THE TWISTED TREE
Spring was finally making its appearance even in the shabbier parts of London. Buds swelling on the branches of trees, full of new life and promise. The thin blades of grass pushing their way through the cracks in the sidewalk, were certainly greener than the previous day. Every where birdsong was carried on the warming breeze – my favorite sound in the dark hour before the dawn.
I didn't know what to do with myself.
It would be many months before I made the journey to Egypt to join the archaeological site. I kept pinching myself at the fantastic opportunity that had presented itself to me over the winter. A fellow armchair Egyptologist had suggested my services as camp cook and sand sifter to a small, private dig in Alexandria. I was itching to go. I had lived in London my entire life. I wearied of it.
The streetlights were coming on, while I struggled to balance the bag of groceries and unlock my flat at the same time. The door finally banged open, and I stumbled into my miniscule foyer. The building was old. I'm not sure what it was originally, but at some point, it had been partitioned into four units, each with its own door, the aforementioned foyer, a small living room and kitchenette to the left, stairs directly in front leading up to one small bedroom with a connected bath. Did I mention that it is small? Fortunately, I am a small person.
I have lived here less than a year. Though the outside of the building was dull looking with trim badly in need of paint, the inside was beautifully done up. Parquet floors. Large windows that let in a ton of light. I was not allowed to paint the walls, but they were clean and white, the perfect backdrop to support any color I chose. The foundling home where I grew up was institutional brown, and that particular shade was liberally used on the walls, the carpet, the bedding…had no one there ever thought of the therapeutic calm of blue or green? Sunshine yellow? The answer was a dismal no.
Since I have mentioned the foundling home, I must share that I am an orphan in the truest sense. I have no father or mother. I have no familial connections. My name is Constance Collins, but I don't even know if that is my "real" name for not long after I was "found", there was an isolated fire in the home and three hundred years of records were burned to a crisp. As the French say, C'est la vie! I am now 24 years old and finally out on my own. I could have left when I turned 18, but I followed in the footsteps of my favorite fictional heroine, Jane Eyre, and stayed to help with the other foundlings. I saved practically every pound for my launch into independence. Working at the tea shop around the corner from the home also helped feather my bank account.
As I put away the few items I had purchased, I thought about Miss Jacky who owned the tea shop. She was naturally unhappy when I had given my notice. I have been working for her since I was 16. I could practically run the business thanks to her willingness to teach me everything that was necessary: purchasing inventory, handling all the aspects of accounting, and taking deposits to the bank. I even hired and fired employees when Miss Jacky was away. Not bad for a girl who started out waiting on tables, and doing a lot of the washing up. My desire to be out of the home was so strong that I worked practically every evening and weekend, as long as it didn't interfere with my school work. The hours did not leave much room for a social life. Hopefully, whoever becomes my replacement at the shop will be a good fit. I stepped into the living room and looked at the cozy space. Miss Jacky had given me most of my furnishings when I found this flat. The tobacco brown sofa, the antique chair covered in thick, teal fabric, and the 1950's style bedroom set in blonde wood. I had so much fun scouring the shops for linens, crockery and the like. Growing up in the home, I had to share a room with four other girls. Storage was limited. Even as an adult, I still never had my own space. The few things I could call my own were a few books I had picked up over the years, and not much in the way of clothing. Everything else had to be shared with everyone else. It is pure luxury to have rooms that are entirely your own. To have peace and quiet. To be alone. I really don't mind.
I have always kept to myself. I don't think of myself as shy or reserved. I generally get along well with others. Perhaps it is being an orphan. When I was old enough to truly understand my situation, I took it to heart that I was always going to be alone. I was sad, but at the same time I realized that there was not anything I could do about it. There were no records. No clues to be followed, or answers to be discovered. Mr. Breck who ran the home used to say I was an old soul. Perhaps I am. Perhaps that is why I am so fascinated with the past. Why I fell in love with Egypt. It happened on my very first visit to the British Museum.
