Yvonne Edwards lost everything two years ago, including her memories. When, however, someone sends her one of her old maths notebooks – from before – Yvonne starts to uncover who she had been. Now, Yvonne embarks on a quest to rediscover truths about herself, truths about the world and, maybe, truths about love.
© Mari Thomas 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Those Without A Name
All good stories, I suppose, start somewhere along the line with a birth. Whether it be the birth of a hero, or an illegitimate heir, or a god, the story has to start somewhere – usually at the beginning. My story doesn't start with a birth. It doesn't even start at the beginning. My story starts with a death.
My uncle wasn't a bad man and, right up until the day he died, he treated me well. He took me in when he had no obligation to do so and raised me for two years entirely out of his own pocket. If he did have one vice, though, it would be his partiality for liquor. He wasn't a drunk, but when he drank – and he tended to drink often – he drank a lot.
In the end, it led to his downfall; he died of liver poisoning.
That downfall of his, however, was most certainly not the subject of his funeral service. Surrounded by all his friends and loved ones I was hardly going to criticise his every move, but I would have liked to be able to speak more realistically about the man who served as my father.
My uncle wasn't a bad man, but he wasn't necessarily a good one either.
When the service ended, a small group of his closest friends and relatives followed the Hearse down the road to the graveyard. That was when it started to rain.
The inky drops splattered onto the broad strokes of my umbrella as I watched them lower the coffin into the grave. People were clustered around the scene, ladies dabbing their eyes with tissues and men putting comforting arms around their loved ones. I stood alone.
The rain water had long since permeated through my shoes and soaked my tights but I pretended not to notice. My hands were freezing as I held my umbrella in a death grip, but I wouldn't let go. It was terrible weather for a funeral, but to the majority of people here, it was perfect.
I liked the rain. For me, it was comforting to have my favourite type of weather on the day of my uncle's funeral.
I stared blankly as they began to throw soil on top of the coffin, though by this point it wasn't so much soil as it was mud. Standing in the rain and watching the mound of dirt next to the grave slowly disappear, I came to appreciate just how tedious the process was.
Soon, a low murmur spread throughout the crowd, as people began to grow tired of watching the same monotonous job be carried out in solemn silence. Whispers spread through the masses like wildfire, all the while, heavy droplets of water continued to splash down on my shoes.
"Is that the niece?" I heard someone – a woman – ask. The reply was almost instant, like clockwork.
"Yes, the poor thing." The second voice's tone was laced with pity and forced sympathy.
Unbidden, my lip curled in disgust. I never asked for pity before and I certainly didn't wish for it now.
"What do you mean?" A third voice saw fit to interrupt, forgetting to drop the volume. I wanted to sneer at them.
"After everything she went through," the second voice continued, oblivious to my growing dislike for her, "the poor dear, now this…"
Suddenly, I turned away from the grave, backing out of the crowd, not wishing to hear the same old sob story retold thousands of different ways.
Everyone knew the sob-story of poor Yvonne Edwards whose parents shipped her off to Germany and isolated her from everything and everyone she'd ever known. I'd heard this story told so many different ways that by now, I could predict everything they would say next.
Can you blame me for not wishing to hear it again?
I walked home at the end of it all alone. The people who had been so eager to hand out pity like promotional goods before left me to wander on my own in the rain, passing my by in their high-speed cars. I didn't mind. I liked solitude.
My uncle's house was nice, even if it looked like a Victorian Dollhouse from the outside. There was ivy climbing up around the door, and flowerbeds full of marigolds and pansies sitting beneath the windows on the ground floor. It was as if someone had taken a house in the English countryside and moved it here – to Germany.
My uncle's best friend answered the door.
"Wie war es?" he asked me in German as he took my umbrella and black coat off me.
"It was fine, Johann," I told him, replying in English; I lacked the presence of mind to speak in anything but my mother tongue.
Johann was in his late forties and had a rather unattractive penchant for facial hair. His facial hair, that is, not the presence of facial hair on his lovers. He had been my uncle's best friend.
Johann ran a hand through his beard.
"I knew I should have come," he said, switching to English, his thick German accent showing through.
