Wherefore Art Thou, Emajean?
A Friends of the Library Mystery
Emajean’s background was very different from László's. She was the daughter of a coal merchant. Her father was much older than her mother, and had been married once before. His first wife had died, leaving him a son, Walter, who Emajean’s mother raised as her own. Walter was ten when Emajean was born. Ten years later, baby sister Frances was born. Frances was a sickly child and demanded a great deal of her mother’s attention.
Walter took it upon himself to walk Emajean to and from school each day. Although he was a grown man, in many ways his mind was still that of a child. He was fiercely protective of Emajean and began to interfere with her relationships with her classmates. When she complained to her mother, she was told that she was lucky to have an older brother to look out for her. Overhearing this, Walter appointed himself Emajean’s protector for her own good.
When Emajean was in high school Walter got a job working on a farm just outside the city. Whenever he had an afternoon off, he walked to the street car line and then caught a ride to Emajean’s public school where he waited to walk her home. One afternoon, she came out of the school building and didn’t notice Walter. She and a young man turned to walk down the street together. The young man bent his head to say something to her and took her books from her arms to carry them for her. Walter saw her look at the young man with a sweet smile, and snapped. He rushed over to the couple, seized the boy by the shoulders and threw him into the street. An oncoming truck was unable to stop in time, and the boy’s leg was broken as the truck ran over it. When the police came to the house that night to question Walter, Emajean’s father told them he had sent Walter far away already, where he would not bother anyone anymore.
From that time, no one in the family mentioned Walter. Emajean could sense that her parents wondered what had gone on between Walter and Emajean in those first couple of years when baby Frances was so sick. But instead of asking, they pretended that he did not exist. The denial of his existence was so complete that Emajean began to wonder if she had indeed done something wrong, whether she had encouraged him in some way that was wrong. A feeling of responsibility descended upon her, so she joined in the artifice whenever her parents were around, and gradually, their life went on as if Walter never had been part of it.
Emajean never knew where they had sent him, but once, when she was home sick with a fever, she heard the postman call out to her mother as he brougt her mother the mail. She heard “here’s a letter from the Yukon! That’ll be young Walter telling you he’s discovered gold!” Emajean did not hear her mother’s reply. She heard her mother telling her father about it that evening, angrily declaiming the mailman's nosiness. Emajean tried to find such a letter, but was never successful. In the end, all she had to remember her brother by was an old photo, taken when he was working with his father on the coal wagon. In it he was dressed up, and looked out shyly, as if he was unworthy of the time and expense of a photograph.
Emajean graduated from high school with honors, and received a scholarship to study nursing at Loyola University in Chicago. Her first semester she had been a little homesick, but after the first trip home for Christmas, she knew that Lincoln was not where she wanted to live. She returned to Chicago with a zeal for enjoying the city and her college life, changed her name to Jean, and pursued her studies. Although she hoped to find a husband and start a life in Chicago, she never would have dreamed of meeting a man like László.