He died on Tuesday, and his children had the room cleaned out on Thursday. The longest task was the books. That took most of Wednesday. The last task was sweeping the ashes from the fireplace. The children stood and thought about the times they had in that room. There were floor to ceiling bookshelves on either side of the fireplace, and a couch and a couple of chairs where they sat and talked. Many times they would stare at the fire in silence. That’s what made the room so different; the comfort of the physical space, and the tolerance of the people in the space; and the silence with only the crack of the burning wood to break it. One of daughters when she was putting books into a box came across a letter which she put in her pocketbook. Her sister said they would be back tomorrow to start the rest of the house.
That night the sister took the letter from her pocketbook after her husband and child were asleep. The handwriting was feminine and she felt anxious as she read the postmark: Toulon, France; Sept. 8th, 1947. She carefully pulled the letter from the envelope and started to read:
I finally have some good news! I got a job in a fish market the next village over and I start next week. With winter coming, Julien is going to need some new outfits, and I was hoping you could send some money until I start getting paid. Julien is doing more and more everyday, and it is a great sorrow you can’t be here to share it with me. He looks more and more like you by the second. My papa has a bad cough which worries me, and he looks pale and moves slowly. Momma is worried sick about him and stands by helplessly. It’ so sad!
Anyway, if you could wire some money it would be a great help. Is there any chance you would be able to come to Toulon anytime soon? I heard a man say you can fly across the ocean in eight hours. Imagine!
All My Love, Yvonne
The sister felt like she was going to faint. She put her hand to the wall to steady herself. She was angry, she was hurt; she believed it, she disbelieved it. She was awake the rest of the night, and at dawn, made a decision to tell no one. She was exhausted. She considered calling her sister and telling her she wouldn’t be able to help with the house today, but thought better of it.
When she showed up at her father’s house, she was pale and lethargic, and her siblings noticed, but were distracted by several friends who showed up to help. She tried to act normal, but didn’t have the energy. She told her sister she didn’t sleep well intimating she was grieving over their father’s death. She left the first chance she got. When she got home, her husband expressed concern, and she told him it was difficult cleaning out her father’s house. She went to bed early, and slept well. She awoke at the usual time, and she and her husband drank coffee before they left for work. She had a routine morning, and during her lunch break, went and sat in her car. She stared at the church across the street and thought:
Julien is still alive. I wonder if he ever saw his father. Probably not. Dad and Mom married in 1949 so maybe Dad made a trip to France to see his son. My God, I can’t believe it. Would Dad have abandoned the mother and son? Oh, I hate to think so. He was such a kind man would he be capable of such a thing? Lord, and to think we know the people in our lives. I can’t tell Cindy or Gordon. Why ruin their love and respect for Dad? No good can come of it. I can keep this to myself. Even if Dad went to France he was not really apart of Julien’s life so there would be no point in trying to find him. Who knows? Maybe Yvonne is alive. She could be in her mid to late eighties. With the time that has passed, it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie. Yes. I think that’s the best thing to do. I’ll put the letter in the bible in the bookcase, and if it’s discovered by someone after my death, then, so be it. If not, then, so be it as well. I have to remember Dad as I knew him, and not dwell on what might have been. All I know is he fathered a son in France during the war. Amen.
She felt better.
After the service, the siblings: Cindy, Becky, and Gordon went to the restaurant with their spouses: Jeremy, Lonnie, and Ashley. They ordered drinks, and then, lunch. Becky was withdrawn and pale, and caught Cindy looking at her as if she was curious about her. They reminisced about Arthur. Gordon told a story of the time Becky found a hurt dog by the side of the road, and Arthur left the college and drove the dying dog to the veterinarian. The story caught Becky by surprise; the pain welled up inside her, and she couldn’t keep herself from crying. She excused herself from the table. After several minutes, Cindy came into the ladies room. She asked Becky if she were all right, and Becky answered she was. Cindy had a questioning look on her face. Becky told her sister she was grieving over their father. The questioning look stayed on Cindy’s face, but she was silent. Becky worked hard to compose herself to protect what she knew. The two sisters went back to the table and Cindy wasn’t sure about Becky. Becky apologized to the table, and everyone was reassuring except for Cindy.
On the drive home, Jeremy asked his wife about her sister. She answered she didn’t know for sure, but she didn’t seem to be herself; that she was troubled by something. Jeremy observed as far as he knew she was happily married to Lonnie, and his wife agreed. Cindy said it maybe nothing more than the death of their father, but there seemed to be more to it somehow. Jeremy suggested work, and Cindy didn’t think so; Becky was good at her job. Jeremy was out of theories, and suggested they wait to see if anything revealed itself. Cindy agreed.
The following Tuesday they met at the lawyer’s office for the reading of the will. When the lawyer read the name Julien LaFarge there was a stunned silence. The lawyer told the siblings he had a letter from their father he wanted to read to them.
He read the letter in which the father told of his relationship with Yvonne LaFarge and the son it produced. Their father said Yvonne was the love of his life, but circumstances greater than they determined what happened. He asked for no forgiveness and offered no apology. That was it.
Becky was sitting at the counter when she saw Cindy’s car pull into the driveway. She got a coffee cup and prepared it. Cindy came into the house and Becky pointed to the coffee, and Cindy picked it up, and said,
I came across a letter cleaning out Dad’s books.
But you weren’t going to tell us?
Yes, that’s right.
What good would it do?
We could have shared the pain. Did you tell Lonnie?
You were going to keep the pain all for yourself?
Yes. As an act of sacrifice.
Becky went to the bookcase, and took out the bible, and handed her sister the letter. Becky put the letter back into the bible after her sister read it.
There remains a problem with this.
Trust. Whatever your justification you kept the truth from me and Gordon.
Yes. I hope you’d understand is all.
That may take some time.
Cindy put the coffee cup on the counter, looked at her sister, hesitated, and turned toward the door.
Thursday, March 01, 2012 1368 words