Chapter 13 – The Legacy

She carried the phone with her everywhere. Even when she took a shower she placed it on the top of the toilet cistern, propped so that she would see if the screen lit up. She left the curtain open, and then had to mop soapy water from the floor.

She was distracted and edgy all day with little to do. The cleaner came in on Wednesday, and it was pointless to polish or brush before that.

She called into a charity shop in Palmerston Road, and asked them to arrange to send someone with a car.  The boxes of Charlotte Mary’s leftovers were bulky, and it would be undignified and awkward to struggle through the streets with them. The woman behind the counter was helpful and pleasant, and Lily wondered for a moment how you arranged to do that sort of work. Maybe mixing with other people, helping a good cause would unpeel the layers of despair that were growing heavier with each day. She knew she wouldn’t do it though and shrugged the musings aside.

A young woman called in the afternoon and helped to carry the stuff from where Lily had piled it by the front door. They stuffed it into the boot and rear seat of her car. Each box had been dragged or carried from the sun room, and she had cried again at the finality of it all, the lost chances, and the squandered love.

She stood on the path and watched until the car turned at the end of the road, the little indicator flashing brightly against the grey day. Then she went back into the house which was now, for the first time, devoid of Charlotte Mary, except for her great sin buried in the basement, and part of the fabric of the building.

When the phone rang, she dragged it from her pocket, her heart pounding, until she read the number of the Funeral Directors. “Hello, this is Muriel. How are you Lily? How are you getting along?” She was sickly sweet, this woman, and Lily wanted her to go away.

“I’m fine thank you. Yes, just fine.” She knew she sounded cold, but felt wrung out, empty inside and had no reserves to draw on except automatic response.

“Good. Well that’s good, that’s the spirit. You just have to move along don’t you. I am calling because I have had confirmation that you can collect the ashes, whenever it’s convenient. The times are given in the information booklet. We did give you the booklet, didn’t we?”

“Yes, I have it. Thank you.”

“Well, that’s about it I think. Did you purchase an urn?

“No, I don’t think so, I didn’t know that was my responsibility.”

“Oh dear, that was in the booklet.”

“I didn’t see that, I didn’t read the thing. So, what will happen?”

“You could call them, but if not they will provide a temporary container. You shouldn’t worry, it will be taken care of. So, Lily, I do hope you were happy with our services. If you have time there is a place on the web site for client feedback and we would be very grateful. Of course, if there was anything that didn’t quite reach the standard you expected, we would prefer you to discuss that with us, rather than make negative comments. Were you happy?”

It was outrageous, she tried to adjust to changing attitudes but this was too much. Lily floundered for a response, and in the end simply said “Thank you,” and disconnected the call.

Though she knew it was unlikely, she took the phone to bed with her and laid it on the pillow, but surely no-one would call at ten or eleven at night. She lay in the front bedroom, amongst the familiar shadows and the strange emptiness until it became unbearable, and then slid from the big bed, pulling the duvet with her. She went down to the living room. There she curled against the arm of the settee, drooping and drifting in half sleep until the birds began to chatter in the garden hedge. The pair of great crows that came every morning to a roof opposite, drove her from the room with their screeching.

She was stirring sugar into her second mug of coffee when the ringing called her back, dashing in her bare feet across the hall carpet, to snatch up the vibrating mobile from the coffee table.

It was an unknown number and she steadied herself against the wall as she answered. “Hello, Lily Bowers.”

The voice was deeper than she was expecting, rough and obviously male. “I want to speak to… Charlotte Mary Stone. I was given this number.”

She had forgotten, in the excitement she had forgotten the name that she had left with the agents. She panicked, what was she to do?

“Oh, yes, yes, this is Charlotte’s phone, can I help you.”

“I don’t know. I just had a message to call this number. I don’t have a clue what it’s about. Can I talk to her?”

“She’s not here just now. Who am I speaking to please? Could I take a message?”

“Well, as I say I haven’t a clue what this is about, something about an old friend. I don’t have any friends, old or new for that matter called, Charlotte. I haven’t got a lot of time to waste on stuff like this. If it’s some sort of sales scam then, well sod off really.”

“No, no wait. It isn’t a scam, I’m sure it’s not. She wouldn’t – well we wouldn’t do that. Who am I speaking to please?”

“Terry Robertson. Look if it’s about a flat then you have to go through the agent, I don’t deal direct with tenants, that’s why I pay all that money in fees.”

“No, it’s not that. We don’t need a flat. Look, if you are Mr Robertson, well I don’t mean if, I’m sure you are. Oh sorry, you’ve caught me unprepared. Look, I do know what this is about. Charlotte Mary was trying to trace an old friend. She had an address in Bath and it turns out that you are the owner. I’m sorry there must have been some mistake.” As she said it disappointment flooded through her and she sank to the chair, deflated. “It was a woman that we were trying to find. A, C Robertson.”

“Well, there are no women, not any more. There was my nan and my mum but they’ve gone now, both of them.”

“Oh.”

He didn’t question that she didn’t know the name, only the initial, but in a more thoughtful tone he continued “Well maybe it was my mum. Look not wishing to be rude, but how old is this Charlotte, my mum would have been fifty eight but she died a couple of years ago. Is that who your friend was looking for, Carol her name was.”

“I am so sorry to hear that she died. I wonder though, would you mind if Charlotte gave you a call.”

“Well, I don’t see the point to be honest. Mum’s gone and I don’t know your friend.”

“No, I realise that but there is something Charlotte specifically wanted to talk about, something from the past and well, I think it might be of interest to you.”

“Oh, if it’s to do with reunions, family history all that sort of stuff I’m not interested thanks. No, I don’t think there’s any need.”

She had to stop him, he was about to ring off. “No, it’s not that. It’s to do with erm, it’s to do with a legacy.”

“How do you mean?”

