Authors: Hazel Edwards
âThe first family, if the second isn't legal. Bigamy is illegal.' Bruce fiddled with the monitor, increasing the brightness so his tie showed up better.
I said quickly. âSo it's against the law. But sometimes people break rules. So someone would keep quiet about that. Or the person they thought they were married to might.' I was thinking aloud. Pa or Gran? âWhat if there was no will?'
Bruce fingered his tie and then brought out a mini-recorder so sleek it looked like the latest device. âIf someone dies intestate?'
âLike dying in Sydney or another state of Australia?' Luke asked quickly.
âYeah,' I said. Gran didn't have millions. But maybe she had more than one name?
âNo, intestate means they didn't leave a will,' corrected Bruce. âThere's no âr' in the word, it's in
ate, not inter-state.' You could see he liked being the Expert. âTomorrow the valuers will come in. They make a list, called an inventory. They have to list everything of value that's in the house. They look for anything worth money â documents and valuable items. Meanwhile, I'll have a quick look around.'
Talking into a silver hi-tech mini-mike, Bruce walked though the house, listing and describing objects, like the chairs and ornaments.
âD'reckon he's making sure we don't pinch stuff overnight?' whispered Luke.
I shrugged. âProbably just doing his job. Must get sick of saying ”chair”.'
Using the percolator, I made real coffee and put out the Tim Tams Gran kept especially for me. Gran was into feeding people and would think I was rude not to offer Bruce something. Just as Bruce returned to the front room, Bark started barking loudly outside.
âApart from money, can you inherit other things?' I poured Bruce's coffee and offered the biscuits. I gave him Gran's âVeteran Belly Dancer' mug that I had given her last birthday. The woman had a red veil draped over most of her with the word Veteran underneath.
He looked at the mug. âIs this for me? Makes a change from cartoons on coffee mugs,' he said, and then sipped, with a little smile.
I guess he meets lots of strange families. Bruce might be OK.
Luke looked sideways at me. âInherit? Like what? Dogs? Names?'
âMaybe diseasesâ¦or genesâ¦ you know.' I suggested. âGood or bad genes?' Mum used to say I was a bit like Gran the way I liked secrets.
âGood and bad genes are a matter of opinion. Well, sometimes people do look like their relatives. Occasionally we get a likely match. You know, hair colour or shape of noses or something. Will you be taking that dog with you, Zoe?'
Bark was getting louder. I did have red hair, but Pa was sandy too. And my nose was getting to be as big as Gran's. Seriously. That was a worry. I'd never be a millionaire with enough money to have cosmetic surgery to make me look different. So I'd have to live with that nose for life. Pity you couldn't trade-in body parts.
âNot tonight. We won't take Bark with us now. Maybe later?' I looked at Luke. It was his cat's life at stake. Puss hated Bark.
âMrs Donna likes Bark,' said Luke. âShe won't walk him, but she's feeding him.'
âOnly because there's no one else. When my mum comes back, we'll have Bark at our place, probably,' I said quickly. âBut Luke's family already have a cat.'
Sometimes it was really hard, not having your own place. Kat had let the flat where we used to live and I didn't want to live in Gran's house without Gran.
âHaving a guard dog around is not a bad idea, while the house is empty.' Bruce sipped his coffee. âNow, I'm off to do some research. For tonight's
program, I had to trace the first wife. So I contacted the UK yesterday to search for the divorce again. Unless there was a divorce, the first wife or her family will inherit.'
That made me think. âEven if Woman Number Two had been with him forever?'
Maybe that was a Gran clue? Or was I just looking for anything to link with Gran?
Bruce fiddled with his tie. âTonight's program is a pre-record. Give you some idea of how we work. Of course, a con-artist case like that attracts all the nutters. Not like your gran's situation,' he added quickly as if he hadn't been sensitive enough to our feelings. âYour gran was a bit of an artist, wasn't she? Paintings?'
I nodded, âPortraits.'
Luke went fiery red. He was blushing! I knew why. The fallen painting and that sneaker hole.
