“So, are you going to tell me now?” Imogen sat in the passenger seat of Detective Ryan’s car.
Ryan’s eyes flicked over to Imogen.
“There aren’t too many explanations; either your grandmother had a twin or she wasn’t your grandmother,” he said.
“What?” Imogen asked.
“The DNA test? Came back with certain markers matching right? So it has to be a certain percentage to come back conclusive. And it did. If your grandmother was an identical twin then that could be why the test indicates that Florence is your grandmother, their DNA is the same,” explained Ryan.
Imogen let out a slow breath. What the hell was going on? Why didn’t her grandmother tell her anything? Why did she have to die before she could answer these questions?
“Florence Delgard was identified by the director of a retirement home. I’m going to talk with the staff and I’m bringing you along to see if you can get her belongings, being a relative and such.”
“Florence Delgard,” she said as she watched the trees go by, as if to acquaint herself with the old woman.
Jim greeted them at the door and led them to his office.
“I’ve got some things to go over before you start your inquires, Detective Ryan,” he said as he rounded his desk and swept his arm across the two chairs, indicating they should sit.
“I have Florence’s will here. In the event of her death, her belongings are to go to her daughter – the woman in the pictures I believe – and if we can’t find her, they are to go to an Imogen Hyde,” here he looked up to meet eyes with a surprised Imogen.
“I take it that’s you?”
Imogen nodded. This took Ryan by surprise too and again he sent off a silent prayer. He might just solve this one after all.
“I need to see some I.D. before I let you into her room,” said Jim.
Imogen pulled her wallet from her purse and showed him that in fact she was indeed Imogen Hyde.
“Okay, Detective Ryan, I imagine you’ll wan to inspect her room too?”
Ryan nodded and Jim led them the way.
It was a small room, with a bed, a dresser, a closet and a cabinet that had framed pictures next to a turntable. The bed was neatly made with a crocheted blanket on top. Imogen couldn’t help but think how clichéd this room was, almost staged. Did all women who lived in nursing homes have crocheted blankets on their beds?
Imogen picked up the picture that was next to the record player. It was a photograph of Florence with a woman that took Imogen’s breath away. The woman looked so much like Imogen herself that for a second she thought maybe this was a photo of she and her grandmother. But it wasn’t, the woman in the photograph was older than Imogen and her hair was darker. The eyes though, and the mouth and even the way she stood; clearly they were related.
Without saying anything she handed the framed picture to Ryan. He looked at it closely and then looked back at Imogen.
“Who’s this then?” he asked.
Imogen shrugged. “My aunt?”
“Wouldn’t be your mother?” asked Ryan.
“She died when I was a few months old. My grandparents were the only parents I remember,” she said. “This photo is too recent for it to be my mom.”
Imogen tentatively opened a drawer. Clothes. Another one revealed more clothes. A third one was socks and Ryan stopped her from closing it.
“People hide things in their sock drawers,” he said.
She pushed aside some stockings and wool socks and sure enough found an envelope, bigger than a letter but smaller than a manila.
Ryan smiled when she held it up. She opened it so he could see too. Inside were more photographs; of Florence with the same woman and an unknown man, and of a young Florence with a young Gladys, Imogen’s grandmother.
“Holy shit,” Imogen couldn’t help but say. With a ray of hope she turned the photo around, sometimes people wrote on the back right? She thought.
Lucky for her, Florence did.
‘Me and Gladys, 1983,’ it read.
Imogen turned the other photograph around, the one with Florence and the woman and the man.
‘Me, Jennifer and Gregorio, 2000,’ read the back of this one.
Imogen let out a sigh. Her mother’s name had been Nancy, and even so, like the photograph in the frame on the cabinet, this picture was taken too recently for it to have been her mother anyway.
“I’m going to go talk to some of the staff, you okay in here?” asked Ryan. He was itching to see what else this room was hiding but he figured Imogen would find whatever was significant. It was like having a deputy. That Imogen needed to be here on her own for a while and maybe get to know this relative she never knew in life, well, that was a bonus. For once he got to do something nice for someone else.
