Her Own Words
By Judith Cullen(c) 2013
When she finally went to bed, sometime after three in the morning, she just stared blankly at the ceiling until the sun came up. At eight she called her office to let them know she was staying at home. She didn’t have any crucial appointments or deadlines, and she had plenty of time off coming.
Ten a.m. found her in the stiff cold air, opening her umbrella as the rain started to fall. She had gotten thename of the cemetery from the listing she had found, and the desk clerk had given her directions how to find the grave. The actual physical cemetery was a little more intimidating than the graphics on the desk clerk’s computer. Elaine finally found her though.
Born August 14, 1962
Died October 5, 2006
There was no other inscription. Elaine recognized the headstone. There was a group of ladies at one of the big local churches who had started a charity to help people who died without means to have a proper burial. They held bazaars, bake sales, and auctions all to provide monuments and obituary listings for people who passed and had no relatives, or whose relatives could not afford it. What had happened to Rebecca’s family? She had been an only child, but she’d had parents.
It was raining steadily as Elaine knelt down and put her hand on the grave. “Oh my God, Rebecca. What on earth happened to you?” She put her head down and wept, the rain mocking her tears, her hand still on Rebecca’s grave. The sorrow and guilt pelted down on her with every raindrop. She felt it constrict in her chest: she should have known.
After a long time Elaine rose, wiping at her wet face ineffectually with her rain dampened sleeve. She sniffed, and felt into her pocket for the note. She had brought it with her. It had remained unsealed since last night, and she had kept it with her. The last message was still there. “Where? Where? Where?”
Elaine looked at the grave, addressing it softly again. “I am so sorry, Rebecca. I should have been there for you.”
She didn’t sleep well again that night. She would doze off and words and images would flash in her mind like lightning in a thunderstorm.
Images of Rebecca from the yearbook and from the scrapbook, but all distorted; Rebecca’s charity headstone at the cemetery, the rain pouring down it like tears. Rebecca was still trying to get Elaine’s attention. She was still not satisfied.
Elaine woke up bleary and wilted. It was Saturday, but she knew she had to find the resolution to all this. There was work to be done. Rebecca’s ghost wanted something and had chosen Elaine to make it happen.
She took a hot shower, made a big pot of coffee, and brought it and the note with her into her work room. The paper was starting to show some wear, but the words were the same. She had no idea what she was looking for, but there was still something about this to be resolved. She booted up her computer and rubbed her hands together, putting her research hat on, and began looking for clues.
She discovered that both Rebecca’s parents had predeceased her. They had both been gone by the time the millennium changed. So Rebecca had been alone. Elaine felt the guilt and agony of the gravesite all over again, but she transformed it into a firm resolve to discover what “where” meant.
It turned out to be incredibly simple. She found the obituary listing again, the one she now realized had been paid for by the charity. There was no reference to family except one at the very end, so slight it was easy to miss it: “Survived by Belinda Jonas, infant.” Elaine kept searching and discovered the date of birth of one Belinda Jonas right there in the local hospital on October 5, 2006. There was no father referenced. Rebecca had died somehow of complications from childbirth. It did not take a detective to ferret that out. She had a daughter and she had lived long enough to name her.
That summer so long ago, there had been a heroine on their favorite soap opera named “Belinda.” The character had come from the country to live with her more affluent relations in the swanky suburban world of the show. She was good, kind, bright, and always positive with an uncanny talent for walking unknowing into utter catastrophes. Elaine and Rebecca had rooted for her through any number of improbable plot twists and turns. No matter what had happened, the character always retained her innocent good nature.
Rebecca had named her daughter after that character.
It was over eleven months, hundreds of phone calls, emails, and dozens of meetings and official inquiries later. Elaine sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair looking into the wide, earnest eyes of a seven year old girl. She had her mother’s eyes and the same quirky turn at the corner of her mouth. Elaine knew that little quirk was perfect for laughter, but she got the impression that “Lindy”, as she was called, did not smile much. The woman at the foster home had seemed kind enough. She had several children in her care, but she did not seem to be the usual horror story foster mother you read about. The woman had warned her that Lindy was a bit behind and had a difficult time in school. She wasn’t socializing the way the other children were, and she kept to herself much of the time.
Elaine kept her voice low and calm. “Lindy, I won’t pretend that this will be easy. But if you would agree to, I would like for you to come live with me.” She had made several visits, trying carefully to get to know the little girl who was her friend’s daughter.
“Are there other kids where you live?”
Elaine smiled, “I am afraid not, but there is a cat. Her name is ‘Miss Kitty.’”
The child made a scrunched up face.
Elaine chuckled gently, “I know, it is not the most original name in the world, but she seems happy with it.”
“Is she a mean kitty?”
“Not at all. Miss Kitty loves people.” Elaine reached out carefully to place her hand reassuringly on Lindy’s. “I am sure she is going to like you.”
“Really?” Lindy looked hopeful, as if being liked by a cat was the best thing that could ever happen to her. Elaine’s heart went out to the little girl whose expectations for joy could be so simple.
“Really. Now what do you say? Would you like to give me and Miss Kitty a try?” There was a trial period she knew, mandated by law, before she could officially file adoption papers. But this was going to work. She knew in her soul this was going to work. Elaine was now absolutely certain that the “where” had not been about where she should have been when her friend needed her, though that guilt still remained with her. The “where” was about Lindy, and making a real home for her friend’s only child.
