I was born in the spring of 1895.
I remember the party my parents threw to welcome the new century. The colours and finery were intoxicating. The food was the best I’d ever tasted. I ate cake until I was sick.
I remember watching Halley’s Comet appear in the night sky. I sat in a field in the dark watching what looked like a massive shooting star light up the heavens.
I remember the tall, nervous boy who sat with me. He was absolutely convinced that the earth was doomed. The papers had warned of poison gas from the tail of the comet. It was nonsense, of course, but the unscrupulous will do anything to line their pockets.
The sight was magnificent. The boy was less so, but I admired his conviction and the passion it stirred in him.
I remember the day I first read the name Kaiser Wilhelm in the newspapers. Later, when the wireless triumphantly announced that we were at war with Germany, I cursed that name.
I remember the shouting fights between my parents when they thought I was asleep. I remember the morning my father announced he was signing up with the medical corps. Mother’s eyes were still puffy, and she wouldn’t look at him. She cried herself to sleep the day he left, and every night for a month afterward.
I remember his letters home, filled with casual mundanities, hope, and promises that he would see us soon. One January, the letters stopped coming. I remember the torn scraps of the hand delivered telegram explaining why scattered across the kitchen floor.
Mother and I both cried ourselves to sleep that night. And in the morning, I informed her that I was going to the hospital to train as a nurse.
I remember the fear I felt walking into the field hospital. I remember the screaming, broken men lying in cots, covered in bandages. I remember wanting to help, but not knowing how. I remember holding the hands of the dying. I remember washing their blood from my hands.
I remember the day the matron told me I had been transferred to the pharmacy. I remember little of the years I spent unpacking, cataloguing, and dispensing medicines. I do remember that I felt more like a secretary than a nurse.
I remember the day they announced the armistice. It was cold, and rainy. The recovery ward was eerily silent. No one cheered. Tears flowed from doctors, nurses, and soldiers alike. Soft gasping cries followed. We were grateful that the fighting men would now return home, but we were acutely aware of the thousands left lying in the mud on foreign shores — the thousands who would never come home again.
In the summer of 1919, I went to Cambridge. I studied, worked hard, and gained the admiration of my peers. I didn’t stay.
I moved to London in search of something I couldn’t name. I wanted to help people. But I also wanted distance. Anonymity.
My searching brought me into regular contact with the bobbies of Scotland Yard. I heard the phrase, ‘this is no place for a nice girl’ more times than I can count. I heard, ‘out of the way, you bloody nuisance’ more times than that. But as the months wore on, I started hearing other things:
‘Be careful.’ ‘If you need anything, call.’ ‘Don’t go off on your own on this one.’ And finally, ‘Can you help? I’m at my wit’s end. We need a woman.’ I worked for the Yard for four years, allowing them to take advantage of my invisibility and tenacity.
On my own time I track down thieves, adulterers, conmen, blackmailers and those who have fallen through the cracks. My loyal network of irregularly employed freelancers help me to keep my finger on the pulse of the city.
My name is unique. It looks respectable on a shingle and a business card. I’m often mistaken for my own secretary.
My name is Ptolemy Graves. I find what others can’t.