The Voice is pleased to introduce a brand new fiction feature.
To kick off the column, we have a special treat – Forgotten Promise, an original short novel by Carla Johnson. For part one of this story, see: http://www.ausu.org/voice/articles/articledisplay.php?ART=429
After the last installment we will begin running a piece of student fiction each week, so start sending in your submissions. Any form of creative writing is acceptable, including short stories and poems.
Part two :
He poured her another glass of wine, and standing, took her hand and led her back to the sofa. He sat next to her, but not too close, sensing her tension. Without releasing her hand, he turned to face her. “Well, Laura?” He prompted her, “How can I help you?”
The warmth of his eyes made her legs turn to Jello, and she forgot all the practiced speech. “Adam . .” she hesitated, “I..I need you to help me,” she paused, then blurted out, “I need you to help me find our daughter!”
Shock darkened his eyes and his cheeks reddened. “What are you saying, Laura?”
“I’m saying . . . we had a daughter . . . but they said she was dead . . . now I know the truth . . . when dad was dying . . . please, Adam, please help me find her!” She burst into tears, unable to continue.
Suddenly she was being held tightly against him, his arms tender around her as she wept, his hand caressing her shoulder blades, keeping her close to the beating of his heart.
“Tell me”, he whispered, “tell me everything, Laura. Please . . tell me everything. Let me help you.”
So she told him about waking to hear that soft voice saying, “Miss Carey, I’m sorry . . I have bad news. Your child was born dead.” She told him how she had screamed like a madwoman for hours until they injected her with something to make her sleep. She told him how her parents had taken her home and lovingly tried to convince her that everything was for the best. And as days turned into weeks, it seemed that perhaps it was true. Maybe the past needed to be wiped out in order to forget. After a while, her emotions forever numbed, Laura went back to school and got her degree. Then she started work at the same hospital; studiously avoiding any contact with the maternity ward. Her work with children suffering various degrees of psychosis totally occupied her every waking hour. Her attempts to heal their young psyches somehow managed to heal hers – or so it seemed. Adam and her daughter were pushed back into a dark recess of her mind. They no longer existed.
Her work became her panacea; her life, her obsession. She avoided all but the most casual of relationships with her workmates. A few of the doctors made tentative attempts to develop a closer friendship, but after her constant rejections, they gave up. While they respected her in the workplace, she developed the reputation of being aloof and cold, and except for hospital matters, everyone pretty much left her alone.
Then two months ago the life she had so carefully constructed for herself fell apart. Her parents were driving home from shopping when a truck crossed the median and hit them head on. Her mother was killed instantly, her father fatally injured. Laura was on duty when they brought her father in and stayed all night with him in emergency, praying that he would regain consciousness. Near dawn his eyes had opened.
“Laura, honey?” his voice was weak and shaky. “I’m here, dad” she replied, hope springing in her heart.
“Must tell you . . Laura . . before I go. Please forgive me. We thought it was best . . ” his voice drifted off.
“It’s O.K. dad, I forgive you, please don’t worry. Please save your strength so you can get well for me.” Her voice caught on a sob. “Don’t leave me, dad!”
“Must tell you Laura . . your mother and I . . thought it best. Didn’t want you to hurt anymore. And she . . she promised the baby would have a good life. A better life . . than you or we could give her.” His voice drifted off again, but this time Laura was in shock.
“What are you saying, dad?” she almost screamed the words as her heart plummeted. “What are you talking about? My baby? What happened to my baby? What have you done?”
But his voice was faint, and fading fast. “Such a pretty little thing . . my little Laura . . . wanted to keep her . . but it was for the best . . be happy . . .” his voice had trickled to a whisper, and Laura wasn’t even sure of the last few words.
“Please don’t go dad!” she screamed. But even as she spoke the words, his hand went limp and the machines began beeping their steady warning. “Nurse!” Laura yelled, “Someone! Help him!”
Within minutes it was all over. Laura was now alone in the world. But her father’s words had changed her forever. Her daughter had not died. But what had happened to her?
In the days that followed, Laura struggled to comprehend what had transpired. In the blur of arranging her parent’s funeral and disposing of their property, she tried to think why and how things had come to this point. She searched in vain among their papers, but her parents had foolishly believed death would never rear its ugly head and had left no clues, no words to guide her.