Two days later they walked out of the foster home, Lindy’s small hand held tightly in Elaine’s. It was a year to the day from the first arrival of the note on her doorstep. As Elaine strapped her into the car, the child asked, “You knew my Mommy?”
“Yes I did. Many years ago your Mommy and I were best friends.”
The child looked up, saying plainly, “I don’t remember her at all.”
Elaine reached out and caressed her small cheek, “You will know her now. I will make sure of it. I promise.”
As she walked around to the driver’s side, Elaine realized there were blanks she could never fill in for Lindy. What had happened that had brought Rebecca to a pregnancy in her mid-forties, giving birth alone in a hospital with no one there to support her? Where was Lindy’s father? She realized these where questions she might, or might not, be able to find the answers to. For the moment, she knew her prime responsibility was to see to the health and happiness if this one little girl.
Miss Kitty was at her charming best from the moment Lindy entered the house, following her around, rubbing up against her legs whenever possible, looking up at her adoringly. The adoration was clearly mutual.
They had pizza and sodas for dinner. Sitting at Elaine’s big dining room table, she watched the child take her pizza slice and fold it in half. Her heart almost skipped a beat, and her Root Beer can came down on the table with a fizzy bang, spilling on the table top. Rebecca had always eaten pizza that way. Elaine had teased her endlessly about her “pizza sandwiches”, but she had adamantly refused to change. It was only one of the many little ways that Elaine saw more and more of the mother in the daughter.
“Are you okay?” the child asked, noticing the bits of spilled soda.
“I’m fine, just clumsy.” Elaine wiped the spill up with her napkin. She’d have to be more careful about such recognitions.
After dinner they sat together on the couch with the cat curled up against Lindy, and Elaine slowly began to share the scrap book. They took their time, Elaine slowly telling the story of every photograph they admired, every keepsake and clipping. She let Lindy ask all the questions she wanted, and by bedtime there was still a lot of scrapbook left to explore.
Lindy had been excited about her own room, but reluctant to sleep there alone on her first night.
“Can’t I sleep with you?”
Elaine paused for a second, thinking that as a new parent she would need to learn to be strong and disciplined. But this was not the night for such things. That would have to wait. She was sure she would make plenty of mistakes, but tonight was not one of them. Lindy had been through a lot, and she now had a home and someone she could call her very own for the first time in her life. Elaine’s heart did not posses the will to deny her.
As they lay in Elaine’s big bed, under the comforter with Miss Kitty curled up at Lindy’s feet, Elaine was awake for a long time contentedly listening to the child’s breathing as she slept. The wind was blowing again, just like it had that first night a year ago. Elaine realized she had one thing left undone, one very important thing.
She slipped out from under the covers, and Lindy stirred. “Stay here, sweetie. You say here with Miss Kitty. I’ll be right back.” She kissed Lindy’s forehead and smoothed her hair out of her face. She gave Miss Kitty a knowing look that meant “stay.” The cat just yawned at her and curled back up.
Elaine padded into her workroom and took the note out from where she had hidden it, not wanting Lindy to accidentally see it. More than that, Elaine did not want to have to explain it. Not yet, at least. For the last year Elaine had carried the note with her everywhere she went. It became a talisman in her search to find Lindy and bring her home. The paper was soft and worn now. The red words, once so angry across the page, were faded. They bruised the paper pink, and were almost impossible to read.
Elaine pulled out her best ink pen and turned the paper over to the blank side. She wrote in a clear, strong hand, “All my love, always” and signed her name. As an after thought she smiled and made a little adolescent heart out of the dot over the “i” in her name. She folded the note, and slid it into the envelope, gluing the envelope shut. She ran a line through her own name, and wrote below it “Rebecca Jonas.” Elaine had been haunted by her own words, written so long ago. She let it stay there on the desk for a few moments, thinking about the journey of these words: a moment of shared laughter that had taken such an unexpected, incredible turn so many years later. She smoothed the envelope thoughtfully, picked it up and went downstairs.
She opened the front door, flinched against the swirling October wind. She slid the note into the door frame exactly where it had first appeared. She made sure it was securely stuck, then closed the door and returned to bed.
In the morning, the weather had changed. It was clear and crisp outside. Elaine had slept more soundly than she had in well over a year. She felt refreshed, happily enjoying the sight of the peacefully sleeping child at her side.
She got up and went downstairs, puttering in the kitchen enough that Miss Kitty soon arrived, demanding her morning bowl of food. Elaine had started the coffee pot when she remembered the note. She hoped her words of last night had ended Rebecca’s unrest, but did she dare look? It didn’t really matter if she dared or not, she’d have to open the front door someday. It might as well be now.
She walked into the front hall, morning light streaming through the window high in the front door. She popped the chain loose, and flipped the bolt. The doorknob felt warm in her hand. It still squeaked. She opened the door on to the bright morning, her eyes immediately going to the door frame.
The note was gone. Below where she had placed it, on the stoop was a single white flower petal about thesize of Elaine’s palm. It was perfect: without flaw. Elaine picked it up, closed the door behind her, and walked into the living room where the book still lay on the coffee table, hers and Rebecca’s scrapbook. She tucked the petal inside, running a loving hand over the cover before returning upstairs to wake Lindy.