I must have been about seven years old. It was my first momentous outing, and I was terribly excited. My expectations were high that something wonderful was about to happen to me. I cannot explain why I felt the way I did. I do know that I did not like the large, surging crowd of people, the babble of so many voices. By the time our group had reached the Egyptian wing, I was ready to do a runner. Then I saw them; the beautiful, haunting faces of those long dead, carved in wood, gold, and stone. Why it touched me so, I still cannot explain. I left enthralled with what I had seen. I could not stop thinking about them. I went to the library and read every book I could find. The librarian was my friend. She allowed me to check out way beyond the limit. She also allowed me to read those books that were really meant for older, more educated minds. I was obsessed with this newfound knowledge. My passion showed up in my artwork, my compositions, my daydreams. The other children teased me, but I didn't let it bother me. Children are like that.
I made up my mind to be an archeologist when I grew up. I daydreamed about discovering fabulous, treasure filled tombs, buried beneath centuries of golden sand. I would travel all over the world, and I would write books about all of my adventures. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who are more of a dreamer, and not a doer. My passion was not strong enough for me to actually do something about what I wanted. I didn't feel capable, or wise enough to take the necessary steps, like furthering my education. I hated school. I enjoyed learning, but not the institution. Besides, money always played a big role in all of my decisions small and large. I had only myself to depend on. No one was there to encourage or guide. Mr. Breck and Miss Jacky did what they could for me, but they, as well as I, understood the limitations of their help. I grew older. I worked, and saved my money. I had crushes, and dates like any other girl. Nothing serious or long lasting. There just wasn't room, or time, for men in my life at this juncture. Then something happened.
It was an ordinary day. I had opened the tea shop, and after making sure that the rest of the staff were busy with their specific tasks, I settled into checking all the inventory. Miss Jacky was on holiday in a much warmer clime, for it was winter in jolly, old England, and I had been left in charge for two weeks. I felt proud at the level of trust I had earned over the years, and gladly made sure that all ran as smoothly as possible while she was away. I had just finished purchasing supplies, and took over for the cashier so she could take her lunch. A plump, older woman entered and sat at the counter. She may have been in her 70's, with curled, orangish reddish hair, large pearls tight around her throat, and her coat appeared to be a full- length fur of some sort. I helped her with her order, recommended the macaroons for her sweet, and supplied her with hot tea and finger sandwiches; egg salad, and watercress. I busied myself with the usual work associated with running a counter while she daintily consumed her lunch. The afternoon rush had finally begun to subside, so she began to chat with me as I freshened her tea. We discovered in the midst of our conversation our mutual delight in all things Egyptian. We shared favorite pieces of art, books on the subject, exhibits we had seen over the years…it was wonderful to finally talk with someone who understood how I felt about this ancient civilization. Mrs. Edwards, for that was her name, then told me about a friend of hers who was actually going to Egypt the following winter to dig somewhere in Alexandria.
"I cannot go. How I would love to go! My health is not the best. Perhaps I will muster up the strength to go should Albert find something. He is much younger and in much better health than I."
I spoke my awe about how wonderful to even know someone going and doing only what I had daydreamed and read about for all these years.
"Why, you could go! Yes, yes – why not?"
Me go to Egypt? I became so flustered, I actually broke a cup. As I hurriedly swept up the broken pieces, she eagerly shared about dear Albert's need for a variety of staff. The pay would be small, but just think about being in Egypt! What had become an impossible dream suddenly, miraculously came into my immediate reach. I had only to reach out and take it for myself. We exchanged phone numbers. She promised she would call within the next day or two with more information. As we said our goodbyes, I realized how very late it was. I usually do not spend the day going on like a chatterbox. The staff and I did the usual cleaning and prepping for closing the shop. After they left, I tallied up the accounts, marked the ledgers accordingly, and did my final walkthrough before locking up and heading home. My mind was in a whirl at the possibilities. I could not sleep that night.