Finally, hidden away in the dresser in their room, beneath piles of clothing, she discovered the only piece of evidence she had. An envelope postmarked October 1987, Edmonton. Inside the envelope was a small picture of a curly haired, smiling baby in a ruffled dress, looking to be about six months old. When Laura calculated back in her mind, she knew with a certainty that this must be her daughter. But who had sent the picture? Where was her baby? Back in Edmonton? Who was the “she” her father had referred to? Or perhaps he was just rambling, and the “she” was some nameless social worker. No, that could not be, for someone had sent a picture.
Laura began to spend all her free waking hours investigating all possibilities. Days turned into weeks. She went to Social Services, but of course they refused to give her any information. She went to several private adoption agencies, and they referred her to the adoption registry. When she explained her story yet again, she found them sympathetic and helpful. But as they explained, their ability to help was limited, since the adoption records were still sealed. She could register her name and her desire to meet her daughter, and then when her daughter turned 18, she might possibly register as well, at which time the registry could put them in contact with each other.
The icy fingers of depression encircled Laura as she exhausted one avenue after another. She went to the hospital administration requesting information about maternity cases on April 7, 1987, but met a blank wall. Finally in desperation she used her privilege of access as a staff member and tried to look into the records herself. Her search might have been successful, but an eager night watchman had surprised her in the records room. Her tearful explanations were met with cold bureaucracy. The hospital administrator was a harsh dictator type of a woman, who believed in running things strictly according to the rules. Laura had broken the rules. Her excellent work record was of no consequence to this hard, bitter woman. Laura was fired unceremoniously on the spot.
Thus Laura found herself not just alone, but desperate. Finding her daughter had become an obsession that she would never give up. Now she was unemployed, and soon to be out of money. It seemed that no one could, or would, give her any answers. In her deepest discouragement, the thought of Adam entered her mind. She had no doubt that his ambition and his marriage would have firmly ensconced him on the ladder of success. Adam could help her. Money could buy anything. Surely it could buy information.
Drained suddenly, Laura leaned back and relaxed momentarily against Adam’s warm strength. How right it felt, that support which had been denied her all these years. Yet how foolish she had been to believe that her love for Adam could conquer all. Over the years she had come to realize how naive she had been to think he would ever carry through with his promises of marriage. Even without the lure of Vicki’s money and contacts, Laura never really stood a chance. Their backgrounds were totally alien. Adam grew up in an upper middle-class environment; his family only mixed in the “best” social circles. Laura always was the “girl from the other side of the tracks” – the subsidized condos across the street filled with working poor and those unfortunates whose circumstances had left them dependant on government social assistance. Adam’s parents were nice enough to her when she was a young girl; but as she matured, and Adam’s interest became apparent, their hostility began to show. Adam’s mother in particular, made it clear that she had no intention of allowing her son to throw away his life on a girl like Laura. No, Adam had never belonged to her and never would. All that mattered now was finding her daughter.
Yet how comforting his arms. How sweet his breath close to her hair. How she wanted to lean back into his embrace and let his strength wash over her. To become one once again with him. But no, never to be!
“Noo. . .” her moan of distress shattered the silence that had enveloped them in the aftermath of her tale. She pulled herself up and away from his arms and spoke quietly and slowly, “Can you, I mean, will you . . help me?”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” his voice was harsh and demanding.
Suddenly frightened, she glanced up into his eyes. Anger and pain made them dark and fearsome, yet was there a trace of dampness in the corner of his eye?
“Adam, how could I? You were already committed to Vicki. Your marriage was unavoidable. You had made it clear where I stood and what you wanted from me. You had no problem sacrificing your supposed love for me in exchange for money and a career. I couldn’t see that an unplanned, unwanted child would be any different.” With those last words she reminded him of what he had done to her, and she was rewarded when he turned away, refusing to meet her steady gaze. “Besides”, she went on, “I had my choices taken from me. You didn’t want me. My parents gave everything they had to take me from here. Your parents…” at this she broke off, unwilling to voice her thoughts, yet needing to continue. “I was even afraid….that….you and Vicki…or your parents… might try to…..take the baby away from me…..”
“My baby was all I had left. She kept me alive for nine months. When I lost her. .” Again she faltered, and corrected herself, “when she was taken from me . . . I thought I had nothing left. Then to find out that mom and dad were the ones. .” here she stopped herself, unable to put the ambivalence of what she felt for her parents into words.
“No, I can’t blame them. They were frightened for me. After having worked with disturbed children, I can see how they must have viewed me. They truly believed that it would be damaging to me to keep my baby. And yet, . . it was their grandchild . . how could they have done that to me?” Sudden anger surged through her. “How could YOU have done that to me?”
