This was it—a tiny piece of paper with sloppy handwriting. Just a twelve digit number and a bank’s address—that was all that her mother had left after her death.
For the hundredth time, Andrea stared at the note without saying a word, and couldn’t believe the reality of what had happened. No calls, no letters, nothing. Andrea hadn’t visited her mother very often at her care home, where she had been living more than half of her life.
What could she expect?
She wiped away her tears and started to enter the code on a deposit box’s screen.
An old yellowish envelope plumped up with papers appeared from the oblivious darkness of the deposit box.
Andrea pulled it out very carefully, as if she was afraid the envelope’s content might blow her up.
This was it. This was all what was left from her mum, from her childhood which she hadn’t even experienced the way like other kids had, from her family she had never known.
She made a deep breath, trying to get rid of heavy sadness which had continued to torture her for a few weeks since her mother’s death. Putting the envelope in her handbag, she left the bank and drove back home.
It was late November, but there was almost no snow. Most of the shops, cafés, restaurants, and businesses of all kinds tried to create a joyful atmosphere, decorating their windows, facades, and porches with traditional Christmas’ themes.
Andrea caught herself thinking that this was her mum’s favourite time of the year. ‘Oh mummy, you haven’t made it till this Christmas.’
Unlike her grandma, Andrea absolutely adored Christmas. For her, it was more about the atmosphere of warmth and joy than the holiday itself.
She felt like tears started to burn her eyes again, remembering her mother’s smiling eyes, when she had been watching the Christmas tree’s illumination.
She had never recognised her daughter. In fact, she had never recognised anybody. Andrea didn’t remember her mother speaking either. The doctors agreed that she could speak. There were not any medical reason or health issues. She just chose not to.
Being completely swallowed by her thoughts and memories, Andrea hadn’t noticed how quickly she returned back home.
She made herself a cup of tea and stared outside, at the autumnal garden. The days became shorter and shorter, and the darkness covered the naked trees with its dull greyish veil. The air felt cool and damp, but Andrea didn’t feel cold. In her recent financial situation, when she needed to save money on everything, including the central heating, she started to get used to the cold.
‘What can be worse than a job loss?’ she asked herself a month ago.
Oh, she was so naïve! It could be much worse.
‘Ah, the envelope,’ she reminded herself.
She must admit she didn’t know her own mum very well. She had always been a stranger to her. And now, this wrinkled yellowed envelope was the only link that connected her to her mother, to her family, to her past.
She opened it with a paper knife. A couple of old faded photos from the 70’s and 80’s. Her mum in a colourful long dress and a huge broad-brimmed hat smiled from the first photo which was made somewhere on the south coast. The sea breeze was blowing her red hair, and she smiled happily…so young, full of energy and life. This photo had been made long before her illness, long before Andrea was born.
She was looking through the pictures, examining them carefully, as if she hoped to find the answers to all her questions that had been screwing her mind for the last several years, after her grandma died, as if she tried to understand the real cause of her mother’s illness.
Another small long envelope with a fancy floral pattern slipped down on the floor and distracted her from the pictures. She opened it. What was it? She carefully unfolded a document.
A marriage certificate? But she was told that her mother had never been married to her dad. Grandma had never told her about the marriage; neither had she wished to talk about Andrea’s father.
21st of May 1982
George Christopher Owen
Claudia Maria Zissman
‘Damn!’ Andrea read the document again and again, and still couldn’t believe that her own grandma lied to her, lied all her life.
She despised her father so badly that when she’d became Andrea’s only guardian, she gave the granddaughter her surname—Zissman. Why? Why did she hate her son-in-law so much, calling him nothing else, but “a useless dreamer” and “an English half-breed”?
She shuffled through the rest of the papers absently. Two pictures stuck together as they had got wet in her handbag. She separated them carefully.
One picture was a wedding photo which captured a bride and a groom surrounded by the guests. Andrea was examining the faces, trying to find her grandma or somebody she might’ve met before. Nobody.
The longer she had been staring at her mother’s white gown, the more she realised that…
‘Oh, God! She looks pregnant!’ she sighed finally, being afraid of her own guess.
The second photo, or better to say a half of it, revealed a figure of a tall man in his late thirties dressed in a ski suit. Andrea recognised these deep grey eyes and a straight nose—the features she inherited from her father. The endless snowy landscape transformed into a weird lonely mountain on the horizon, where it joined the greyish sky. But it was another figure in the picture next to him—a child, three-, four-year-old, not more. Andrea tried to figure out was it a boy or a girl, but the quality of 80’s photos was poor, an old cheap paper faded quickly, leaving wishy-washy patches all over the image.
The small figure was dressed in a navy blue ski suit and a funny blue fluffy hat which made it look like a little astronaut who had landed somewhere on a deserted frozen planet. It held a cuddly toy lion in its tiny hand. Most likely, the figure was a boy. On the back side of the photo, she could distinguish her mother’s writing—faded but still visible figures “1985”—the year, when her dad died in an avalanche somewhere in the French Alps.
‘A boy. A brother? What had happened to him? Where’s he now? Is he still alive? Where’s the second half of the picture?’ Andrea felt dizzy.
She tossed the photos onto the table and leaned back on a chair. She closed her eyes, but the picture of the little astronaut emerged in front of her. She realised this would be her curse till the end of her life. Every single night the little funny astronaut with the cuddly toy would come into her dreams until…until she found out the truth.