“The first photograph” by Vivian Boukouvala

Elizabeth Smith was a peculiar child. At the age of nine, she somehow knew that something in her loving family was off. She always dug around the house late at night, finding old photographs and long forgotten relics. Yet not a single photograph of her as a baby in her mother’s arms.

It was not until her father’s sudden passing, just days before her twenty first birthday, that she confirmed what she already knew. While going through her father’s immense paperwork sitting around in his desk, she came across a bizarre sealed envelope, cautiously hidden on the bottom of his last drawer. No address, no name, no stamp.

With her father’s favorite paperknife in hand, she slit open the tantalizing mystery. A birth certificate revealed itself. It belonged to a girl born the exact same date Elizabeth was born. But this girl was born in Scotland and her father’s name was Neil Allaway. Scotland seemed so far away from her family’s quiet English cottage. But on her birthday, she decided she would grant herself a gift worth a king’s ransom, if not more; meeting the owner of that very photograph, the one missing inexplicably from a numerous collection of family albums, carefully stored and proudly held in her home’s library. Her first picture.

She contacted the hospital stated in the certificate and was fortunate enough to be given the address of the Allaways’ then residency. She drove from dawn to dusk, till she arrived at her destination.
The building was in the middle of nowhere, unkempt and seemed uninhabited. She knocked but got no answer. With cold sweat running down her back, she turned the handle; it was not locked. She bravely pushed the door open.

God, she had not seen a greater beauty! The whole house was a library, so majestic and wild she could drown herself in books.

“Can I help you, miss?” The voice belonged to a young man behind the last corridor.
“Um… I’m looking for… Mr. Allaway?”
“And who are you?” he said walking towards her.
“I’m Elizabeth. Elizabeth Allaway. His daughter.”
“Oh… I’m sorry.” The man frowned. “My deepest condolences, miss Allaway.”
“He’s dead?” Her expression screamed disappointment.
“You didn’t know?” The man wished the floor would swallow him up.
“What about Mrs. Allaway? Is she dead too?” She began regretting the twelve-hour drive.
“What do you mean? She’s been dead for twenty years, she died giving birth.”
“Twenty-one, apparently.”
“Wait, you know nothing about the story?”
“Look, I’d rather go, I’m really tired. I drove twelve hours to meet my birth family and all I got was a giant library house and two dead relatives I’ll never even see.”
“That’s not true. Neil always believed you’d come.”
“He did?” Her expression softened. She even smiled a little.
“Yes, miss Allaway. No one took him seriously because he lost his mind after his wife’s passing. The child was taken away from him, after a friend of his alerted the authorities. She was given for adoption in England. He did leave something for you though, apart from the lovely surname.” The man smiled and continued: “You know, Allaway is a place here in Scotland, itself derived from the words alla and mhagh which mean ‘wild field’.” The puzzled look on Elizabeth’s face led him to explain: “I’m a linguist.”
“Well, that name does explain a couple of things about me.” She smiled at him.
“I’m Jacob. Neil’s nephew. So, I guess, it’s a pleasure to meet you, cousin.”
“For me too.”
“Follow me, Elizabeth.” They walked towards the last corridor. There was a small wooden desk with a chair and right next to it, a bed with no pillows or blankets. Just a sheet.
“They lived in a giant library?” Elizabeth had so many questions.
“Be patient, Liz. I’ll leave nothing unexplained to you.” He found a younger cousin to tease and he was really having a blast. “Here, have a sit.” He opened the first drawer for her and took out a photo album. “I believe this is yours now.”
On the first page she saw herself, just moments after she was born. She smiled and said, “Well, that’s what I was looking for.”

Honorable Mention at ATA Flash Fiction Contest 2018 – Week 13


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