"I wonder," Natalie asked shyly, "if you could tell me how to find this address." She showed the woman the card on which she had written Julie Hutchinson's address. "Is it within walking distance from here?"
"Oh, I would think so, unless you're in a hurry," the woman told her. "That would be just between Park and Madison—closer to Park. Do you know New York?"
Natalie smiled and shook her head. Can't she see the hayseeds in my hair? she thought.
"Well, you're on Fifth, now, and 65th. You want to walk north on Fifth—" she pointed—"until you get to 79th. That will be up by the Metropolitan." She looked at Natalie, expecting some kind of recognition. Natalie looked blank.
"You don't know the Metropolitan Museum of Art?" Natalie shook her head.
"Goodness. If you have time while you're here, do stop in there. They're having a special exhibition this month, of impressionists. Here, I'll give you a brochure." The woman handed her a brochure on thick textured paper, with a reproduction, on the front, of a pastel and hazy painting of a woman holding a child.
"Now, when you get to 79th, which is up by the museum, turn right. Go one block and cross Madison, and then in the second block, almost to Park, you'll find this address."
"I don't think there's any possible way that you could get lost. But if you do, just get a taxi." The woman smiled at her.
Help, thought Natalie, suddenly panicky. Should I give her a tip? I've given everyone else a tip. The taxi driver. The doorman. The bellboy.
But the woman had turned away pleasantly and was talking to a dapper man in a pinstriped suit who wanted to know if a telegram had come for him from Oslo. Natalie made her way to the street and began walking north.
WELL, SHE THOUGHT. Here I am. And, as usual, not knowing what to do next.
She stood uncertainly on the wide sidewalk and looked again at the building. It was an apartment building, older than many in the neighborhood, smaller than most, and thoroughly elegant. A gray-haired doorman in a brass-buttoned green uniform stood at the doorway and spoke occasionally to the few people who entered or left. He helped a young woman in a white uniform with an English baby carriage and exchanged a few laughing remarks with her as she started off toward Central Park with her charge. Then he opened the door of an arriving taxi, took the packages marked Bonwit Teller from a middle-aged lady in a deep blue linen dress, and escorted her into the building. He looked at Natalie curiously.
I have to get out of here. If Julie Hutchinson comes out of that building, I am going to faint.
She walked slowly back toward Fifth Avenue, idly leafing through the brochure from the Metropolitan Museum. On the last page, it mentioned the hours that the museum was open and the fact that it contained a restaurant. Suddenly Natalie was very hungry. It was already two o'clock; she had left Maine early in the morning, and hadn't eaten since dawn.
She crossed Madison Avenue and headed toward Fifth and the museum. It's nice, she thought, finally to have a destination. Even if it is only for lunch.
Seated with her salad and iced tea beside the shallow pool and its tall, thin sculptured figures, she thought over her alternatives carefully.
I could go back to the apartment building and simply pay her a visit. Except that I would be too scared. And it wouldn't be fair to her, to do it without any warning. Cancel that idea.
I could go back to the hotel and call her on the phone. Except I'm scared to do that, too. How can I explain things on the phone? She might hang up on me.
I could write her a note. I should have done that before I came. But I was afraid she wouldn't answer. If I mailed it right now, she would get it tomorrow. I think. I could ask her to call me. I could explain how far I've come. She would have a little time to think, and then she'd call.
And if she didn't get it tomorrow? The next day is Sunday; no mail deliveries on Sundays. And I have to leave Sunday, anyway.
I can't waste this trip. I have to do something.
(I could sit here surrounded by sculpture and people and cry. That's what I feel like doing.)
Then, as quickly and clearly as one of the water drops falling from the fountains of the shallow pool, she realized what she would do.
I'll write a note, and I'll give it to the doorman in the green uniform. I'll go back to the hotel, and wait for her to call.
If she doesn't call?
She will. Because she's my mother.
There was no one waiting for tables; it was three o'clock now, and the lunch crowds had passed. Natalie got another glass of iced tea, and took from her pocketbook the stationery that she had found in her room at the hotel. It was pale gray, embossed at the top with the name and address—and phone number—of the hotel.
"Dear Mrs. Hutchinson," she wrote.
That doesn't seem right, she thought. Well, what should I say? Dear Mother? No way.
She took out a second sheet of paper and wrote firmly, "Dear Julie." The rest came surprisingly easily.
This will come as a surprise to you, and I hope not an unpleasant one.
My name is Natalie Armstrong. I am the child to whom you gave birth in September 1960, in Simmons' Mills.
I am now seventeen years old. For the past two months I have been trying to find you. Now finally here I am, a few blocks away from you, and I am at a loss about what I should do next.
I don't want to disrupt your own life in any way. My life, too, is a happy one.
But I want so much to see you, and to talk. Perhaps all these years you have been wondering, too, as I have.
I will be at the hotel for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Would you call me, there? Please.
She folded the paper, sealed it in the pale gray envelope, wrote "Mrs. E. Phillips Hutchinson" on the outside, left the museum, walked down the long steps, across Fifth Avenue, down to 79th Street, across Madison, and back to the apartment building. The doorman was hailing a taxi for a man and a teen-aged boy who had just come from the building.
"Excuse me," she said to him, after the taxi slid away from the curb and eased itself into the traffic.