Upstairs in the dining room, lunch was a simple meal of salad, followed by more braised fish and grated carrots. The aroma of a warm loaf of bread escaped the white linen napkin enfolding it. Rosalyn still found it odd that Marcella didn’t eat with them. Did she eat every meal alone in that echoey servants’ hall? Did washing the lettuce give her the right to keep Marcella company? Not that she minded being put to work. It was something to pass the time on this dreary, interminable day.
The women were discussing their plans for the next day. “Madame Fuseau’s first, of course,” said Nora, “and we can drop off our overnight things upstairs.”
“She doesn’t mind? What about the butter? The last thing I want is for her to say that I’ve nicked it out of her ice-box.”
“How suspicious you are!” Nora chided lightly. “She’s always been so loyal and honest, even generous, to deal with. But you can get Marcella to ask the merchants for receipts if you want proof.” Nora sounded defensive.
Gaétance stabbed a piece of fish and chewed it vigourously. “She won’t. Takes too long.”
Nora ignored this. “What was it you needed again?”
“Shot. I’m running low. And my heel needs repair.”
“On your riding boots?” Nora’s eyelids fluttered nervously. “Wouldn’t it be best to wait on that? I mean…”
Gaétane looked off to the right, way past Nora. “Fine,” she huffed. “I guess I’ll put it off again.”
“It’s just that with so many other expenses, the price of eggs and butter, I--“
Rosalyn wanted to scream, Who cares about boots and butter? Don’t you remember the real reason we’re going to town? Despite her size, or rather, despite their tiny size, she was the one who felt small. She felt bad for Nora. Gaétane was being unreasonable, wanting to fix riding boots when she had no horse to ride. In the tense pause in their conversation, she jumped in. “When can we look for my brother?”
The two women looked at her then back at each other. “The easiest would be to circulate a description of him as we go through the market, not mentioning of course how you got separated.”
Rosalyn said, “Marcella thought she could pass me off as her cousin’s daughter, but no one in her family has ever been fixed.”
“That’s no reason. It can happen in any family. The proud old biddy,” snorted Gaétane. “But the fact that you—and your brother, I assume—are fixed does complicate matters.”
“Why don’t you tell us what he looks like?” asked Nora.
“I can even show you. I have lots of pictures of him on my iPod. Excuse me a minute.” She hurried out of the dining room and grabbed her iPod from the backpack. Still 85% battery. This was worth losing a few percentages of juice, and anyway, without wi-fi, it would last a lot longer. On her way downstairs she flicked through her photos. Where was that one of him just sitting building Lego? In all the other ones he was making faces.
She held the device in front of Gaétane first. “See, he’s got blond hair and blue eyes like my mom and he’s about this tall.” She touched her arm between elbow and shoulder.
“Remarkable,” breathed Gaétane.
Here we go again, thought Rosalyn. Now I’ll have to tell my adoption story. But instead of speaking, Gaétane turned the device sideways, backward and upside down. “The frame is almost one with the picture,” she said, engrossed in examining it. She gingerly tapped he fingernail on the glass screen and yelped, dropping it on the table.
“The picture changed!”
Rosalyn scooped up the iPod before anyone else could drop it. “You can scroll through the pictures by tapping or swiping.” She demonstrated. By this time, Nora had come around to look. “Actually, I have lots of photos of him.”
“Photos?” said Nora.
“Yes, you know, photographs. I press this button and I can capture what I see, kind of like a drawing, but it’s the real thing. See, I’ve got lots of photos here. She swiped the screen to the right and the photo of Jason calmly concentrated on his Lego bulldozer reappeared. The next few photos were of the family at Niagara Falls. “That’s my dad, my mom, Jason and me at a big waterfall about an hour from our house. And here’s another one of just the Falls. And my parents again. And Jason climbing a big rock.”
“What trick or illusion have you performed,” cried Nora. “Is this some sleight of hand? Where are you putting the other pictures?” She gingerly turned Rosalyn’s wrist over to see the back of the iPod, but its rubbery purple case was all she could see.
“It’s no trick. The camera stores the pictures on the memory of the computer inside and I can access them by going into the gallery and scrolling through.”
They stared at her blankly.
“So the, uh, photos, are stored inside? On a tiny roll of some sort? Moving your finger turns the roll, I suppose,” said Gaétane.