“Something that Charlotte was given by your mum, to keep. Well I am almost sure it was your mum. That was the address we had, the one in Bath. Did she live in the house in Southcote Place?” She could tell by the change in his tone that she had his interest.

“Oh now, that’s intriguing isn’t it. Yes, that was where they all lived, until we had it converted. So, when can I call her, or maybe she could give me a bell.”

“Could she meet you?”

“Yes, I suppose that would work. Are you in Bath?”

“No, we’re not but she’d be more than happy to travel to Bath to meet you if that’s convenient.”

“Alright then, I have to say I’m quite tickled by the idea of having something of my mum’s. What about tomorrow? I have to go through anyway.”

“Yes, excellent. That would be fine. Where would you like to meet. About lunch time perhaps, would that be convenient. Maybe somewhere you could have coffee.”

“Tell you what, how about twelve o clock in the Crystal Palace. Do you know it?”

“No, not really.”

“Well it’s easy to find. Down behind the cathedral in the square with that big old tree. Anyone will be able to tell you.”

“Right, fine. We’ll see you tomorrow, oh well no, not me I won’t be able to come but Charlotte, I mean Charlotte.”

“Great.” And he was gone. Lily slid to the floor and lowered her head to her knees. For a while thoughts jumbled against each other but as they settled and straightened she began to smile. She’d done it, she’d found her, maybe just maybe.  And then she reconsidered, she hadn’t really. For after all this, she was dead. Nevertheless, Charlotte Mary, with the little box and the old paper bag had seemingly led her to the baby’s mother and his brother. The thought was strange and unsettling, perhaps a half-brother but nevertheless a blood relative of their little dead boy, someone with his DNA. It made him real again in a way that she hadn’t expected. She went down to the basement to tell him, to whisper in the darkness about his mummy – his other mummy and how sad it was that she would never know what had happened to him, but “Maybe” she said, “Maybe you are together, perhaps it works that way and you found her after all.” She lit the new candle she had brought and then climbed back upstairs and curled under the duvet to wait for morning.

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Chapter 12 – The Legacy

Lily made the call. She realised it was unlikely the rental agency would simply give out contact details, but it was surely worth a try. She couldn’t face taking the train to Bristol, finding the offices and then all the way back to Bath Spa to wait for her journey home. She was tired, but there was a half an hour to kill, and so she sat in the window of the coffee shop, ordered more tea, and dialled the number.

“Burk and Brownlees, Emma speaking. How may I help you?”

“I am calling to ask about one of your landlords.” There was nothing to be gained by obfuscation and so she stated her case baldly. Either this would work or it wouldn’t. It was a first step that was all. She had so much more information than earlier, it was hopeful.

“Are you a tenant?”

“No, I am trying to trace an old friend and I believe you act for her.” The lie that had started with the little girl sat uncomfortably on her lips. Lie upon lie, it distressed her, but the truth wouldn’t serve.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you with that. I can’t give out contact details of our clients.”

“Ah, I thought that might be the case. Well thank you.” She was about to hang up and a second thought stilled her finger, where it hovered over the button. What was there to lose after all.

“I wonder if you could do me a favour then?”

“A favour?”

“Yes, my friend is the landlord, or rather the owner, of some flats in Bath. Do you think you could pass my number on.

“I think that would be okay. But, we have quite a number of properties in Bath, do you know the address.”

“Yes, yes of course. She heard the clatter of a keyboard as she recited the address of the converted house in the quiet square.

“Okay, I know who that is. Do you want to give me your name and details?”

“Yes, thank you. It’s…” she paused. “It’s Charlotte Mary Stone, she had to swallow hard before she could continue and recite the long telephone number.” After the call, she slid the phone into her bag, picked up her cup of tea. Her hands shook and she needed to replace her drink on the saucer for a minute. She closed her eyes and drew in a couple of steadying breaths.

As the time for her train drew nearer, she paid the bill and walked slowly back towards the station. If there were no calls in the next couple of days, then what? Plans began to form, crazy plans, illogical. She could rent a flat in Bath and that way would secure the owner’s address. But of course, it was unlikely that she would be able to find out the name of a landlord as a precursor to renting a place. No, that was ridiculous. She sat on the draughty platform from where she could look in the direction of Lansdowne Hill.

What had it been like? Had Peter’s mother lived there, hiding her pregnancy until it was impossible to do so. Had she brought him home from the hospital to that house, years before or had she simply left him somewhere, and made the journey with empty arms and a broken heart.  Maybe, it would be possible to ask these questions, gently and kindly. She could fill in some of the old blanks and it might help, but for the moment all there was to do was to wait and hope that the phone would ring.

***

She walked through her front door into the warm house with a sigh of relief. She was exhausted. She made toast and a hot drink. Her diet was no longer the healthy intake that Charlotte Mary had latterly insisted upon. It hadn’t helped her to fight off the cancer and it hadn’t done much to keep Lily healthy either, as things had turned out. Now, it was her own decision, and so she would subsist on what she fancied,anything that was easy, or maybe nothing at all. Right now, a cup of warm milk was all that she really wanted, the toast was habit.

The living room was in darkness except for a faint ambient glow. She didn’t close the curtains but sat in the gloom, and let the weariness have its way. She shut her eyes and drifted back to the golden past. Their joyous graduation, the dancing, the drinking, the friends who had all disappeared. Why was that, had they in some way given off an air of tragedy in spite of efforts, mainly by Charlotte Mary, to present a happy face to the world. Had the deteriorating relationship made them poor company, though they had been better in a crowd.

Ah well, it didn’t matter much anymore.

The milk cooled and skinned in the mug as she spiralled into the comfort of sleep. She dreamed of small boys and little hands folded in her own. Of holidays by the sea, of first days at school and of a young man leaning down to kiss her brow. Cold tears leaked from under her sleeping lids and dried on her wrinkled cheek.