Impatiently, I waited the next day and the next for a phone call. I thought about ringing Mrs. Edwards up, but decided not to. Finally, almost a week after we met she called. Many apologizes were given; she had been ill. Albert could not be reached. Dear Albert had finally been reached. He had left for Spain for the rest of the winter, but here was his number…
After talking to Mr. Simmons, (dear Albert Simmons!) I somehow found the courage to accept his job offer. As soon as I hung up, I thought to myself, "What have I done?" Life became a blur. I spoke with Mr. Breck and Miss Jacky about my decision. They gave me letters of reference, and Mr. Breck even did a background check on Mr. Simmons to make sure everything was on the up and up. I had medical exams, updated my passport – which I had, but had never used, talked my landlord into letting me pay month to month until I left, found a storage facility to hold my belongings while I was away, and a million other things. It all felt like a dream. I floated through the days and nights. I continued to work and save, but I also read much about Alexandria, about sifting sand, and I worked on my culinary skills. Naturally, the time went by slowly.
Summer was still a few weeks away, but the weather was unusually warm. I had Saturdays off since I was senior staff. The shop was closed on Sundays, so I had the weekends free to do whatever I liked. Saturdays were usually spent having a lie in, general housekeeping, laundry, grocery shopping, errand running, etc. Sunday was church, with maybe some sort of free entertainment such as an outdoor concert or play when the weather permitted. I took long walks, too. When the weather did not permit, I would head for a museum, library, or bookstore. So, on this particular Saturday, I had just finished cleaning the flat, when I heard the post being slipped through the door. Post does not excite me. Other than bills, rarely did anything fun come through that portal. No cards. No letters. I picked it up and rifled through the envelopes. I caught my breath. There was an envelope from America. It was a professional looking envelope like one would see from a solicitor. It was a solicitor: Garner and Garner of Collinsport, Maine. Neither name meant anything to me. Mystified, I opened it and read the following:
Dear Ms. Collins,
We are writing to inform you that your presence is requested to appear in our offices, on June the 7th, for a 3:00pm appointment concerning your inheritance. A plane ticket has been enclosed for your use. A car will be waiting for you at the Bangor International Airport to bring you to Collinsport. A room has been reserved for you at the Collinsport Inn. All expenses have been paid by this firm. Failure to show for this appointment will cause your inheritance to become null and void. We look forward to meeting you, and serving you in this capacity…
I lost count of the times I read the letter. June the 7th was exactly two days away. The flight was scheduled for the 6th. Tomorrow. My heart began to pound. I quickly called Miss Jacky and told her what happened. She promised to come over at once. When she arrived, I handed her the letter, and blathered about how it was all a joke, a mistake…right?
"Constance, I don't think this is a joke. You could ring them. Here, I will ring them."
It was not a joke. It was not a mistake.
Miss Jacky loaned me a suitcase. She helped me purchase a respectable outfit for wearing to a solicitor; a peach skirt, a white jumper, low heeled dress shoes. A trench coat. A new purse. She helped me pack, and promised to pick me up early in the morning to take me to Heathrow. I went to bed, but I stared wide awake at the ceiling. I had never flown before. I hated heights. What if I hated flying? What about jet lag? What if the car wasn't there? What if it really was a joke? I jumped out of bed and checked my purse again for my passport, the ticket, my money, the letter from Garner and Garner; it was all still there. I did not go back to bed. I got dressed. I checked the suitcase again, and repacked items. I wrote up a note for my landlord. I paid some bills. My heart lurched when I realized I would be leaving Miss Jacky high and dry. Who would cover for me? As the sun slowly crept up in the sky, I fixed myself a cup of tea. I had no appetite. I made myself eat some toast. I didn't want to be passing out on an airplane full of strangers. Miss Jacky arrived at the appointed time. She fussed over me, and hustled me into the car. We were on our way. Heathrow was loud and noisy. Miss Jacky had to leave me. She made sure I was in the right line, gave me a long hug and a peck on the cheek.
"You'll be fine, Constance. You'll be fine"
Tears started to pour from my eyes as I watched her becoming smaller the further I walked up the line. I got myself under control, and managed to ask for help along the way. Everyone seemed extraordinarily kind to me that day. I handed off my suitcase after I went through security. I found the waiting area, and before I knew it, I was on a plane heading for America.
(This writing has nothing to do with Dan Curtis or Dan Curtis Productions. This is just the vivid imagination of a small town girl.)