Little by Little by Chris Green
It is said that everyone who looks into their family history will sooner or later discover a deep dark secret, some unexpected turn of events. Time is a slippery customer. There are inherent dangers in unearthing the past. You never know what you might find. Perhaps the past should be left where it belongs. Didn’t Lara realise that with a surname like De’Ath, there might be some skeletons in her cupboard? Or worse? There might be no skeletons in her cupboard.
In her defence, since Who Are You? the television series revealing celebrities’ family trees, everyone seemed to be looking into their ancestry. It was practically all they talked about at the office where Lara worked. Her colleagues, Holly, Polly, Siobhan and Trudi chattered endlessly about the new revelations from the programme, this giving them an opening to relate what they had found out about their own family trees through an array of genealogy websites.
Although Lara’s colleagues all wanted to feel they had uncovered hidden secrets, in the big scheme of things, their backgrounds were nothing to get excited about. Grandfathers and great-grandfathers killed in various bygone conflicts, immigrant great uncles and the odd wayward philanderer from Southern Europe. Siobhan’s maternal great-grandmother was an unwitting bigamist and Holly’s great-great grandfather was a circus performer in pre-Soviet Russia. Over a number of generations, these were the kind of anomalies you might expect to spring up in a family tree. Trudi, in particular, had gone a long way back and found that she was distantly related to someone in the court of Henry the Eighth.
Who Are You? on the other hand, had delivered some major bombshells. Angus McReedy, the bearded host of The Great British Fry Up had found out that he was the rightful king of Scotland. Kirsty Banker, the well turned out presenter of the popular travel programme on Sunday nights had found out that her grandfather was thought to be Jack the Ripper. Kirsty had, by all accounts, tried to stop the programme from going out but Channel 6 held her to her contract. The revelation about her background was gold dust, especially as Kirsty worked for the BBC.
‘You ought to find out about your heritage, Lara,’ said Holly. ‘Probably time better spent than going on all those dating sites.’
‘How’s all of that going?’ asked Polly, vaguely suspecting that it might not be going well. Lara hadn’t mentioned her dates very much of late.
‘Ah, yes. What happened with …… Leon, wasn’t it?’ asked Holly.
‘Leon! Huh! Leon was typical,’ said Lara. ‘He described himself as a debonair thirty-something with prospects but turned out to be haggard looking forty-something with halitosis. None of them seem to match their description. If they say they are in sales or marketing, they probably sell scratch cards outside the railway station. Tall, dark and handsome usually means portly and five feet four, sporty means has a mountain bike in the shed, and good sense of humour means expects you to sit with him watching repeats of Dad’s Army. I think you are right, Polly. It is a waste of time.’
‘You’re not even thirty yet, Lara’ said Siobhan, comfortingly. ‘There’s plenty of time. The right man will come along. Meanwhile, you should find out who you are. Where you came from.’
She was thirty yet, in fact, she was thirty two, but Lara took Holly’s comments aboard. Lately, she had become curious as to where her roots lay. She knew very little about her family’s background. Her father disappeared when she was young and her mother was always very tight-lipped about the past. Her mother had never called herself De’Ath, preferring her own name, Wilson. Wendy Wilson. Lara often wondered why this was but with the atmosphere at home being strained most of the time, never got around to asking. As there was no professional reason for keeping her own name, Lara assumed that it was either because of the connotations of the name De’Ath or that they probably had never actually been married. She could not remember any talk of a divorce. Since her mother died several years ago from a rare blood disease, and Lara had no brothers or sisters, there was now no way of finding out.
On her father’s side, Lara had nothing to go on but his name. She had no other information, no birthplace or date of birth. So far as she could remember, she had never met a paternal grandfather and she had only a small recollection of a paternal grandmother. She had an inkling that she had some cousins up north but she was not sure. She had never met them but she vaguely recalled a Chester and a Preston being mentioned once or twice, if not in a favourable context. But, at least Lincoln De’ath would be an easy name to follow up. There wouldn’t be too many of these. Fortunately, she knew her mother’s date of birth and where she was born, so at least she had something definite to go on here. Little by little, she would be able to build this into a family tree.
When she signed up for the genealogy sites, Lara hoped to unearth some artistic ancestors, a great line of forgotten bohemian artisans perhaps. A keen painter herself, she was sure that there must be an artistic streak running through her bloodline somewhere. If not a painter or sculptor, perhaps there might be a forgotten writer or a poet there in the background, or maybe a virtuoso musician. She felt that knowing this would help to give her confidence in her abilities. She hoped one day if she worked hard at it, she might be able to sell her paintings and perhaps be able to give up her nine to five job.
When she could find no record anywhere of a Lincoln De’Ath, Lara was not completely surprised. Over the years she had realised that there was something distinctly dishonest about her father. He could at best be described as a wheeler-dealer. Lincoln De’Ath was probably not even his real name. But, why he would make up the name De’Ath was anyone’s guess. Why would you? More to the point, what malevolent caprice had prompted him to curse her with it too? Why had her mother not stood her ground and put Lara Wilson on her birth certificate? What power did he hold over her mother? It seemed that she might now never be able to find out.
She managed to find her mother’s entry on the ancestry.net site but when she clicked on it, something unexpected happened and she was faced with what she had heard referred to as the blue screen of death. When she managed to reboot the laptop and get back into the site, she could no longer find the record. She became a little alarmed. What had she done? If she couldn’t even find her mother, what chance was there of going further back?