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Chapter 11 – The Legacy

The square was quiet and only the hum of traffic, on the main road at the bottom of the hill, disturbed the chilly afternoon. There was no answer to her first attempt and so, after a couple of minutes Lily tried the second bell. Behind the door there was a slam, running footsteps and the rattle of the lock. As the door opened Lily had to drop her gaze to the little girl who was staring up at her, eyes wide and questioning. “Oh hello.”

“What do you want?”

“I… Is your mummy here? Maybe I could talk to your mummy, or your daddy?”

“No. Granny’s here but she’s busy. You can’t come in. I’m not allowed to let anyone in. If you’ve got a parcel I can take it but only if I know the name. Have you got a parcel?”

“No, I don’t have a parcel. I am trying to find a friend of mine. I think she might live here.”

“Don’t you know? If it’s your friend you should know where she lives. I know where Stella lives and Chloe.”

“I haven’t seen my friend for a long time. She might have moved.” Lily felt bad lying to the child but had allowed herself to be drawn into the conversation and couldn’t find a way out.”

“You should telephone her and ask her.”

“I can’t do that. I don’t know her number.” She could feel her nerves beginning to jangle. She wanted to turn and walk away but good manners, even in dealing with children, were so much a part of her that she couldn’t do it.

The girl turned at the sound of feet on the stairs. “Is that your granny?”

“No, I said already, granny’s busy.”

“Oh yes, right.”

Another voice joined the tricky back and forth. “Hello Millie. What are you up to?” A tall, male figure appeared behind the child in the dim hallway. “Oh, hi.”

“This lady wants to find her friend. She doesn’t know where she lives though.”

“Right.” He was young, good looking and dressed in jeans and a smart jacket with a blue tee shirt underneath. He carried a cycling helmet in his hand. He leaned over the top of the little girl’s head. “Can I help you at all?” His tone was friendly but hesitant and Lily understood that the situation must look strange, coming in halfway through the abortive conversation. The child took his words as her cue to hand over and, without another word, she slid past him and ran back down the hallway and out of sight.

“Well, I was telling her – Millie, is it? I am trying to trace someone who used to live here, but it’s a long time ago and they may well have moved by now.”

“Okay. So, who was it?”

“Robertson, her name was Robertson.” Behind her back Lily had crossed her fingers. It was such a tenuous thread after all this time and she wasn’t sure what she would do if it unravelled at this stage.

He shook his head and pulled his mouth downwards in a negative gesture. She felt her heart sink. “No, not here.” He stepped forward now and grabbed the door handle, Lily moved backwards. What more was there to say after all.

“Oh, hang on. Did you say Robertson?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Ah right, it’s the owners, isn’t it?”

“Is it?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the name. I rent through an agency of course, but I’m sure that’s the name on the lease.”

“Oh, how wonderful.”

“Yeah. You should call, Burk and Brownlees. They’re based in Bristol. Have you got your phone, a piece of paper?”

She took out her mobile and inserted the name number into her contacts list. “That’s so kind of you. Thank you so much. You’ve been very kind.”

“No problem. Sorry I really will have to go now. Good luck.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much.”

So, not a failure at all, a the real chance that all was not lost.

She went back down the steep hill, crossed the bridge, walked into the busy town centre, chose one of the little cafés from the dozens on offer and went in. It was the first time she had been in this sort of place since Charlotte Mary had become too ill to eat out. As she waited for the waitress to bring her tea and cake she gazed around. Nobody looked her way, everyone was busy living. So, this was what was in store. For whatever time was remaining she would be invisible, of no interest to anyone. It should have made her sad, even more depressed, but she didn’t mind at all. She didn’t want to talk to people she didn’t know, she didn’t really want to talk to people she did know, not any more. All she wanted was to complete this task and then to be left alone in the quiet of her fading days.

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Chapter 10 – the Legacy

The train was about half full. Lily found a single seat in a corner, she wasn’t bothered about a window and especially she wanted to be left alone. It would have been more comfortable to stretch out a little in a four-seat arrangement but that would have meant there would be others. She would feel obliged to smile at them, to nod and acknowledge that here we all are together on a journey and she didn’t want any of that. She wanted to sit in the corner, her shoulder leaning against the cold, hard wall of the train and to close her eyes and listen to the mumble and hum around her and so she did.

The sleepless nights had made her mind foggy and, as the train roared on through Hampshire and into Somerset she was assaulted by short day dreams. Memories that she didn’t want, and didn’t need flickered in and out of her consciousness. The vision of herself and Charlotte Mary wrapping the tiny body in a blanket, and tucking it into a mailing box that had held a vase of Charlotte Mary’s father, and had been kept because it was solid wood and anyway too good to throw away.

The soil in the cellar had been hard packed and the top layer tough to break, but once they were through the crust of it they had quickly made the hole big enough, deep enough. She remembered how they had baulked at stamping it down, walking on the new grave and so had smoothed it over and over with the back of the spade and then patted it with their hands. Charlotte Mary had lost her mind for a moment and begun to thump with her fists, crying and wailing, an animal noise that played and replayed in Lily’s ears for days. She had wrapped her arms around Charlotte Mary’s shoulders and held her tight until the storm passed, and then wiped away the tears with the hem of her dirty cardigan. They hadn’t wanted to leave him and had sat for hours in the dark, until eventually they crawled up into the house on hands and knees, feeling in the dark for the wooden steps and sobbing and gulping with grief.

The next morning Lily had felt ill, battered and exhausted, watching Charlotte Mary at the dresser, smoothing concealer over swollen eyes, and sweeping the red lipstick in a gash across her pale face she had been surprised. “What are you doing?”

“I’m getting ready for the office. You need to get a move on. You’ll be late.”

“What on earth do you mean? We can’t go into the office, what are you thinking?” Charlotte Mary had swivelled towards her, “So, what should we do Lily? There is nothing to do, it’s over.”

