I’ve reached 1982, and that’s the year I graduated from high school, and so, I suppose, that will have to be my focus. But it leaves out some things that I fear need to be spoken. If I leave them out, I have left out half of what I am, what I remember. I have left out, too, those things that shaped Leah and Rachel, Ruth May, my mother too.
My cousin has been in touch with me through Facebook, another strange synchronicity, because it is his mother who triggered a dark time in our lives. Not her fault, certainly. She was only speaking what she saw, what was suspected.
“You’re really Nathan’s daughter,” she told Rachel. “It’s pretty obvious. He just won’t admit it.”
She had been married to and was now divorced from Dad’s brother. She and her two children had made a life for themselves in a country house owned by a retired doctor who was quite a bit older than she was. She started off as his housekeeper, and later married him. I remember spending summers there, in the oversized house, in the scattered outbuildings, in the sloping fields where it never rained. (This is Ireland. It always rains. Not there. Not in Shillelagh in the summer that Elvis Presley died.) My cousin saw a ghost on the lane when we were fetching in the post. He was a farmer. He was there and he was gone. “I saw him,” she said. Where was her brother, who today sends me Facebook messages from Taiwan?
In my memory, everything is sun and dappled shadow and puffs of dust and the smell of hay. Maureen was my fun aunt, younger than the others. She liked us, and came outside to sit on the river wall with us. It must have been Sunday, one of those Sunday visits that punctuated those years. Maybe we were playing hide-and-seek, and had taken a break. “Anyway,” she said, “I’m sure you figured it out. Sure, you’re the spitting image of each other.”
What is is like to be 12 or 13 and to be told as Rachel was that the man you have thought is your stepfather is actually your father, but won’t acknowledge it? She had no reason, as I did, to be grateful that Dad wasn’t her father. He liked underdogs, and as a small child she had been somewhat of an underdog. Anyway, Maureen’s secret-spilling explained why he was more tolerant of her than of me. She was his blood, after all, as I was not.
Shortly afterwards, we found the letters. They were hidden in the guest room, in a closet with a secret compartment. They documented Mum’s relationship with Dad. They were love letters that smelled of dust and chagrin. How fanciful of me to say so; after all, they were just dry, fading pages in a manila envelope, artifacts that map a time that is swathed in mystery. I was already born then, a babe in arms, but there was no mention of Mum being pregnant with Rachel. That strange lacuna lent Maureen’s terrible confession a truth that we could not deny. And if that confession was true, then surely her contention that Mum and Dad were not married, that they had never been married, must also be true. We were bastards.
To be continued…