And then I cried. After reading my mother’s letter, I really cried. Was that all she had been worried about? A crush on another woman, a crush that may never have had any consequences? Oh Mum, it really doesn’t matter. I won’t tell.
I sniffed and blew my nose. I couldn’t break down. Not now. I had to stay calm. Enclosed with the letter there was a newspaper cutting. It was yellowed and folded. I imagined her looking at it many times before sealing it up and letting it go forever. It was an article about Mary Reid and her work. The picture showed a striking, handsome woman with dark hair and compelling eyes. I felt no animosity, looking at her face. I could only see compassion. I thought I would have liked her.
But was this all she had of her? Did she keep nothing for herself? I couldn’t criticise my mother or Mary, whatever may or may not have happened. She devoted herself to us and to Dad and she has been a loving grandmother. Mum, you did nothing wrong.
I read the cutting again. It covered Mary’s achievements as a sculptor and her art therapy work. I thought I’d heard of her and seemed to remember a retrospective at the Tate a few years ago. So she was an acclaimed artist and she survived whatever Simon thought he’d done. But first and foremost, she was my mother’s friend. And my mother loved her, but felt she had to hide her love to concentrate on the task of being a good wife and mother.
I didn’t feel sick, like I did when I read Dad’s letter about his infatuation with Mary. Mum’s words made it clear that she wanted to devote herself to her husband and family. I believed she loved and still loved my father. There was no need to forgive her. There was nothing to forgive.
And then suddenly it all became clear. Of course she wasn’t concerned about what everyone else had written that New Year’s Day. She had never known what they had written. She picked up the envelopes and put them straight into the box. She only knew what she had written herself and that she never wanted anyone else to read it. That is why she was so worried about the letters being found.
Oh, my dear mother, you’re so afraid of what we will think of you, what the world will think of you. My tears fell again. Don’t be afraid Mum. Please don’t be afraid. You gave us a wonderful childhood, you supported us as we grew, as we too became parents, you did everything you ever could. I owe you so much, I have to try to make amends and help you find peace. Perhaps if I go back to that day and remember everything that happened, I can see how to put it right.