Private Lies Part 21

A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.
– Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Later that night, back in her townhouse, sipping a glass of Yellow Tail cab sav, she felt herself begin to calm down.

She sat thinking about what her aunt had said while watching rain trails running down the dark windows.

Her suspicions were confirmed—there was a rift in the family and it was serious enough to prompt her aunt to try some kind of pre-emptive strike to prevent the Ripley side from gaining an advantage.

But why did her aunt mistrust her mother’s motives? Whatever the reason, she’d have to wait another day before learning the answer to that question.


She took out the shoebox crammed with family photos and memorabilia and began idly perusing the contents. Once again, the same unfamiliar faces stared out at her from the sepia photographs.

Why hadn’t Mother jotted down a few details about the people and places? —Just a word or two on the backs of the photos would have sufficed to quench her curiosity.

One photo stood out from the rest—a man in his mid-thirties with curly brown hair and a crinkly smile. He was wearing a beige tweed jacket and sporting a huge red and white polka dot bowtie.

He had a devil-may-care attitude that seemed to leap off the photograph and what was even more amazing—he looked exactly like Birdie.


Hmm, an uncle perhaps, or possibly Birdie’s father? But why would his picture be included in the family photos? She flipped over the picture and was not surprised to find it blank.

Another mystery.

Life in the family for her was increasingly akin to being abandoned in a labyrinth of blind corridors with no map or guide to point the way.

She scooped up the photos and crammed them back in the box and closed the lid.


Speculating about the relatives was useless and only gave her a headache.

Her mother never confided in her nor invited her to ask questions and she was not going to spend another frustrating night chasing the tail of her own mind.

She’d finish her wine and go to bed and wait until Wednesday to hear Mother’s final wishes.

She leaned back on the couch and put her feet up on the coffee table. It wasn’t long before the rhythm of the rain and the warmth of the wine caused her to nod off.


She was back in her old bedroom in the manse and hiding under the covers.

The thunder peals reverberated louder than the cannons fired outside the Legislature to mark the Queen’s birthday.

She tried to cover her ears, but she could still feel the concussions in her chest and see the blue flares through the linen sheets.


Then, she heard the door creak open and the soft footsteps of her mother approaching to comfort her.

Her covers were pulled back, but in the silvery light of the succeeding lightning flash, it wasn’t her mother’s face she saw, but the image of the Painted Lady.

Her face was blue and forlorn like a sad clown’s.

The apparition stared at her and though she tried to cry out, she wasn’t able. The Lady had sewn her lips shut and she couldn’t make a sound.


She gasped and sat up, wine spilling down the front of her blouse.


The flames from the fireplace fluttered softly in the darkness and rain drummed against the patio doors.

The power must have gone off.

She reached out, carefully placing her wine glass on the coffee table and fumbled until she found a napkin to wipe her hand.

She got up, found the fireplace matches and lit a mantle candle.


As she touched the match to the wick, she saw a figure in the darkness outside.

It slipped behind some cedars at the edge of the ravine.

Her heart stopped. She stared at the spot where the intruder disappeared, looking for further signs of movement.


She stood frozen in mid gesture, allowing the match to die out and unable to breathe.

© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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