It took some digging, but Marjorie Lipman eventually found out which guard could be trusted with a favour. Rumour had it young Andrew Taylor was susceptible to bribes, so the next time Marjorie caught him in the prison hallway’s (not-so) secret blind spot, she flashed him her brightest smile along with a crisp tenner and her father’s Nikon. Without hesitation, the guard slipped the bill into his pocket, hung the camera’s strap around his neck and followed her into the infirmary where one of their most notorious prisoners laid up in waiting.
When Edward Francis Hampton II first arrived, there was a note on his chart warning of extremely violent tendencies. Since he needed his medication intravenously, a minimum of two guards were required to escort him to the infirmary and restrain his wrists and ankles before a nurse could enter with the syringe. Soon, though, the nurses and guards collectively decided it wasn’t necessary; Edward was never anything but compliant and respectful. He was well-liked by his fellow inmates, too, always regaling them with grand war stories and performing complicated card tricks.
On a logical level, Marjorie knew he wasn’t innocent; the evidence was overwhelming. But she couldn’t help but feel the incident was a by-product of his post-traumatic stress disorder, not the mind he inhabited on the day to day. The first time Marjorie was alone with Edward, once the guards had fallen away, she found herself involuntarily touching her own hair and giggling like a schoolgirl. They sat and talked so long she neglected her other patients and spent the afternoon scurrying around like a field mouse to finish her work, all with a goofy smile on her naïve young face.
To fall in love with a prisoner was reckless; to fall in love with a man who shot his last wife was just plain stupid. But love has been blind since the dawn of time, and when it came to Edward, Marjorie couldn’t see a damn thing.
And so it was, one week to the day before Edward’s scheduled hanging, Marjorie slipped behind the infirmary’s curtain and emerged in a yellow A-line dress. Edward, animated and staring bright-eyed at the pretty nurse, dropped his crinkly hospital gown to reveal the best outfit he had access to, faded blue jeans and a collared black button-down.
“Okay, how do we make it look like I'm not locked in here?” Edward asked, surveying the room as if he were the photographer and Marjorie his muse.
Marjorie carefully untacked an anatomy poster from the wall and stood posing with her hand on her hip. Francis beamed and took his place beside her, slipping his arm around her, pulling her in close.
“You got this, chief?” He asked the guard. “And mums the word, right?”
They would have never allowed another soul into their perfect secret, but they had to find a way to immortalize their love.
“Okay, smile!” Andrew said, raising the camera. Flash.
Since I was the only Erickson left in our hometown, I was tasked with getting my grandmother’s house ready for market following her death. I was nearly done with the heartbreaking and arduous task; all that was left was the attic. Having put it off as long as I could, I finally and begrudgingly dragged the rusty ladder in from the garage and clambered up. Lively dust particles danced in the beam of my flashlight; I sneezed, displacing them only for them to multiply in a frenzy. The first thing I noticed was the chest. My grandma specifically noted in her will that the chest was to go to me, but we couldn’t find it at the time.
Now that it was before me, I flooded with a bittersweet cocktail of emotions. Firstly, amazement that anyone got the thing up here in the first place. To call it heavy would be an understatement. The thing was pure iron, straight out of a shipwreck. My grandma kept her collection of Victorian dolls in it, and for some reason it was one of the things she wanted me to have.
With a deep breath I lifted the lid, bracing myself for the macabre sight of long-abandoned porcelain faces. The dolls were there, and atop their heads sat a framed photo of my grandmother as a young woman standing next to a man I didn’t recognize. I picked up the frame, blew off the dust, pried the metal fasteners up and popped the photo out. On the back, in place of the usual biometrics, was a note addressed to me.
You’re the only one I trust with the truth. I can’t in good faith leave the mortal plane without making this confession. This photo was taken on September 5th, 1959. About a week later, I learned I was pregnant with my first son—your father. But his father—your grandfather—is not who you believe it to be. Your biological grandfather was Edward Francis Hampton II. I was a nurse in the Rosetown Penitentiary, and I fell in love – hopelessly, recklessly – with a prisoner. It’s a sin of the highest order and I hope you can forgive me. Do with this information what you will. I know I will pay dearly for my cowardice, among other things.
Love from the beyond, always, and forever,
I re-read the note until the letters became unrecognizable scribbles on the page. I couldn’t tell if it was the dust choking me or the impending sob that was trying to push its way through my esophagus. Either way, I had to return to ground level before I had a coughing fit, a panic attack, or both. With the photograph clutched under my armpit, I climbed down the rickety ladder and returned to present day.
I took a long, slow draw from a strong gin and tonic that was masquerading as water inside my Gymshark bottle and typed Edward Francis Hampton II into the library search engine. There were four entries. The first directed me to the historical newspaper section, and as I flipped through the massive, dusty book and settled on the page, a headline made my pulse thicken: Decorated War Veteran on Trial for Triple Homicide.
The article included a grainy sepia photo of the man implicated in my grandmother’s confession, and I was glued to the page until I fully absorbed the bizarre story.
Ed Hampton moved to Canada from England to follow his psychiatrist who had been treating him for trauma-induced psychosis after his experiences in the war. Edward’s wife said the man who returned from the war was not her husband. It was she who phoned the police during his first breakdown—she’d awoken in the night to a loud banging and found him smashing the concrete floor in their basement with a sledgehammer repeating with wide, terrified eyes that he needed to escape, that they were coming for him. This was the event that resulted in his becoming part of a clinical trial for the world’s first anti-psychotic medication, Chlorpromazine. He was successfully on the medication with no psychotic episodes for nearly a decade before his shocking fate was sealed.
His neurological elastic had been pulled taut and then let go with a ferocious snap. He shot his wife point blank and then turned his .38 revolver on the couple they had over to play cards with every Friday evening.
You’d think I would've been more rattled to learn I was the descendant of a murderer, but I wrote my dissertation on the Canadian Residential School system, which already shone a glaring, damning, ugly light on my ancestry.
I’m already the descendant of murderers. What's one more?
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I love the story! The characterization of both Marjorie and Edward are well done. I could really buy into their forbidden love and the guilt of their secret. The revelation of Edward's crime was perfectly suspensful, starting out as a charistmatic criminal and then unearthing his crime and instability. I'm a little confused on the last two paragraphs. Are the ancestors referenced there different than Edward and Marjorie? If so, I think some elaboration is necessary. I like the idea that there is more to Natalie's ancestry, but it seems to ...
Thanks so much for reading, and for your meaningful response! The idea was to condemn the actions of European settlers in Canada with regards to what happened at the Residential Schools. Your comment is helpful though, I'll have to go back and re-work the ending so it's clearer.