'Do you remember anything? Anything at all?’
She shook her head.
‘No snippets of vision, no names you remember? A landmark? Or where you lived? What it might have looked like?’
Suddenly, old barn doors flashed in her mind. Just the doors. Closed. ‘I don’t know. Maybe.’ She stared at the ceiling. At the circle light fitting. They’d been going over and over this for the last few weeks, and no, she didn’t remember anything.
She continued to stare at the ceiling. ‘Are you even sure that’s my name?’ She finally spoke. A hint of resignation in her voice. She was tired. She was getting nowhere with finding out who she was. She was also getting a headache. She turned to the man she knew as the resident psychologist, Dr Graham. ‘How do you know that’s my name?’
Dr Graham showed no emotion, no sign that he was any more caring about her than the flower vase on his coffee table, with wilted flowers crawling over the rim. ‘You were found with a charm bracelet that read…’
‘Ebony. I know, I know,’ she rose from the chair. Had had enough for the day. ‘I’ll let you know if anything comes to mind.’ She headed for the door.
‘Ebony,’ his placid voice caused her to shiver. It was a voice that no one could grow to love. ‘Do try, yeah, to remember. Every little bit helps. Fran tells me you were asking to join the art sessions. I think it’s a wonderful idea. Maybe you’ll draw something that you can recognize.’
‘Sure, doc.’ Ebony slipped out the room, into the wide wheel-chair friendly corridor. She saw Cecile pushing her walker at a snail’s pace in front of her, probably trying to get to the dinning hall.
‘Here, let me help you,’ Ebony pushed her arm below the old woman’s elbow and helped her along. Cecile smiled, her dentures missing this morning. ‘You forgot your teeth, Cecile.’ Ebony smiled.
Cecile nodded. ‘You don’t look so old.’ She shuffled her feet. Cecile always said that to Ebony, everyday. Same old thing. In fact, Cecile was right. Ebony wasn’t really what you’d call nursing-home material.
As Ebony walked alongside the woman she caught glimpses of herself on the glass surfaces they passed. No, she wasn’t old. Just unfortunate.
‘Who are you?’ Cecile turned. Already forgotten that Ebony was helping her.
‘Call me Eb, Cecile,’ the words just slipped out and she caught herself. Eb. Was that her nickname?
‘Eb.’ Cecile pushed her walker along. ‘Your children dumped you here too?’
Ebony shook her head. Going by her reflection, she couldn’t have been more than 30. At least that was the guess of hospital staff when she’d been brought in from the side of the road. Not a stitch of belonging on her bar the clothes and the bracelet she wore. The police had assumed hit and run. But then again, she’d been found on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere. Where had she been walking to, or from?
Since there was no missing persons report matching her description, no one had come forward either. The local channel had even had a bulletin or two on her, but no calls had come in. So, the hospital did what hospitals do, they moved her along to a nursing home after her bones and fractures had healed. 3 months on, and still, Ebony didn’t have a single shred of memory come back. Not yet anyway. Except the barn doors she kept seeing in her dreams.
‘I don’t know if I have any children, Cecile. I don’t even know if I’m married. Or whether I have a husband, a family. Anyone really.’
‘That’s nice dear.’ Cecile smiled as they finally reached the dinning area. Ebony forced a smile, sat her down on the nearest chair and rushed out into the garden area. Some days she panicked. What if she could never remember who she was. What if this was her life, living amongst people who barely remembered who they were or where they were.
She slipped out into the downpour. It was cold, it was miserable, but for just a moment, she didn’t have to pretend she was fine. Ebony, or whoever she was, she was not fine. The cold rain latched onto her, forcing those thoughts away, but another replaced it…
Who are you? The thought streamed across as always. Who the hell are you?
Ebony watched the nurse as if there was nothing more to do than watch the nurse. The middle-aged woman was doing her routine rounds. When she happened upon Eb’s way, she stood blocking the way. ‘Put me to work.’
‘I’m sorry, what?’
‘Put me to work. Give me something to do. Anything. Anything at all. I’ll even clean the bed pans.’
‘We haven’t got bed pans in years, love.’ The laughter echoed.
Ebony certainly didn’t think any of this was funny. ‘I’m going mad here, Shivone. Help me out.’
Shivone shook her head. ‘You know it’s against the policy to let our residents do our work, Eb. You know that.’ Shivone pushed past her. ‘I’ve told you that time and again.’
