Books written by Ray Sullivan

Monday, 29 October 2012

Parallel Lives Chapter 11

Jack’s journey, by contrast, had gone exceedingly well, and he was parked up looking at the grand edifice that fronted his mother’s nursing home by early afternoon. It took the reception staff ten minutes to accept his bona fide; it always did, a reflection on the frequency of his visits, he guessed. He found his mother sat on a red leather chair, it’s arms cracking through years of use and too little attention. As usual she smiled on his arrival, but irritation showed in her eyes.
‘You never said you were going to visit,’ she opened with, curtly. Jack had never quite got used to making appointments to see his mother, but that was how she had wanted it since she found it too difficult to cope on her own. She had managed until she was nearly sixty, had held down full time jobs all through his youth and while he was away in the Army, but had finally succumbed to the ravages of time – arthritis in particular. When Jack, now about to marry the Manchester girl he had met whilst on leave, had volunteered to look after her she had rejected his suggestion, and would not listen to any talk of his leaving the Army despite his arguments that he had seen enough soldiering to last him a lifetime. Four years later, when he actually was leaving the Army to settle down with Karen and James, their two year old toddler, he tried again to persuade his Mother to move in. She wouldn’t have a bar of it then, noting that she couldn’t possibly be expected to move up to Manchester, especially as he was always away, and anyhow she was far too settled in the nursing home. Jack knew then that he had missed his opportunity the first time around, he hadn’t pushed hard enough and she had realised he was besotted with ‘this northern girl he had met.’ She had been right, too. Virtually everything he did at that time, unless it had been centred around Karen, had been half hearted. His career had faltered and his mother felt she had been failed when he should have been there. She never complained, but he was never allowed to forget how, and who, he chose.
‘I need to talk to you, about my father,’ he said. His mother stiffened in the chair, her back arching defiantly.
‘What of him?’
‘Who else knows. About him and me?’ Jack had rehearsed several questions on his way down, but none of them seemed appropriate now.
‘No-one. No-one else ever knew. I told you that. My mother beat me, she said it was to get the evil out but I knew it was to make me say who he was.’
‘Did he know? My father?’
‘No. He was killed in an accident in Germany three weeks after I fell pregnant. I didn’t even know at that time, let alone him.’
‘National Service, with the airforce. His family were unaware we had met. It was just one of those things, I didn’t want to add to their sadness. It wasn’t as though I had been in love with him. So I kept quiet and reared you myself, on my own.’
‘I hadn’t realised he meant so little. I know you never spoke about him, I always assumed you had been hurt badly, or, when I was older, that you had been raped.’ Jack flushed as he spoke, not addressing his mother directly. Sons, he knew, did not generally speak with their parents like this, but this was not a usual situation. The suggestion of rape caused Jack’s mother’s eyes to flash momentarily, but if he had struck a sore nerve he wasn’t going to draw her further.
‘I knew so little about him, really. It was all a mistake, something that got out of hand. But I loved you with all my might, and I never let you down, not once.’ Jack wondered if this was another barb to snag him on, or simply her way of expressing what all mother’s should and generally do feel about their children. Then she looked directly at Jack again:
‘Why did you need to come and ask all of these questions? Why travel all of this way without phoning or writing, when you hardly ever visit at all?’ Jack shuffled, wondering if he should mention any of the events of the last few days. He could hardly tell her that a man named Staples seemed to know his father’s surname, had written it down in a notebook. Even if she knew anyone called Staples, from what she had said they couldn’t possibly have known his father’s name. If they did, why was it in the book, with all those stories?
‘I think someone else knew.’ Jack could hear the response he would have had, if he had been sat on the leather chair: ‘So what? What if someone did? How’s that a problem?’ His mother sat thinking, possibly the same thoughts, possibly not. Eventually she spoke, quietly:
‘If anyone ever knew, before I told you, then it was without my knowledge. Naturally there was a lot of speculation, I was a thirty year old spinster in a small town, and I reckon every single man, as well as most of the local married men, had been accused of being your father in the first twelve months. But they tired of the guessing, and as far as I know they never guessed right. I took to not commenting when asked outright, it was none of their business and I didn’t take a handout from anyone. I paid my way, including my mum for looking after you while I worked, and that was that.’
‘I expect your wall of silence wasn’t too popular,’ said Jack, admiring his mother’s strength, if not understanding her motives. She smiled, pleasantly.
‘It did, and there was some bad blood over it. I never took part but some girls assumed that my silence confirmed their suspicions. The way I saw it, I didn’t want anyone to know – that was my choice – but to tick each and every man in town off one by one as not being the father more or less would have reduced the possibles to about five or six. Probably most of them could provide alibis if they really tried, I guess, so I left ‘em all guessing. Served them all for gossiping.’ After a silence she added ‘I don’t see that it matters now. I only told you in case you wanted to find out about your roots. But I don’t see how anyone could have found out, unless you’ve mentioned it to someone, and it has spread.’
‘Only Karen knew, and to tell the truth I had to remind her of his name this week. She didn’t even tell her own folks.’
‘She says.’ The sideswipe wasn’t unexpected. Jack had anticipated more of them, to tell the truth, and had been pleasantly surprised that she had left Karen out of the conversation. She didn’t dislike Karen, but then again she wasn’t an unreserved fan either.
‘I believe her. She wanted me to find out more initially, but when I decided not to pursue it, she put it aside. The subject didn’t come up again until a few days ago.’
‘Doesn’t prove she didn’t tattle about it, though. Either way, I still don’t see that it matters.’ A bell chimed in an adjacent room and Jack became aware of other residents starting to congregate. ‘Afternoon tea. Is there anything else?’ she stated and asked in quick succession, with Jack in no doubt as to which answer he was expected to give. Within five minutes he was stood outside of the grand entrance, pulling his coat around him to ward off the dropping temperature, whilst fumbling for his car keys. He had felt the visit would be vital, would clarify the outstanding questions. But it had done no such thing, he knew no more now than he had known before travelling down and had only succeeded in opening a wound that had only recently starting to heal, having been rent open originally by his mother’s revelation. Disturbed, Jack started the return journey to Manchester.


Copyright Ray Sullivan 2011

The characters, places and events described in this novel are fictitious and any resemblance to persons, places or events, past or present, is coincidence.  All rights reserved

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