“But, we have to … …” and Charlotte Mary had simply nodded. They had made the decision already, dreadful mistake that it had been. They had hidden him away and pretended that he had never been. That had been the first day of the torment and if Lily had known, if she had seen what the rest of her days would hold, she would have clambered down into the cellar and joined him there in the dark and been with him for all this time. But, she didn’t, she allowed herself to be persuaded that it was for the best, they should move along, and that all would be well.

She jerked awake now and looked around. The woman on the other side of the aisle glanced across and smiled. “Soporific aren’t they, trains. Rocking you off to sleep.”

Lily wanted to cry.

In just over two hours they were pulling into the station. She took out the map printed from the Google Earth image and followed the crowd out of the station and into the newly redesigned town centre. It had been years since she had been here and the redevelopment left her completely unsure but she didn’t need to go into the shopping area. She turned and headed away from the hussle, across the Halfpenny Bridge and towards Widcombe. It was a steep climb up Lyncombe Hill but only a few hundred yards to Southcote Place. She paused on the corner of the quiet square. There were birds in the trees and a black and white cat in the grass.  She walked towards the house in the parade on her left, her shoe heels clumped loudly against old stone flags. Her heart was pounding, her palms damp, and she wanted nothing more than to turn and run.

The houses were a mixture, some looked grand and well maintained, blinds and swagged curtains at gleaming windows, tidy gardens with tasteful ornaments. Others, including the one before her now, were obviously converted into flats. She took the few steps across the pavement, through the metal gate and up a short pathway. She glanced down. This basement, so different from the one back in Southsea had been made into a flat. She could see a neat kitchen with a table and chairs and a baby seat on the floor. She turned her face away and peered at the bell pushes beside the door.

There were no names, no numbers. She reached a trembling finger towards the lowest of the round, brass buttons.

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Chapter 9 – The Legacy

It was almost too easy. After all this time, when Lily had assumed it would be a struggle. Instead of surfing the net, tracing records, fighting for information she had it at her finger tips. A piece of paper with an address and a surname. She typed the details into Google Earth and watched as the image swooped into a square almost in the centre of the Georgian city. Not far at all from the railway station, walking distance for certain.

Of course, there were no guarantees, the chances that this person was still there after all this time had to be slim, but it was a beginning.

Even buying the train ticket was straightforward, no need to leave the house and she would collect a piece of paper from a machine in the Portsmouth and Southsea station.

She would go on Monday. The weekend was a bad idea, it would be busy on Saturday, and Sunday, the trains may not be reliable. Monday mid-morning, arriving in Bath at lunch time.

Now that the thing was underway she felt a small quiver of something approaching excitement. She had often thought of Peter’s mother. If she had been correct, and Charlotte Mary had inadvertently given things away by referring to a young girl, then she would have been what, sixteen maybe, seventeen or maybe even younger, and so now she would be late middle aged – maybe a bit beyond that.

Maybe about sixteen in 1978 so late fifties, early sixties, not old at all. Possibly still working, with a family grown up and even a grandchild. She paused, that could have been her, if it hadn’t gone so tragically wrong would she now have grandchildren, a family, people who cared and who she could visit and who she could love. It would have been a strange background for him, but things had come so far that today it wouldn’t really matter that his home had two women and no man. She smiled – what would they have been called – ah – it was no good there were no grandchildren, no pet names, nothing but sadness and regret and the memory of horror.

She went to Waitrose and bought food, not because she wanted to, but because that was what they had always done on Friday night.  They had often stopped at one of the chic little bars, now of course she didn’t consider that.

She stowed the shopping away. She didn’t feel hungry exactly but the cheese and the crispy fresh rolls tempted her to make a sandwich, to warm some soup. Standing in the kitchen she ate half of the bread and cheese and threw the rest in the compost bin. She was no longer pretending to set the dining table. They had always done it, napkins and water glasses, china and shining cutlery.  What was the point, it was all play acting anyway. In the early days, they had embraced these little rituals, but as their partnership disintegrated they had become the glue that held their lives together and now there was no longer any need. She hadn’t yet been reduced to lounging on the sofa with her meal and so if she did eat at all she did it on the run, a quick snack, underserving of any performance.

Afterwards she sat beside the fire and read her book. Late in the night she went back down to the cellar, familiar to her again as it had been all those years ago. No hesitation now on the creaky stairs. She replaced the candle and sat for just a little while.

At first she didn’t speak aloud but slowly she began to verbalise the things in her mind. She talked to him, as you would to a child. “I’m going to go on a train Peter. It’s not very far, I might find your mummy. Your real mummy.

“I’m going to tell her about you and what happened. I think she will be sad, but at least she’ll know and then we can decide what to do next.

“Next week I’m bringing,” she paused. She had been going to say Aunty Charlotte but they had never been that, they had never been called anything. There hadn’t been time and anyway surely they would have come up with something different. Mama one and two, or Mummy Charlotte, Mummy Lily perhaps – anyway in the event she left it. He couldn’t hear her and he couldn’t care that the ashes were coming back to the house. She hadn’t decided yet what to do about all that. She didn’t want to spread them down here on the damp earth but couldn’t decide on the other options. Leaving them at the garden of rest was too much of a rebellion. She glanced around. Perhaps she would just leave them here in the box, or whatever they came in. Surely it wasn’t an urn, that had become a bit comic they must have something new. Maybe it would be a little bag, or maybe a box. It was something else to deal with and she was a little shocked to find that she really didn’t want to bother at all. Charlotte Mary was gone, why couldn’t she just be gone. She sighed and pushed herself up from her perch on the ledge. She was a stupid old woman sitting in the cellar talking to the ground.

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Chapter 8 – The Legacy

The morning was bright, birds flicked back and forth across the garden, and the sun through the window was warm. Dust motes danced and spiralled in the living room. Lily didn’t feel the comfort of the sun or hear the birdsong. It was outside of her world, experienced through a grey veil. With the morning had come the now familiar sense of doom and emptiness. She had this one great task to perform and then she was done.