âTold me she was organising a family portrait,' Bruce slipped his mini-recorder into his inside pocket. âPortraits give clues. Once, we were trying to find a woman's maiden name. Then we got lucky. There was a big self-portrait. And she'd signed it with her maiden name. I told your gran about that case. She was interested in that too.'
Luke nudged me. âShow him.'
I felt a bit mixed up, between finding out the answers and worrying in case I found out stuff about Gran that I didn't really want to know. Like, she might have been a crim. Or a con-artist. But then again, I'd known Gran all my life. Surely I knew better what she was like than some âgeni' like Bruce who only met her a couple of times.
âWant to have a look at my gran's portrait?' I offered, and led him into the room. Of course, he noticed the sneaker hole. âThat can be repaired.' Bruce peered at the signature.âYes. Looks genuine.' Luke's hole in the canvas didn't seem to fuss him. It was like he accepted whatever was there. Maybe he thought Gran put her foot through it, and didn't want to suggest that, after nearly calling her a con-artist.
âAnything on the back? Ah! This painting is more interesting. A family tree with initials, like I have on my tie. Your gran noticed. Are you the Z on the branch Zoe? There's an S and a K here too.'
I'd missed that. I'd have a closer look when Bruce left.
Bruce admitted, âI made a mistake, once. Spent months looking for the wrong name. We read the letter as a G instead of an M. Spent ages looking for Gann instead of Mann.' He checked his watch. âI must be off.'
As we walked him to the front door, I started thinking about letters and names. Could that have happened with Gran's photo? Those loops on the names on the back of the photo. Should I get it out to show Bruce, before he went? Somehow I didn't want to share any more of Gran with a stranger like Bruce
âCan one letter wrong make that much difference?' asked Luke, as they shook hands goodbye.
âYes. Especially if it's the surname and you're chasing alphabetical lists. Most are very long lists.' Bruce hurried down the path to his car while Luke picked up a package from the side table.
âAlphabetical lists like in a Dead Letter office?' Luke looked at me and blushed. âSorry. More dead words!' To change the subject, he held up the package. âThere's unopened mail here on the table. D'you reckon we should open it?'
âWhat's the address on the back?' I asked.
Photographic restorer, Main Street
,' Luke read out. âPhotos I guess. Maybe they're of you?'
I decided to open the package. It was a family group shot of young Pa, Gran and two children â a boy and a baby girl.
Luke looked closely at the photo.
âThis is digitally enhanced,' he said.
âExtra faces have been added or changed. Look closely.' He pointed.
âPa, Gran, Kat as a baby, and someone else. A boy standing behind.' I looked closely. âAnd here's a second photo in the packageâ¦ Pa, the boy and another woman.' A curl of excitement grew inside me. âThey're addressed to Gran. There's a bill in here, and a note.
â “The Kovacs family photo you left for re-touching is enclosed. I think you'll be happy with the result and it was within our quote. The little boy's head fits in with the group quite naturally. The second photo reproduced quite well.” '
Then the lights went off.
The lights went on.
âPower's back!' called Luke, who had been fiddling with the fuse box. âJust a fuse.'
There was a click. And then Gran's voice. â
This is Madgaâ¦I'm glad you calledâ¦
âWhat's that?' I swung around. It couldn't be a ghost. I didn't believe in ghosts. Just for a second, I wondered if Gran had come back. Maybe someone else had been buried instead of her? There were so many Grans, maybe one had survived.
Another click. â
This is Madgaâ¦I'm glad you calledâ¦'
Then I realised. The answer-phone had run back to the beginning of the messages.
âHow come your gran is talking?' Luke was freaking out at the sound. That was a first. He was always telling me that I was the weird one.
I explained. âShe used to forget to turn off the answer-phone. Sometimes she'd leave it running while she spoke to people, so it recorded her and the caller. It happened a couple of times with Gran and Mum when Kat called via satellite and Gran was so excited she forgot to turn it off.'
I played back the answer-phone. It was a different kind of message from the dead. Not like the lost-in-cyber-space www.finalthought.com. This one was male and had an accent.
