"Is she here, Dr. Therrian? In Simmons' Mills?"
He shook his head. And she felt it all slipping away again, the search that she thought would be a simple one.
"Do you know where she is?"
He shook his head no.
"Dr. Therrian," Natalie said, knowing she must leave, that she had already exhausted him, and had stayed too long, "I'm just going to repeat it, to make sure that I have it right. Then I'll go, and you can sleep.
"She came to you; she wasn't married; she was going to have a child. You delivered me, and Foster Goodwin made the arrangements for the adoption. Afterward she went away; she isn't here in Simmons' Mills anymore. But the name of the woman who is my mother was Julie Jeffries."
He had been watching as she spoke and nodding. Suddenly his head turned, and he was shaking his head in disagreement. Some part of it was wrong.
Winnie Bailey had appeared in the doorway and was motioning Natalie to leave.
"What's wrong, Dr. Therrian?" she asked. "What part of it did I get wrong?" She leaned close to him, and he spoke softly to her, but with firmness.
"Julie Jeffries was not a woman," he said. "She was a child. She was fifteen years old."
SO WHAT'S the big deal? Natalie asked herself as she walked back along the main street of Simmons' Mills. Paul told you you might find out something you didn't want to know. It could have been worse. Fifteen-year-old girls get pregnant all the time.
I just have to revise my vision of my mother, that's all. Natalie kicked a pebble across the sidewalk, like a child, and answered herself.
Don't kid yourself. You're really bugged by what he told you. You wanted your mother to be someone noble, not a dumb scared kid.
I don't know what I wanted. It's just that it took me by surprise. I don't know what I think about it.
You're mad. That's what you think. You're mad at your own mother, seventeen years ago, and that's about the stupidest reaction you could have.
I'm not mad. I'm thinking.
And you're disappointed in her.
No, I'm not. I'm not even thinking about her. I'm thinking about that poor old man, all alone, dying.
Julie Jeffries must have felt all alone, too.
Big deal. She should have thought of that before she started screwing around.
Ha! You are mad.
Well, why shouldn't I be? What a dumb thing for a kid to do. She really loused up her life. Mine too.
You're the one that loused up your life. By coming here. By nosing around, disturbing people, just to find out things that would break your heart.
Knock it off. My heart's not broken. No way.
Then why are you crying?
And Natalie wiped the tears from her face with the back of her hand, took a deep breath, and walked through Simmons' Mills, watching the kids ride their bikes down the main street, calling to each other through the sun-bright air. As Julie Jeffries had.
"MRS. TALBOT, I'm going to stay one more night if that's okay."
"Certainly, dear. Did Clarence give you the information you needed?"
"Yes, sort of. He's a nice man. Your plant is on his windowsill."
"Oh, lovely. You did mention it to him, didn't you, that it was I who sent it? Sometimes those nurses just throw away the cards, I think."
"Yes," Natalie lied. "He was very pleased."
Anna Talbot sighed with pleasure, and leaned forward to adjust the television.
"I'm going out for some lunch now, and then to the library. I'll be back later."
"The library? I believe Winnie Bailey's niece is the librarian now. Wonderful girl. Too bad she married that fellow from Machias; anyone in Simmons' Mills could have told her it wouldn't work out, but you know how some young girls are when they think they're in love. Well, at least she has a beautiful set of twins. They won the Baby Contest at the Fourth of July celebration two summers ago and their picture was in the Bangor paper. Are you doing some kind of historical research at the library, dear?"
Natalie grinned. "Yes," she said. "I guess you could call it that."
Such a small, small town, Natalie mused as she left the house. No secrets in Simmons' Mills. Anna Talbot could tell me about my mother. I'd only need to ask her what girl in this town gave birth to an illegitimate baby in the fall seventeen years ago. Her knitting would fall into her lap, dropping stitches that would leave flaws in her grandchild's mittens; her eyes would open wide behind her glasses; she'd look at me, with my face that looks like Julie's face, and she'd remember. She'd tell me everything.
She'd also tell everyone else in Simmons' Mills. The phone company would have an overload for two days.
And I can't do that to Julie Jeffries. It was her secret. I'll make it mine, but we'll leave it that way.
The Simmons' Mills Library (donated, according to the bronze plaque, in memory of those sons of Simmons' Mills who lost their lives during World War I) was small, squat, and somber. In Branford, the library had been renamed the Media Center, and redecorated in bright colors, with squishy plastic chairs; rising from them, barelegged, in summer, was like removing a Band-Aid. In Simmons' Mills, a visiting reader still sat upright and rigid, under dim light, and in silence.
Not for long, though, thought Natalie, looking at the young, freckled librarian seated behind the desk. The rectangular holder at the edge of the desk held a small plastic sign that said Ms. Farley. The picture frame in the corner held a photograph of two identical babies in striped sunsuits. Ms. Farley was leafing through the pages of the latest Cosmopolitan; she put it down, open to a quiz for testing one's sex appeal, looked at Natalie, and smiled. "Hi there," she said.
Ms. Farley, thought Natalie, you'll have them talking out loud in the Simmons' Mills Library for the first time. Good for you.
"Hi. I'd like to see some old newspapers from Simmons' Mills."
Ms. Farley raised her eyebrows. "Hope you're not looking for news. The last exciting thing that happened around here was when the FBI machine-gunned those gangsters down in Bangor. And that was 1937."
Natalie laughed. "No, I just want to check on some people who used to live here. I figured there might be something in the paper—local social notes, that sort of thing."
"Well, we have the papers themselves back to 1950. Before that, they're on microfilm."
Natalie calculated quickly. "1959, 1960, around there, is what I want."
"No problem. Unless you're allergic to dust. They're in the back room." Ms. Farley pointed toward a door behind her desk. "Can you find them yourself? I'd help you, but I'm not supposed to leave the main area"—she grimaced—"unguarded." Natalie and the librarian looked toward the one inhabited table, where three small children were turning the pages in picture books, forming the words of the brief texts with their mouths solemnly.
"It's okay," Natalie said. "I'll poke around by myself."
"Well." Ms. Farley grinned. "Yell if you need help. But yell quietly." She nodded toward the small sign tacked to the wall: "Please remember that a library is a place for learning. Respect the needs of others by your silence." Ms. Farley winked.
"Thank you," whispered Natalie, chuckling, and opened the door behind the librarian's desk.
The back room was walled with shelves. She found the local newspaper, stacked by years, removed the stacks marked 1959 and 1960, and blew the dust from the top of each pile. Then she set them on the table that was in the center of the small room. She was not at all sure, she realized, what she was looking for. Certainly there would not be a birth announcement.
Still, it was a very small town. Just how small was even more evident as she turned the first few pages idly and read at a glance the notices of 4-H meetings, of Boy Scout awards, and of church suppers.
In December of 1959, the Simmons' Mills Baptist Church had postponed its Christmas pageant because of a severe snowstorm.
In December of 1959, Natalie realized, Julie Jeffries became pregnant. Tough to do, she thought cynically, in a town this size, knee-deep in snow. She must have found a warm place. They. They must have found a warm place.
The pageant was held a week later: a great success; rave reviews. A blurred photograph showed the cast. The Virgin was a blonde, with a crooked cardboard halo, and an embarrassed smile; her name was Jackie McNabb.
She was probably a friend of Julie's, thought Natalie, looking thoughtfully at the badly focused photograph of the pretty girl selected as 1959's Baptist Virgin. Julie must have looked at this picture. She must have been having some heavy thoughts, that Christmas, about virginity in general.
Natalie turned the pages. The high school glee club gave a Christmas concert, but the names of the singers were not listed. The Simmons' Mills Library had held a Christmas party for children, with a Santa Claus who distributed the edible decorations from the tree. Mrs. Edith Morrow was visiting her sister in Portland for the holidays. Edgar Moreau had injured himself when he fell against his chain saw; forty stitches were required, but he was doing well at the local hospital. Vandals had thrown beer cans in the cemetery. Patrolman Michael Moreau (Edgar's son? It didn't say) had been promoted to sergeant on the Simmons' Mills three-man police force and would be driving the new cruiser. School would reopen on the 3rd of January if the leaks in the roof were repaired by then; the repair work was being undertaken by W. D. Corning and Sons.
On January 2nd, the first baby of the New Year was born at Simmons' Mills Community Hospital, and was photographed asleep, wearing a banner that said 1960. It was a boy, named Dennis Paul Moreau, the first child of Michael and Jeannine Moreau (how about that, thought Natalie; Mike got a promotion and a son the same week. Congratulations), and was delivered at 9:20 A.M. (you missed your income tax deduction, though, Mike; hope the raise made up for it) by Dr. Clarence Therrian.
She thought of the old man and the way he had looked at her. The way he said, "Julie?" Did he remember all of his patients that way?
On January 6th, Mr. and Mrs. Clement Jeffries had held an Open House for the executives of the P. R. Simmons Paper Company, at their home on Falls Road.
She sat down. Those had to be Julie's parents. Those were—are—my grandparents. Mr. and Mrs. Clement Jeffries.
Natalie wrote down their names and Falls Road. Julie has gone away, Dr. Therrian said; but her parents may still be there. They can tell me where she is. If they will.
I'll make up a story about why I want to find her. She's an old friend of my mother, I'll tell them.
I can't. They'll recognize me. Dr. Therrian recognized me, and called me Julie.
I'll talk to them on the phone, then.
And everything seemed simple again.
Natalie leafed hastily through other papers. On January 15, 1960, Simmons' Mills High School listed its honor roll.
Julie Jeffries, a sophomore, had all As and Bs. Only one sophomore, Margo McLellan, had all As. Natalie felt a twinge of dislike for Margo McLellan.
She put the newspapers back on their shelf, opened the door, and found Ms. Farley reading a story to the three small children, one of them in her lap, stroking the librarians^ hair gently as he listened.
Natalie waited until the brief story was finished. "Ms. Farley," she asked, "could I see the phone book?"
The librarian sighed, lifted the little boy down from her lap, and came over to the desk. "Sure," she said, handing Natalie the small telephone directory, "but I'm really sorry. I can't let you use the phone. It's an idiotic rule. The theory is that if we let one person use the phone, everyone will want to use the phone. I've never figured out what disaster will take place if everyone uses the phone.