Matter Of Heritage

Entry by: Mr Golightly

10th March 2015
'The Storyline'

Everybody is writing their own story. The teenagers sucking face in the bus stop, the drunk on the park bench and every single person stuck in rush hour traffic. They may not leave anything quite so palpable as a trail of ink, but each person is their own protagonist, groping through the darkness to find something worth passing on to their children.

Maisie's story had brought her far from home and onto the 19:12 to Huddersfield. As she sat in carriage B absentmindedly pawing through the Metro newspaper she turned her head to gaze through the window at the sleet grey winter's day. She traced her own path backwards through time and attempted to frame the narrative that brought her to this place.

Like any life story, Maisie's was best started at the moment of her birth. In a dark, dank and dated hospital ward in Essex she was brought kicking and screaming into the world courtesy of a 14 year old waif with filthy blonde hair and a lifetime of bruises.

As the girl sat alone in the decaying room holding her daughter for the first time, she knew it would also be the last. Giving her up would be the only act of love she could ever perform. Rain hammered the windows and the roar of the gale assaulting the building was the only voice present in the eerily quiet ward. The dying strip lights flickered with each stroke of thunder. Somewhere a tap was leaking. The girl looked down at the pink, innocent face buried within the once-white linen bundle in her arms, and desperately tried to experience a lifetime of maternal bliss in the solitary hour.

Maisie had long since made peace with her origins. If she harboured any resentment for her biological mother it was buried deep. Indeed, the scene as she painted it now was a tragically heroic one, and Maisie was not afraid of a little artistic licence. Thinking about it logically, she knew it was unlikely that the hospital ward was wallpapered, but the image of the mouldy paper peeling at the corners added something grimly poetic to the scene. The colours as she pictured them where more like the graphite grey and pallid yellow of a CSI flashback than the dull wash of an overcast afternoon, and if her birth had taken place during a thunderstorm then it was a coincidence. No one had actually told her that.

It was within this hospital, or the real one at least, that Maisie met her actual mum. Dr Jeanette Lees was a powerhouse of a woman whose own story was deeply patterned with the grain of tragedy. She had been raised in a poverty stricken household of cliched catholic brutality and alcoholism and she found that even after escaping her first family, the spectre of domestic violence followed her to the next. One day in her mid-twenties she finally managed to throw off the last of her shackles only to discover that she lacked any means to support herself. Given the opportunity, and the need, to start from scratch she decided the best thing to do would was become a nurse. That way she could help others who had suffered like she had. She started looking into education, government grants and part time jobs. She carefully plotted a trajectory to a better future. Less than a week into this plan of action, at a local college open day, she sat and watched as an advisor scrutinised her dreams. As he went about his analysis he made an off-hand comment about how she would never be a doctor. She immediately decided to do that instead. It was nearly two decades later, during a rare break in the rounds, that she stood over the newly abandoned Maisie. At that moment she decided that she had seen quite enough tragedy for one lifetime.

Maisie was not averse to picturing this moment either. Generally her mother would be stood almost Christlike by the old incubator, her spotless white coat the only suggestion of purity in an otherwise desecrated world. As she bent down to lift the child from her plastic cradle the-

*We are now arriving at Mirfield. If this is your stop please ensure you take any bags and belongings with you as you exit the train. Thank you.*

It wasn't unusual for Maisie to become so engrossed within her own epic that she had barely left the first chapter. Her stop was next so, somewhat begrudgingly, she put aside the day-dreaming and gathered her wits. She dug her hands into her pockets and searched for the piece of paper that had brought her here. It was a short, neatly hand written letter she had received little over a month ago:

"Dear Maisie

I hope you don't mind me contacting you out of the blue like this but I have an important matter I need to discuss with you. Please call me on the number below as soon as you get the chance.

Your half brother,


The letter had struck Maisie as being a little on-the-nose, particularly as she wasn't aware that she had a half brother. This was not helped by what followed:

"P.S. I apologise for being so abrupt. I stared at this piece of paper for four hours straight but it just wasn't working. Please call me. I promise it's important."

