennsylvania or was it the other way around he couldn’t remember now.  It changes so much now.
I had to make a stop in Camden when I was in New Jersey before I left the area to visit where Walt Whitman lived before he died.  We both liked him back then, and I needed his help now.  I knew he’d understand and wherever he was at here or there he’d help me in whatever way he can.  I left there feeling pretty positive even if I was still feeling pretty down.
I didn’t find Gladys there, either.
Leonard thought about taking a “Midnight Train to Georgia” but he was already in his car listening to “Atlanta, Georgia” by Bonnie Bramlett playing on the radio.
So he went there.
Otis drove through Augusta listening to James Brown singing “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” and thought how much many things remain the same even when they change because it really is nothing without a woman or a girl.
He didn’t find Jacqueline in either place.
             “the Old Man who was in Portland, but found himself in Denver, Co., instead”
Time goes by so fast it still seems like yesterday to me.
I thought I saw Neal Cassidy walking down the street when I was there, but I knew that couldn’t be true because he died back in 1968.  I knew if it was him it had to be him returning from the hereafter to visit old places where he once hung out in the 1940s even though we were in the 21st century now and things like that never happened in real life only in science fiction and real life isn’t science fiction.  It took me by surprise, anyway, but I had to keep my eyes on the road so I pulled over to look again but by that time he was gone and I knew it had to be him then.  He was visiting a place where he once lived there was no other explanation because there was no way he could have disappeared that quick.  He was the only person on the street – well, other than the guy he was walking with, but now they were both gone.
I bet the other guy was Jack Kerouac walking with him.  I couldn’t tell because his back was to me.  Neal was the one facing me.  But, who else could it be?
William Burroughs?
Allen Ginsberg?
Why weren’t all four there?
Why just two figures that disappeared?
It would have been cool to meet them all!
But it did tell me that I’d find Nancy any time soon now.
I wasn’t wasting my time.
She just wasn’t in Denver.
“The Old Man Driving from Memphis to Nashville”
A statue of Elvis Presley overlooking Beale Street sits at the foot of the Mississippi River.
Why Elvis Presley?
That’s for someone else to answer not me.
When Ted was driving through Memphis he saw nothing but Elvis impersonators especially along Elvis Presley Blvd. on his way to Nashville and Music Row where Jimmy Rogers and Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins and Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings and Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline and Eddy Arnold and “Welcome to My World” is heard up and down Music Row from every memorabilia and souvenir and music shop you drive past.  
I was having breakfast at a greasy-spoon restaurant the next morning before beginning my search again for Etta.
I think I saw Bobby Bare.
He’s still alive.
I guess?
But knowing that didn’t help me find Lena that day.
       “The Old Man Who Couldn’t Find Berkeley”
Until now.
I had to drive through Kansas City to get there.  They’re supposed to have some crazy little women there but I didn’t find Rosemary there.
I was born in Berkeley but my parents moved to New Orleans when I was very young for one year, then we lived in Chicago for one year, and St. Louis for another year.
By the time we moved to Boston after living in Cincinnati then Omaha I was six and had no idea where we were at or if I’d ever know where Berkeley was again.  
By my teenage years we had moved to San Antonio and over to Albuquerque then Dodge City.  My dad’s job took him to a lot of different places even though I had no idea what he did.  I was never told.  It was supposed to be some high-level, hush-hush type of thing, but I think he was a criminal trying to stay one step ahead of the law.  My mom didn’t know much more and just went with him because he never told her what he did, either, and she was his wife.
The closest I ever got to Berkeley again, or California for that matter, was when we lived in Denver then Phoenix.  Afterwards we moved to Atlanta, then Las Vegas, a place closer to California than any of the other places we lived at, except for Phoenix, and by that time I was ready to start college.
I was accepted by NYU instead of UC Berkeley.
It’s just the way the cards were dealt.
But I actually lived there longer than I lived anywhere else before then.
It’s where I met Suzanne.
Unfortunately she said she was transferring to UC Berkeley.
“That’s funny,” I said.  “I was born there.”
“Really?” she said. “How did you like living there?”
“I don’t remember it,” I said.  “My parents left when I was young.”
“What do you think about transferring there with me now?”
“I wasn’t accepted when I first applied.”
“Try again.”
“Okay.  I’ll put in a new application and see if they’ll accept me this time.”
They did.
Why this time and not before?
It’s just the way the cards were dealt.
When I got to Berkeley, Sally wasn’t there.
That was 40 years ago and I never saw Melanie again after the discussion we had that day when we talked about going to Berkeley together.
 “The Old Man in New Orleans During Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday”
Sitting in Louis Armstrong Park feeling the vibes happening all around me.
The Mardi Gras is going on in other parts of the French Quarters.
I think I smiled for the first time in a long time.  I felt I must have still had some of Willie’s joint lodged in my brain cells somewhere.  
I could hear everything from where I was at walking along Bourbon Street and listening to Fats Domino tinkling fingers on the piano keys and hearing Dr. John singing about being in the right place but at the wrong time and realizing I’d never find Daphne here.
I felt the smile fade from my face.
The vibes were good, yeah, but the time wasn’t right.
The last time I was here was as a kid but I felt I needed to return one day with Tammy once we found each other again.  I wasn’t paying that much attention to anything else while looking among the crowd to see if I’d see Stella while knowing I’d never find Astrid here among the crowds of people but just looking to see if I’d see Blanche anyway.
It really seemed like the right time but it really was the wrong place.
When I was here as a kid with my parents the only thing I remember about New Orleans was like every other place we lived at the time.
