The next morning I awoke unusually bright and early, quite excited about the day ahead. I had a quick shower and then carefully put the new chain around my neck. It fitted perfectly. Now that was a really lovely present, and more than I had expected.
I dressed in my warmest jumper and jeans before peeking through the curtains at the weather. It actually wasn’t bad, the sun was in the sky and it wasn’t even raining. I sat back down on my bed and opened the metal tin again. The magnifying glass was really quite useful, it was surprising how much detail you could see when you looked through it. And then I looked again at Catherine, standing outside the house. I zoomed in with the glass and gasped. To the right of her head you could just make out the number five on the front door, although any other figures were hidden behind her.
Luckily I could hear my Mum moving about, so called out to her, “Mum, look at this!”
She wandered into my room in her dressing gown. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing, but look at this photograph, you can see the number five behind her head, see it?”
“Oh yes, so you can,” she said, sounding surprised.
“Today, before we go to the Library, can we go and have a look at Lavender Road? Please?”
“It’s the other side of town and nowhere near the Library, but if it’s not chucking it down with rain, I don’t see why not. It’s been a few years since I’ve been there myself; it would be good to go back.”
“And we can have a look at all the front doors with the number five,” I said enthusiastically. “You never know, we might be able to recognise it from the photos.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea,” Mum agreed. “I know what, I’ll bring the camera, and we can take pictures of ourselves standing outside any number fives that we like the look of.”
“Yeah, like recreate the photos! This is going to be fantastic, Mum, I can give it in to school as part of my history project.”
I had to give in some coursework as part of my exam in a few weeks but up till now I hadn’t thought of anything to write about.
“What a good idea, actually something that you are interested in.”
I laughed. “And you as well.”
“Of course, it’s my family too.” She smiled. “I see you are wearing the cross this morning.”
“Yes, it is nearly my birthday, after all. I promise I’ll look after it.”
“I know you will,” she replied.
I could hardly wait to finish breakfast and get out of the front door, especially in case it started raining and Mum changed her mind. We caught the number 414 bus to Elham Park and then walked through it until we reached Lavender Road.
“Here we are,” said Mum as we crossed the road. “Obviously we need to look on the odd side of the street.”
We walked to where the road started and then slowly made our way up, pausing outside all the ‘fives’ as we went past. But although the houses were still there, they had changed so much since the war that it was hard to believe that they were the same ones as in the photographs. Most of the front gardens had been paved over to make way for car parking, and a lot of the windows and doors were fitted with replacement UPVC. But even so, Mum took a photo of me outside number five, and then every five doors until we reached number 85, with me holding up the photos of my Grandparents.
“What do you think?” I asked her at the end.
“Hmm, I’m not sure, Lacy. We’ll have to go somewhere and sit down and have a proper look at the photos.”
“What if number 125 was blown up by the bomb and they decided to pull it down?” I asked.
“That’s one reason why I want to go to the Library. They should have street maps of how the area used to look before the war, and even of before the houses were built, when it was just fields.”
“Even maps showing the numbers of the houses?”
“That’s right,” Mum replied.
I was getting really impressed by how much stuff she knew. Then I thought about a film I had seen at school of bombs dropping out of the sky.
“I know!” I suddenly had an idea. “Instead of looking at the doors, why don’t we look at the roofs? Maybe only one house was bombed, and we can tell that by the chimney.”
“Well, I would never have thought of that, Lacy, well done.”
We walked back down and up the road again, this time examining the roofs for any sign of damage. At first it seemed like we weren’t going to get anywhere, but Mum pointed out a few things, such as some houses still had the original grey slate tiles, while others had extensions and were completely modern. But when we got nearly back to the start of the road you could tell that a block of about twelve houses all had new roofs and also some of the brickwork looked different.
“That’s it!” I exclaimed. “Look Mum, you can see that in these few houses, the tops of the walls are a different colour and the roofs all look the same, like they’ve been repaired at the same time.”
Mum shielded her eyes from the sun and examined each one carefully.
“You might have something there, Lacy, let’s make a note of the numbers.”
So I made a list of all the houses that looked like they had been damaged a bit, and in fact, some of them you could see had been damaged more than others. These included the houses from numbers 13 to 35.
“Well, looks like we are interested in numbers 15, 25 and 35 then,” Mum exclaimed. “At least that gives us a bit more to go on, and we can make some more enquiries at the Library.”
We caught the 414 bus back the way we came, and then jumped off at the high street to go to the Library. This was in quite a nice old building with a modern extension at the side. It was really packed because it was the school holidays, but we didn’t want the reading book section but the reference books, so it was a bit quieter in there.
“Can I help you?” asked a bearded man at the desk.
“Yes please,” said Mum, “We are looking for some maps that show the local area before the war, say in around 1930.”
The man hesitated for a second.
“Yes, we do have some old maps, actually. A lot of stuff was scanned onto the computer, but the maps of the local area were kept. I’ll just go and get them for you. Which area in particular do you want to look at?”
“Around Elham Park, if possible,” she replied.
“Okay, won’t be a moment.”
He came back a little later with a couple of rolled up maps under his arm, and pointed to some tables in the far corner.
“Have a look at these, I think they all cover the Elham Park area. On the bottom of each map is an index, so it’s easier to find the road that you want.”
We took a map each and laid them out. I had brought along the contents of the metal box in my school bag, and carefully took out the magnifying glass.
“Lavender Road, G7 on mine,” I said in an excited whisper.
“Great. Oh, I’ve got it too, but mine is in the far corner.
Mum held her map open while I leant over the table and zoomed in with my glass. There was Elham Park, although it looked a lot bigger in those days, and there was Lavender Road snaking along next to it. Then I had a look at mine.