‘Please,’ Ebony held her by her arm. ‘I’m not a resident really, am I? I have all my senses.’ When Shivone gave her a look, Eb felt defeated. She clicked her tongue. ‘Oh, you know what I mean. At least I can move and hold a conversation!’
‘Oh, alright. Go see how you can help old lady Judd over there. She hasn’t been feeling terrific lately and no one comes to visit her anymore unless there is a problem. She is a little lonely.’
Ebony turned to see the 90 year old Hillary laying still as a statue on her bed. ‘Why don’t her people come?’ It wasn’t an accusing question. She just couldn’t mask her own longing for someone, anyone to visit her.
Shivone shrugged. ‘Too busy.’ She walked away, shaking her head as Eb pondered the short reply. ‘Everybody is too damn busy these days.’
Eb turned and walked her way to Hilllary’s bed. Hillary suffered bouts of dementia, and the only thing she seemed to ever really love doing was have a book read to her as she was almost clinically blind. The word on the vine was, Hillary once used to be a writer. That’s where her fortune was said to have been made. H.L.Judd. Ebony couldn’t recall if she ever read any of her books.
She grabbed the Hungry Caterpillar book from Hillary’s side table, settled herself down on the armchair and opened the book. ‘I’m going to read you a book, okay, Hillary?’
The woman looked at her with barely a smile, prompting Eb to think, at least you have days where you’re not lonely. ‘The Hungry Caterpillar…’ She began, fighting a knot in her throat from forming. She wasn’t going to do it, pity herself. Not here.
Just when Eb thought things couldn’t get any worse for her, it did. She stood with her back against the corridor wall watching as if a fly as the two nurses wheeled Hillary’s body from her room. The one person she’d gotten close to in that God-forsaken nursing home. The one person who made it feel like home, if Eb even had a home.
‘Is anyone coming for her?’ She couldn’t help but ask as the nurses went about the gruesome business. ‘I mean her family?’
The nurse shook her head. ‘We’ve informed but no one has confirmed yet.’
‘So what happens now? To her, I mean?’
‘Ebony. You shouldn’t be watching this.’ There was a note of deep concern.
‘She was all I knew…’ Both the nurses gave her such a pained look that Ebony couldn’t stand any longer without crying. ‘Excuse me.’
She walked and walked till she was outside the compound all together. She had never really stepped out of the compound alone before but she had no idea what it was that she wanted to do. Was she going to cry? For a woman she barely knew? Or was she going to cry because she felt once more so alone. Instead, Eb sat on the brick wall and just stared as the occasional traffic whizzed by. Hillary was gone. There was no one left for her to read a story to and pretend she was the daughter visiting her mother at a home. The day dragged. Or it felt like it anyway. It was towards the evening that Eb walked back into the compound. She hadn’t cried. There had been no tears left since her own sleepless nights and mourning over whoever the hell she had been in a previous lifetime. But there was immense sadness she couldn’t quite express.
As she dragged her feet on the concrete driveway, behind her a black car pulled up. It’s black tinted windows drawn all the way up. People piled out of it in no rush as all. As if they routinely did that. Eb didn’t recognize them. In the last 4 months that she’d been here, she’d never seen this particular suited family. There was an air about them that got on her nerves. Perhaps another family eager to dump someone they love here. She thought bitterly following them into the admin area. When she heard who they were there for, Eb could only say she felt a physical pain in her heart. Even the way they were asking for Hillary’s body and her belongings, Eb couldn’t see how they were ever related to the woman who only treated her like a daughter. One time, Hillary had even swiped an extra bread roll and kept it hidden underneath her pillow for Eb just out of love.
Eb sniffled at the thought. Could almost still see Hillary’s child-like smile when she’d brought out the bread to show Eb. ‘So you’re Hillary’s family?’ She couldn’t help but ask.
The woman in her late 40s turned with a sour look. ‘I’m her daughter and this is my husband.’
Eb nodded. ‘Then you might like to know that the last two months, she didn’t wait around for you to turn up.’
‘Excuse me?’ The woman’s voice went tight and ridged. ‘What the hell do you mean by that?’
‘Just that. She didn’t care. She knew you wouldn’t come so she stopped waiting around.’ Eb hit back. The blind rage suddenly rearing itself inside her.