"It's fine," I insisted. "Lots of his relatives from England were there. I was fine."
Johann was a firm disbeliever in funerals, stating that he would remember my uncle in his own way, not through some dressed up service. After the pity party that swarmed me, I can't say I could find fault with his philosophy.
Johann was someone I felt inexplicably indebted to. After my uncle collapsed, he was the only person I could count on at any time of the day, whether that be in the early hours of the morning for a wakeup call, or after school for help with homework. Before my uncle's death, we had minimal interaction at best, but he really stepped in for me afterwards.
He even continued the tradition my uncle had upheld of only speaking English inside the house, so I wouldn't lose grip on my mother tongue, though today it wasn't necessary. Almost everyone at the funeral had been English – all my uncle's relatives had attended. All of them except my parents.
I rubbed my shoes dry on the mat, before placing them beneath the coat hooks in the hallway. As I made my way upstairs, Johann called up to me.
"Your parents called whilst you were away," he said.
I rolled my eyes as I walked up the stairs, trying my best to show my disinterest in this fact.
"They want you to call them back." Here he paused. "Oh, and a parcel also arrived."
That was intriguing. I rarely received post, much less packages, unless I ordered something online. To my knowledge, I hadn't ordered anything. I stuck my head down the stairs.
"Really?" I asked.
Johann nodded and threw a wrapped parcel up to me. By some miracle of God, I actually caught the flying projectile, but not without scowling at Johann. Knowing my luck, it would have hit me in the face had I not caught it.
"Dinner's at six," Johann declared. "Heute essen wir Curry!"
I rolled my eyes. Any English person would turn their nose up at Johann's idea of curry – what kind of person puts banana and mango in their bhuna?
"OK!" I called down, making my way back up the stairs, staring down at the package.
Intrigued, I looked at the postage mark; someone from England had sent me a package. Almost immediately, I felt my blood chill as the ramifications of this hit me. I had had no contact with any of my old acquaintances from before and this… This was a breach in the walls I'd built around myself – that had been built around me – for my own protection.
I looked it over nervously as I made my way back up to my room.
Opening this package would go against everything I had been instructed to do by my parents, would be an act of defiance of the highest order. I would be spitting in the face of my mother and father from over half a thousand miles away.
I hesitantly began to pick at the parcel tape holding the package shut. My left hand absent-mindedly pushed open the door to my room and I entered, still entranced by the package.
I had almost teased the brown paper into an opening, when I heard a sudden noise.
I jumped in shock, placing a hand on my heart before throwing the package aside. Who was I kidding? There was a reason I left England, after all. I closed the door to my room and walked across the landing to where the phone was kept.
Calmer now, I picked up the phone.
"Guten Tag," I said into the phone, my German accent coming out with a prevailing English drawl.
I cringed. It was my parents calling.
If I couldn't stand the pity I received at the funeral, speaking to my mother made me feel physically sick. Every single word that came out of her mouth seemed to make my skin crawl in distaste. She spoke with an overly sensitive tone, as if I were a minefield and she had to tread carefully around me, lest I self-destruct.
"Yes, Mother?" I switched back to English. "What is it?"
My tone was decidedly even, if slightly strained.
"Do I need a reason to call my daughter?" my mother asked, sounding affronted.
Well, considering the fact that she had barely spoken to said daughter in two years, I couldn't help but feel the answer was yes. After she ditched me with her brother-in-law in another country, it was like there was a wall between us. What she said and what she did simply reeked of hypocrisy. I, however, didn't say this.
"Of course not," I replied smoothly, "but I presume you have a reason for calling nonetheless."
"Ah, yes," she said. "Well, about your return to England…"
I sat and listened as she explained the circumstances. They were having trouble selling their house – endless trouble, I was led to believe – and so I could not join them until they had sorted everything out. There was no problem with this for me, but I felt sorry for Johann. It was rude to trespass on his kindness longer than necessary.
"OK," I said tiredly, at the end of her long tirade.
My mother bid me goodnight, and then abruptly disconnected.
