The next day at school seemed to drag as I was anxious to get to the Library and watch Mum at work. I asked Karina if she wanted to come with me, but she apologised and said it was her dance class night, but could come with me on Friday to the History Society. She was learning ballroom dancing and although some of the girls sneered at her a bit, I thought it sounded lovely and that I’d like to give it a go, if only I could afford it.
At lunch time Carly Richards stopped me and said:
“I’ve asked my Dad about having any relatives in Lavender Road and he looked into it, and you were right. They were his Great Uncle Peter and his family during the war.”
“Oh, really sorry to hear that, it’s horrible isn’t it? I lost my Great Grandfather’s family at the same time, they were neighbours.”
“What a coincidence!”
I wondered if there was anything else that we had in common.
“There’s something else you should check,” I advised her. “Find out if you can, what happened to the house after the war. Because there was a dodgy Councillor who was stealing people’s houses and renting them out to other people.”
“Really?” Her eyes widened.
“You can look on the Land Registry website and find out all the people who owned the house since it was built. That’s what we did, and now we’re trying to get our house back.”
“Wow, and they must be worth a lot of money in that area.”
“Yes, I suppose they are.”
To be honest I hadn’t really given that too much thought, but Elham was definitely the posh end of town. I know that John Unwin only paid his father £50 for the house, but I had no idea what it was worth now. Something else I could research. However, there was a piece of research I had been dreading which kept nagging at me. I needed to know more about my Grandmother’s death. If I couldn’t find anything on the internet, I suspected there would be on the microfiche. Another good reason to go back to the Library.
As soon as I left school I headed into town and made my way to the Library Children’s Section. I could hear little children laughing, and I quietly slipped into the room and stood at the back. The boys and girls looked enthralled as the lady in front read from a large picture book. Next to her stood my Mum, signing for all she was worth to some young children in the front row, who were watching her closely. It was really sweet to watch, but I didn’t want to put her off so after a few minutes I went to the front desk and asked to use the microfiche again.
“Oh hello again,” said Tom. “How’s the history project coming along?”
“I’ve finished that now,” I replied, “I’d just like to do some more family tree stuff.”
“Do you know what dates you are interested in?”
“No, not exactly, but it would be in 1996.”
“Okay, but that’s a lot of reading. The Elham Gazette, for example, comes out twice a week so you’d have to look through 104 copies. What exactly are you looking for, the births, marriages and deaths section?”
“Maybe the deaths.”
“Do you mind telling me what kind of death? Was it an accident, for example?”
“Well, yes,” I replied, wondering if Mum had said anything to him.
“In that case,” he replied, “it might be easier to look at the local Coroner findings for 1996. It’s not the actual hearing, but the final result.”
“Oh, okay, thanks.”
After half an hour of searching I found what I was looking for.
“27 September 1996
’Coroner Leslie Simons recorded a verdict of Accidental Death at the Inquest of Margaret Clark. Margaret Clark, who was 56 and widowed with one daughter, had been crossing the busy junction of Upchurch Street, Elham on 29 February earlier this year when a speeding car jumped the lights and hit her before driving off. Mr Simons said that it was possible that the victim’s profound deafness had contributed to the accident. Police investigations revealed that the car had been stolen and had been driven at speeds of up to 50 miles an hour when it hit the victim.
’After the Inquest her daughter, Debra Clark, who was heavily pregnant at the time of the accident, urged the driver to come forward.
’You have killed a much loved mother and deprived her of the joy of seeing her first grandchild. It has affected me deeply.”
I had to ask Mr Davies to print off the fiche, and he gave me a sympathetic look. I mulled over what I had read. How horrible, I thought, my poor Mum was pregnant when that happened on 29 February, and I had been born on 3 March. It was lucky that the accident hadn’t caused me to be born early. And then she’d had nobody to help her when I was born, because my father hadn’t been around much and her parents were both dead. No wonder Mum got upset and never liked to talk about it. I put the printout in my school bag and made my way back to the children’s library deep in thought. Suddenly, I bumped into somebody.
“Oh, sorry!” I exclaimed, and as I looked up realised I had just walked into the good-looking boy I’d seen last week.
“That’s all right,” he laughed. “You look like you’ve got something on your mind, are you okay?”
I realised that I had been frowning and walking with my head down.
“I’m okay,” I smiled, feeling better already. “I just came to see my Mum at work.”
“Oh, she’s the lady signing to the children, isn’t she?”
“She’s really very good,” he said. “I can do signing as well, but not as fast as your mother.”
He walked with me back to the children’s department. “I’m Julian, by the way.”
