This is Chapter 3 (and conclusion) of the story Titania’s Purse.
I’d promised Marie that I’d never try to see her or find the child. We knew there was no way they’d let her keep it. A Spud raising a Normie child would open too many uncomfortable questions. Besides, at seventeen and legally disabled, she had no say in what happened to the baby. Her family had handled the whole thing. Quietly, respectably, but above all secretly.
I’d kept that promise for two and a half years. Now it stuck in my throat like a stale crust of bread. Marie, I know what I swore to you back then. I remember telling you to forget me. To be free and not let them own you through me. I never thought I’d have this chance. Forgive me.
I logged off of the DSW site after noting the last known address of the Moore family. I checked the survivor roles from the Plague zones. They’re still open, a kind of public memorial to the chaos of that time. There’s a name finder and an update function as people are located, or die of other causes. A few minutes search turned up the Stevens family, all three of them, alive and well in Grand Junction. Irina was married now; she’d changed her name to Forbin, but still lived near her adopted parents.
It occurred to me that I’d never asked Titania why she needed to find her sister. Those had been her words: I need to find my sister. I decided to keep this information to myself for now until I could ask Titania why.
I made a note of the names and last known addresses. A quick check of phone listings confirmed that Irina Forbin still lived in Grand Junction and had a listed netlink and vidphone number. I saved the file and logged off.
I sat there in the front room for a long time, watching the street until the sun went down. I’d just broken a solemn promise. I could live with that. Regret it, sure. But the regret would be private. If I took the next step, there would be no going back. Even if Marie never knew, our daughter would.
The room grew dark and I turned on some lights. It was still early enough in the evening to call Titania. She answered almost immediately.
“You never told me why you needed to find your sister.” I said without preamble.
“She is my sister. Why would I not want to find her?”
“Why now? It’s been twenty years.”
“I don’t see that it’s your business why. I hired you to find her.”
My temper flared. “You don’t hire me, Ms. Pedenko. We agree on a contract, an exchange of mutual value. Before I fulfill this contract, I need to know that your sister wants to be found. And I need to know your reasons for finding her after all this time. Otherwise we can cancel the arrangement now and you will owe me nothing.”
“No, wait. I will tell you.” She paused as if considering her words. “Irina was two when our parents died. I was four, the big sister. We were two years in the orphanage in Kiev. When we came to this country, we had no family, no roots. The people who adopted me were kind and gave me a home and an education. They let me keep my name and my language. There were Ukrainian people in our neighborhood, Irving Park. Do you know it?” I nodded through my avatar. “But my adopted father died ten years ago. My mother, just last year, so now I am twice an orphan.”
“And Irina is your only family now.”
She nodded. “But it is not just for me that I look for Irina. I have a daughter, Diana. She is almost three. I want her to know that she has connections in this world. Right now this is not important to a child. But when she is older, she will need a family. I want Irina to know her niece. Do you have family, Mr. Guzman? Do you know how it feels to be without them?”
She hit home with that. I knew the need to feel connected to someone, even if they were ten thousand miles away. I had lost Dad and Javier for many years. Found them, only to lose them again. But at least now I knew they were alive and safe. And that they cared about me.
“All right, Ms. Pedenko. Give me a day or so. I should have something for you.” I broke the connection before she could say anything more. I knew I would keep the contract. How could I not? Titania, and especially Diana, needed to know about Irina. If the three of them met and decided they didn’t want to stay in touch, that was their decision. But both Irina and Titania deserved a chance to make that decision for themselves, didn’t they?
But what about me? Didn’t I deserve the same? My daughter was out there, not far away. She had no idea I existed. I remembered the years after Dad disappeared and the feelings of worthlessness that colored everything I did or said. I wouldn’t have her thinking that her parents had simply abandoned her.
The rationalizations all seemed reasonable, sitting there alone in the dark. I would go to Evanston and find her, become a part of her life. I’d make sure she knew where she came from and that I cared about her. I shut out the small voice in the back of my mind that tried to tell me I was being selfish. That this was a bad idea. That I’d made a promise. I went to bed resolving to speak to Irina the next day. Then I’d go to Evanston and find my daughter.