I’m sure this area existed at the time, but we never came here, or if they did, they did without me.
I don’t like to talk about it now when I found out they did, because even though I was a kid then, I didn’t see the big deal about it now.
It was just a bunch of adults in Halloween costumes acting like stupid kids on trick or treat.  Maybe they thought I’d make fun of them seeing them act like kids when they used to get on my case for acting like a kid when I was a kid.
Adults are stupid that way.
I know.
I’m one now.
Sometimes we act dumber than kids and think it’s okay.
“The Old Woman in St. Louis”
Carol was listening to Chuck Berry performing “No Particular Place to Go” at a concert at the Gateway to the West there.  Lesley thought he’d died a couple of years ago but there he was now performing before a crowd at a concert at the foot of the Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis.  
Maybe it was a Chuck Berry impersonator, Millie thought, like the many you see in Memphis or Las Vegas impersonating Elvis Presley, but unlike the Elvis impersonators this guy really looked like Chuck Berry.
She saw him.
They saw him.
He saw him.
It’s all part of life.
No one can explain it.
Sometimes these things just happen and you simply go along with it even if you don’t understand it or believe it or feel like it.
I felt like screaming this time she’s not a woman she’s a lady but didn’t.  
I’m the only one who can call her a woman, not anybody else, but I gave up.
Call her a woman if you want.
It don’t matter anymore.
It don’t appear I’ll ever find Angie again anyway.
Then our eyes met.
“I’m willing to forgive and forget and move on with my life.”
“If you are?”
“Yeah, I think I am, too.”
   “The Old Man Who Wanted to Go Back to San Francisco”
“Why do you want to go there?” Prudence asked.
“I lived there at one time.”
“Really, how long ago was that?”
“About 40 years ago.”  
“It’s not like you remember.”
“What place is?”
“You got a point there,” Denise said.  “I used to live there at one time, too, and it’s nothing like I remember when I visit.”
“How long ago was that?” Jonathan asked.
“Same as you.  About 40 years ago.”  
We stopped to look at each other, a few seconds go by, as if we’re seeing each other for the first time, through the other person’s eyes, it wasn’t as if they changed all that much, they just got old, and they thought when they’d seen each other in San Francisco that day they looked like someone they met in New York a long time ago, just not like the image of the person they remembered in the past, but something made them stop and talk to each other and looking past the wrinkles and the sagging age lines on the face to see what they were looking at now they thought they recognized a person they knew once in the past through the years of change life left standing before them now.
“You look familiar?”
“So do you?”
“Your name Lily?”
“Yeah.  You Richard?”
“Holy shit!” they both laughed.
We gave each other such a big huge hug and held onto each other for dear life as if we thought if we were to let go of each other we might never see each other again.
“I’m glad I finally found you,” I told Irene, still holding on to Rita, so Robin wouldn’t disappear on me, again.  “I’d been looking for you for such a long time.”
“If I knew you’d been looking for me, I’d of come out of hiding a long time ago.”
“I thought you knew?”
“I did,” Lucy said.  “But we’d been living as strangers together for so long it was almost as if we were living apart not even as roommates but as if we lived alone that I didn’t know what to expect beyond hoping to find the person I met when we first met here a long time ago but not knowing if I’d ever find that person again, but now we have.”
“I wondered the same thing after the way we broke up.”
“That’s what I feared, too.”
A pause.
“Sorry about Cyrus.”
“So am I.”  
“I was young and foolish.  What can I say?”
“We were all young and foolish at one time.”
We finally got to have that breakfast lunch and dinner we were supposed to have 40 years ago at the top of the Empire State Building on the ground floor of the Mark Hopkins and we talked like the last 40 years didn’t happen and how Ana lived in communes and villages and, yes, in mountainous areas where she knew I wouldn’t look for her as well as in the woods and the forests and reservations of New Mexico and Mexico and South America.  She said she saw me on numerous occasions but always stayed out of sight because she never knew why I continued to look for her over the years other than to think the worst thing over the way we parted based on past hurts and me telling her I’d forgiven her a long time ago and could only recount what I knew or suspected of her whereabouts over the years while I searched for her.  
“I never stopped thinking about you,” Sally said.  “Wherever I was at you were always there with me.  I couldn’t seem to escape you even though I kept trying.  I was always hoping to run into you again some day, even though I was afraid of the person I’d find, because I didn’t know what to expect if I did, and I didn’t want to get hurt anymore.  I know that sounds stupid, but it really hurt after you left, even though it was my fault.  I felt rejected.”
“So did I over Danny.”
“Yeah, I know.  All I can say is I’m sorry.”  
“Same here.  I though I must have screwed up in some way for that to happen and never could figure out what.”
“I was just young and stupid and afraid to get too involved and become like our parents.”
“Same here.”
“I’m glad we finally found each other again.  Maybe enough time has gone by now that we can begin again like when we first met here before we fell apart and lost our youth.”
“That would be nice.”  
“I’d like that, too.”

Joe Frleta is an author of a number of years not quite equal to his age but if you add 18 years to 57 you are there. The authors he has read over the years include Dickens, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Thoreau, Whitman, Ginsberg, Corso, Bukowski, Henry Miller, Arthur Miller, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, among others. He has drawn from their styles to create his own style, believing art is art and is not restricted to any one form or standard, as in any art, if one were to compare de Vinci, Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali and Pollock.  He has had two of his writings published.  One in Roi Faineant, "Is" and A Thin Slice of Anxiety, "A Matchbook of a Different Kind."  


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