Short story for Short Shots contest. A picture of a Churchyard gate.
| Promise and Possibility
Amy's pulse pounded in her ears. Her heart raced and her mind screamed, "what do you expect to find, why are you here, what difference will it make? She circled the cemetary one more time, heart pounding in her chest and fear of what she might find rising in her throat. " I can't go in there! He is lying in this cemetery, that they have the audacity to call a "Churchyard." How can a man who fathered a child and just walked away be buried in a Churchyard?"
Amy was railing at God or the empty space in her rattle trap motor-car. The summer heat was warming the vinyl and she could almost see the oil vaporize. The air was heavy and hot. Why had she driven here when she knew she would find nothing more than a grave? Carlton, at least she had a last name. She was hoping to find out if there were relatives nearby. Something, anything, that would at least make her feel she was connected, that she had ties to someone.
All Amy knew about her history was that she was left with the nuns at the Sisters of St. Joseph when she was about four. A Bobbi had taken her to the nuns because he found her stealing fruit from the market. She was dirty, cold and hungry and had not spoken a word. He kept asking her what her name was but she just looked at him with her big brown eyes pooling. The nuns had asked where he found her and he said, " Vine Street."
After searching for relative or someone who might know something about her the nuns resigned themselves to raising her themselves. They named her Amy Vine.
"I'm named after a frig-gin street for pity sake." Amy jerked the car to the curb and put her head in her hands. The curls around her face were damp from the heat and she was tired. She almost allowed herself the luxury of a few tears but could hear Sister Catherine, "feeling sorry for yourself never got a thing done. Get up and find a way to be productive. You are part of God's family Amy Jane and that is all the family any of us needs."
"Sister was wrong. I need to know more. I need to know why my hair is brown and my nose is upturned and why I can't eat bananas without getting a itchy throat or if I have a brother." I need to know that somewhere someone has a mouth just like mine or walks with their feet turned out or sings a little off key."
" I need to know!"
Amy looked around. She had the glass down and was talking out loud. All she needed was for someone to think she was a loony on the loose.
The breeze barely came through the window and she knew she had to either get out and get on with it or go back to Dover and admit that it was all a wild goose chase.
A letter from London had arrived at St. Josephs two weeks ago and Sister Catherine had forwarded it with a note. " We will be praying that you have a save journey and that you find some peace with the knowledge that you discover."
The letter was from a solicitor and stated simply that Amy owned a house in London due to the death of James Carlton. Nothing else.
All those years living in a convent. Wondering if anyone knew or cared about her. He had known all along where she was, but didn't care enough to even let her know he existed. " Hang him and his house," was her first thought but she started daydreaming about aunts and uncles and the possibility of a connection to a family.
So here she was. The aged iron gate creaked a bit as the arid wind pushed it a little. Birds were singing and people passed like it was just an ordinary day. Amy opened the car door and set one foot on the steaming asphalt. She pulled herself up and shut the door on the motor car. She leaned heavily on the handle and almost opened the door and got back inside but something made her step away from the car and move toward the gate. It could be the beginning of her life or just another disappointing chapter to her unwritten pages.
She stopped and looked at the words on the gate and uttered a cursory, "bloody hell," before moving through the arch to the rows of headstones. She looked for a row marker and compared it to the slip of paper that she held. Row 37 Lot 12. She walked slowly, as if to make sure the earth would not give way as she stepped. Suddenly time seemed to stop. She didn't hear her footsteps crunching on the gravel or the voices of the children running nearby as their parents stood looking at a plot. She didn't even hear the thoughts that had been rattling around in her head for the last ten days. Nothing.... silence. As if the world stood still as she labored to walk to the headstone.
It was just like the others. Not remarkable in any way. Just a stone reading:
James Fenway Carlton
Born September 4th, 1932
Died July 7th, 2012
Amy stared at it almost willing him to speak. "Why am I here?" The tears were falling and Amy swiped at them, angry that this man could cause her pain. "Why now? I was just beginning to think that I was okay, that I could find someone and have the kind of family that other people have. Why bother when your dead?'
She kicked at an Angel sitting at the base of the stone and stopped short of shattering it. Someone had put that there. Someone loved this man enough to put an Angel at his grave. Gently, she picked it up turning it over she saw the initials E.C. Amy sat the angel down and placed her hand on the stone. "What now?" What am I supposed to do?" She walked around the stone and discovered on the back there was a poem or verse.