Imogen nodded but Ryan could tell she wasn’t paying attention to him. He left her and headed down the hall where Jim had pointed out the nurse’s station.
There were a few nurses there, two female and one male, hanging around the desk, waiting for him.
“Hi, I’m Detective Ryan, did Jim tell you I needed a few words?” he asked.
“Hi, I’m Brenda, this is Caitlin and Marcus, and yes, Director Marcert warned us you’d be showing up,” she said with a smile.
“I won’t take up too much of your time. Is there anything that stands out right away when you think of Florence?” he asked of the small group. Each one paused in thought.
“She was spunky, I mean, loved telling a dirty joke,” said Brenda, the unofficial mouthpiece of the group.
“She always hit on us male nurses,” said Marcus but with a smile. “She was kind of crass but honestly? Kind of refreshing,” he added.
“Did she ever talk about her family?” asked Ryan.
“Only when she drank too much,” said Caitlin. Brenda threw her a warning look. Caitlin looked like she was about to back peddle but Ryan cut her off.
“Was that often?”
Caitlin looked at Brenda for help.
“Look, um, the residents aren’t supposed to have alcohol here,” started Brenda, looking sheepish. “But some of them, well, they lose their spark and if maybe a little gin lifts their spirits…” she trailed off.
Ryan smiled. “The day they took whiskey away from my grandfather was the day he died. Don’t worry, I won’t say anything to Jim.”
The nurses looked relieved and smiled.
“So, did she drink much?” he asked.
Caitlin shook her head. “Because of the, err, rules, she didn’t. But there was one night when I went in and she was crying. A record was playing and I thought it had taken her to the past so I sat with her and held her hand until she’d calmed down. She didn’t say much and what she did say didn’t make a whole lot of sense but I definitely understood she was talking about her past.”
“What sort of things did she say?”
Caitlin squinted and looked down, thinking hard.
“Something about how a new name makes a new life? Ummm, and something about mistakes that lead you to die alone.”
“Was she senile?” asked Ryan.
“No, but when she was, um, tipsy, she would say that her name wasn’t Florence,” said Brenda
“So was it a surprise when she went missing?” asked Ryan.
“Actually, it was. We have a large wall that keeps our residents in and the gate you drove through? It gets closed at night. I don’t know how she could have gotten out,” said Marcus.
“She loved sitting outside on the benches but sometimes she’d walk the perimeter of the wall. Maybe she found a hole or something and got out?” said Brenda helpfully.
“I think I’ll go take a look, any of you have time to show me where she’d walk?” asked Ryan.
“I will, they have to get back to work,” said Brenda.
Ryan thanked Caitlin and Marcus and then followed Brenda out to the grounds.
Imogen had moved on to the closet. It reminded her of her grandmother’s trunk because of all the old clothes. Imogen grew increasingly sad. Not just for the loss of her grandmother, but also for this woman who died alone. This woman who was related to her, this woman she’d never known. In the back was a coat that was an exact match to one her grandmother had. Imogen took it off the hanger and put it on. It even kind of smelled like the one her grandmother had. The rich fox fur felt soft on her cheek and she stood there sniffing and rubbing her face for a few minutes. Putting her arms down, her hands naturally gravitated to the pockets. In the right hand pocket was a seam that wasn’t there in the left. Maybe a mended rip, thought Imogen. She took off the coat and looked on the inside; another seam that wasn’t supposed to be there. She felt around and realized there was something, something thin, between the lining and the fur.
Imogen moved to the bed and set the coat down. She looked around for something that could help her rip the seam open. She remembered nail care set she had in her purse. She took out the clippers and carefully tried to clip the lining. After three tries there was a small enough hole that she could put her finger and thumb into and with that she was able to rip a bigger hole. Finally it was big enough to work the piece of paper out of the coat.
