A woman I can only assume to be Emily Prescott answers the door, and looks me up and down with all the scepticism normally reserved for anyone offering door-to-door bill discounts. Then she blinks and I perceive her putting two and two together. ‘Thank you again,’ she says, ‘come on in.’
Emily’s house is prim and proper like a grandmother’s, except she doesn’t even look thirty. Her husband, whose name I was told over the phone and have forgotten, wears thick glasses and seems thicker in the forearms than the upper arms.
The couple sit side-by-side on a puffy loveseat and I settle into an armchair facing the window, looking to the quiet street. The view is obscured a little by the tall, sleek urn perched on top of a wood-frame display unit. The urn looks positively futuristic compared to the faded black-and-white photos that line the inside of the display.
‘So, is it damaged?’ Emily asks me.
I dig in a coat pocket and pull out a palm-sized silver disc, only a centimetre or two thick. ‘Some scratches and scrapes on the back. A dent on the side here from when it was wrenched out of the stone. The rest seems okay.’
Emily nods, her eyes pinched. ‘Whoever those little rats were, they damaged a lot of tombstones at once. You should see what they did to Mum’s.’
‘Is it definitely the right one?’ asks the husband. ‘You said you found it at a shopping centre.’
I nod. ‘They probably thought they could pawn it at Cash Converters for a few bucks. I guess they dropped it on the way.’ I apply pressure with my thumb and watch the top panel of the disc slide across, revealing the square-shaped barcode inside. I scan it with my smartphone, wait for the website to load and pass it to Emily.
‘That’s her, right?’ I ask.
Emily’s face scrunches and contorts, and suddenly she looks much older. She taps at the screen a couple of times, and I hear the ambiance of a video; the squeal of children, the carefree laughter, and a matronly voice leading a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’.
Emily silences the video and finally nods vigorously. ‘Yes. Yes, that’s Mum.’
‘I guess you can put it back on the tombstone now once you get it all fixed up again,’ I say.
‘Maybe embed it deeper this time,’ says the husband gruffly.
Emily sobs once like a hiccup. She stands, accepting the disc from me and moving slowly to the display unit. She gently pushes the urn back, and sets the disc in front of it like an offering.
‘It’s like I nearly lost a little bit of Mum,’ she says slowly. ‘I’ll think about it.’
I take it as my cue to leave, refusing tea and reclaiming my phone. I glance at the screen as I walk out; the old video is still running, focused on a woman—Carol Prescott—fawning over a girl no older than twelve.