Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: Both
Diane looked at the paper again. It was old, but it shouldn’t be this difficult to read. Her grandfather had beautiful flowing script. If she’d lived a few decades earlier, she would be used to handwriting like this, but these days, everyone typed or printed. Cursive was a dying art, and as she squinted at the blue letters again, she wasn’t sad that it had.
The book had come to her in her grandfather’s will. Her cousins were all curious, and some a bit jealous. Although several of them did receive keepsakes, the youngest weren’t included. It made sense to her at twenty; he just hadn’t updated it in the last five years. And it wasn’t like the kids really knew what they were missing. They just saw everyone getting presents and wanted one too.
After flipping through the pages once, Diane had set the book aside, not really thinking about it again until one of her friends noticed it on the table.
Diane told Jen about her grandfather’s will.
“Cool.” She started flipping through the book as well. “Uh, Di, you might want to see this.”
Jen held open the last few pages, the blank leafs before the cover. Only one wasn’t blank.
Diane seized the book from her friend, trying to make out what it said. Jen had more luck. James Carter. That name wasn’t familiar. South Africa. That one made sense. Her grandfather had been stationed there as part of the British army before meeting Diane’s grandmother and moving to the States. Erasmus Farm. Di had no idea what that was. The certification made the book more valuable for certain, but what else did it mean? She could think of only one way to find out.
Which was how she found herself standing at the gates of a farmhouse, looking from the book to the door and hoping someone would come outside. A whistling broke her concentration like a buzzing insect. She turned and found a pair of men as well as several women, dressed in bright colours and celebrating something. The brilliance of the music, the dancers, the entire spectacle, drew her away from her mystery and into their circle.
She was welcomed immediately, something that probably wouldn’t have happened even a few years ago. A crown of flowers was placed on her head and the ladies tried to teach her their dance. It was intricate, so she only copied one part, but she bounced along with them anyway.
When the festivities died down, she asked one of the ladies. “Does anyone live at Erasmus Farm?”
“Not in years. Why?”
Diane opened the book and showed her the pages.
“This is old, older than me. I remember the last people to live at Erasmus Farm, but I don’t know a James Carter. Come. We will ask my mother.” The woman took Diane’s hand and tugged her along behind, still holding the book. The woman exchanged quick words with her mother in a language Diane didn’t know. Despite the speed of their speech, it took a few minutes for the woman to nod and turn back to Diane. She began by giving Diane the book back.
“James Carter was an old captain. He lived at Erasmus farm nearly fifty years ago. My mother remembers because she was little and he would give her sweets sometimes. But he was still a soldier and tasked with making sure we stayed in our reserves.” The woman’s voice turned hard and thick. She had lived through the end of apartheid and carried the resentment for it. “My mother wonders how you came by it.”
Diane apologized first. “I’m so sorry for what those soldiers did to you. My grandfather was one of them. He was probably an officer under James Carter.” Diane worried that the woman’s kindness would end with that pronouncement.
Instead, her mother asked. “His name?”
“My grandfather was Benjamin Ryan.”
The old woman’s face creased as she smiled. “I remember.”
“He died,” Diane told them. “He left me this.”
“And you came all the way here just to find out what you had?” the daughter asked.
Diane shrugged. “I was really curious, and this has made a fantastic vacation. I don’t suppose I could look inside the farmhouse?”
Daughter looked at mother, the older nodding.
“No one will argue with that.” She headed in the direction of the farm.
The woman left her at the stoop, waiting for Diane’s return. Inside she found dust and cobwebs. There wasn’t much left, everything packed away or scavenged by the natives. The writing desk was turned out, nearly empty, but a couple of pages remained. They were nearly as difficult to read as the book she had. She gathered them up and tucked them inside her book. She wandered through empty rooms, trying to imagine her grandfather living here. In one of the bedrooms she found a photo, stuck between the boards panelling the wall. It was a half dozen men in uniform. She pulled it out and tucked it with the pages.
The woman was still on the stoop when she returned. “You have a place to stay tonight?” she asked.
“Yes. I have to drive back to Queenstown.”
The woman nodded. “It was nice to meet you.”
Diane took her hand in return. “Likewise. My name is Diane. I don’t know that I caught yours.”
“Desi. I hope you have found what you were looking for.”
“I think I have,” she said, clutching the book to her chest.
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Kimberly Gould is the author of Cargon: Honour and Privilege, and it's sequel Duty and Sacrifice. She can be found most places as Kimmydonn, including Kimmydonn.com