If I were to tell you, some day, all that happened the year your mother ran off, you might not believe me. There were too many coincidences, too many encounters that seemed the stuff of fever dreams. I wouldn’t blame you for doubting. Life is rarely so generous. You’re barely three years old, now, far too young to understand; but I write this account for the future Zoé, so that you will know, when you are ready, my truths, inasmuch as we can ever know what is true. The pigeons in our dovecote, cooing softly on the roof as dusk casts long, blue shadows down Lombard Street, bear witness.
I write for myself, as well. I write this account of your mother, Camilla, my only daughter, still fresh in the grave, before the fog of loss and remorse cloud my memory and all that remains is a palimpsest of the woman she was. You should know that she died doing the work she loved. You should know that her patients were better for her attentive care. You should know that those who survive this modern-day plague of influenza will recall her devotion with gratitude.
Would that I could forgive her—but I cannot. She should still be here with you. You and I are bound not only by blood, but by shared grief. When I hold you in my arms and try to soothe your shuddering tears, my anguish roils at her absence, once again. This time, however, I cannot set off across the Atlantic to find her and bring her home.
As your grandmother, I also feel gratitude. I still have you. I promise you, Zoé, that I will do all I can to give you the life your mother would have wanted for you. When you read this, someday, you shall be my judge.
So, this is how it all began. . . .
Image: Nathan Dumlao