The morning was bright, clear, and cold. I took it as a good sign. Grand Junction was an hour behind Chicago so I waited until almost ten before calling the number I’d found for Irina Forbin. The spinning Muninet logo filled my net matrix, as an electronic ring tone chimed for several seconds. Then a face appeared, replacing the Muninet logo
She had her sister’s high cheekbones and deep blue eyes. Her face was full and ruddy, as if she spent a lot of time outdoors. Her hair was as dark as her sister’s was light.
“Irina Forbin?” I asked.
“Speaking.” She peered at my avatar.
“You were adopted at the age of four by Charles and Shirley Stevens. You have a sister named Titania.”
There was a long pause. “Who is this?”
“My name isn’t important. Your sister asked me to find you. What I need to know before I tell her anything is whether you want to be found.”
She gasped. “Titania? You know where Titania is?”
“Yes. She wants to find you. I won’t violate your privacy without your permission. If you want to make contact with her, I’ll tell her how to find you. Otherwise, I’ll cancel my agreement with her and you won’t hear from me again.”
“Tatania? My big sister? But why? Where has she been and why now?”
“She was adopted by another family. Her adoptive parents have died and she wants to reconnect with her family–with you. She has a daughter. She wants you to meet your niece. DO you want to see them?”
“Yes. Yes, I do.” She paused. A suspicious tone entered her voice. “Who are you? What do you get out of this?”
“Nothing from you. Your sister will contact you.” I logged off. Long explanations only confused things. Irina wanted to be found; that’s all I needed to know.
My next move was to contact Tatania. She must have had my number in her ID list because she answered, “Do you have some information, Mr. Guzman?”
“And good morning to you, too.”
She flushed. “Forgive me. It’s just that after last night . . .”
“Forget it. I found your sister. She and her family are in Grand Junction, Colorado. She’s waiting for your call.”
I gave her the number and address. She started to gush her thanks, but I cut her off. “This completes my part of our contract. I will contact you when it’s time to repay the debt.”
She looked nonplussed, but nodded her head. “Thank, you.” She tilted her head and regarded my avatar. “You are not so hard as you pretend to be.”
“Maybe not,” I said, smiling in spite of myself. “But I will collect on your debt.”
I logged off and checked the time: ten-fifteen. Plenty of time for what I planned to do next.
I put on my boots and a hooded parka. The sky was clear but the air was cold, below freezing, and I didn’t know how far I might need to walk. I checked the Moore’s address in Evanston and cross-referenced it with the netlink directory. They still lived there.
I quivered with excitement as I rode the L north to Howard Street. I was going to see my daughter. She was near. She was part of me, part of Marie, and soon I’d see her.
I caught a northbound bus at the Howard street RTA center and took it along Sheridan Road as far as Dempster, then walked east, almost to Lake Shore. The house was relatively small compared to its neighbors. A black wrought iron fence surrounded the front yard, ornately worked with a leaf design. There was a gate across the driveway and a green van parked next to the house.
I stood at the corner of the yard, looking toward the house. The windows were large and the curtains open to let in the morning light. The front door was brick red with a small wreath of dried flowers hung from the knocker. It looked clean and warm and inviting. I started forward toward the gate.
“Lucy, where are you?” a woman’s voice called from the side of the house near the car.
With a peal of shrill laughter and a churning of tiny legs, a child ran across the yard toward me. Her hair was black, tied back in short pigtails. She looked back at the woman who was rounding the back of the van and laughed again.
“I see you, little girl,” the woman said, laughing herself. “I’m going to get you.”
The girl laughed again and ran faster. She was near the fence, now. Close enough to touch. I stood still, watching her. She caught sight of me and stopped, staring. The look was curious, no fear in it. I was a new thing in her shiny, safe little world. A thing to be seen and understood. I smiled at her. She smiled back, then looked at her feet, suddenly shy.
“Lucy?” The woman was closer now. She could see me and a tiny note of concern had crept into her voice. I stepped back from the fence and kept the hood of the parka pulled low. To the woman, I must have looked like a child myself. Bigger, older that Lucy, but still a child. Not a threat, just someone who didn’t belong there. I stepped back again as she came up to the fence and swept Lucy into her arms. The child hugged her neck playfully, then turned to look at me. She reached out to me, opening and closing her tiny hand.
The woman looked at me curiously. “Hello?” she said in a pleasant voice. High pitched, as an adult would address a child. “Do you live around here?”
