Lost And Found
By Rachel McMillan
Marjorie Ferguson was sixty-seven years old, and she was beginning to think that the one goal she had striven for all her life was not going to be realized. It hadn’t seemed like it would be such a challenge when she first started, back when she was only a child, but over the years she had come to recognize the barriers that had been put in her way. They weren’t presented as barriers of course – they were always phrased in polite prevarications – but she had learned to see through them. To see them for what they were: Lies and evasions.
She pushed herself back from the desk and shifted her body in the old leather chair. It had been her mother’s chair and over the years it had formed itself to the contours of her mother’s body – her adoptive mother, she reminded herself, not her real mother – and yet the chair seemed to embrace her body perfectly.
From the bedroom she could hear the sound of her sister, sorting through her mother’s clothes. Even though she couldn’t hear the sobs, Marjorie knew Catherine would be crying as she lifted out each garment. She would be stroking the fabric, fingering the buttons, remembering a time when her mother had worn it. Their mother’s death had been much harder on Catherine than it had been for her. For Catherine, the relationship had been real.
It wasn’t that Marjorie hadn’t loved her mother. Of course she had. Mary Ferguson had been the only mother she had ever known. The woman had always been there for them, even though they were not really ‘hers’.
They weren’t really sisters of course, she and Catherine, at least not by blood. They had both been adopted, but unlike Marjorie, Catherine had never felt the need to find her birth mother, and that was something Marjorie simply could not understand. For her, it was a need. An obsession. How could you not want to know who you really were? Over the years that burning need had built a wall between her and the only mother she had ever known. It had built a wall between her and Catherine too, and between her and the man who had wanted to marry her.
She reached back to the desk and opened yet another drawer. The others had held stacks of bills and bank statements, but this one held a single cardboard box. She placed it on the top of the desk and opened it. The documents were old, the paper fragile, the ink brown and fading. Carefully she lifted the first one out. Her grandfather’s – no, adoptive grandfather’s – birth certificate. Andrew Ferguson had been born in Scotland in 1903, the son of a shipbuilder and a housewife. She placed the document onto the desk and lifted out the next one.
A marriage certificate for Andrew Ferguson and Norah Brown, bachelor and a spinster. She smiled at the old-fashioned words. So quaint, but somehow appropriate for the dour, unsmiling couple she remembered. She put the papers aside. Catherine would cherish these testaments to what she had always embraced as her family, but for Marjorie they were simply a reminder of what was missing. What she had never found. Her own family. Her real family. She kept sorting.
Another document, this one very plain. A printed heading: Children’s Welfare Department. Catherine’s name typed in at the top. Marjorie stared at it in shock. Had Catherine seen this? Did she know she had been born to a seamstress called Elizabeth Smythe? That her birth name had been Susan? Marjorie closed her eyes. Was her own adoption certificate here, hidden from her all these years?
Slowly, her fingers trembling, Marjorie removed the other papers one by one, scanning each for a glimpse of her name. Near the bottom she found a letter from her grandfather. Some of the ink had run, but it was still legible. “You will stay there until your bastard has been born,” she read. “They are instructed to put it up for adoption.”
Below the letter was an envelope. It contained two documents. The first was a birth certificate for Marjorie Jane Smith. Mother: Mary Louise Smith. Father: unknown. The second was an adoption certificate. Marjorie Jane Smith had been adopted. Her adoptive mother was Mary Louise Ferguson.
Marjorie Jane Ferguson let her fingers gently stroke the fading paper as the wall she had built crumbled into an abyss of loss.