Mystery and Crime Fiction posted October 17, 2010


Exceptional
This work has reached the exceptional level
Learning your life is a lie

Who Am I?

by S. Pumpkin

"The bed was empty."  The red haired nurse shrugged her shoulders and with a sympathetic smile added, "For twenty-four years Lilly sat in that chair all day, every day staring out the window.  She seldom spoke and when she did, all she ever said was, the bed was empty."
 
Mary slumped against the wall, sighed, and fought back the tears welling up in her eyes.  Why now?  Why did fate not give her one more day to find Lilly?  Her life was almost back to normal after dealing with the sudden and tragic death of her mother three months earlier.  Now, her entire world was turned upside-down, and the one person she desperately needed to speak to was gone.
 
She looked around the room and saw several older women sitting on an equally old couch.  They were holding hands and speaking in voices too soft to hear. Another woman was staring at the floor while tapping her fingers against the armrest.  Mary walked over to the window and stood next to the chair Lilly used to sit in.  Gently stroking the top of the worn chair unconsciously searching for the slightest sign of Lilly, Mary looked out at the dreary parking lot.  A row of bleak looking metal storage buildings stood adjacent to the parking lot, as though intentionally placed there to block out the world.  Tears streamed down Mary's cheeks as she imagined Lilly staring out the window day after day with nothing but cars and ugly buildings to look at.
 
Not bothering to wipe the tears from her face, she turned to face the nurse silently standing behind her.  "May I see her room?"
 
The nurse nodded then said, "Yes, but there is nothing there.  The few possessions she had have been boxed up and will be taken to the Salvation Army."
 
Mary faked a smile.  "I just want to see her room; there is no harm in that is there."
 
The nurse nodded again. "Of course not."
 
The bedroom was even more depressing than the day room.  Three beds were cramped into a small space obviously designed for one bed.  Mary immediately recognized the one against the left wall as belonging to Lilly.  A clean set of folded sheets and a pillowcase lay neatly stacked at the end of the thin well-used mattress.  An old, flat, yellow stained pillow lay at the top.  The view from the tiny window beside the bed was of the same parking lot.   A single, cheap looking print of a boy standing on a pier hung on the opposite wall.  There was nothing of a personal nature in the room, no photographs of family, no books, not even a clock.  Other than two poorly made beds, there was no evidence that anyone occupied the room.  It was nothing more than a place for the nameless, unwanted, and forgotten to sleep.
 
* * * * * * *
 
Mary came from a wealthy and highly respected family.  An only child, she went to the best schools, and planned to enter medical school at the University of Washington in the fall.  Her father passed away two years ago from a heart attack and her mother died three-months ago in a car accident.  Barely over the death of her father, Mary dropped out of school for a semester to deal with painful loss of her mother.
 
Financially, Mary was set for life.  Money would never be an issue.  Her father invested wisely and her mother came from a long line of wealthy politicians.
 
Immediately after her mother's accident, Mary moved from her apartment near the University back into the large three-story family mansion on the hill overlooking Lake Washington.  Sadness filled her broken heart as she wandered the lonely empty halls recalling the happy moments spent with her parents.  Friends told her she should sell the house and move on with her life but she knew she belonged where she had grown up.  She needed time to heal.  There was no hurry to make such a major decision.
 
Two weeks ago, Mary received a letter from the Walla Walla State Penitentiary.  Curious as to why someone from the prison would write her, Mary immediately opened the envelope and read the letter.
 
June 3, 2009
 
Dear Mary,
 
I know you will find what I am about to tell you difficult to believe.  It is not my intent to cause you any distress.  However, after learning of your mother's recent and tragic death and facing my own impending death from cancer, I find I can no longer remain silent.  I have not led a good life.  I am currently in prison for something unrelated to what is contained in this letter.  I have done many things I am ashamed of and sadly, most cannot be rectified by simply saying I am sorry.  However, I now find myself in a position where I feel I must tell you the truth of the circumstances surrounding your true identity.  Believe me when I say, this is not a decision I came to easily. However, the guilt I have carried for nearly twenty-four years has weighed heavily on my shoulders.  I cannot go to my death without somehow making right the wrong I, and others, have done to you and an innocent woman who never harmed anyone.  
 
The woman you know as your mother had great difficulty getting pregnant.  On the night you were born, she gave birth to a fifth stillborn baby boy.  Having worked for your father many times in the past, I received a frantic phone call in the middle of the night telling me to find a healthy baby born that night.  He instructed me to switch the stillborn child with any baby, male or female, that I could find.
 
As you know, your father was a powerful and influential man who always got what he wanted.  He and I knew if enough money was offered, a nurse would eagerly turn a blind eye, a doctor would issue a new birth certificate, and tell a gullible first time mother her child was dead without a second thought.
 
Your real mother is Lilly Gilkerson.  Despite the insistence of both the doctor and nurse on staff that Lilly's baby boy had died, Mrs. Gilkerson argued, insisting she had delivered a healthy baby girl. For three days, she stood in front of the window of the nursery and stared at the empty bed screaming, "Where is my baby?" 
 