She went into the cellar; the flowers were limp and drooping after just this short time, and she put them aside to take to the compost bin. She had brought a new candle for the little glass holder. She kindled the tiny flame, and sat for a while watching it burn steady and bright in the stillness of the damp room. It might be a fire risk, but she didn’t see how and couldn’t bring herself to care. She left it glimmering in the darkness, climbed back to the kitchen, and gently closed the door.

That done she was ready, she walked to the desk and pulled the small box towards her. Using her father’s old penknife she slit through the plastic seal, and holding the lid with both hands, she flipped it open.

There wasn’t much, she had expected a letter. In her mind’s eye, she had imagined a thick envelope with a folded sheet inside it. Declarations of love, regret, and perhaps an apology. She felt a sharp sting of disappointment that there was nothing like that. There was a small brown paper bag, the sort that vegetables used to come in. The top was folded over and it was tucked in, filling the small space. She pulled at one corner, gently, it looked fragile.

She peered into the bag, there were just a few items and, as she lifted the container, they had slid into the bottom. Holding it near to the desk top she tipped it gently so that whatever was inside slithered out into a little pile on the blotter.

There was a card, smaller than a postcard and flimsier, a short piece of blue plastic and a folded paper. It wasn’t much. Lily pulled the box towards her, peered inside, but there was nothing more.

She lifted the plastic strip and turned it over. Her breath caught in her throat as she handled the tiny bracelet. It had been cut just near to the plastic popper fastening. In a wider part a piece of card had been slipped behind a clear window. The writing was faded but still legible, Baby Robertson.

The same name was written in a neat hand on the top of the blue card. There was a date, a weight and some sort of code, just letters that meant nothing to her.

Baby Robertson.

24th July 1978.

7lb 6ozs.

Her body had forgotten how to breathe. It was only when the room tipped in dizziness that she realized she was no longer drawing air into her lungs. She gasped, and reached trembling fingers to the small piece of paper. It was a name and address. Charlotte Mary’s writing, faint after many years, but unmistakable. A place in Bath. A time, and the figure – five hundred pounds. There were two signatures, Charlotte Mary’s, oh so familiar, and another. A, C she thought or possibly an L, followed by Robertson.

It was all there, so clear, so obvious. It was the answer to most of Lily’s problems, the first step in the journey she had to make, but how very heartbreaking it was. Such hope, dashed. Such joy, defeated and such a small, small price to pay for a life. She couldn’t move, couldn’t tear her eyes away from the collection of things on her blotter.

So, in the event Charlotte Mary had not let him go unmarked into the beyond, she had simply waited until she herself had moved on, and then left it to Lily to tidy up the dreadful loose ends. She had known that was what would happen, and in either kindness or guilt had pointed the way, and handed on the baton.

Her dying had taken such a long time and the sorry state of their relationship had precluded real grief but now, on this bright day, in the comfort of their home, Lily missed her friend, her lover and she lowered her head to the desk top and let the tears flow, for Charlotte Mary and for the tiny life that had touched theirs so very briefly but with the force of a tsunami, and had ultimately destroyed them.

‘Baby Robertson’.

She opened the document on her computer and alongside the name Peter, she put in the new information. It felt wrong to add the name that they had chosen, the one that he had worn for such a short time, to the name that was rightfully his, but to call him Baby after all this time wasn’t right either. So, there it was, his two worlds coming together, Peter Robertson.

The name of the hospital was on the card. Now she should be able to find a record of the arrival for his short, short stay in the world but of course, she didn’t need to did she. He wouldn’t have a birth certificate in the other name, couldn’t. Charlotte Mary had said that they would need to register him, and so all the plans were changed. She wouldn’t trace the record at the hospital. She would find the address in Bath. She would go to Bath and she would find her, that other woman.

Surely, she had a right to know, she must have wondered over all these years just what had happened to her son. Now that Lily knew she was nearing the end of her life she must act, and she must make sure that his family knew just what had happened to him and yes, if it came to it she must make arrangements for him to go home.

He may have siblings, Aunts and Uncles, no Grandparents surely after all this time but he may well have extended family and when she was gone there would be people who would carry his memory forward, he would not be forgotten.

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Chapter 7 – The Legacy

THIS CHAPTER HAS CONTENT THAT SOME READERS MAY FIND DISTRESSING. 

***************************************************

Always Lily had been able to remember the first time she held him. The strange weight, not heavy but neither as light as the kitchen scales told them he was. She hadn’t been afraid, not the way she heard other people were afraid. She never thought she would hurt him, never worried that she might drop him, for she knew from the first moments, that she would protect him with her life.

Would have done.

Charlotte Mary had made his feed and insisted that Lily give the bottle to him. She knew of course that holding Peter and giving him sustenance was the way to make her bond with him and it worked.

As the boy had taken the milk, Charlotte Mary made them tea and then sat on the settee and reached now and again, touched his feet, his fingers, his face. “I have ordered some things, from Knight and Lee. They won’t come until tomorrow. Just a cot for him, some bedding and more nappies. I am amazed at how much you have to have. Later we’ll need a pram to take him for walks. Then a high chair and, oh all manner of things. Tonight we can make a bed in the big laundry basket.” They had grinned at the idea and the big wicker basket had been perfect, lined with blankets and resting on the dresser.

“How do you know; how did you find out what we need?”

“I borrowed some books from the library. I’ve been planning and scheming for such a long time. From when I knew that we could have him, I have thought it all through. Now then, what I thought was that we can ring the office tomorrow. I’ll do it, I’ll tell them that we both have nasty colds and we will be taking the week off. That will give us a chance to organise things and I have already found the name of a woman who does baby and child care. I made a call, told her I was asking on behalf of my sister. I used your name.”

“They had done this before, when they felt it was better to keep their true relationship private, sisters sharing a home, it was a common thing. Less so as the war years drew away but still nothing untoward. No-one had ever questioned it and Lily simply nodded.”

