School: High School of Dundee
"It was a sunny day, and we all went to the beach for a picnic," my grandma began, taking her gnarled hand in mine. She looks directly at me, her vivid blue eyes contrasted against her lined face. If it was just her eyes, she could be any age. I shift slightly in the creaking old chair provided by the care home. "The sea was so blue," she continued more softly, and I realised that she had forgotten I was there, and was lost in that day. "I went out for a swim. In the red bathing suit my mother gave me, for my thirteenth birthday. I saw a little girl. With red hair, playing." Her storytelling was now so simplistic, so childlike, that I wondered if there was even a point to this story. "Then she started drifting away, away, away. I reached out to her, and then..." Her spiel sputtered out, her thoughts lost, like a candle in the wind. "You were saying dear? Is it time for tea now?" She stumbled out of her seat, looking dazed. "No gran." I say sadly, missing so much the person she used to be. I help her back to her seat. "You were saying?"
"I'm sorry, do I know you?"
"Yes, yes you do."
At home, the glorious smells of fajitas rose from the kitchen, yet I sat at the computer, trawling through old articles about beach safety and stories about people saving dogs from rip currents and the like. "Alice... Hopkins... Sea... Saves child..." I muttered as I typed various keywords into the search bar. Nothing. I have to find out what happened. Not because I'm curious, though I was, but because I needed to give gran an ending to her story. I tried again. "Beach... Child saved... Alice Hopkins.." Nothing. So I changed tack. "Child... Drowns... Beach... U.K... 1956..." I surmised that must have been the year, given that she had been born in 1943 and she had recently had her thirteenth birthday. This time, there were some interesting results. I clicked the top link. Suddenly a mass of tabs opened up on my screen, the majority saying 'error'. Great. 10 minutes in and I had already downloaded a virus. "No! No don't shut down, please don't!" I yelled pointlessly at the computer screen. It switched to black. I sat back in my chair. How stupid was I? I couldn't tell mum, she'd kill me. So left it. My only research tool, gone. "Julia, dinner!" Mum yelled up the stairs.
I spent the whole night thinking. Maybe nothing really happened. Maybe someone else saved her. I had no idea which beach this was, no way to tell if it really was 1957. I didn't know if this was even about her. Maybe it was a story she had read somewhere. Alzheimer's is tricky, and there was no point to trying to find out what happened if it didn't happen at all. But I felt that I had to do this. Tell her the end of her story. One memory. Whole.
So I started to plan.
I decided to go to the library. I remembered hearing that some libraries kept copies of old newspapers, and, in any case, they had computers that didn't have viruses. When my alarm an hour early at 5 am, I snuck out of the house with my schoolbag. By the time I reached great, grey building that was my destination, the sun was rising. I didn't have long.
I tiptoed inside the cavernous, echoing room. A few dusty computers sat in a corner. The rest was filled, from floor to ceiling, with books. I crept towards the imposing woman at the desk. "Excuse me?" I whispered. "What!" she snapped. "Erm, I was wondering if there are any newspaper archives?" "Over there. But no touching anything older that 1980."
The vast aisle that she directed me to was crammed with yellowing papers. I had no idea where to start. If I couldn't look at anything too old then I should probably check recent articles to see if she could have read it somewhere. So I took a seat and started to read.
After hours searching, I still had nothing. If I wanted answers, I had to do this.
Looking around furtively, I quickly traced down to 1957 and, with a pang of guilt, seized a handful of ancient papers from the summer of that year. I stuff them into my bag, and bolted.
Outside the library, I checked my watch. It was 11:15. I was so late for school. I left a note for my parents to tell them I would go straight to school from the library, but it was far too late for that. I needed a place to go, to hide out until the end of the school day. I was miles from my house, and I didn't know anyone here. Except-
Her house was just around the corner. She had lived there until last year, when she was moved into a care home. And I still had the key.
I eased open the creaking door, and kept into the empty house. I couldn't shake the feeling of familiarity, all the Christmases and Birthdays spent here, until she was snatched from us into Alzheimer's cruel grip. I blinked back tears. I was here to research, I chided myself. Not to cry.
I sat down on the dusty carpet, and pulled out the files.
Times, 18th July 1957. Nothing.
Daily Mail, 23rd July 1957. Nothing.
And then, in between the crumpled pages, I found everything.
And then my phone rang.
"Julia? Where have you been!"
She didn't sound as angry as I thought she would.
"Erm... At school?"
"Don't. We came to pick up your sisters and you weren't there. But that's not why I'm calling you. Gran... She's very sick. She's dying. You need to come to see her, before..." She swallowed. I am suddenly terrified. I thought I was prepared for this, but I wasn't. You can never be.
"Where is she?"
"Fairview hospital, Lily Ward. Get here as quickly as you can."
I ran. It was only a few minutes until I saw the red brick building looming in my view.
I made it just in time. I run onto the ward, and to my gran's bed. Mum is crying.
"Could I please have a moment? With gran." I plead. They let me.
"Hi, gran. Do you remember that story you told me? That you couldn't remember the ending of? I found it." I grab the now very dog-eared copy from my bag. "You did it. You saved her. The little girl. Ruby Reynolds." I point to a picture, of the two of them, hugging.
I suddenly realised all the bad things I'd done to find this. Infected my family computer, stole records from a library.
There would be repercussions.
But I didn't care.
Because nothing was as special as watching her smile as the light left her eyes.
One last memory.