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Over the next months, Gabe transitioned from open weeping to a general numbness and opacity that would only dissipate when he warmed to a certain reassurance that at some point during the day he would see Ana.

The glass patio doors were almost a guarantee, and Gabe would make it a point at noon to gaze at the glass every time he opened the doors.

And she would be there, a vision within the sunray, a searing glint giving dimension and form to her profile.

But just as she grinned, he would inevitably shift in his stooping and the sight would vanish into whiteness.

He lived in the wake of sensations and moments of full clarity that she was still with him. The key was the daily routines, and that was what kept his nature on a short leash.

He kept the appointments, the charity balls, neighborhood walkarounds and breakfasts at the Starbucks on Webster Ave with Lou and Sandy. His strict napping schedule and evening stroll around Jack London Square to sit for hours on their favorite bench.

It took him a while to notice that the moments of strongest disconnection with Ana's spirit came whenever he would be around certain objects. When he passed the glass cabinet that contained the porcelain china cups and dishes decorated with delicately drawn images of the Prince and Princess of Monaco drawn in the crystal clarity of a Mediterranean sun. Next to the boat replicas carved in delicate balsa wood from Rhode Island.

In early June, when the breezes off the bay took the edge off the heatwave that plunged Alameda into yet another drought warning, he sat on the bench under the protective shadow of an umbrella. Gabe opened up a scrapbook that was at the bottom of the dozen or so photobooks that he had been slowly leafing through.

This book actually made a noise as he opened it, pages stuck together, spine cracking from unnatural motion. It had some dates at the start, and appeared to be one of the first scrapbooks that Ana had kept. Evidence in her tiny, but still very self-assured hand when writing exact dates, and even times, to the album.

It began with high school photos. Ana was the prize of Lincoln Park High. "You were a quiet beauty, Ana, my sweet," he whispered, and warmed to the sense of her presence next to him on the bench.

But suddenly there was only coldness, and he looked up at that. No one around him to disturb them, and a silence that was suddenly disconcerting.

She was just here…and now she flees?

The breezes off the bay ceased, as clamminess crept through his thick, hand-sewn sweater.

He returned to the photo album. The scribbling along the photos got sloppier and jagged as he came upon a section of photos about a summer that she spent in Rhode Island. And there was the photo that was framed in their hallway of Ana in the sundress.

But the shadow next to her was gone. Replaced with the image of another teenager, who appeared older than Ana, and in contrast to her fit effortlessly in a loose-fitting dark dress that she lit up with a brilliant crescent-moon smile. Her eyes were covered in teardrop shaped sunglasses.

He realized that it was someone else's handwriting that he was reading. No wonder the whole tone changed. Intense scrutiny on this text made his eyes ache, but he narrowed them to a slit to focus.

Who was this girl, whose features resembled Ana but in a funhouse distortion? Where Ana was short, this woman towered, though with fleshy build. Her writing was brief, vague. Odd comments like "finding our souls" and "taking all this away from me."

But the telltale word was in capital letters, and the last of the comments scrawled. Reading it, Gabe sensed his wife's presence fleeing. This was followed by the crushing tonnage of loneliness that stuck a spike directly into his soul.

"Sister" was the word.

He closed the scrapbook and tried to shake the puzzlement from his face, not quickly recovering from the shock of his discovery. He immediately returned to their home, cracked open all their boxes in storage, scouring the yellowed memorabilia. But no further evidence of Ana's sister was to be found, except when he removed the frame from the hallway photo and found a name badly erased on the inside: Claudia.

And he did unearth from beneath a pile of old newspapers a tightly sealed box which required a cleaver to cut loose choking string and violently spread masking tape. Inside was an assortment of religious relics, such as crucifixes and rosaries.

So when the basement area got severely flooded the next week, he let the water sit there, knowing it would seep into the photo albums and crucifixes and vials of holy water; all "gifts" from Claudia. He relished the resulting rusting and crumbling of evidence Gabe knew Ana wanted to be submerged.

She would've liked it better that way, he decided, and patted the seat next to him on the loveseat couch for her to join him in watching their favorite home improvement shows. And back Ana was, glinting through the sunlight reflections off the shades, joining him in dreaming of the changes that would never be made to the house they shared.

But he forgot to return to the basement the scrapbook from the high school years, so it remained in the upstairs pile of the photo albums of their wedding, marriage, and old age.

A week after the discovery, realization, and burial of Claudia's evidence, the call came from his lawyer.

As he mentioned Claudia's name, Gabe blanked out for several seconds, and he almost lost hearing when he stated that she was alive and now contesting Ana's will. So the firestorm that had smoldered unseen for years had now caught as if a brushfire to consume him and Ana.

Claudia found and nurtured an obscure loophole that she knew was there until Ana passed on, and now, with all the Old Testament fierceness of God's retribution, she used it to take to her logical conclusion.

He had ten days to vacate the house.

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 Gallery and Photos by Mike McCaffrey © 2002 Artzar - All Rights Reserved