Seven years later, I still don’t understand.
“I’m sorry,” Father Gormbles says. Funny, nothing has changed. I’m an adult now, yet he still looks through me with his vacant milky eyes. “We really must start. I have a christening coming.”
“Right, um…yeah.” I wonder where everyone else is. “Okay.” Jane, her parents, Mrs Morriss, Mother’s boss, and some ladies from the CWA are the only people who came. We fit on the front pews of the church.
Listening to the priest, I want to laugh. He’s talking about Mother like he knew her. Nineteen years…I can’t remember a moment when she let me see behind the person she painted on every morning. Where was she born? Where’d she grow up? Where’d she fall in love? Questions I have no answers to.
“You okay?” Jane whispers. What he’s saying? I’m getting a headache. Concentrate.
Father Gormbles finishes, there aren’t enough strong men to carry her to the hearse, so Mother rolls passed on a trolley; one of the wheels squeaks and wobbles from side to side with each turn. I hope the CWA ladies don’t spread that story about. Oh…wow…I sound like her.
Organising her things takes no time: clothes – Salvation Army, food – Church, the rest – second-hand dealer. All that’s left are some boxes from the attic, her car, jewellery. Mr and Mrs Mitchell make up a room for me, with Jane home as well it feels good, which makes me feel guilty.
“I’m sorry we didn’t know your mother better dear,” Mrs Mitchell is making my favourite dinner, lasagna. I’ve missed this kitchen, bright blue everywhere, the table covered in crisp white linen, her good service and cutlery laid out.
“No sense keeping it for special occasions,” she always says. “Everyday should be special.” I thought of Mother’s – only used for birthdays, Christmases, Father Gormbles visits – now on a shelf at the second hand shop. On her way in from the funeral I saw her caress Buddha with her hand. She feels guilty ’cause she thinks Mother was a nutter.
“When are you planning to go back to uni?” Jane’s asking because she needs to get back, but doesn’t want to leave ’til I do. There’s guilt everywhere.
“I’ll close up the house tomorrow. No sense hanging on to it. I won’t be back, not to live anyway.”
“I agree,” Mrs Mitchell comes and sits down. “Time to start a new life. That’s what I tell Jane. Go find your place in the world. There’s a lot of it to explore. Before I had Jane I was quite the traveller. When Mr Mitchell retires, well…who knows where we’ll go then.”
“All right Mum. C’mon,” Jane’s out the door before I’m out of the chair. “Let’s go for a walk before dinner,” The outside world is covered in a pink blanket as the sun sets, like a cotton candy village. I steer her toward Mother’s house. She gives me that ‘what are you up to’ look as I open the door.
“I found this…in the letterbox yesterday,” I give her the letter I’d left on the bench. “Read it.”
“Good Lord,” she says when she reaches the end. “You waited ’til now to show me.”
“Are you all right?”
“Don’t know really. It still doesn’t explain…everything.”
“What’re you going to do?”
“Go.” What else can I do?
“Well. Yeah. Go…I guess.”
Driving out of town, sitting in Mother’s Torana makes me feel like a learner all over again. By the time I’m on the highway, she feels more…mine. I’ve got two hundred kilometres to travel, though the speedo is in miles, damn confusing sometimes, so I put a cassette on. The sun, wind, speed, Joe Cocker, work their magic and I notice in the rear-view mirror I’m smiling. My first smile since I’d come back.
The directions lead me straight to the house. I drive past and park down the street. I stick my hands in my pockets so I don’t have to see them shaking, I feel…queasy. For Goodness sake, calm down. Where are the cigarettes? It’s a pretty house, fresh, cared for. I’m like a stalker. Ha, that’s a laugh. It’s an hour before my stomach settles. Right then. You can do this. A spray of Opium, breath mint. Hair – okay. Apply a fresh coat of Lover’s Fire to the lips.
Half way up the drive, the door opens.
“Hello poppet,” he says softly.
“Sure is.” At the sound of his beloved voice, fourteen years disappear, and I run into his arms. “I’ve missed you,” he whispers, rubbing his face in my hair. I breathe deeply, trying to suck his smell inside me. When he draws back, I do my best five-year-old octopus impression and cling harder. “Honey, I’m not going anywhere, but if you want to come inside, you’re going to have to let go a little.”
“In a minute, okay?” Well it was more than a minute, but I had a lot of time to make up for.
The first things I notice inside are the photos. On every surface are images of my first five years.
“I wasn’t sure you’d come,” he says.
“I thought about it. The letter, well…it was a shock, yet it answered so many questions. But not enough, and I need…well, to understand. I missed you,” I accuse him. “Every day I missed you.”
“Why? Why now?”
“Like I said in the letter, I only found out where you were when your mother died. She left a letter to be forwarded to me.”
“But you left. I’ve seen your letter. You didn’t just leave her, you left me,” anger and grief rolls around in my throat. “You left for someone else. She told me.”
“It’s not that simple. Honey, when I left, I planned to come see you, but your mother disappeared, changed her name.”
“God, I have so many questions.”
“I thought you might,” he said.
“Why aren’t you on my birth certificate? What did you mean about not being married, and why didn’t you have any legal right to find out where I was? I don’t understand.”
“Come. Sit,” he gently pulls me down on the sofa. “There’s so much I have to tell you.” I watch his thumb rub over my hand. “I’m not on your birth certificate,” he’s staring at me with those familiar eyes, “because I’m not your biological father.”
“Pardon?” What the hell is he talking about? “Sorry…you’re not…” His mouth is moving again, but I feel like I’m in an ice cube. I’m trying to focus him, when I notice the picture on the table behind. It’s the same one I’d seen in Mother’s album, only larger, and in colour. Mother is holding me, behind her is her friend. Odd.
“Umm, sorry. You’re not my father? This is a lot…who…?”
“Biologically – you’re my niece – my brother’s child, but you have always been my daughter to me.”
“Umm, right. Niece? Your brother and Mother…” I need a toilet. “Bathroom?”
“Last door,” is all I hear as I run down the hall. After, I lay my forehead against the cold curve. My stomach rolls, trying to convince me there is more to come up, but I’m empty. Hollow. A brittle shell.
“Can I come in?” The shell has no voice. Daddy, I can’t think of anything else to call him, comes in. He sits on the tub across the room. “I’m sorry.” I sit up against the wall, hugging my knees.
“You’re sorry? For what? For leaving? That you’re not my father? That you all lied?”
“Everything.” He moves toward me, but I hold up my hand. He looks like I feel.
“You’re…my uncle?” Wow. He looks, well, uncomfortable. “Did they…” stabbing imagery, “do it I mean?”
“God no. We used a poultry baste.” Bad, bad image. Gross.
“Honey, come back to the living room?” I’m not sure I want to, but when he holds out his hand, I take it. Back on the sofa I’m drawn to the photo again.
“Why do you have that?” I ask. “Who is she?” Parts of her seem familiar. “Is she a relation?” I always thought she was a friend of Mother’s, but she looks…
“You’ve seen the photo before?”
“Yeah. Years ago. I found it in an album Mother had.”
“Honey, there’s a lot I need to tell you.” He drags a hand through his hair. “I want you to promise me…that you’ll hear me out. Hear it all.” I’m not going to like this. He picks up the photo.
I haven’t completely finished (rewritten – that means) the ending, but thought I’d post this – the story so far.
To read Part 1 – click here.
For Part 3 of A Taste of honey – click here.