“But, how can this work? How can this be alright?”

“Well of course it can. We are financially sound, we have our own home. We are intelligent, mature women. For heaven’s sake anyone can have a baby, even girls straight from school can have a baby. But we have so much more to offer him. Think of all the women who, after the war, brought up children who had been born to other people. Sisters, daughters, grannies, just neighbours. He needed someone like us, it’s all fine.”

Lily had thought often that it had been a clue. The reference to a girl straight from school. She had used that to try and convince herself that they were doing a good thing. She built a picture of a young woman, frightened and in trouble. A desperate child who they were rescuing from the mess his careless mother had created. In the event it had been such a very short and precious time that none of it had ever really mattered. The baby carer, the pram, the high chair. None of it had been needed. The cot had been used for a few nights and then afterwards they had burned it in the back garden, sobbing in the smoky air and clinging to each other in despair.

When he was first sick, Charlotte Mary had insisted it was normal. “His little stomach is only just getting used to food. All babies are sick, it’s in the books. It’s nothing. But it hadn’t been nothing and it had come so very quickly and by the time they realised, it was too late and he drifted away, his mewling cries less and less until they just watched him leave them.

They had been guilty, of course they had but it had been such a frightening time and she wasn’t clear just what they were guilty of – legally. They should have called the doctor, but he would have wanted to know where the mother was. They considered, briefly just leaving him at the hospital, but he had wrapped his tiny fingers so tightly around their hearts that they couldn’t do it. They tried dripping teaspoons of sugar water into the tiny mouth, they cleaned him and rocked him and by the time they understood just how very ill he was, it was over.

The grief did something dreadful to Charlotte Mary. The disappointment, the sense of loss – all of it turned her hard. Where Lily sat and sobbed and staggered down into the cellar to hide in the dark and murmur words of regret and sorrow Charlotte Mary took herself off to parties, to weekends in London with the young people who they worked with. She wouldn’t speak of him, wouldn’t consider telling anyone. “Don’t be ridiculous, it would ruin us. Can you imagine the fuss there would be? We would lose everything and for what. He’s gone Lily, let him go.”

Locked together by the awful guilt and the lying and the unnamed crime they were like tigers sharing a cage, they pushed and prodded at each other and niggled and nagged. They hid it well, none of their friends, none of their work colleagues were aware of the disintegration of the idyll. And so it had been until the end when the fast living, the cigarettes and drink and in the end the drugs had taken their toll. Lily believed it was grief, swallowed down and held back and the fury at the way it had all turned out. She believed that the darkness inside her partner had become a physical thing and in the end, it had killed her.

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Chapter 6 – The Legacy

At first it had looked just like bulky shopping, As she pushed into the hallway, closing the door with her behind, Charlotte Mary’s arms had been full. A bulging bag dangled from one hand and in the other she held a bundle of what at first glance appeared to be towels. She had dropped the bag to the floor and turned to where Lily stood at the entrance to the lounge. Her eyes were brimming with excitement, her generous mouth smiling broadly. She held the bundle in both arms, lowered her face to it for a moment and then with a sort of flourish held it out before her.

For an instant Lily had thought, a puppy, a kitten perhaps, and her heart had sunk. More work, more cleaning up to do, but Charlotte Mary’s beam of pure joy made the mundane reaction feel unworthy. She forced her face into an enquiring look, tipping her head to one side. Moving across the carpet she murmured, already adjusting her voice to the presence of a small animal. “Now, then. What’s this? What have we got here?” And then she had been close enough to see and she had cried out in shock, her hands flying to cover her mouth. “What the hell, Charlotte?”

The baby was sleeping, it moved a little at the sudden noise and Charlotte Mary began to rock, gentle but awkward, the movement unfamiliar to her. “Shh, shh. He’s asleep.”

By now Lily was standing close enough to touch the tiny fingers, to stroke the soft little cheek. She smiled down at him. “Oh, Charlotte. Whose is this? Why have you got him? I wish you’d said, I would have made sure the house was warmer. Why didn’t you take me with you? What a little treasure. How long is he staying? Whose is he?”

***

Sitting in the living room, the colour beginning to leach from the day, she could hear the tick of the clock. It was as if she was back there, in that moment, still waiting for the answers to her questions, waiting for her life to be turned on its head, never to be righted again.

She shuddered and swallowed down a sob. In many ways, it had already been too late but if she had been stronger, more secure, and if the instant of absolute love for the tiny boy hadn’t taken her quite so much by surprise that would have been the moment to save them. To save them all.

***

“He’s ours. I got him for us.”

“What? What on earth do you mean. Don’t be so silly. Who is he? Where did he come from?”

“I don’t know who he is. Not yet. I thought maybe Peter but we’ll have to decide. There’s time though, we have to register him but that’s a bit complicated for the moment – soon though and I thought we could hyphenate. What do you think Peter Stone-Bowers. I think that flows better than Bowers-Stone though that does have a lovely feel to it as well. But we must talk about it. For now though let’s get organised. He’ll be waking up soon and he’ll need a bottle.”

In the maelstrom of disbelief Lily was aware of Charlotte Mary pointing with her foot towards the bag on the floor. “All the stuff is in there. I don’t think I forgot anything but we have to sterilize the bottles. I think it takes a set amount of time. There are some nappies and things as well.”

“No, no wait. Just stop for a minute. What are you talking about? What do you mean he’s ours? You’re not making sense.” The child moved again and made a small noise.

“Hush now Lily, you’ll frighten him. Look take him. I’ll do the other stuff, the bottle and what have you. I’ve been told how. Go on take him. Go through to the living room and cuddle him for a while. You’re going to love him. Isn’t he perfect. Here.” And she held him out, a gift, an offering. “Go on, take him while I sort us out.” Lily recalled backing away, shaking her head, trying to organise her thoughts.

“Where did he come from Charlotte? Who does he belong to?”