It was a letter. It was a letter written in a beautiful looping script that Imogen immediately recognized to be her grandmother’s. Imogen drank it in, actually gulped the words with her eyes.
I don’t know if they’ll let you read this. I don’t know if it will ever get to you. Strange, isn’t it? How life unfolds; lately I am tortured by the question of fate. Would this have happened if my daughter hadn’t married that man? Would she have married him if I hadn’t so adamantly loathed him? I could go crazy thinking this way and now with the baby in my arms, my grandbaby, I know I have to stay strong and not break under the weight of these questions.
I will never be able to repay what you are doing for me, for Nancy and for her baby. The thought that I may never see you again fills me with such sorrow that my tears soak baby’s blanket. That we started life at the same moment, that we shared all of life until now, oh sister! I’m so sorry it has come to this.
Please remember how much you mean to me and please never forget me.
All my love,
Imogen read and re read the letter. What the Hell? Francine? Wasn’t her name Florence? And Nancy, that was Imogen’s mother. Why couldn’t Flo-Francine and Gladys see each other again?
Imogen sat on the bed, coat on her lap and letter in her hand. Images of what could have happened ran through her head like movies and she was startled to the point of exclaiming “Oh!” when Ryan said her name.
Smiling, he apologized. “I’ve been standing here for a minute or so, thought maybe you didn’t hear me knock,” he said.
Imogen looked down at the letter, then back at him.
“They were sisters, you were right. And, and something happened. I think with my mom and dad?” Imogen offered Ryan the letter. But Ryan didn’t take it. He had his own surprise.
“Florence, or rather, Francine, had a little secret hiding spot out in the gardens.” He said this as he handed her a tin box, an old lunch box.
Imogen set the letter down beside her and opened it. There were photographs and papers in neat bundles.
“I read some of them. It seems your father was, unsavory,” said Ryan.
Imogen looked up at him. “My dad?”
“He was, believe it or not, part of the cartel. The drug runners that go through here to get to the city,” said Ryan.
“Is that how he died? Running drugs?”
Ryan shook his head.
“He’s still alive. At least, he was when she, Florence who was really Francine, moved here,” explained Ryan.
Imogen frowned. “Why didn’t he ever contact me, or why didn’t she? I mean, why didn’t we have a relationship with Flor - I mean – Francine?”
Ryan pointed to the box that was in Imogen’s hand.
“Francine has been writing letters to you since the day she left your life. I only read a couple and you’ll want to read the rest. From what I gather, Francine left her life to take care of your mother, who couldn’t get out from under your father. Your grandmother, Gladys, was to raise you. That was the deal. They tried to make contact once, your mother and Francine but the cartel made good on their threat. That was in 2002 or something?” he said.
“My grandparents were run off the road in the fall of 2002.” Imogen couldn’t believe what thoughts were forming in her head. Did her father kill her grandparents?
“So maybe that’s why your mother or Francine never contacted you?”
“My mother might still be alive.” It wasn’t a question.
“I’m sure you’ll learn more as you read these. I have to get back to the station and follow up on these names and write a report.” He looked regretful that he had to take Imogen away from this room.
“Okay. Okay, so, but, I can take this box and letter right?” said Imogen.
“I’ll have to go through it, but not before you read them all.”
Imogen sat in the passenger’s seat as they drove away from the nursing home. In her lap sat the coat and box and in her head the stories of her family’s past began to gel. Today would be going through the letters, but tomorrow she could come back, maybe even with Anders, and she could collect her great-aunt’s belongings.
Imogen and Ryan sat in silence. He was relieved that there was an end in sight; that he would very likely be able to figure out how Francine ended up in the river. Most likely it was the cartel. Maybe she tried to contact Imogen. He was relieved but also sorry for Imogen. A family she lost long ago she was losing all over again. But perhaps it was better to know the truth. Ryan was never sure. He’d seen the truth cut up hearts as much as lies did. But Imogen sat without sadness on her face, more of curiosity. He glanced at her as she opened the tin box and began to read the letters. In this case, the truth seemed best.