I realise my hands are shaking after reading my father’s letter. I don’t want to know he may have loved someone else. The very thought makes me feel sick. He loves my mother. He must love her. She’s dying and I want to know he’s always loved her.
I take a deep breath and try to think. He doesn’t say he actually had an affair. He just says he wanted this woman, this Mary. (Mary? Who’s Mary?) Come on, read it again. Read it slowly.
He says he wanted to kiss her…something about parts he’s never seen. So that must mean they didn’t actually do it. He didn’t have sex with her. Didn’t fuck her. No, no, not fuck. Oh it’s like walking into the bedroom and finding them there. Parents don’t have sex. Not my dear old dad and my warm cuddly mum. They don’t have desires. They can’t.
I have to calm down and read it slowly. He was rejecting her. Trying to be strong and good. That’s it, he was trying to resist. He is a good man. It’s alright. I know he didn’t do it.
I stare at the letter. The writing is his. I know it well, but it looks hurried. There are smudges. He was rushing to write it all down before he changed his mind. But who was she? I can’t remember a Mary. Years ago he had a secretary called Bettina and now Cecilia runs his office and gives him flowers for my mother.
My mother. Does she know about this woman? Is that why she’s so worried? I can see her in that starched bed, clinging to life and tears burst in my throat. She mustn’t know. Or maybe she knows already and that’s why she wanted me to go back for the box. They’ve been married a long time. It was their ruby anniversary last year. What marriage wouldn’t have its trials in forty years or more?
I try to remember how old was he when he wrote this. Only 42. I thought him handsome when I was a child and he is still a good looking man. Tall, thick hair, a little stooped now, but he has a presence, an air of authority. I suppose many women have found him attractive over the years and it would not be surprising if he had sometimes been tempted.
But this sounds like more than a brief temptation. This has the feel of something that could have divided our family and destroyed his career. He was drawn to this person and would have done whatever she asked.
I sniff and wipe away a tear. I want to believe my parents were happy together; I want to think they loved and will always love each other. I can remember hugs, I can picture kisses. There was much laughter, I know. Sometimes there was tension, occasionally cross words, but no stormy rows, no fiery clashes. Yet I can remember his silence, him turning away and I can see her set lips and rolled eyes. She often told him off, as if he was an irritating child. Did this woman make him feel more of a man? Did she give him a strength my mother couldn’t?
I breathe deeply to stop the tears. My lovely father. My dear dad. We may not have always agreed on some of his policies, but I cannot deny that he is respected and revered. He is held up as a model of integrity in the smutty world of politics and he is a truly good man. As Foreign Secretary he always advocated diplomacy over intervention and usually won. Since his retirement he has continued his work as a peace ambassador, bringing good sense and harmony wherever he goes. I cannot bear to think that his reputation could ever be tainted.
I look at his words again and try to concentrate. He makes it clear in this wretched letter that he was walking away from her. I know how much the media would love this; in politics the slightest hint of scandal can be damaging, even though he said he wanted to rid himself of her and devote himself to my mother and his work. And I have to believe he did that. I have to believe, for the sake of my love for him and her that his infatuation ended with this confession.
I refold the letter and replace it in its envelope. There are seven more to read. The envelopes all look alike and one was written by my mother.
to be continued February 8