After speaking to my parents – who always seemed to want as little to do with me as possible – I always would wonder if things had always been like this, even before. Despite their insistences that this had nothing to do with that, it always felt like this exile they had forced on me was a result of that.
I shook my head. Thinking about that sort of thing would only make me depressed. More depressed than I was already, that is.
After placing the phone back in its holder, I pushed open the door to my room and collapsed on the bed.
My room was a maze of boxes at the moment, with most of my personal possessions packed up and ready to be shipped back to England, but certain things remained that made me smile. My walls were still the shade of purple my uncle had picked out for me, having never met me, but somehow knowing what my favourite colour was. My curtains were still the result of terrible sewing that should never have seen the light of day, much less be hung up. My uncle and I had made them one weekend when he had some spare time. We both considered it a triumph they actually did their job. Lastly, though, lying on top of my bed sheets was the same old patchwork quilt that my uncle's mother had given him, and he had given me.
Everything that remained in my room screamed of the new life I had been forced to build, after finding myself exiled from the old one.
And I was leaving it all behind.
I couldn't help but sense a pattern.
That night, as I drifted into the darkness, the package from England, from before, seemed to stare at me. My hands twitched beneath the covers as I resisted the urge to indulge my curiosity and open it.
When I finally fell asleep, I dreamt of the rain.
The annoying, high-pitched shrieking of my alarm was what alerted me to the fact that it was Monday and school was quickly approaching. I showered and dressed distractedly that morning, assembling myself in an absent-minded daze.
As I left my room, my school bag slung over my shoulder, I glanced at the half-opened parcel that was sat on my floor, in amongst the boxes. It seemed to stare back at me. In a last angry huff, I threw my pillow over it, determined to forget all about the traitorous parcel.
School that day passed without incident. I had never had many friends at my new school, and so the only real social interaction I got was between me and the teachers. I didn't mind. It was hard to make friends when you had no idea who you were.
When I came home to an empty house, though, the parcel was still weighing on my mind. It was always there, in the back of my thoughts, even when I tried to focus on maths, or block out my surroundings in physics.
I paused in the hallway, listening for the sounds of Johann being home. He wasn't in.
No one would know, I told myself. No one would know if I opened it.
The internal battle raged within me for all of thirty seconds before I threw my keys into the bowl and scampered up the stairs. The package was still there, peeking out from under the pillow.
Taking a deep breath, I turned it upside down, causing the contents to slide out of the opening I'd made.
Into my waiting hands fell a notebook.
Written, in a handwriting I recognised as my own, where the answers to the form on the front:
NAME: Yvonne Edwards
I felt my heart sink. It was merely a maths notebook. I sighed. Well, at least I would know if I had always been so good at calculus.
I was still flicking through the notebook when Johann came home from work.
"Ich bin's!" Johann called out, announcing his arrival in German.
His loud voice made me jump, causing me to drop my notebook. I was reaching down to pick it up when, out from the back pages, fell a card. I flicked my eyes around the room before picking it up and reading it.
"'JoeBloggs Account Details'," I read aloud. "'Username: Nameless'." I frowned. "'Password: TWWLWS010396'."
"Yvonne!" Johann was calling. "Wo bist du?"
Without thinking, I answered, "In my room!"
Johann was in my room in seconds.
"What's up?" he asked, seeing me sat on my bed.
I shrugged, shoving the notebook beneath my quilt.
"Not much," I replied, then moved to change the subject. "Hey, do you have some free time? I need help with my German homework."
Johann smiled at me.
"Literature still confusing you?" he asked, beckoning that I follow him out of my room.
"Are you kidding me? I had trouble understanding the subject in English. In German, I don't stand a chance."
We continued chatting mildly all evening, me eventually striking a deal for help with my German homework: I chopped the carrots, he explained Goethe to me in simple words. Three hours and four pages of an essay later and we had both fulfilled our ends of the deal.
"You really do have a problem with German literature, don't you?" Johann asked me.
I nodded emphatically.
I knew he could tell. I knew that he saw something was bothering me. I knew he was trying to get me to come to him.
As he began to talk about his day at work, I wanted to yell at him. I wanted to just tell him to come out with it, to ask me what was wrong, but he didn't. It was as if he thought this was some bizarre sort of way to test the waters – to see how much I trusted him. It probably was.