“I’m Lacy,” I replied. “I didn’t even know my Mum could do sign language until I saw her that day.”
He laughed. “Really?”
I looked into his eyes. They were a deep brown with long lashes and he was truly gorgeous. I tried not to stare, but realised that he was staring back.
“I come here every week to collect my brother from the Library. It would be nice to have somebody to chat to while I’m waiting.”
“That would be really nice,” I replied. I realised that I was talking to him quite naturally and that I didn’t even think I was blushing, not like with Carey.
We went back into the children’s area and watched Mum at work, and I saw Julian’s brother sitting cross-legged in front of her.
“How comes your Mum can sign?” he asked.
“Her mother was deaf. Was your brother born deaf ?”
“No, he wasn’t.” Julian sounded sad. “Jake caught measles when he was just a baby.”
“Aah, sorry to hear that.”
“But maybe they’ll be able to help him with ear implants some day. That’s why I want to study engineering at College.”
I was beginning to like Julian even more.
“I was thinking of being a policewoman,” I told him.
“Really? You like helping people too, right?”
“Yes.” I smiled. This was going even better than I thought, he seemed to understand me. I knew I could never have told Carey that, he would have made a joke about it.
The children’s storytelling came to an end, to much laughter. Their teacher made them thank the story-teller as well as Mum, who looked very pleased. Jake turned round and saw his brother and jumped up, before running towards us.
“Hello, little man,” said Julian, giving him a hug. Then he started signing, and they communicated for a little while. Julian pointed at me and then at my Mum, who had also made her way over. Jake gave me a cute smile and signed to Julian.
“Jake says ‘hello’,” he said.
I knew the sign for ‘hello’, so signed back to him. He then started signing rapidly in response. Mum stepped in and started signing for me, and Jake did the sign for ‘OK’.
“I just told him that you are still learning,” Mum said.
“Jake really enjoyed today, thanks very much,” Julian said to her. “But we’ve got to go home now, or Mum will be worried. See you next week, then?”
He looked at me hopefully. My stomach did a little flip.
“Yes, I’ll be here,” I replied. I realised that I was going red now, with Mum around. I watched him leaving and really, really hoped that he was going to ask me out. Mum interrupted my thoughts.
“So that’s what you’ve been up to. I wondered where you had disappeared to.”
I laughed, but didn’t let on that I’d really been looking on the microfiche.
When we got home I couldn’t wait to tell Karina and Annabel about what had happened, and they were both very excited for me. Karina said she’d meet up with me and go to school together in the morning, and Annabel asked me to go round her house at the weekend, which I was already looking forward to.
Later, I took the microfiche printout from my bag and had another read of it. Then I typed the name “Margaret Clark 1996” into the computer. Quite a few Margaret Clark’s showed up, but after trawling through a few pages I found what I was looking for,
“Elham Gazette 8 March 1996:
’WOMAN DIES IN HIT AND RUN INCIDENT
’Police appeal for witnesses after a woman was killed in a high speed collision last Thursday 29th February.
’Witnesses spoke of a youth seen earlier driving dangerously around the high street area, including the pedestrianized zone, before careering into 56 year old Margaret Clark as she attempted to cross Upchurch Street.
’Mr Ahmed Mohammed, one of the witnesses, said: “The poor lady didn’t stand a chance. I don’t think she even saw it coming.”
’An ambulance was called but Mrs Clark was pronounced dead at the scene. A car believed to have been involved in the incident was recovered two hours later in Mulberry Avenue. It had been reported stolen the night before.
’Constable Peter Jefferson said: “This is a tragic case and we ask everybody who was in the vicinity of Elham High Street last Thursday to please think carefully about whether they have seen a blue Golf, registration XJW 3PF, being driven erratically either before or after the incident, which occurred at around 1pm. We are also seeking information on where the stolen vehicle was parked on the night it was taken.”
’When asked whether they had any leads to go on, PC Jefferson said that although several witnesses to the incident had come forward, the Police had been hampered by the lack of CCTV evidence as unfortunately it had coincided with the Council’s annual maintenance programme, and none of the screens had been in operation.”
There then followed some contact details and a telephone number.
I felt a sense of shock when I first read the article as I tried to take the details in. Then I read it through again, and the seed of an idea came into my head. I couldn’t deal with it right now, but I would definitely have to make some more enquiries. I went to bed that night torn between thinking about Julian and trying not to think about my Grandmother’s horrible accident. But the policeman had called it an ‘incident’ which was not quite the same thing, I thought to myself, before finally going to sleep.