What Lies ahead is Promise
What lies behind is simply
Lost in thought Amy touched the words and wondered if this was a message for her. Random thoughts ran through her head, "Who is E.C.? Maybe this is a clue or maybe I should just move on."
Amy walked back to the car and found herself at the office of the solicitor. She didn't remember the drive because her head was full of questions. "Is there promise and possibility for me? Can I find peace with all of this?" She forced herself to exit the car and go into the solicitors office.
Mr. Madison handed Amy an envelope with a house number and key. "You will find the house in order and the staff willing to continue in your employ if you desire. There are considerable grounds to keep and they were loyal to your father."
"Mr. Madison, did Mr. Carlton have relative with the initials of E.C.?"
"Indeed." Eleanor Carlton Ridgemoore is his sister. Your Aunt."
"Can you supply me with a phone number or address for Mrs. Ridgemoore?"
"Actually she is waiting for you at the house. Mrs. Ridgemoore has all of the information about family ties and should be able to help you.'
The address was not difficult to locate and as Amy wound around the drive she marveled at the gardens and trees. It was a rainbow of color and seemed to emanate not only wealth but joy. The house was large but not overwhelming. It was designed to look a bit like a cottage in the front with ivy covered stone and trellises with roses on each side of the main entry. The overall affect was one of warmth and welcome.
"Well Amy old girl it's now or never." She went to the door, heart in her throat and ears ringing, she debated whether she should knock or just enter. She decided to knock.
The door was opened to a quaint foyer by a slender gentleman with a warm smile. "Ms. Vine I presume."
"Yes. I hope I've come at a good time. Mr. Madison said I was to meet Mrs. Ridgemoore here."
"This is your home, any time is a good time. I am Jackson, Mr. Carltons assistant." He shook Amy's
hand. "Eleanor is waiting in the sitting room. She will show your the house and when you return we will have tea and I will answer any questions that I am able to."
"Thank-you er Mr."
"Lange, but just call me Jackson."
Upon entering the sitting room, Eleanor jumped up and greeted Amy, embracing her and welcoming her to London. "You must have so many questions. I'll try to explain as we go through the house." Eleanor told her about her father's military service and that He had been gone when she was born and by the time he returned she and her mother had gone missing.
Amy was charmed by warmth and tasteful simplicity of the home. She felt somewhat relaxed when they finished and sat down to tea with Mr. Lange.
"What do you think, Ms. Vine? Is the house what you expected."
"I'm not sure what I expected, but it is a lovely home."
Jackson handed Amy a large portfolio. "I would like you to take this and read through it. I understand that Mr. Madison has scheduled a formal reading of the will tomorrow but I believe this will prove enlightening. Your father was a multi-faceted man. He was smart, savvy and somewhat driven in his business dealings but always fair and compassionate with the people that worked for him and with him. I know this is hard for you. If it helps at all I will tell you that he looked for you with dogged determination. He set up the trust and all that you will find here not knowing if he would ever discover what had happened to you. Until last fall he did not know if you were even alive."
"Why didn't he contact me then?"
"Most of your answers are in the portfolio, Ms. Vine. He was ill and time seemed to slip away. He wanted to meet you at his best. I believe when you have read all that James has to tell you in the letters you will understand."
"Why don't you move from the hostel to the house? You can read the letters at your leisure and the staff is anxious to take care of you."
Later in the evening after settling in the house, Amy began to read.
James had been in the service of the queen and learned that Ellen was pregnant. He was in the intelligence and had a hard time getting leave. Ellen's family was furious and James had tried to tell her it would be all right but the next time he was able to get leave she had disappeared. Her parents blamed him and wouldn't help in the investigation but he was determined to find her. He finally discovered that she had a little girl and worked as a housemaid for someone. It took years but he finally found that Ellen had died and the child had been left at a convent. His last written words in his journal were, "my hope is that my health will improve and I will finally meet my daughter."
Amy closed the portfolio. She had read the letters and the family history. She had laughed and cried and wished she had been a part of this incredible family, maybe now she could be. James was not a monster, he had loved her and wanted to find her. She smiled a little through her tears. Her father had left her more than a house. He had left her opportunity.
"What lies ahead is Promise and Possibility, What lies behind is simply PAST."