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Illustrations by Daniel Pudles

Mail in the building was arriving later and later. No big deal. Francine Doherty’s was chiefly bills and appeals to save elephants, whales, and other endangered species, and a flood of catalogues filled with items — large gas grills, $600 fountain pens, sexy lingerie — for which she had no need. Some days she didn’t even bother to go down to the lobby to collect it. Today, a Saturday afternoon, she did. The usual junk, or so it looked, until, in the elevator returning to her apartment, shuffling through it, she noticed a letter, addressed to her in longhand, with a return address of The Cradle, 2049 Ridge Avenue, Evanston, Il. 60201.

In her apartment, Francine opened the letter, which read:

Dear Ms Doherty,

This is a complicated letter for me to write, and doubtless will be no less complicated for you to read. You, I have recently discovered, are my real, or my so-called birth, mother. I don’t know if you have been curious about me and my fate since you gave birth to me at The Cradle, Home for Unwed Mothers, as it used to be called, on January 11, 1967.

Only at the age of twenty-one was I told that I was adopted, and then my first instinct was to block it out. I was adopted by a couple, Ira and Maureen Greenberg, in comfortable circumstances. My father, who died five years ago, was an accountant, my mother, who died last year, dabbled in interior decorating but mainly stayed home to raise me and her two natural children, which she had after my adoption. (I’m told it happens fairly often that, after adoption, women suddenly are able to have children of their own.) The Greenbergs were never less than good to me: they brought me up Jewish, paid for my education, were excellent grandparents to my own two kids (Jonathan, 9, and Sara, 7), who are also your grandchildren.

I know little about your own circumstances. I don’t know whether you have remarried or have other children of your own. I was able to discover that you were seventeen when I was born, which would make you, if I calculate correctly, sixty-seven today.

I don’t know the degree of your curiosity if any about me, but I did want to let you know that I seem to have landed on my feet, largely through the good luck of having been adopted by loving and generous people. I am an attorney, moderately successful in my practice — I mostly do estate planning — and have what I think a solid marriage, and Jonathan and Sara seem happy kids with good prospects. I thought it might comfort you to know these things.

I should much like to meet with you, at your convenience. If you don’t have the same interest in meeting me, if I represent a really bad time in your life that you have long ago put behind you and do not wish to revisit, I shall of course understand and never bother you again. If, as I hope, you do want to get together, my home phone number is 847-835-1413, my cell 321-542-2472.
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