She started again from scratch, following all the instructions and screen hints. When this revealed nothing she tried a couple of the other free sites. Still none of the right things seemed to be happening. Now it was a case of do or die. One by one, she upgraded to the subscription versions of the sites for their added capabilities. To her alarm, Wendy Louise Wilson, born 8th December 1945 was missing on every single one of them. Surely, it was not possible to have deleted the records of her mother at their very source. Surely, it was not possible to change anything on the internet without being a webmaster or whatever these tekkies were called. Perhaps she was doing something inherently wrong. She remembered the time she spent hours trying to work out which was the any key. And the time she thought the keyboard was broken because her password came out as asterisks. She would be the first to admit that she was never that good with sorting out computer problems. Some gremlin always seemed to creep up from nowhere to catch her unawares.
Even though it was late, she phoned Trudi and pleaded with her to come round to see what she was doing wrong. Trudi was a whizz with spreadsheets and data entry and she also knew her way around ancestry sites. She had traced her ancestors back to Tudor times. Trudi would be able to spot straight away what she was doing wrong.
Trudi had been in the middle of saying goodnight to her new friend, Tariq when she got Lara’s call but as Lara sounded desperate, she got in the car and drove round. Her expertise, however, did nothing to correct the problem. They tried every possible combination of Lara’s mother’s name and came up with nothing. It hardly seemed worth trying her father’s name, but Trudi tried anyway. Nothing. It seemed suddenly as if Lara’s parents had never existed. While Lara could understand the difficulty with regard to her father, with all the resources available on the enhanced ancestors.com, her mother should have been straightforward to locate.
‘Her name was there, on the screen in front of me, honestly, Trudi. Wendy Louise Wilson. But when I clicked on her name, Windows 10 crashed and the record was gone,’ said Lara.
‘That’s simply isn’t possible, Lara,’ said Trudi. ‘If she was there, then the record of her would still be there. We’re not putting something in wrong here now, are we? You’re sure this is your mother’s date of birth?’
‘And her birthplace?’
‘Definitely Compton Abbot.’
Trudi’s phone rang. It was Tariq wondering when she would be back, he had something planned.
‘Sorry, Lara. I’ve got to go,’ she said. ‘I’ll give you a call over the weekend.’
On Saturday morning after a night of fitful sleep, Lara got up and booted up the laptop again. She went to log in to Facebook and she was greeted with the something went wrong message. She had come across this before, so she did not get too concerned. She brewed some coffee and tried again and she was able to get in but her Facebook profile had completely disappeared. Do you want to sign up, it said, with the instructions on how to do so. She tried to get into her email account but this too had completely disappeared.
Trudi was not amused to get another call from Lara so soon. She was trying something new with Tariq at the time. She was growing to like the way Tariq introduced new activities into their daily routine. This one involved Belgian chocolate. She was enjoying it very much, so she ignored the call. She could phone Lara back later. The chocolate thing temporarily seemed more important.
When she phoned Lara back around midday, her phone just kept ringing. It did not even go to voicemail. Trudi assumed that Lara had got the hump with her for not answering her call earlier. Lara could be a bit like that sometimes. She took things too much to heart. She had to realise that the world did not revolve around her.
Trudi decided to drive over anyway to see what was going on. There was no point in falling out about a phonecall. Perhaps Lara had called to tell her that she had resolved her computer glitch and having done so, had gone shopping and left her phone at home. While she was stuck at the lights at the Scott Mackenzie roundabout, she called again. This time, she got the message the number you have dialled has not been recognised. She quickly checked. It was definitely Trudi’s number, the same number she had dialled not twenty minutes previously.
Trudi arrived at Lara’s flat and knocked firmly on the door. A lady in her late forties in a quilted housecoat and slippers carrying a black refuse bag emerged from the adjacent flat.
‘Are you looking for Mrs Fakenham?’ she said. ‘Because she’s gone to the shops.’
‘No. I am looking for my friend, Lara De’Ath,’ said Trudi. ‘She lives here.’
‘Lara De’Ath. What sort of name is that?’ said the lady, looking Trudi up and down. ‘Anyway. Never heard of her. She doesn’t live here. Mrs Fakenham lives in that flat. She’s been here for years, Mrs Fakenham has, with her cats. Look! There’s one of them now. I think that one’s called Thursday. She’s named them all after days of the week. I suppose that’s how she remembers them.’
Trudi was flummoxed. It was fortunate that when she got back home, Tariq was waiting with another surprise. This one involved whipped cream.
When Trudi arrived at the office early on Monday morning, Holly was already there. She began to tell Holly about Lara’s disappearance.
‘Lara?’ said Holly, interrupting her. ‘Who’s Lara?’
‘Who’s Lara!’ Trudi echoed. ‘Who’s Lara? Only the person who has been sitting opposite you for the last three years.’
‘The girl with the long dark hair and the peaches complexion. The one who was always lending you her mascara. What’s wrong with you this morning, Holly?’
‘I vaguely recall someone used to sit at the desk over there,’ said Holly. ‘Sara, wasn’t it? But, that was a long time ago.’
What was the woman talking about? What in Hell’s name was happening? Was it perhaps all part of some poisonous conspiracy designed to push her over the edge? All this, when things were going so well with Tariq.
‘It was Lara. Her name was Lara. And if you recall, Lara was still here on Friday. Sitting right there. You had that conversation about your dog-walker being distantly related to Daphne du Maurier.’
‘I’ve no idea what you are talking about.’
‘Come on! You’re winding me up, Holly.’
‘No, sorry Trudi. ……. Are you all right?’
‘Check your phone! Go on, check it! You will have Lara’s number and a list of calls you’ve made to her.’
Holly took her phone out of her bag and played with it for a while. ‘No. Sorry,’ she said ‘It’s not bringing up anyone called Lara.’
‘Why are you doing this, Holly? It’s not funny. ……. You must remember Lara. She’s the one who…….’ Trudi began. ‘The one who ……., but even as she was saying it, her own recollection was beginning to fade. She could no longer remember what Lara looked like. Little by little, Lara was disappearing.
© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved