It wasn’t until Emmaline collapsed one Sunday while running the Roanoke Island Marathon that we found out the answer: leukemia. Em needed a bone marrow transplant, but there was every reason to be optimistic: the family was huge and surely there’d be a donor.

Nobody matched. In fact, the lack of matches was so suspicious that Mom insisted they do a DNA test just as Emmaline was going into chemo. She was looking for a mistake, hoping to trip the doctors up at their own game. When the results came back, she locked herself in her room for three days

Emmaline wasn’t related to any of us.

I went with Mom to see her sister, still holed up in Tanglewood where she’d been since the meds had stopped working. Mom confronted Aggie directly with a demand about Emmaline’s parentage. Aggie didn’t respond at first, just sitting there and taking it. It was only when we were set to leave that she whispered something about a notebook pasted behind the wallpaper of her old room.

We hadn’t lived in that house, any of us, for decades. But Mom, somehow, talked her way inside. Aggie had repapered the room shortly after Emmaline had been born, our own little scandal. Mom had been working on me at the time, and Dad had already gotten himself killed. It had been just her with three daughters and a niece.

A secret compartment was behind the paper, secreted between two of the framing timbers. It was as old as the house, but Aggie had filled it with little mementos through a hole in the old paper, one that was still visible when we peeled back the new. The notebook was there, swollen with age but still readable if a little musty.

It was filled with notes about a friend, Edna Parker, who I had never heard of. Mom muttered something about her disappearing when she was young, but the last lines in the notebook were there plain for anyone to read.

I’ve never been more jealous then when I see Edna quietly starting to swell up with Roger’s baby. Out of curiosity, I wonder what it would be like if our lives were to swap…me, bringing up Roger’s delightful little baby, the only little piece of him I’ll ever get…she, a dead-end crazy girl with nothing but soft padded walls and straitjackets ahead once the voices don’t stop anymore.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!