Ava hadn’t realised she had been holding her breath till she felt the tight pains in her chest. Letting go, she took in a few deep breaths and stepped into the room. A thick layer of dust and grim was across everything, empty spiders webs clung to the window sill and the furniture. She heard Dale flicking a light switch, but no bulb came on above her head. Instead shafts of light were falling from the thin and torn curtains, but there wasn’t enough to cut through the gloom.
‘I’ll get that box of spare bulbs. Stay there,’ Dale called from behind her and walked away.
Of the things she could make out, Ava spotted a baby’s crib just behind the door and a couple of soft toys poking out of a half opened box. As far back as she could see, were stacks of cardboard moving boxes. It was if someone had packed up their whole live and abandoned it in a room that couldn’t have been opened in about ten years.
Turning as she heard Dale coming back, she switched places with him and he changed the bulb in the long dangling ceiling light. He came back over to her and pushed the switch. The light flickered, hummed loudly, then settled.
‘There wasn’t actually a bulb in the fixture,’ Dale explained.
Ava nodded, ‘look at this. What do you think’s in all these boxes?’
Dale shrugged and going over to the half opened box, flipped the other side down and looked inside. He pulled out a picture frame and after looking at it past it to Ava. She handled it carefully and wiped some of the dust off. She noted the two children posing in a sun covered garden next to a fountain in the photo.
‘Your aunt had a kid…or two…’ Dale spoke.
‘I didn’t know…no one ever told me…’ Ava whispered, ‘what happened?’
‘No idea. Look at this though,’ Dale suggested and give her another photo.
This one showed her aunt standing next to a young woman in a university graduation grown. The women looked similar in face, body and hair colour. Ava’s mind whirled; did my great aunt have a daughter? How old is this photo? It doesn’t look that old…nineteen-seventies, eighties? How come my grandparents never told me?
‘There’s some postcards here…dated…nineteen-eighty-one…? Nineteen-seventy-nine or eight. It could be… ‘Dear mum, Spain is nice, hot and sunny! Having a good time, though some of the food doesn’t agree with me. Wish you were here. Hattie sends her love. See you next weekend, Adeline.’ I think…’ Dale frowned and held the postcard closer to his face.
Ava slipped it out of his hands and held it more under the light. She read quietly to herself, repeating the words that Dale had just spoken. She chocked slightly at the name, then let it die on her lips before turning back to him. ‘Didn’t you find anything about her the documents?’
‘No,’ Dale replied thoughtfully, ‘but there’s so many we’ve not gone through yet. It’s hard not knowing what to look for.’
Ava put the postcard on top of the photos which she had balanced on a sealed box. She went to the box and began looking through the other things inside. Dale moved on to a shoe box that had been balanced on top of a small bookcase, which was half filled with children’s books.
‘Let’s see what else we can find. Do you think she’s still alive?’
‘Adeline? No idea,’ he replied and opened the shoe box, ‘But wouldn’t they hAva told you? Or the lawyer or someone else? You’re the last member of your family, so, if anyone even thought that you might have an a live cousin, why would they hide it? Unless…’ Dale trailed off as he fully understood the piece of paper he had just found.
‘She died,’ he stated and handed her the death certificated he’d found.
‘Adeline May Higgings, born March second, nineteen-thirty-nine. Died August eighth, nineteen-thirty-nine. Aged six months. That doesn’t make sense…’ Ava stuttered, ‘There’s been a mistake…’
Dale pulled a face and looked once again into the shoe box, ‘look, little booties. They’re cute. There’s a photo and a baby’s rattle…ivory handle, the birth certificate and some pressed flowers. Look, Ava. Ava?’
‘This can’t be right,’ she said to herself and studied the postcard and the death certificated together.
‘Maybe your aunt had a friend called Adeline? And it was her that wrote the postcard? It’s a popular enough name, isn’t it?’ Dale suggested.
‘But what about this graduation photo and this one with the two kids?’ Ava interjected, feeling frustrated by the situation.
‘I don’t know…let’s see what else there is. Maybe there are more clues in here?’
Sighing, Ava joined him in looking through the boxes. They found tons of baby and children’s clothes for both genders neatly packed away, more toys, books, games and photographs. There was also some children’s bedroom furniture, two landscape paintings and other things. Coming back to the front most boxes, Ava found a second death certificates followed by one for the birth. She called Dale over and showed him.
‘My aunt had another baby in November nineteen-fifty. A boy called George Higgins. He died ten years later of Scarlett Fever.’
‘Oddly, that makes sense going off some of the boy things we’ve found. Is there anything else?’
‘I don’t think so…but I could do with a break…what time is it?’ she asked.
Dale checked his phone, ‘almost one a clock.’
‘Let’s go to that chippy and get some lunch. Unless you want to do something else?’
‘No, that’s fine let’s go.’
Leaving the room and house, they got in the car and drove a few streets over to a fish and chip shop. The weather had quietened again, but it was still raining. Ava stayed silent, lost in a large ripple of thoughts. Dale tugged her arm and missing what he said, she took the hint and got out of the car. The chippy was warm and the windows were foggy. They ordered and eat in the car. Ava felt thankful for the lack of conversation.
However, when Dale prepared to drive them back, Ava suggested that they only stay at the house for another hour or so, ‘I want to go home and think,’ she added.
‘Suits me, I’m really tried,’ he responded and yawed.
A few minutes after they had arrived back and got searching through the boxes again, Ava found a letter. It had been roughly shoved in a box with some old newspapers and other rubbish which had been causing Ava to wonder if someone had accident forgotten to throw them out. Sitting on the floor, she opened the yellowed envelope and unfold a single sheet of paper. The words she read seemed to stop her heart.
Shakily, she muttered Dale to come over, but he didn’t hear her, so she had to call him louder, ‘Dale? I think I found that clue you were looking for…’
‘Huh?’ he said coming over.
Ava handed him the letter and watched him quickly reading it.
‘Adeline is aunt Araminta’s daughter,’ Eve spoke slowly, ‘and she knew about Araminta’s double life and wanted to know who her father really was.’
Dale nodded his head, ‘it’s dated nineteen-eighty-three. A year after George Herman’s death. She says she’s moving to Spain…maybe that’s why we can’t find her documents and maybe she’s still alive.’
‘Let’s gather everything up and go home,’ Ava said excitedly, ‘I need to find out if…’
‘Alright, but let’s not rush okay. I don’t want to miss anything important.’
Ava hummed and patted his arm, ‘thanks. I’m sorry about what I said before.’
‘It’s okay,’ Dale answered softly, ‘I guess I’d feel the same why about things. Just,’ and he pressed his hands to her shoulders and kept her in place, ‘I don’t want you to get all excited about this and then find out we were wrong, alright? It won’t be fair.’
‘I’ll try,’ Ava mumbled and glanced at the floor.
Giving her shoulders a rub, he let her go and started together all the papers they had found in a box. She helped and soon after they left with the single box and went home. From that point on weeks of searching and piecing more of the puzzle together, led Ava to connecting a few people and after the years and months of hoping, Ava found that she wasn’t the single surviving member of her family and she did have an estranged cousin, Adeline, who was living in Spain.