They were all to blame. Adam, her parents, Vicki. They had all conspired to destroy Laura.
“I’m sorry. I . . I’m sorry for saying I’m sorry. I know it isn’t enough. It won’t ever be enough to make up for what I’ve done to you.” Adam’s voice broke slightly, but he maintained control. “I’ll help you. I’ll do anything to try and make it up to you. I want to find our daughter just as much as you do. Laura…I….what can I do? I’ve put you through hell. I will never forgive myself…but maybe….someday… could you somehow, someway, see it in your heart to forgive me?”
The naked pain in his voice sliced through to her heart, and her first impulse was to reach out and reassure him of her forgiveness and undying love. But fortunately she grabbed hold of herself in time and could calmly answer his plea, her voice even,
“Thank you, Adam, I knew you wouldn’t let me down.” She paused, intending to leave it at that, but on seeing his torn expression, added, “I must learn to forgive my parents as well. And myself. Perhaps….time can heal. I need time. But more than that. I need to find my baby.”
“Alright”, he spoke abruptly. He took a deep breath and stood up dismissively. “Tomorrow I’ll contact my lawyers and start a search. You can count on my support in approaching any agencies in Edmonton. Let me know where I can get in touch with you if…when…I have any information.” His business-like tone almost put Laura off, but then she realized that he was deliberately distancing himself. It was best they maintain a strict working relationship.
“I’m staying at a furnished suite in the Patricia Motel. Tomorrow I’m going to apply for a job at the University Hospital. I hope to be able to stay here for as long as necessary. I’ve burned all my bridges in Vancouver”, she added, as she got up from the couch. “I don’t plan on sitting around waiting for you to do everything, either. I will be continuing my own inquiries. I’d like to suggest that we compare notes as often as possible. I believe that will help us find the truth sooner. I will, of course, endeavor to see that Vicki knows nothing of this”, she felt compelled to add.
He softened once again, as if to reach out to her. “Laura, please don’t worry about Vicki. She no longer matters. She should never have mattered.”
Laura’s hand reached out to touch his cheek. “Oh Adam, you are wrong. She will always matter.” Suddenly she found herself taking the first step to forgiveness. “I no longer care about Vicki. I now know you’ve paid a heavy price. But for me, I just want my baby back. I believe you when you say you will stand by me in this. I just don’t want anyone else hurt.”
The longing in his eyes almost undid her, but she somehow found the strength to turn away and walk mechanically, one foot in front of the other, to the door. There she turned back to see him still standing where she had left him, his hand on his cheek as if to guard her caress.
“Until tomorrow, Adam,” she murmured as she let herself out.
Over the next few days, life blurred. She remembered going for an interview, being hired, and being given a time to present herself for work. She also somehow went shopping for immediate necessities, and arranged for a lease of several months on her motel suite. Contrary to her expectations, she had not yet heard from Adam. Many times, late at night, in the crushing loneliness of her hotel room, she was tempted to call him.
“No!” she admonished herself. “Don’t be a fool. He will call when he knows something. Otherwise, there is no reason to call.”
She was due to start work the next morning, but Friday evening Laura was restless. She went for a drive, and somehow, of its own volition, her car drifted towards the empty lot where they had so often lain in the grass and planned Adam’s house.
It was empty no longer. Regret tore her insides as she took in the spectacular beauty of the white columns rising against the hills overlooking the river bank. It was exactly as she had so often envisioned it. In spite of the threats of occasional floods, he had always wanted to live in the river valley, for he said; “I love my city, and I become one with it when I sit on the river bank and watch the skyline reflected in the water”.
He had realized his dream, and his home was everything she imagined it would be – as much a part of his city as he was. Shimmering glass and balconies appeared to be climbing the hillside with second and third levels offering a spectacular view of the river below. Trees and bushes surrounded the house from behind, a mini-forest creating a sense of privacy within the city – something that had always been so important to both of them. From outside it was Adam’s dream come true. Inside, apparently his dreams were ashes.
Once again Laura felt a pang of something – was it sympathy? No. Adam made his choice. He didn’t deserve sympathy. But….he didn’t deserve to be surrounded by such beauty and live in such unhappiness either.
Reluctantly she tore her eyes away from Adam’s house and put her car in gear and drove on. But the warm summer breeze beckoned, and she decided to park her car and walk along the river valley path to enjoy the solitude.