A small amount of guilt bubbled up within me as I kept my mouth shut about the card – the blog account details – but I shoved it down. I wouldn't trust Johann. I wouldn't trust anyone until I felt I could trust myself.
Eventually, even Johann tired of my silence and bid me goodnight, leaving me alone in the darkened room. My eyes twitched as I stared around, taking into account the clock, which read half-eight, and finally falling on the closed lid of my laptop.
I sighed and unplugged it, lugging it up with me to my bedroom.
Once inside the room, I tugged the covers off my bed and retrieved the card.
"'JoeBloggs'," I read aloud again.
I was seeking for anything; even if it was only a hint of recognition, I knew I would cling to it. Even if I couldn't remember writing the card, I still wanted the familiarity, the feeling that I knew I had written those details.
I closed my eyes, searching my subconscious. I pulled a blank.
"'Nameless', eh?" I asked myself, forcing myself not to laugh at the irony.
Taking a deep breath, I opened the lid of my laptop and punched in my password. My fingers skated with an ease I assumed I'd always had across the keyboard, flicking past the keys and opening a browser. Straight into the search-bar, I started to write an enquiry.
JoeBloggs, I wrote, Nameless.
My heart was hammering against my chest as I hit enter. It was in my throat as I saw the page begin to load. There! I saw it. The first search result: Nameless…
Another deep breath.
I clicked on the link.
The page loaded.
My eyes widened when I saw it:
[neimləs] Adj. 1.Lacking name 2. Anonymous 3. Indescribable 4. Distressing beyond words…
We are all lacking of something. Some lack morals, others motivation, others courage. What we lack, however, does not define us. What defines us is that which we seek.
I am that which lacks a name, seeking refuge in anonymity. Through these imperfect eyes, I survey the world.
I blinked, looking down the page. Was this … my blog?
I opened a drop down button, gazing at the different posts. Nameless, Faceless, Spineless… What the hell? What were all these? Did I … write this?
My eyes scoured the page, looking for a place I could log in. I found it, in the usual top right-hand corner location and hurriedly plugged in the details on the card. I held my breath as the website processed the request… And granted me access.
I stared. Was this real? I stared. Was this really happening? I stared.
I was stuck between incredulity, fear and excitement. Confusion was the resultant feeling from that mess. Should I read on, read the posts? My fingers trembled as I made my way through the account details page.
I shook my head. Did I really want to do this? Perhaps, if I tried, I could forget about the maths notebook. I could disappear again. Forget about being Yvonne Edwards, or whoever I was. Keep at it, forget about my past, treasure my clean slate... I could still be my uncle's niece here if I tried.
Screw it, I told myself, I'd already broken one rule. And, I added, what's a teenager without a little teenage rebellion?
On the page, there was an alert window, notifying that I had close to one thousand unread comments… I clicked it.
This blog is amazing! When are you going to update? I know it's been like two years and all, but still!
Eagerly awaiting more,
I furrowed my brow in confusion, but read on.
I came across this blog purely by accident and I have to say, I became hooked the moment I read your first post. I've come across so many people like the ones you describe, and it's fascinating the way we have to second guess how they're involved with your life.
Keep at it,
There were pages and pages of them. Some of them made me laugh, some made me smile. Others made me cringe at the language.
I would have happily kept reading at it all night, but time ticked onwards and, wary of my early start, I shut my laptop lid and fell asleep.
That night, I didn't dream of the rain. I didn't dream of the past either. I dreamt of running.
I think Johann found my mood swing somewhat disconcerting as I bounded down the stairs, full of energy the next morning. He shot me a weird look from above his coffee as I pottered about seeking out my favourite cereal, but I'm sure he put it down to hormones, because the next second I caught him rolling his eyes on the edge of my vision.
"Tonight," I asked, with a mouthful of cornflakes, "can I call my parents?"
Johann was so shocked by my statement he had to use every inch of restraint he had not to spray coffee over his facial hair.
"Don't speak with your mouth open," he eventually regained enough composure to say.
