“I grew up in an orphanage.” The words were said quickly, like she was ripping off a bandage and wanted the pain to be over in as little time as possible.
I opened my mouth to respond but she cut me off “now take your shock, your pity, your horror, your disgrace and whatever else you are feeling and go get over it somewhere else for I don’t want to see none of that. I’ve had enough of that to fill a lifetime.”
I looked at the elegant lady and took her in, from her polished, pointy shoes to the well curled locks of hair. No one ended up in orphanages but destitute; what family, however poor would not take in a child who had lost their parents? Even a struggling farming family would trade another mouth to feed for the extra hands to help around the farm. Here was a woman admitting that she had no family to speak of, or that she had family and circumstances meant they could not acknowledge her as their own. But here she sat before me, a lady of elegance, a lady of society… a… lady! People like her come from family, and those families are rich and powerful. Here sat a contradiction.
She remained impervious to all my questions, as you can imagine I had many.
“I made my promise. Perhaps I have already said too much. Good day.”
I took this as my cue to leave but as I was in the hall I heard a door close upstairs. I saw what could only be the lady’s daughter descending the stairs and naturally I paused.
She reached the bottom of the stairs and for a moment she just looked at me.
“Good evening.” I said. “I’ve just been visiting your mother—”
“I know. Look, I don’t know anything about it.” She said, “But if you want to know then perhaps you should speak to her best friend.”
“Who is that?” I asked.
“Bobbie… Bobbie Hilton.”
“No, she’s a girl. They knew each other as children. Bobbie must have been a pet name, like my mother, she was known a Frankie instead of Francesca.”
“Where can I find her? Do you have an address.”
“Does your mother not write to this good friend of hers?”
“No, she is not allowed, don’t ask why… I don’t know.”
“Right.” As Alice would say this was getting curiouser and curiouser. “Do you know anything else about this Bobbie?”
“No…” she thought for a moment. “Wait! She was from the highlands, I think. Does that help?”
“It narrows it down a bit. Thank you.”
It was many years later that I tracked down Bobbie Hilton. Roberta, for that was her name, was an elegant lady but not surrounded by the riches her friend was. I was saddened to hear from her that Frankie had passed away a few years prior.
“We had a good friendship, dear Frankie and I.” Bobbie said. “All things come to an end eventually, I just wished I could have seen her one last time.”
“Why couldn’t you?” I asked. Bobbie looked at me for a full minute without speaking, like she was searching me for something… trust?”
“With Frankie gone now and I myself not far from seeing the pearly gates…If I do not tell now the story may well die with me. But you must be willing to listen to the full story and promise on your life that you will not speak of it to another soul again. I wish you to record it in full detail to be released by your children, or grandchildren, in one hundred years time. Not a day sooner. Do you agree?”
“That will be explained in the telling of the story, lets just say it is very important and if you tell too soon you may destroy two thirds of the universe…. All I need now is your agreement. Those are the conditions of my telling.”
“I agree.” What else could I do? And so Bobbie started
Continue on to Chapter One