How could you explain micro-computers and touch screen technology to people who were still cooking over fires and using ice for refrigeration? “I mean, they aren’t stored physically. They’re digital.” What did that mean anyway? “Sort of not a real picture, because you need a screen to view it. In the old days, people used film.” It was embarassing to discover that though she knew how to use the device, for the life of her she could not explain how it worked.
“So it’s not a real picture,” said Nora, vindicated. “It’s a trick of the eye.”
“No, I mean, I guess so, in a way. I can’t explain,” finished Rosalyn, unsure if she was annoyed at them or herself for not understanding. “But the point is, that’s really what my family looks like and that’s what my brother looks like so you can tell people exactly who we’re looking for.” Did she dare zoom in on his face or would that provoke another round of exclamations? She let them keep squinting at the picture. Was it possible they had missed the fact she was the odd one out in the family? They were so fixated on her being fixed that perhaps it was the only difference they could see.
“May I?” asked Nora, her finger poised over the screen.
“Sure. Just swipe to see the photos before or after.”
Nora gave a hesitant swipe and, as the picture changed, said with glee, “I did it!” She was looking at the photo of the whole family. “A very handsome little boy. Yes, I see, blond like your mother. What curious clothing you all wear.”
I can’t believe she still doesn’t see it, thought Rosalyn.
“May I?” said Gaétane. She gazed intently at the photo for some moments.
Here it comes, thought Rosalyn. She’s not too polite to say something.
“Your brother ressembles your parents much more than you do,” said Gaétane.
“I was wondering when you’d notice. I was adopted from another country.”
“So he’s not your real brother.”
“Of course he is,” protested Nora. “She’s been a part of the family longer than he has, no doubt.”
Rosalyn had been hoping to avoid this topic with them, with herself. Hadn’t she been having that same conversation with herself? Ever since her twelfth birthday she had started wondering whether one day she would meet her birth parents. Even though the only link she had to her biological family was her mother’s name and province written by hand on a little yellow card, it was as if one thread in the cord that bound her to Phil and Jane had broken. She kept thinking, All my earliest memories are of you and with you, but I’m not really yours. You went through all the difficulty of claiming me, but you could have gone anywhere, to any orphanage. I’m not even a true orphan. Her mother hadn’t died or anything. She was out there somewhere and had given her up.
More and more she noticed that Jason was one of them, in a way that she would never be. He raised his eyebrows like their dad, his colouring was their mom’s, his mom’s. He even chewed his food exactly like her.
“Don’t worry so much,” Marie had said consolingly, when Rosalyn had confided she worried her parents loved Jason more than her. “I wish I was adopted these days. My mother is acting like a freak and if I was adopted I could just be like, ‘So glad I am not actually related to you.’ I’m sure they love you just as much if not more. Gosh, no offense or anything, but he is getting so annoying.”
That was true. He had developed the habit of wandering off when they were out in public. Last week in the grocery store they had been in the frozen section when they had suddenly realized he wasn’t with them. They had had to abandon their orderly progression through the store and frantically go up and down the aisles, calling his name. They found him standing in front of the wall of cereal boxes. “Mom! Look at this!” he said as if he had simply been waiting for them to catch up with them. “Can we get some Cocoa Frosted Honey Bombs?”
Jane had said no because boys who ran off did not get rewarded with cereal that contained 16 grams of sugar per serving. He had sulked all the way home and his mother had pursed her lips and driven in silence, more aggressively than usual. It was as if Jason just didn’t care that he had made them worry. Was he doing the same thing now? Waiting around carefree, as if it were the most normal thing in the world to be seven years old and to go off on your own? But she couldn’t imagine home without him, that was the truth. His disappearing act had worried them because they loved him. She finally spoke, “Biologically, he may not be my brother, but legally and in my heart he is. And I’ve got to find him.” She suddenly felt hopeful that tomorrow they would be successful.
“Well, wonderful you had these, what’s the word, photos,” said Nora. “We’ll have no trouble describing him. Anything unusual always gets spread abroad so quickly on market day. Who knows, he may have been picked up by a kindly fisherman whose wife has stuffed him with sweets.”
“And now’s he’s probably so hyper they can’t wait to get him off their hands. Especially if he’s been bigger than they are today.”
“Exactly. It will work out fine.”
“I hope so,” said Gaétane, although her tone of voice said “But I doubt it.”