"It's 'mouth full', Johann," I informed him. Although he tried his best, Johann had never quite succeeded in mastering every English proverb and idiom.
He gave me a look that clearly read 'do not go there'. I shrugged, continuing to munch on my cornflakes in good cheer. After five more seconds, I repeated the question.
"Well," I said, "can I?"
Johann sighed, placing his coffee mug down on the table.
"I don't see why not," he caved.
I smiled through a mouth full of cornflakes, which elicited a declaration that I 'shouldn't eat with my mouth full either'. I could see Johann wanted to ask why I wanted to call my parents, when just days before I had been cringing at the mention of contact with them, but he didn't push the issue. We both finished up our breakfasts in silence before leaving the house for our respective destinations.
School passed in a blur of meaninglessness. I couldn't focus on my lessons, so I gave up paying attention. I was almost caught out in maths, when the teacher asked me a surprise question, but luckily, I was able to answer. Who cares whether the answer was correct or not?
After unlocking the door and throwing my key into a bowl, I practically ran to the phone. The number that I'd been forced to memorise two years ago came to me easily as I dialled it in and waited for an answer.
I think I startled her with that word.
"What is it, dear?" came the reply.
I definitely startled her. 'Dear' was not a word she had ever, in my memory, used to describe me. It was more 'my daughter' or 'Yvonne'. Never 'dear'.
"Mum, don't sell the house," I said hurriedly.
She immediately began to protest.
"It's not fair that you and Dad have to leave your lives behind for me," I countered, effectively shutting her up. I knew that had been her reason for shipping me off to Germany all those years ago. It had been a reason that had stung when she told me and somehow, it felt good to throw it back in her face.
It took a while for her to gain her second wind, so to speak, but she eventually replied, "But, the psychologist said—"
I cut her off.
"She said it could be too traumatic to return to a life I couldn't remember a thing about and it was better to start anew, yada, yada," I said quickly. Before she could protest, I continued. "I get it. This isn't just about what the psychologist thinks, though, Mum. It's about what I think."
Silence greeted me as I said this.
"Look, Mum," I said. "Please, let me return. There's nothing here for me anymore in Germany, you said it yourself. So let me come back. Let me try to figure out … let me seek out who I am."
I held my breath as she considered it.
"I'll talk to your father," she said slowly.
"Thank you," I began, but it was my turn to be cut off.
"I'm not making any promises, Yvonne, but," she paused as she spoke, taking a deep breath, "I suppose you do know what is best for you."
This was what was best for me, I told myself that over and over again. Radio silence wouldn't work anymore, not since it had been breached, and I wasn't stupid enough to try to forget. Forgetting was painful. I knew that. It never crossed my mind just how painful remembering could be too.
Knowing this, though, I would have still pushed forward. Why? Because I knew it. I knew it right then.
Right then, it was all or nothing.
OK, random idea, right? I'm not sure what motivated me to write this story, but the plot was something I came up with when severely sleep-deprived at my friend's birthday party.
I have trouble, I have realised, writing in the first person.
As for the German, it probably stops here. I just put it in so I wouldn't have to do that part where writers write in italics and say 'this is German, deal'. I'm not a native speaker, but I am pretty good at German and both my parents are fluent.
Wie war es? – how was it?
Heute essen wir Curry! – today, we eat curry!
Guten Tag – hello (literally, good day)
Ich bin's! - the equivalent of I'm home. Equates to 'it's me!'
Yvonne, wo bist du? – Yvonne, where are you?
The stuff about Johann putting fruit in his curry, yes that has happened to me. On my German exchange, I was pleasantly informed that we were eating curry and was shocked to see banana, appricots and mango in it. Perhaps it's just and English thing, but I had to suppress a shudder as I ate.
Who was Goethe? A German guy who wrote stuff. Wikipedia him if you want to know more.
JoeBloggs? I made it up as a joke. You know the saying, just you're average Joe Bloggs, well, it's a blogging site in this story.
Can anyone guess the password's meaning? There is one, I assure you.
Oh well, that's it from me.
See you around.
PS: Happy New Year's! (a bit early, but still)
PPS: Drop me a review, would you?