“Have you got any house numbers on yours?” asked Mum excitedly.
“No, I don’t think so,” I hissed back. “What about you?” I leaned back over to her table and had a look.
“Yes!” she exclaimed, as quietly as she could.
I glanced around and noticed some people giving us strange looks. I ignored them and looked at where she was pointing, peering through my magnifying glass.
“30, 60 and 90,” I remarked, “So your Mum was right. The other side only goes up to number 90, and the rest of the road is the park.”
We both studied numbers 15, 25 and 35 very carefully. There was no clue about who lived there, but we noted that the garden of number 25 was a bit longer than number 15′s, and they all had a little piece jutting out at the back, which were probably the outside toilets.
I reached back into my school bag and found the brown envelope giving details about my Grandmother.
“Let’s ask the Librarian about this letter.”
“Okay, maybe he can help us,” she replied, taking the letter from me.
We rolled the maps back up and took them over to his desk.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” he asked, with an amused smile on his face. He had obviously been watching us.
“Oh, yes thank you,” said my Mum. “But we’ve got a bit of a mystery, you see. We think that my mother lived at number 125 Lavender Road, but these maps here show that the houses only went up to number 90. Do you think any more houses could have been built?”
“Well that’s not very likely, but maybe after the war they put some more houses up. That area by the park was very heavily targeted by bombers, because it was near the munitions factory.”
Mum took out the faded letter from the envelope and handed it to him to read. “That does say ‘125 Lavender Road’ on it, unless they’ve got the number wrong or there’s another Lavender Road?”
The Librarian read it carefully two or three times with a puzzled look on his face. Then he seemed to spot something, and called his colleague over to have a look. He began whispering to her, and I only caught the odd word which didn’t make any sense. He came back to me again.
“That looks like a very fine magnifying glass, do you mind if I just borrow it for a second?”
Then he was off again, and both of them began peering at the letter for ages. Finally, he walked back to us.
“I’m not a hundred per cent sure,” he began, “but I think you may be the victim here of a crooked Councillor.”
I looked at Mum again with a confused expression on my face.
“What’s a Councillor, Mum?”
“Somebody who works for the Council, love.” But Mum wasn’t looking at me, she kept staring at the Librarian.
“Councillor George Duncan,” he continued. “I’ve seen his signature a few times on official looking documents, and the only thing I can say to you is that you shouldn’t believe anything written by him on this piece of paper. It’s likely to be completely false.”
I looked worriedly at my mother as she seemed to be shocked into silence, her face drained of colour.
“Mum!” I shouted and grabbed her arm.
“I think I’d better sit down, Lacy,” she said.
I led her to a chair. The Librarian seemed most concerned and got her a glass of water.
“Are you all right?” he asked, as she put her head over her legs.
“I think she’s had a bit of a shock,” I told him. “That’s her mother that the letter’s about!”
“Oh dear.” The man looked very guilty. “Shall I call an ambulance?”
“No,” Mum replied, shaking her head, “I’m sure I’ll be all right in a little while.”
He held out the old letter and magnifying glass and I grabbed them from him and put them back into my bag. By this time there was quite a crowd around us. The female librarian, name tag ‘Susan’, went into action.
“Please don’t crowd round the poor lady,” she said, ushering them back. “She just needs some air.” Then she knelt down next to her and took my mother’s pulse.
I started to feel tearful.
“Oh hi, Lacy,” said a voice from behind me, “is everything okay?”
I turned to see Karina, a girl from my class. The situation was starting to get to me as well, and all I could think of was that I didn’t want Mum to be sick on the floor of the library.
“My Mum’s just had a shock,” I said, and couldn’t stop a couple of hot tears escaping down my cheeks.
“Shall I call a taxi for you both?” Susan asked kindly. Mum nodded, her head still resting on her lap.
“My mum can give you a lift if you want,” said Karina and indicated to a concerned looking woman nearby.
“Oh yes, I can give you both a lift,” she said, coming forward.
Between them they helped get my Mum back onto her feet, shepherding her into the lift, while I ran down the stairs with Karina. The male librarian followed us down. Before we left he said to me:
“Sorry to give you such startling news, but if you come back tomorrow I will sort out some more information, if you like?”
I hesitated for a moment.
“Yeah, okay then,” I replied, before following everybody out of the building and into the car park, from where Karina’s Mum kindly drove us home.
“Are you sure you’ll both be all right?” Karina’s Mum, Sheila, asked as we arrived.
“Yes thanks,” replied Mum, who had recovered a bit.
“Thanks so much,” I said and, “I’ll send you a text later,” to Karina.
Mum gave me a weak smile as we got inside.
“I’m sorry, Lacy, it just brought everything back to when Mum died. I’m going to have an early night, love, it was too much excitement for one day.”
I decided not to mention that I was going back to the Library the next day to see what else I could find out.
After I’d taken Mum up a cup of tea and some sandwiches and checked that she was okay, I looked on the internet to see whether Annabel had sent me any messages. I saw some photos that she had posted, and the scenery looked awesome. But the final picture made me gasp. There she stood with her arms around a young man, very much like the one in my dream the night before. She had tagged his name as André, and some of my friends had already put comments on there, such as “Tasty” and “Fit”. But I wasn’t jealous of her, I just wished that she was here with me now and I could tell her everything that had happened. I settled instead for sending a text to Karina, and asking her if she wanted to go to the Library with me tomorrow morning. I was very relieved when she said ‘yes’.
“I wonder why your Mum was so upset today?” she asked.
“I don’t know, she’s usually quite tough,” I replied. “I’m going to do some more investigating and find out.”