‘Who the hell are you to talk about my mother like that?’ The voice rose higher and higher and if it wasn’t for the night staff intervening, Eb got the feeling that she was about to embrol herself in a cat fight. Bring it on, she thought. She needed to vent somehow and not just about losing Hillary.
‘Excuse her, she’s one of our patients here.’ The nurse quickly walked Eb out of the building and pushed her towards the dinning hall. ‘Enough Ebony. We handle this, not you. Go!’
Eb huffed and puffed but didn’t protest. ‘They should have visited her.’
‘Yes, they should have.’
‘She died waiting for them.’
‘And I’ll be sure to let them know. Now go and get yourself fed. Go.’
Eb walked away, barely able to hold her composure. ‘She wasn’t alone like me…
In the days since Hillary passed away, Ebony felt just as lost as when they’d first sent her to the nursing home from the hospital. Every time she looked around, all the aging residents only reminded her of how helpless she was. She could befriend any of them and majority wouldn’t even remember her the next day. The invisible woman. That’s what Eb felt like. Or rather the forgotten woman. Someone everyone else on Earth had forgotten. She was sure she had a family, at least one, but the fact that no one had come to claim her. Well, it broke her heart every morning to wake up and know no one was missing her at all. Sometimes, it made her wonder exactly where she was from and what type of person she must have been. Obviously no one memorable.
That morning Eb was sitting with the oldies watching reruns of M.A.S.H when someone called her name. ‘Ebony?’ She turned around only to see the director of the nursing home standing there with a suited man.
‘I’m Mrs Judd's attorney,’ he extended his hand towards her. ‘I was wondering if we can have a wee chat.’
Anything, Eb thought and rose to meet the man’s hand. ‘How can I help you?’
Soon, Eb was seated in the office with the nursing home director and the attorney. An image of a principal’s office with a towering dark figure flashed in her mind. ‘Miss Wilson, do you know the trouble you’re in? Do you know what you’ve done to this boy?’
‘Are you even listening, Ebony?’ The director of the home asked curiously. Eb had only met the man once before and hadn’t decided whether she liked or disliked him. ‘Are you okay?’
She nodded. ‘Sorry, I just think I remembered something,’ she mumbled unsure. Miss Wilson. So that was her name. Ebony Wilson.
‘You have to sit in on the will reading Ms Ebony.’ The attorney was saying. ‘Do you know what that means?’
Ebony shook her head. ‘Ebony Wilson, I think that’s my name.’
‘Are you okay, Ebony? Getting pieces of your memory back now?’ The director asked. His name tag read Compton.
Eb shook her head. ‘Not really, just this situation here.’ She looked around the room. The office had triggered something and there was a little Eb inside her doing a zig of joy. She finally knew her name. She turned to the lawyer. ‘I’m sorry, you were saying?’
‘Mrs Hillary Judd had made one last amendment on her will a couple of weeks before she passed away, Ms Wilson. You happen to be one of the beneficiaries mentioned in her will. Thus, you are required to be present during the reading of the will.’
Ebony looked from one man to the other. ‘I’m in her will?’
The attorney nodded. ‘The will reading is happening the day after the funeral at Mrs Judd’s estate.’
The nursing home director rose from his perch on the edge of his table. ‘Mr Paxton. Ebony here is under our care and due to her condition, I’m afraid I cannot sign her out for a day excursion without someone to take responsibility for her.’
‘Yes, this is rather unusual circumstances and our office would like to escort Ebony here to and from the will reading.’
‘I have no problem with that if Ebony is okay with it.’ He turned to Ebony. Who looked just dumbfounded.
‘When is it?’ she asked, absolutely touched and surprised that Hillary had mentioned her in her last will.
‘In 5 days time.’
‘As long as you can get me back here without losing me, I’m fine.’ She rose. ‘Will that be it?’ The men nodded. She smiled. ‘I’m gonna go tell the nurses that I remember my name now.’ She bowed out of the room on a roller coasters of emotions. She was happy about her reclaimed memory, confused about the will and what it might hold, and still sad that Hillary was gone, forever. Mortality in this place sucked, but at least one good thing had come out of it. It was beginning to slowly trigger her memories, and that could never be a bad thing.
Ebony stood outside the office doors, pacing as though she were looking for an escape route. She may not have any memory of who she is or where she came from, but sitting in on a will reading for a woman she barely knew amongst people who were actually related to the deceased felt wrong.
