Aunt Clare was really my mother?
Hailey struggled to digest the news while Thomas Gunn continued talking.
“You’re probably wondering why I didn’t tell you. I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times. After Bernie Segal, Clare’s husband, died, she was so lost. She came to rely on me and she was so beautiful…so fragile. Before long, we were lovers and months later she was pregnant. We planned on marrying, but she became ill, and had to be institutionalized. She died in that institution. Beatrice came to me and suggested I let her raise you. I was beside myself with grief—certainly in no shape to look after a child, so I agreed and prepared the papers and your mother officially adopted you.”
“This is all so unreal.” Hailey began trembling.
He reached out a tentative hand to steady her and quickly withdrew it when she flinched.
A million disconnected images flooded her brain, a kaleidoscope of coloured fragments that butted up against one another like boats tethered and rocking in a wind.
She felt overwhelmed, but just when she was sure she’d lose her mind, suddenly, all was becalmed and the elements fell into place.
Mother is not my Mother.
It was as true as the conclusion of a syllogism: she had the missing puzzle piece she sought her whole life.
Strangely, she wasn’t sad. She had known—she didn’t know how, but just did.
Somehow, all those years in back of her mind, she secretly knew. “It was the milkman,” she’d joke with Nan.
Not only was she different, but she was orphaned—estranged, at the heart of her being and cut off from the very woman who raised her, who tried her best to connect with her, but failed miserably at every turn.
Thomas Gunn sat waiting, eyes closed, hand clenching the half-empty cardboard coffee cup. When Hailey finally began to speak, it shocked him out of his doldrums.
“All right, I believe you, but how does this relate to Clare’s ashes being kept hidden in the garden wall?”
He winced. She said nothing about Beatrice—no mention of Clare as her mother, nor he as her father. He blinked at her, but saw she was adamant and needed answers.
“Beatrice had planned at first to tell you, but as time went on, she felt it best to bury even the memory of Clare.
She allowed Birdie to keep working as her housekeeper, but the aunts opposed even that. Seems they didn’t like the scandal of Clare marrying a Jew, let alone having a child with him.”
“I see.” The truth began to dawn.
“So, this explains why my aunts always considered me an outsider. Clare was the maverick—she was insane. She even married a Jew. Even though you’re my father, somehow I’m tarnished—I guess because I inherited her genes.”
“You look exactly like her.”
She ignored the remark.
“So, every time Alicia looked at me…”
He nodded, “She saw Clare.”
“Why didn’t Mother tell me?”
“She was protecting you.”
“From what—my own family?”
“Protecting you from your aunts. They figured Clare’s insanity was passed to you. They wanted Beatrice to make an arrangement.”
“An arrangement—what kind of arrangement?”
“Something similar to what Beatrice bequeathed Birdie. They wanted a cash settlement, but wanted the manse to remain in the family.”
“They hated me that much?”
He shook his head. “They cared about the family name that much. Anything that was a blotch on the family escutcheon had to be avoided at all costs.”
“But Mother didn’t comply—she left me the house and insisted I lived in it a year.”
“Knowing you’d find out eventually.”
“But why didn’t you tell me?”
“Beatrice and I disagreed. I was no father to you all those years. I couldn’t see how telling you now would help, only hurt.”
Hailey thought about the implications.
“So you let my aunts bully me and would have let me go on the rest of my life not even knowing who my real parents were?”
“Beatrice was your real parent—she raised you, loved you and sheltered you—as for me, I’m a coward.”
“But you had the perfect opportunity when Mother died. Couldn’t you at least have told me?”
“I guess the only thing worse than being a coward is being a hypocrite.”
He exited the SUV, slamming the door.
Hailey glanced in her rear view mirror at the pitiful figure forlornly staring after her through clouds of white dust.
Her disgust for him was exceeded by only one thing—her rage toward Alicia.
She hung a right turn on Lakeshore and headed toward old Oakville where she knew she’d have that final showdown she dreaded all her life
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.