When Anna heard the voice on the other end of the line she was instantly alert.
“Sorry to ring so late, but I have something for you,” he said. “An address in Esterbridge.”
Her heart leapt. This is what she had been waiting for. Hiring a private investigator was the last thing she thought she would ever do, but there was something very comforting, even liberating, about handing it over to someone who knew what they were doing, especially after years of fruitless searching.
“Esterbridge,” Anna said to herself thoughtfully. Amazingly, not that far away, and she had three whole days to herself to explore the possibilities. Suddenly, she was wide awake. If she left now she could be there by morning. Within half an hour her bag was packed and she was on the highway heading west.
She lost track of time somewhere in the middle of the night. A heightened sense of the task ahead had kept her awake and thinking.
Anna couldn’t remember the time when she had been part of her family. Her earliest memories were clouded in smells and noises that belonged to the hospital. There were vague faces connected to ever changing people who seemed to bustle around without ever really stopping. Then came the Home. A child with injuries wasn’t on the top of anyone’s list for adoption. But Anna learned quickly, and she not only survived, she thrived. She had made a good life for herself, even mapped out her future, and today was part of filling in the map of her past.
As she drove through the bright sunny morning Anna was suddenly overcome with tiredness, and as luck would have it, over the next rise she saw a roadhouse. Even though she was only an hour from Esterbridge, Anna knew she had to take a break and hoped the place would be open. She pulled over and parked next to a snazzy-looking old Ford, and eased her stiff body out of the car. She glanced up at the sign: ‘Harry’s Roadhouse’, and saw that it was indeed open. Must be a truck stop, she thought. It looked surprisingly new as she stepped into the coolness of the building. She was struck by the décor of the place. It was an instant reminder of her childhood … lino floor, stark white walls, laminate tables, fluorescent lights, and ceiling fans. These country places never change, thought Anna as she chose a booth by the window and looked around for the waitress.
Within a minute she heard a door swing, and a young girl with short bobbed hair and an apron was handing her a plastic covered menu. The waitress beamed a smile and waited. As Anna ordered a toasted sandwich and a much-needed cup of tea, she noticed a couple sitting in the far corner booth. They were in a world of their own young, and very much in love. She watched them with interest. The woman was dark haired, like Anna, and her young man was thin and fair. Both were both dressed rather stylishly for country dwellers – the woman in a smart tailored dress with a golden brooch at her collar and the man in a light double breasted suit. Even though Anna was captivated by their joy and thought perhaps they too were going on a special journey, her mind turned back to her own mission. A childhood longing welled up as she thought about what she might find. Eager to continue, she finished her sandwich and with the last mouthfuls of tea, watched the young couple leave arm-in-arm, get into the old Ford and drive off in the opposite direction.
As she stepped out into the bright sun again Anna squinted and lowered her eyes. A shiny object by the car caught her eye, and she moved to pick it up. “Why it’s a brooch!” she said aloud. It was really beautiful with a lovely pearl setting. She turned it over… ‘To my Betsy with love always Ted’. It must belong to the woman, thought Anna. She looked up and saw that the couple were gone and there was no chance of catching them. Anxious to get going she decided it would have to wait and put the brooch into her pocket. She would deal with it on her way back. For the moment her mind was only on what lay ahead.
Anna drove slowly as she turned into the main street of Esterbridge. So this was it, the place where her parents had lived before they moved to Sydney. Now that she was here, she was bursting with anticipation. Surely there would be someone in Esterbridge who remembered them, and she knew exactly where to look first. She parked the car in front of the old church and hurried in through the open doors. With fingers crossed, she hoped to find a nice elderly cleric who knew everyone in town. And as she looked down the aisle, there he was – sorting prayer books near the front pew.
Full of confidence she walked briskly down the aisle, and without waiting, extended her hand, “Hello, my name is Anna Watson,’ she said quickly. ‘I’m looking for information about my parents, Lilibeth and Edwin Watson, who lived here in….” But before Anna could finish, the minister raised his hand, took her by the elbow, calmly guided her to a seat, and in a quiet voice said, “Now young lady, let’s start again. I’m Reverend Allen, what is it that I can do for you?”
Anna took a deep breath, and slowly said, “My parents lived here for a few years before they moved to Sydney. I was orphaned as a baby and know nothing about them. There was no family, you see, and I’d be grateful for any information. Anything at all. Apparently, my mother worked here as a teacher. Do you think anyone still living here might remember them?”
“Now, let… me… see…” he said thoughtfully. He looked up and gave Anna a smile. “Well, yes, maybe there is. I think you should have a chat with old Mrs. Bromley. Her mind wanders a bit, but her memory is as sharp as ever about the old days.” He looked at his watch. “In fact, you’ll find her at the Church Hall, just around the corner. The ladies are getting ready for their weekly morning tea. I’m sure she’d be happy to talk to you.”
Just around the corner! Anna couldn’t leave fast enough. She thanked the minister and hurried off. Within minutes she was at the Church Hall. She poked her head through the door and looked around at the ladies carrying plates and cups. She wondered which one was Mrs. Bromley. After a few discreet inquiries, she found her sitting at a small table waiting for a cup of tea.
“Hello, Mrs. Bromley. My name is Anna Watson. May I speak with you?”
“Yes dear, of course, you can.”
“I’ve just been talking to Reverend Allen and he thought you might be able to help me.” Anna spoke slowly and deliberately, “I’m looking for information about a couple who lived here a long time ago. Lilibeth and Edwin Watson. I wonder if you might remember them?”
As Anna sat down, old Mrs. Bromley’s watery eyes came to life at the prospect of a chat.
“Watson you say, Lilibeth Watson?” Mrs. Bromley responded. Suddenly a spark of recognition lit up her face. “Oh, yes dear… I do remember her. That was Betsy, worked at the local school… clever little thing… married to young Ted Watson.”
Anna felt as if she’d been hit by a bolt of lightning. Her mind was racing. “Betsy, did you say? Betsy and Ted?” said Anna, incredulously.
“Yes, dear, I remember them very well,” she repeated. “Betsy loved to write letters. No family, either of them. Always kept in touch when they moved to Sydney… but tragic dear, so tragic… both killed in a car accident you know, only the child survived. Badly hurt, poor little mite with no family… taken into care you know…” she trailed off.
Anna’s heart was beating so hard she couldn’t speak. The pearl brooch! She pulled it from her pocket and stared at the inscription… ‘To my Betsy with love always Ted’.
“But… but, the roadhouse, Harry’s Roadhouse?” stammered Anna.
“The roadhouse? Harrison’s old place? Closed dear, been closed for years….”
© Inara Hawley 1996