âHello Madga. I'm not sure if I should call you that or not. It was my mother's name. But you are not my mother. This is Sandor. I am the son of Janos and Magda. Red Cross International gave me your contact detailsâ¦'
A shrieking noise. Then a CLICK.
âNot again! What's wrong with it?' I hit the machine. It whirred.
âMy guess is that your gran turned off the answer-phone. That's why it shrieked,' said Luke.
I though it might have been her shrieking. âWhat if I rewind it? Will I lose the original message?'
âTry it.' Luke said.
The male voice spoke again. â
I was told that my father had died a year ago. I would like a photo of him. Could you send me one?
Then the tape stopped.
Simultaneously, the phone rang. I lifted the receiver. I chanted the number. What was the good of saying that? Or her name? Or anything? Habit? Phone manners were one of the few things my mum was strict about.
âIs the owner available?' said a woman's voice.
âEr no,' I said. â She'sâ¦ erâ¦ May I take a message? This is her grand-daughter speaking.'
âNo, thank you.' The woman hung up.
âPut on the answer-phone message,' Luke clicked it on. âThen you won't have to answer it.' The tape did a circuit. Then Gran's voice came on with the recorded message.
âThis is Magda Kovacs. I'm glad you called. I'm not here right now, but if you'd like to leave a message, and the time at which you called, I'll get back to you as soon as possible.'
âDon't you think you'd better record a new message?' suggested Luke. “That one's past its use-by date. Besides, she can't.'
Before I could do it, the phone rang again.
This is Fortuna. I have a message for Zaria. Our next appointment is at Studio 17, at 4 p.m. tomorrow. I have something to show you.
' Click. The caller had gone.
Fortuna. Forâ¦Tuna? Was that a clue? Had I got the letters and spaces in the right order? I'd have another look at the writing on the bundle of postcards.
âWe've got a late hockey match tomorrow night. Will you be able to play if you go to that meeting? Missing two in a row isn't good if you want to make the team,' warned Luke.
âI'll play. And I'll go to Studio 17,' was my answer.
At home, after a snack-attack of toasted muffins (3), cheese, salami and tomato, Luke opened up the finalthoughts.com site on his laptop but something had definitely corrupted Gran's last message. Her e-words had gone into cyber-space.
âReckon she should get a refund,' decided Luke.
âToo late for that.' A wave of sadness came over me. I was trying to do and say ordinary things, but a voice in my head kept asking, âWhy did my gran arrange those family photos? Of two different families? Who was the boy? Was it the Sandor on the answer-phone who asked for a photo? And who was the other woman? Whose initials were on the family-tree painting of faces? If the K was my mum, was the S for Sandor? Why were they on the one family-tree painting? Why did Gran send me a www.finalthoughts.com message? How could she have been certain that Luke would deliver it to me? If Red Cross International did find people, how could I check without asking Bruce directly? I felt that if I asked him too much, he'd take over, and Gran'd just become an âinteresting' case on TV. She was my gran and apart from Mum, I didn't have anyone else in my family. Luke had his real family but Gran was becoming only what I could remember. And I didn't want to lose the memories I did have, even if I had to rearrange them as I found out new stuff.
Other kids knew they were part of blended families and that was OK. Jessica had a step-dad and twin baby brothers, but she knew about them even before they were born. It was just when you weren't sure who your relatives were that it was a problem.
Or when you lost facts in cyber-space.
Luke spoke to the server's help desk and they were trying to work out why Gran's finalthoughts message closed down the computer. Those server guys are supernerds, and it's like playing hi-tech computer games for them. They don't think about you as a customer, as a person; you are just a tech. problem.
They made lots of suggestions. Maybe the file was too long? Or it had jpg photo files? Or a virus.
âLeave it with us,' they said eventually. Not sure if I was keen on being an âit', but I didn't have much choice. âWe'll e-mail you.'
E-mail isn't as personal as talking. Techies prefer that. I wonder why Gran used e-mail at the end, too. Maybe it wasn't as personal as talking to me face-to-face about important family stuff. Or maybe it was just that she ran out of time. You can go online any time and it doesn't matter which time zone you live in. She'd left me a message in cyber-space, but it was also a message from the past. Weird.