“I’ve told you, he’s ours. I arranged it all.”

“Oh God, you didn’t steal him? Tell me you haven’t taken him!”

“Of course I haven’t.” There had been a flash of anger, gentled by the need to keep the noise to a minimum, to keep the atmosphere calm for the baby. “What do you take me for? I’m not going to tell you. I am sworn to secrecy. You must see that. But – I wanted something for us. To bring us back together and it’s going to be such fun. Don’t worry I’ve sorted everything out.”

“How do you mean, what have you sorted out? I can’t take this in. What on earth have you done?”

She had followed into the living room and watched as Charlotte Mary had made a sort of nest on the settee, lining up the cushions along the edge and then laying the little boy in the space in the middle. She adjusted the blankets and stroked his cheek.

“Now then, I realise it’s a surprise, but I knew you’d try to stop me and there’s no need. This is going to be so good for us, don’t you see. It makes us into a proper family. I know there’ll be complications, I know we’re going to have to get our stories straight and what have you but we can do that. We can do anything, you know that, with me you can do anything. Whatever we want we can have, look how we are here. Look how we have this house, this life. There’s no reason for us not to have this as well. I’ve been thinking about it for ever, since last year, that nastiness, my mistake. It’s so obvious. We are a proper family now, Charlotte, Lily and Peter.”

“No, no this is madness, you’ve lost your mind. What are you thinking?”

***

But it had been to no avail and the smell of him, the sight of him, so vulnerable amongst the cushions, his tiny fist curled against his cheek had melted her heart and the next words had sealed their fate. “She didn’t want him you see. His mummy didn’t want him and so I have brought him home. I had to wait a while and it’s been so hard keeping it a secret, but now he’s here and he’s ours. She had wrapped her arms around Lily and rocked with her just as she had in the hallway. “Oh Lily I do love you and this is going to be perfect. Just trust me and it’ll be perfect.”

***

Lily sighed. From the distance of years it was all so obvious, what she should have done. She should have been stronger, should have insisted on knowing all the ins and outs of the terrible business but she hadn’t, she had leaned into the warm, strange, baby scent that lingered on Charlotte Mary’s clothes and closed her eyes and given in, yet again.

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Chapter 5 – The Legacy

There was too much to do. But she had to clear the decks. She had brought the box into the house and placed it centrally on her desk. Of course, she could have snipped the plastic tie immediately, but she knew, or rather she hoped that once opened it would fill her life. If the box had in it the information she wanted then she needed to be able to act and be free to do whatever the coming days demanded. It had amused her friends, her family, this need to prepare and in later years they had named it Obsessive Compulsive but it wasn’t, it was just the way she was and now this task must be given its due deference.

The wardrobes needed to be sorted. Charlotte Mary had been taller, slimmer, always much more glamourous and none of the expensive clothes would fit Lily’s spreading frame. So, the charity shops of course. There were bags, and scarves and hats and though it would make sense to go through them all and choose which ones would still work with her own style, such as it was, she didn’t have the heart for it. There were some big cardboard boxes in the loft and she brought them down and filled them with it all. She stacked them in the sun room.

Once the cupboards and drawers had been dusted and wiped she began to carry her own things through. Twice she was overwhelmed with loss. It was true that her life hadn’t been what she had hoped. The last years especially had been almost a lie, a pantomime of happiness played out before an audience of old friends. She had at times come to hate the sound of Charlotte Mary’s strident voice, her bossy ways, her demands, there was enough left of the old love to blow great gusts of grief across her soul.

It took most of the day to reclaim the master bedroom. She could leave the other cleaning for Mrs Fleming, who would come on Wednesday, but instead, Lily dragged out the box of dusters and polish, the vacuum, and the feather duster. She polished and flicked and hoovered. Once all of this was done, then her way would be clear to begin the bigger task.

At last she was ready. The decks were clear and it was time.

It was late, she closed the curtains and made a cup of hot milk.

She closed her eyes and went back in her mind to the sunny, bright morning when the nightmare began.

***

Lily had walked along the seafront. She had paused as always in front of the war memorial, read again some of the names and then gazed out over the water towards the forts, grey and unlikely in the sparkly water of the Solent. She had marched briskly through the rose garden and then through a growing throng of trippers and holiday makers.

When she turned the corner into the street of three storey terraced houses she noted the little car wasn’t parked at the kerb. Charlotte Mary hadn’t said anything about going out, but she had been in a strange mood for a couple of weeks now. Secretive somehow and withdrawn.

A quiver of unease had turned Lily’s stomach. After the previous year, after that horrible time, when she had discovered the great betrayal of the affair, she had lived with a low grade dread. There had been tears and tantrums, things said and things thrown and there had been regret and sadness and in the end the coming together. Forgiveness and promises and yet still she hadn’t thought she would ever really be able to truly trust again.

Of course, she could have left, struck out on her own, divided what there was of their material life and gone away. But she hadn’t. Cowardly and desperate she had stayed and believed that surely one day she would find a way to be happy again. But, it hadn’t happened yet. Now with the car missing and the memories of phone calls cut short when she walked into the hallway, of papers stuffed hurriedly into the old brown brief case she remembered the feeling of insecurity and panicked.

The house was silent, the old clock that had cost a fortune and they both loved, measured the quiet passing of the day. The tap in the kitchen dripped into the sink. Automatically Lily turned it on and then off again, Charlotte had still not managed to master the knack of turning it off properly, dealing with its odd little idiosyncrasy. They had been intending to get a plumber to look at it and it hadn’t happened, not until the kitchen was upgraded years later. She walked into the dining room. In the middle of the dark oak dining table was a piece of notepaper.

Had to go out. Will be back this afternoon with a wonderful surprise. X

Lily conjured in her mind what she had done next. Partly reassured she had turned back into the kitchen, laid a hand on the kettle and felt the warmth. There was a mug on the draining board sitting in a tiny pool of water. So, she hadn’t been gone long.