Concerned someone might believe her, your father arranged for Lilly to be diagnosed as schizophrenic.  Again, I must admit money can buy almost anything.  Lilly was immediately admitted to St. Mary's Psychiatric Hospital, where she has spent the past twenty-four years.  Her husband filed for divorce and her family, ashamed of the stigma associated with mental illness, turned their backs on her.
 
Some may say I am wrong to tell you this, the past belongs in the past, and I should leave it alone.  But the guilt I have carried all these years has only grown with the knowledge that I was a part of this cruel plan that ruined this woman's life.  It is important that you know your real mother never stopped believing you were real.   I know I may well burn in hell for what I have done.  But it is also my prayer that you find it in your heart to go to Lilly and tell her what she has always known, that you are alive and well, and that she is not crazy.
 
I have enclosed your real birth certificate, which I was instructed to destroy but chose not to, as proof that what I have told you is true. Please note, everyone connected with this case, except me and Mrs. Gilkerson, is dead.
 
Sincerely,
 
Thomas Acorn
Prisoner number 0061669

 
Mary folded the letter and placed it on the table.  She picked up the birth certificate and read the name 'Anne Marie Gilkerson', born May 7, 1985, 1:10 am, six pounds, eight ounces, mother, Lilly Marie Gilkerson, father, Jeffery Allen Gilkerson.
 
Over the next three hours, Mary reread the letter a dozen times before the reality that the Humphreys were not her real parents finally set in.  She felt a painful sadness in her chest realizing that the people she called Mom and Dad were complete strangers.  The thought of her real mother spending her entire life in an institution broke her heart and brought tears to her eyes.

She picked up the phone, dialed the number of her attorney, and told him about the letter.  He immediately hired a detective who spent the next two weeks investigating Mr. Acorn's claim, and came to the conclusion that Mary was, in fact, Anne Marie Gilkerson, the daughter of Lilly Marie Gilkerson.  Unfortunately, Mr. Acorn passed away before Mary received the letter preventing him from being interviewed.  

Her attorney assured Mary that this in no way affected her inheritance since her mother referred to her in her will as Mary Louise Humphrey, 'the child I raised from the moment of birth'.  Mary could not help but wonder if her mother, or rather the woman who called herself her mother, somehow knew that one day she would learn the truth.
 
* * * * *
 
Mary wiped the tears from her eyes then asked the nurse, "Can I please see the box containing Lilly's possessions?"
 
The nurse shook her head.  "I am sorry, but unless you are a family member …."
 
Mary quickly interrupted saying," I am her daughter."
 
The nurse shook her head again and in a stern voice said, "I am sorry but Lilly's baby died at birth and it was a boy."
 
Mary opened her purse and handed the nurse her birth certificate and the court approved name change from Mary Louise Humphrey to Anne Marie Gilkerson.  The Humphreys may have loved her and treated her well, but what they did was wrong.  Mary felt the least she could do was honor Lilly, her real mother, by taking the name she was given at birth.

The nurse stared silently at the papers then finally said, "Are you telling me …."
 
Mary interrupted a second time.  "Yes, Lilly is my mother, I am her daughter, and she was definitely not crazy."
 
The nurse left the room and quickly returned with a small box labeled, Lilly Gilkerson.
 
Mary sat on the edge of Lilly's bed and held the box in her trembling hands.  After a few moments of awkward silence, she opened the box and found an old hair brush with several strands of long grey hair, a photograph of a baby with a blue ribbon taped to the side of his head with the words 'not mine' written in bold black letters across the front.  In a sealed envelope, she found a death certificate for a baby boy named William Mathew Gilkerson with a black line drawn through it.  Lying on the bottom of the box, in a corner was a tiny silver bracelet with the words "My Beloved daughter Anne Marie" inscribed on it. 
 
Mary placed the bracelet in her pocket and wiped the tears from her cheeks.   She looked at the death certificate again and wondered if the Humphreys knew where their baby was buried; did they ever visit his grave, or did they forget about him just as they had forgotten about Lilly.
 
Except for her birth certificate and the detective's report, the contents of the little box were all Mary had to prove her mother actually existed.  There were no photographs, no list of family members, nothing to tell her who her mother was.  Mary stood up and holding the box in both hands, turned toward the pretty red haired nurse and said in a voice filled with both anger and pride, "Please excuse me, I have a funeral to arrange, an appointment with a realtor to sell a house, and a mother to get to know".
 
Mary Louise Humphrey walked into St. Mary's Hospital that day, but Anne Marie Gilkerson walked out, and standing beside her was the spirit of Lilly Gilkerson, finally free, finally happy, and after twenty-four years of tears, finally smiling again.

 


This Sentence Starts The Story contest entry

Recognized


I thought I'd try something different this time. I'm not sure if it works but what the heck, it was fun experimenting.

I decided to use the painting I did of my mother to illustrate this one. I have 30 plus or minus days to work on this so any help will be greatly appreciated.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.


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