The lawyer popped his head out the door. ‘Any time now, Ebony. We can’t start this without you.’
‘Who is she anyway? How come she is here?’ Eb heard scathed whispers leak into the corridor.
‘They don’t want me here,’ was all she could say. She was curious though, despite it all. Why had Hillary put her in the will and what was she left with? She hoped it was her story books.
‘It’s not their say.’
‘Fine.’ She squared her shoulders and finally walked into the small office. Seeing how there were about 8 people inside and the only two chairs on this side of the table were taken, Eb slipped into the nook next to the door. In case she needed to make a quick dash. The 7 pairs of glaring gazes couldn’t be mistaken. Then there was the odd teen with long limp dark hair from the opposite corner smile at her. She barely managed to smile back before the room was called to attention.
‘We all know why we are here so let’s get started shall we?’
One of the oldest women in the room turned with a sour look to Eb. ‘And why is she here?’
‘Cause your mother asked her to be here.’ The lawyer opened a sealed document and started reading it’s content. By the time he was coming to the pointy end of it, the five siblings and their 2 heirs except the teen were at each other’s throats about what they should and shouldn’t have gotten. It seemed to Ebony that Hillary had been quite well off and somehow, these spoilt rotten family were far more concerned about who got what and not so grieving of their loss. Eb’s name so far hadn’t even been mentioned once. She was beginning to wonder why she was even there to begin with.
‘So who gets grandma’s farm?’ The teen finally spoke through the barring family. The shouts silenced. Heads turned from him to the lawyer.
‘That old run down thing in the country?’ The balding man with a bulging muffin top that refused to stay hidden beneath ill fitting shirt spoke.
While the family gawped at each other and waited for the attorney to answer, the teen approached Eb. ‘Hi.’
‘Hi.’ Eb whispered back.
‘I’m Chase,’ he extended his hand and Eb shook it, unsure.
‘Ebony Wilson.’ It felt satisfying to finally say her whole name.
‘How did you know grandma?’
‘You’re a nurse?’ The grin widened on the boy and Eb couldn’t help but notice him keen to look her up and down.
Eb shook her head. ‘I live there.’
The kid almost scoffed. ‘Aren’t you a little too young?’
‘Aren’t you?’ Eb fired back. Just read the rest of the will. She turned back to the attorney.
‘Ebony Wilson.’ She heard her name.
‘What?’ She looked around the room, aware that every single person was staring at her.
‘Hilary left her farm to you.’ The attorney said, closing the document back up.
‘Let me look at that,’ the closest male relative snatched the will from the table and started pouring over the content.
‘So it’s true?’ Hillary’s daughter asked.
‘Of course, mum never loved that place but now that you have it she wants it.’ The kid leaned in and whispered. Ebony couldn’t help but turn to him. ‘It’s literally falling to pieces.’ He winked. ‘If you need a hand with the repairs.’
‘You’re not mad?’ Eb couldn’t help herself.
‘Of course we are mad!’ the daughter fired. ‘We don’t even know who you are and our mother leaves her oldest property to you instead of her family?’
‘Did you know about this?’ The tall male stepped towards Eb with malice.
‘Stop it dad.’
‘You stay out of this.’
Before Eb knew it, the teen stepped in front of her, shielding her in a way. ‘Why do any of you care anyway? Grandma had been asking you to repair that farm for years and no one cared.’
‘It’s family property.’
‘Not any more.’
His father glared at the boy, who stood taller if anything. ‘Can we appeal this?’
‘Why, so you can let it rot away?’
‘Keep out of this, Chase.’
‘Ebony deserves that farm more than any of you!’ He exploded all of a sudden getting the desired silence. ‘Which ones of you were there holding her hand, reading her books and making her laugh every day for the last few weeks of her life?’
Eb felt her stomach turn. How did Chase know what Eb had done for Hillary? ‘How’d you?’ She whispered, too afraid to speak aloud.
‘Cause I saw you.’ He turned. ‘Grandma didn’t remember me but she used to remember you.’
That’s when it occurred to Eb that she has met Chase before, in the nursing home. They’d literally bumped into one another coming in and out of Hillary’s room. Back then his hair had been longer and blond. Eb smiled. ‘She used to talk about you. Asked me to read books you liked as a kid. Said she used to read them to you.’
‘Thank you.’ He mouthed tearing up.
‘Hell, this can’t be right.’ His dad exploded.