The first conversation was at its best stilted and, at its worst, downright painful. David had the air of a man with a great deal of anxiety. He was intelligent but nervous. From his voice she pictured him as a neurotic scientist or perhaps a rubbish spy. He had warmed to her over subsequent conversations and, slowly but surely, she had picked up on some key facts:

1 - David was still in his late teens and was Maisie's junior by a decade.

2 - David's mum was called Samantha.

3 - Samantha was Maisie's biological mother.

4 - Samantha was dead.

She had also managed to ascertain that David had found her with the help of a private investigator who had done his job from start to finish in under two days. Maisie made a subconscious note to fantasise about being a PI later. In due course it had also become clear that David was not willing to get to the heart of the matter over the phone, and as such they had arranged to meet in his hometown. Maisie had no idea what the meeting was really in aid of but she had already picked out some very classy paint schemes for the mansion she was about to inherit. She allowed her mind to linger on a nice mossy number with a plum coloured feature wall as the train pulled into Huddersfield.

David was a well dressed and reedy looking young man with a haunted look in his eyes. He greeted her with, what she imagined was, the most enthusiasm and joie de vivre he could muster and they headed towards a cafe for preliminary talks. Over a flat white and an iced frappe latte with two pumps of caramel and squirt of whipped cream they discussed their current families. Maisie sang the praises of her adoptive mother to try and assuage any second-hand guilt that David might be feeling on behalf of his late mother. David explained that information about his mother's childhood, the time of Maisie's birth, was thin on the ground, but she had eventually met a wonderful man in David's father. They had a good life until her passing, all things considered. At the mention of this David's countenance turned once more to nervousness. Maisie reckoned the mansion was a bungalow and David didn't want her to have it.

As it transpired the bungalow was a perfectly respectable 4 bedroom detached house. Inside were all the standard artefacts and ephemera of a loving family home; framed pictures of tender moments, an IKEA candle holder and the obligatory tabby cat. Maisie settled on a leather backed dining chair and waited with baited breath, sensing that the time had come for the big reveal. David sensed it too, but in order to find the nerve he had to run through the familiar ritual of making the tea while he spoke. He quietly dropped a teabag into a mug proclaiming 'World's best mum!'

"I - we owe you an apology..."

Maisie tried to interrupt but David preempted her protest.

"No. No it's not that."

He took a deep breath and poured the boiling water into the cup.

"My Mum was a wonderful woman who had an awful life. She never talked about her childhood, about when you were born, but you could tell that she was carrying something really immense. Something awful. Whatever that burden was she insisted on keeping it in silence."

He pushed the bag lazily around the mug while he searched for a way to articulate what he wanted to say. After what seemed like an age he spoke again:

"My Dad noticed that something was wrong not long after I was born. She started to get... Clumsy. Sometimes she fell for no reason."

He paused again to gather his thoughts.

"My whole life I watched her dying in front of me. It's just... It's not fair. It wasn't right. It-"

"What was it?" Maisie asked tentatively. It pained him to speak the words.

"Huntington's disease... I'm so sorry Maisie but... It's hereditary. You need to be tested..."

The tea was already cold by this point but he took the opportunity to take a sip anyway.

"We only found out about you in the weeks before she passed. I should have found you sooner but... She should have mentioned years ago but... How do you say any of this? My Dad couldn't handle it and he's the strongest man I've ever known."

Maisie slumped back in her chair, lost for words. The rest of the day coalesced into a homogenous lump. Maisie stayed a while and learned what she could, took in what would stick and tried to make conversation. David had already tested positive and he tried to elucidate some of the coping methods he had been taught by various counsellors and physicians. On the train back to London Maisie didn't day-dream. She didn't fantasise. She didn't even blink.


"Bloody hell Maisie, how old are you? It's only a little needle."

She looked up into the reassuring face of her mother. It must have been the last thing she wanted to deal with before her retirement but if she had any fears she didn't let them show. She never did. Maisie too had found a surprising resolve in the days that followed. She had vowed to face whatever the future held like a warrior princess of legend. This was her story and whatever the outcome she would not let it be dictated by the things written in her genes. She knew that the days, and maybe even the years ahead would be the most trying of her life but if she was sure of anything it was this: she had the strength to fight it. She got it from her mother.