Now is the time, I told myself. Throw back the hood. Tell her who you are, who Lucy really is. The baby is yours, part of you and Marie. She should know. I said nothing. I stood peering out from under the hood until she began to be uncomfortable again.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
I nodded. I think she caught a glimpse of my face. She pulled the little girl tighter to her side and turned slightly away from me.
“Where do you live?” she repeated. I pointed west, back the way I’d come. “Well, I think you’d better go home now.” She turned and walked back toward the house. Lucy looked at me over the woman’s shoulder and waved bye-bye.
I turned and walked away. After half a block I stopped, my breath coming in short gasps. I clenched my fists. Tears filled my eyes and I sobbed. I turned to go back, but knew that I couldn’t. What did you expect, idiot? Show up unannounced with your face and expect to be welcomed? That would have worked well. Throw back the hood and scare the little girl half to death.
I walked to the end of the block. I tried to turn around and go back. Again I stopped. Marie had known this would be the way of it. Lucy was beautiful. What Marie and I might have been, in another place and time. She was free, safe, loved by her new parents. That much was plain even to me. Let it go, I thought. ‘Absence from those we love is self from self- a deadly banishment’. So be it. Marie and I could never be together, not in this world anyway. Some part of us would go on in Lucy.
It was late afternoon when I got home. The ride had been long, lonely and thought filled. I’d made a decision. I booted up the avatar program and placed a vidphone call to Titania Pedenko. She answered immediately.
“Yes, Mr. Guzman. What can I do for you?” Her tone was cheerful, but there was a slight quaver in her voice. Anxiety perhaps.
“Did you get in touch with your sister?”
She smiled happily. “Yes. We are going to meet in St. Louis next week. With our children. Diana will have cousins! It is so wonderful. Thank you again for what you have done.”
“How nice for you,” I said. “But it’s time to collect on your debt.”
She nodded. still smiling, trying to look serious. “I understand. What do you wish me to do?”
“When we first spoke, you offered me money for my services. I checked your finances. You have a successful business but live quite modestly. Most of the business profit goes to expansion of the company.”
“That is correct,” she said, her accent suddenly heavier. “I have few needs. Of course I put money aside for my daughter, for her education and in case anything happens to me. How much do you require for your service?”
“You misunderstand,” I said. “I want nothing for myself. I want you to set up a trust for someone and fund it on a regular basis, say a half percent of your yearly business profit. The money will be kept in trust for sixteen years. No information will be transmitted to the beneficiary or to anyone else. At the end of the sixteen years, you may stop paying into the trust and turn the money over to the beneficiary. I’ll have a lawyer draw up the documents and you can review them. But you will sign them.”
She cocked her head and looked into the netlink. “I will do as you say. We had an agreement. And I consider the amount a small price for finding my family again. But why do you do this? Who is to get this money if not you?”
“A little girl who, like you, was adopted when her parents were unable to keep her. I’ll give the lawyers her name when they draw up the trust. Understand me: you are not to attempt to contact her, nor will you reveal where the money came from, even after the terms of the trust have expired.”
“This little girl, she is special to you?”
“Just abide by the agreement, Ms. Pedenko.”
She was silent for a long moment. “I would like to see your face, Mr. Guzman. Never fear. I will not give you away if we meet on the street. But you are a very interesting man. I would like to see your real self.”
I hesitated for a second, then shrugged and disabled the avatar program. To her credit, she didn’t gasp, or look away or even blink twice. She looked into my eyes and gave a solemn nod.
“I understand. I will do as you ask, Mr. Guzman. And if I may, I would like to meet your daughter when she is grown. She should know something of her father.” With that she reached out and broke the connection.
“I’ll be damned,” I said to myself. I shut down the netlink. I would call Rosie tomorrow. He had a troop of lawyers in his pocket. One of them would draw up the trust for me, no questions asked. He’d say I was fafata, crazy. But then, he said that all the time.
I left my apartment and went upstairs to Sarafina’s. She opened the door in a small cloud of cigarette smoke.
“Tito! Come in, come in. I just made some fresh coffee and there’s a big piece of pie with your name on it.”
“Thanks, Sarafina. I need a little comfort food right now.”
She smiled and put an arm around my shoulder. “I know, dear. Come tell me all about it. That’s what family is for.”
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