1st Prize: £150.00 Barry Thomas
2nd Prize: £100.00 J. Wood
3rd Prize: £ 75.00 Rachel Harrison
By Barry Thomas
A letter was the sum total of his inheritance and yet it was the most precious gift ever…
The fact that she had remembered him at all amazed him. Elspeth, the foster mother who he had clung to when he had to move to a different family, he remembered burying his head in the folds of her apron and promising to be good if he could stay. Deep down, he had known that she could barely bring herself to wave him goodbye, her ill-health had been the decider. His memories were hazy but he knew she had been kind and caring to the disillusioned child who had been left in her care. He had gone to her after a series of temporary foster care homes had left him feeling bruised and unwanted by the system and his brat like behavior must have tried her patience but she had somehow made everything ok again. He tried to picture her now, short, ruddy complexion, dark curly hair that sat in waves on her shoulders. Buxom, warm and kindly, a typical farmer’s wife, he contemplated.
He had experienced freedom there like nowhere else, fresh air, room to grow and to be able to expand his horizons and simply play like any nine year old should do. Eventually, when he had been removed kicking and screaming from the farm, he had been adopted by a professional couple who gave him financial stability and a yearning to learn. This made up for their lack of emotional warmth and although they had been good to him, their love had never touched him the way Elspeth’s had. Their influence however had enabled him to study science and to eventually teach it, a job that was perfect for him.
He realized his hands were shaking as he sat waiting to be called in outside the office of Lawrence Montgomery-partner in Montgomery and Munroe – Elspeth’s family solicitors. He knew from their stiffly written letter that Elspeth had finally died and had left him something in her will. With children of her own and an abundance of foster children over the years, Frank doubted it would be very much, but he was touched that she would remember the scruffy, tousled haired lad who was aggressive to all, burying his pain in anger instead. He supposed she had seen through the defiant wall he had built up in his nine short years and suddenly, unbidden, a fleeting memory touched him and he smiled. All of the foster children had been given pets to look after and he had inherited a gorgeous large white rabbit who he called ‘Mr. Ears’. One morning when his rabbit had been found dead, Frank had run away, consumed with grief and it was Elspeth who had come to find him, searching acres of farmland to discover his special hideaway, the foundations of an old stone barn, where the land had reclaimed possession of the stone work, with trees and shrubs forming a framework above the dilapidated ruins. How she had found him, he never knew but she had crawled in through the thickened undergrowth and comforted him, explaining the cycle of life and death and how people should always appreciate the ‘now’. Strange how that memory had surged within these sterile walls.
He rose from his seat as Lawrence Montgomery walked towards him, his hand outstretched and ushered him into his office. He was everything that you expected a solicitor to be, professional, courteous and aloof and Frank sat across the desk from him and waited patiently, resisting the urge to fidget.
“Mrs. Turner, as you know died a short time ago,” Lawrence informed him, “She made strict provisions for all those who were in her care, some little trinkets, and items of jewelry for the girls you know, nothing of any great worth- apart from any emotional attachment you understand.” He paused, “The farm got into real financial difficulties when Mr. Turner had an accident and couldn’t walk and over the years, it was almost repossessed. Mrs. Turner died before that could happen, not long after her husband, fortunately in a way”, Laurence murmured, a faint hint of emotion creeping into his words, “It’s my belief that losing the farm and all her memories would have destroyed her”
Frank frowned, “Had you known her long?”
Lawrence sat back in his chair and sighed, “Like you, I was fostered by Elspeth and I have since represented her as a way of paying her back for her incredible kindness- for rescuing me from the system if you like.” He paused, carefully selecting his words, “She was an unbelievable woman- we were all very lucky to be touched by such kindness” He leaned forward and handed Frank a large envelope, “This is yours, you don’t need to open it here, but please do sign on the dotted line now to say you have received it”.
Frank left the office in a daze; the envelope taunting him with its hidden secrets. Sunlight greeted him when he emerged and he shivered as waves of sadness swept over him at the thought that he would never see Elspeth again. He was shocked by how much that thought hurt him. Why hadn’t he gone back? Had he been worried that she wouldn’t have wanted to have seen him? Worried that she might not love him now that he was a grown man? He made his way down the busy street debating whether to drive back to his apartment or to find a quiet pub and wash down his inheritance with a beer or two. He could always get a taxi back home. Without having made a decision, he found himself outside The Lonely Man public house and somehow it seemed fitting, because despite his career success and being a rational adult, his insides were churning and he felt terribly alone.
Finally, as he sat with his beer in hand and the alcohol had suitably soothed his jagged nerves, he slit open the envelope and pulled the contents onto the table. At first his eyes were drawn to the numerous photos within. His childlike image captured forever, cradled in Elspeth’s arms and smiling directly into the camera. Then another with Mr. Ears and a group shot with all of the family gathered. He wondered who had taken the last photo. Waves of nostalgia swept over him, seeing the old farm and everybody in these photos bought it all flooding back, all of the good times, he thought. As he gazed at the photos in turn, a smile touched his lips, recognizing the Turners, in happier, healthier times, smiling and waving at the camera.
With shaking fingers he laid the photos to one side and turned his attention to another small sealed envelope and began to read.
My dearest boy,
Not one day has passed without me thinking and wondering how you were doing. I always meant to get in touch but my ill health and that of my husband always stopped me from seeking you out. You were a challenge in those long ago days my boy, but I loved every single minute that we shared. I hope in that year we were given together, I showed you love and what family is all about.
Family was always important for me and I took the liberty in making some enquires as to your background, in case you remained that angry little boy who never wanted to look back at his beginnings and found himself lost in his future. I hope my darling boy that you will not be angry with me but I am certain that the name on the slip of paper inside this envelope is of a man who is related to you, God forgive me if I am wrong.
Don’t be afraid to find your roots Frank, but live for the present and cherish each day. I pray your future will be filled with light and love.
My best wishes and love always,
Frank leaned back heavily, he felt exhausted. His heart ached. She had given him a gift beyond monetary value, the gift of pure love. What more could any man ask of family?
He scratched at the stubble on his chin, perplexed. Did he want to know the name tucked away inside the envelope? Did he want to turn back the clock and find out his humble beginnings? Elspeth had obviously thought it was important enough so maybe it was something to consider for the future. For now, all he wanted to do was honor the woman who had shaped him from the angry boy, to the man who wasn’t afraid to embrace love or to cry. He wiped a solitary tear from his cheek and tucked the photos and letter back in the envelope; he needed time to think and time to remember the woman who would forever be his mother.