Wind, gritty with sand lifted from the pavement pecked at the skin on our faces, bitter, painful and relentless.
"Come with me, it's freezing out here," I said to the woman. She stared into the wind, unblinking. Tears rolled down her face, she made no effort to wipe them away.
"Come on now, we can't leave you here," I said, taking hold of her coat. It was a nice one, hardly used.
"There's cats in the meadow," she said, and followed me.
"Are there, and what kind of cat's might they be?"
She made eye contact then, and continued.
"The bisque is frozen, better get on with it then."
"You can't eat frozen bisque."
"The pencils need sharpening."
"I hate writing with dull pencils. Do you write often?"
"If the laundry is done in time, we'll go to the park."
"Is the park near your home?"
Nothing then, but at least we were inside the rescue, heading toward Rhode Island Hospital and safety. She had been wandering around downtown for hours, and nobody paid her any attention. The city is full of strange characters, she mixed in with the rest, and appeared to belong.
"Where do you live?"
"I bought a lottery ticket yesterday, 423-5342."
She looked up, and again made eye contact.
She stayed interested.
She continued staring, but spoke.
"2372983. 2372983. 2372983."
I wrote the number down. When we pulled into the rescue bay at the hospital. I used the truck phone and dialed the number. It hadn't rung once when a frantic voice picked up.
"This is Lieutenant Morse with the Providence Fire Department."
"Oh my god, is she okay?"
"I have a woman here, mid-sixties, nicely dressed and appears lost."
"Where are you?"
"Rhode Island Hospital."
"Rhode Island Hospital."
"Is her name Ruth?"
I looked at the woman, who was gone again.
She didn't budge, or respond.
"I don't know, she has no ID, but is wearing a black velvet coat with fur trim on the collar."
"That's her, thank you so much, we'll be there as soon as we can, it's an hour drive from Massachusetts."
"She likes busses."
An hour later Ruth was reunited with her daughter, son-in-law, five of six kids and a few other people. She had been missing for sixteen hours. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimers just this year. I have no idea what posessed me to start running off numbers, just got lucky I think. I figured something in her mind might click.
I've done a lot of things over the last twenty years, but that call was one of the most gratifying moments of my career. The family treated me like a hero, and asked again and again how I got her to come up with the phone number. Truth is, I just got lucky.
A woman suffering from dementia was found dead in a ditch in Newport last week. She wandered off. Before she was found I heard a press release saying she liked to sit on public benches. I looked, but never saw her.