She noted the time between quarter past and half past nine. And then, what time was it when she came back? How could she remember that? With so much emotion, so much fear and panic, how could she ever remember? Charlotte Mary had been gone a few hours, long enough for Lily to do the chores, prepare for the coming week and put together some food for the evening.

She had heard the car, the slam of its door but hadn’t gone to greet her, she was sulking. A day on her own lost in emptiness and back to work in the morning with only a dull weekend with a bit of cleaning to look back on. She had waited and wondered why it was taking so long and eventually walked to the window and lifted the net curtains. She had seen the gate swinging closed and heard Charlotte Mary’s key in the lock. She had walked through to the hall as the door opened and their lives changed forever. The past becoming a different world in the blink of an eye.

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Chapter 4 – The Legacy

“Ms Bowers. Please come in. I hope everything went well yesterday. As well as these things can at any rate.” The solicitor was younger than Lily and suddenly it seemed wrong. For this she wanted an old man, one with thin, grey hair and cigar ash on his collar. But he was gone along with so many others. Mr Turnbull had dealt with their affairs for a long time and they had laughed at his discomfiture. They had known he would have preferred to pass them to one of the other partners but he had acted for Lily’s parents and obviously put money and business before any personal thoughts about their chosen way of life.

Now Phillip Barnstable seemed perfectly comfortable with her. Times had certainly changed and of course it was good, it was wonderful but just today Lily longed for the odd, scary, thrill of living outside the main stream the way it had been.  The rebellion which had been a part of it all, small but a pinch of spice in the mix. She knew they’d been lucky. Because of their choice of careers and ultimately the people they mixed with, they hadn’t been harangued to any great degree and never felt in physical danger and now, well now it was different.

“I am correct aren’t I, you never married or arranged a civil partnership?” Lily smiled and shook her head.

“There didn’t seem much point. We had been together a long time. Since school.” She stopped, suddenly too tired to do this now, to be forced to talk about the things that had gone. She wanted to be home in the warm house, with a cup of coffee and slow tick of the long case clock the only sound. This office, with the telephones and the computers, doors opening and closing and the people, it was all too much. She sighed.

He moved on quickly, she imagined he would be challenged if she began to cry, but of course she wouldn’t do that. “So, I have had a look at things,” he lifted one of the file boxes a couple of inches and then replaced it on the desk. There were two, one with her name on and the other for Charlotte Mary. “I think you’ve handled things well. The house is now entirely yours of course, once the formalities are completed, but I think my predecessor helped you to secure that?” Lily inclined her head just once.

The excitement of buying their own place had been overwhelming, and she remembered their laughter as they ran inside and slammed the front door behind them on the first day. There had been no furniture, but they had brought Champagne and glasses and after they had drunk the toast and carried the fragile flutes of celebratory wine around the house, looking again in the rooms that they already knew from previous viewings, Lily had run out to the car to bring in the travel rug and the cushion from the back seat. They had made love on the floor of the big front bedroom and afterwards, wrapped in the plaid blanket watched the light change as day gave way to evening. They were enchanted as the room was bathed in golden light from the street lamp outside and it was a precious memory that filled her eyes with moisture now and needed a cough before she could speak again.

She straightened her shoulders. “Yes, we kept everything separate, the bank accounts and so on. It was easier. Safer really.”

He pursed his lips, it looked quite silly on his young face but she could see that over the years the small lines around his mouth would set as he became grey and dusty.

“Quite.” He pulled out the envelope and extracted the pages of small type. “Mostly, I think this is just the way you would imagine. There are one or two personal bequests, a pocket watch?” he inclined his head.

“Yes, her father’s.”

“She has asked that it be sent to her cousin. George?”

“Yes, yes, that’s fine. I knew about that. In fact I gave it to him yesterday. At the funeral.”

“Excellent. He made a note on his pad.”

She thanks you very affectionately for the years that you spent together. Of course, I will let you have your copy of this before you leave the office. She remembers a secretary with a small gift – I can deal with that if you wish?” Lily nodded wordlessly again. She hadn’t needed to come had she. He could have sent the darned copy to her house and they could have spoken on the phone. She lifted her handbag from the chair beside her, held it on her lap as she slid forward on her seat. He took the hint.

“Right, well we must move on, mustn’t we. You inherit what else there is, that will need to go to probate of course, but it’s a formality. There is the small matter of – ahem – disposal. She has asked that her ashes be spread in the cellar of your home. He leaned forward. I don’t know how you feel about that, whether you had discussed it. If you are not comfortable with that request there is no legal reason for you to comply. It is entirely up to yourself. I think that about covers things, there is a small box containing private papers also, not a bequest as such, she lodged it with us until such time as she died but it is recorded as a joint asset. Do you want to take that with you or would you prefer me to send it by courier. It’s not very big,”.

“I’ll take it with me now. I am using a taxi.”

He leaned down beside his desk and handed over a small metal box. It was old fashioned with a tiny hasp and staple fastening which had been sealed with a plastic tie of some type.

Her hand as she reached for it shook a little and it was a struggle to keep her voice even, her tone friendly as she gathered her things and stood in front of the desk. “Well, I will wait to hear from you. Thank you for dealing with all of this. I’m sure it’s all fine. Could you just send the copy of her Will to me, in the post? She held out her hand, it trembled a little and she had so wanted it to be strong and steady. She turned and pulled open the heavy wooden door before he had a chance to dash across and usher her through. Without a glance, left or right she stalked through the reception area and out into a grey, chilly day.

There was no reason to believe that this was the answer was there. It could be as he had said a collection of old papers. But if that were the case then why all the secrecy, why hide them away.  Charlotte Mary had guessed what Lily would want to do. Had she in kindness left the information. Oh please let it be so.  She turned away from the big pale building and headed towards the railway station on The Hard where she knew she would find a taxi to take her home.

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