Behind a cover of trees, she came upon a park, a children’s playground, set close to the river. In the gathering dusk, she became aware of a lone figure on the swings. As she approached, she realized that it was the figure of a small girl, swinging slowly back and forth. For a moment Laura stood back in the shadow of the surrounding trees, unwilling to break the child’s reverie. But somehow the little girl seemed so alone, so lonely, that she tugged at Laura’s heart. “My baby would be about that big” she thought, then chastened herself for always comparing everything to her lost daughter. Cautious of frightening the child, she approached slowly, making lots of noise humming to herself. As she drew close, she noticed that the girl had long black hair, tied back in a clumsy pony tail hanging below the seat of the swing. Then as her face came into focus, she noticed large, wide set green eyes and a serious mouth. “Hi”, Laura said, “Mind if I share a swing?”
The child didn’t answer, just gravely acknowledged Laura’s presence with a stare. Laura took that for acceptance, and began to swing. “You know”, she said, “I always wanted to swing as high as the stars – but somehow no matter how I tried, when I reached the top and put out my hand – the stars ran away from me!” At that the child giggled. Laura became bold. “Hey, how about a contest? Let’s see who can go the highest!”
They began to swing, adult and child, pushing their swings higher, higher – trying to reach those elusive stars. Laura yelled, “Look! Reach out and grab one! You can catch it!” and at the same moment they both reached out a hand to the sky. The swings lost momentum and eventually they were still. They sat for a moment in silence.
Laura turned to the little girl and smiled, “Hi, I’m Laura”
The little girl shyly turned to Laura and responded, “My name is Melanie.” Then suddenly, abruptly, as if she remembered counsel to not talk to strangers, she jumped off the swing. “I’ve gotta go,” she said as she ran off, her pony tail swinging. “Bye . . .Laura” she added, her voice drifting in the twilight.
Laura almost doubled over with sudden pain as her heart felt the familiar yearning. “Stop it, Laura”, she reproached herself. “You can’t keep seeing your child in every little girl you meet.”
The beauty of the summer twilight was now lost on her as she morosely made her way back to the car. Laura resolved then and there never to go near a playground again.
Work the next day proved to be a necessary panacea. Learning the ropes in a new hospital occupied Laura’s mind until day’s end. Since she was unable to use her references from Vancouver General, she was forced to start as a beginning nurse, but Laura didn’t care. It was a job, a start, another step towards finding her daughter. It didn’t help that one of the doctors she was assigned to work with obviously found her very attractive.
“Hello”, he had said, “I love getting new assistants”. Her first assignment was emergency, and although it was a busy afternoon, it wasn’t busy enough to prevent unwelcome contact with Dr. Grant. “Call me Aaron”, he had demanded at their introduction, holding her hand just a little too long. He was very good looking, and obviously single, but Laura was apprehensive. The last thing she needed right now was a man’s romantic interest. Unless she could use him as a source of information:
And so it went over the next few days, Laura ignoring Aaron Grant, him trying to impress her and somehow break through her barriers. Finally on the fourth day he asked her, “Excuse me, Nurse Carey, is it just me, or do you find all members of the male sex obnoxious and unacceptable?”
At this, Laura was forced to laugh. In her embarrassment, she was unsure of how to reply, but then he added, “Can I take you out to dinner as a token of my innocence and my desire to simply get to know you better?”
Not knowing how to avoid the invitation without alienating a possible useful contact, Laura agreed to dinner the next night. Inside, however, she prayed, “Please, Adam, Please call. You must have some information by now.” But information or not, her treacherous heart was wishing, “please Adam, please call me.”
But no call came the next day. As Laura readied herself for her date with Dr. Grant, she thought about her options. She trusted Adam was trying to find out everything he could. Maybe money couldn’t buy everything after all. Perhaps Dr. Grant would be a better source of information. It was worth a try.
All through the dinner Laura maintained her guard. In spite of her initial misgivings, Dr. Grant proved to be a likeable companion who truly seemed to care about what she was thinking. It became increasingly hard to hold back. When they left the restaurant Aaron Grant had acquired an alarming amount of information on Laura’s past life and experiences. Nothing that mattered, of course, but enough to make her uneasy, resolving not to allow him to get any closer.
The next morning the phone jerked her shrilly from pleasant slumber. Upon hearing Adam’s voice she was abruptly fully awake.
“Hello, Laura. How are you?” He seemed to sincerely want to know, but she ignored his question.
“Have you found out anything?” she demanded.
He seemed disappointed by her reaction. “No, not really. I just wanted to let you know I’m working on it. I have a lawyer friend in Vancouver doing some digging, and other friends here in the city are making inquiries. I haven’t let out personal details, just enough to enable them to help us find answers. I feel confident that we will hear something very soon.”
“Oh.” She had been hoping for more. Patience. “Well, thanks for calling”, she added.
“Actually, I was wondering . . if you would join me for dinner tonight. I’d like to discuss the situation with you and perhaps together we can come up with more ideas.”
Warning bells rang in Laura’s head. “No!” screamed her brain. “Yes, alright” she heard her voice say. “Fool, fool” her brain chanted.
Fortunately it was her day off, for she spent the rest of the morning in a daze, mooning around the room like a lovesick teenager. Such behaviour would have been inappropriate and unacceptable in the hospital, especially under the watchful eye of Dr. Grant. Shortly after lunch the telephone rang again, sending Laura into a panic that Adam was calling to cancel. But it was Aaron Grant, his pleasant voice thanking her for a lovely evening and checking to see how she was. She struggled to sound normal in her replies, and thankfully he didn’t prolong the conversation, simply suggested that they would be seeing each other at work.
After his call, Laura sat meditating for a while. How could Dr. Grant help her? The idea struck her that perhaps hospital records might have been transferred from Vancouver to Edmonton when her baby was taken. Dr. Grant might have access to that information. Yes, it would be good to cultivate the friendship.
Meanwhile, Laura was feeling frustrated. Days were passing and her goal seemed no closer. She replayed the last seven years over and over in her head, searching for clues in every remembered conversation with her parents. She cursed herself for having been so distracted and not really paying attention during times when she might have discovered the truth. Again her heart ached as she wondered at her parents’ motivations. Had her emotional distress really been so intense that it led them to think her better off without her child? Had she said or done something to make them believe that was what she wanted? Or was it something else? What could have prompted them to take such a painful course of action?
A sudden thought occurred to Laura. Money. It had caused her to lose Adam. Was it money worries that motivated her parents? And yet, they seemed to have no shortage of money in Vancouver – there was plenty to buy a small home, put her through University, and enable her father to retire once they settled there. All at once a light illuminated her jumbled thoughts. Here was a clue she had missed!
Laura’s parents had no money. In all her years of growing up, of this one fact Laura was sure. Every extra penny went towards Laura’s future education, in hopes that she would find a good-paying job and never have to worry about her next dollar. Had Laura not worked hard in high school and earned a scholarship, her parents could not have sent her to first year university. But suddenly, in Vancouver, money was no longer a problem. Her dad had no job, yet they owned a house in spite of Vancouver’s inflated prices; and paid Laura’s tuition. Where had the money come from? Why had this never occurred to her before? Of course she knew the answer. She had been so intent on destroying her past, she hadn’t noticed what was happening in the present.
Laura thought back to that black day when she had told her parents she was pregnant. As her dad held her and stroked her back to quiet her sobs, he had promised; “I will do anything it takes. Anything to protect you and make sure you are never hurt again.” Then he had left the house, and although Laura had lain awake far into the night, she did not hear his return. The next day the decision to move to Vancouver had been made, and in the whirlwind of packing, Laura had never thought to question the how and the why.
Thinking back now, it had seemed so easy. Immediately after arriving in Vancouver they had a house to live in. It was only after her parent’s death that Laura had discovered the house had a clear title in her parent’s name. Among their financial records, Laura had found bank statements that showed a regular automatic monthly deposit of $2000.00. Laura had assumed that it was a pension of some sort, and in her rush to search for her daughter, had not investigated further. Now she wondered. Where was the money coming from? Where had they found the money to purchase a house? To make the move to Vancouver? Where had her father been that whole night before they left? Again she cursed her many years of lack of attention to important details.
Turning these things around and around in her brain didn’t appear to be leading to any useful conclusions, so finally Laura gave up. She resolved that first thing Monday she would contact her parent’s bank in Vancouver and try to trace that mysterious deposit. But now it was late, and time to get ready for her “date”:
Read The Voice next week for part three of Forgotten Promise. For submissions for the upcoming Voice student fiction column, contact email@example.com.
Carla Johnson grew up in Western Canada. She loves to read and tell stories to her cousins and younger sisters; and especially loves creating mystery romance stories because love is like that. If she could change the world she would do it through peace, love and song. Her favourite pastime is baking goodies for her family and friends, riding her bike, traveling to new places, and staying up waaaaay past everyone else’s bedtime. She is not related to Johnson & Johnson product providers although she avidly uses most of them.