The Way We Lied

That is, I never looked at them again until now. When I came back from our old house with the contents of the buried box, I took the letters from the hidden drawer. I read them once the children were asleep, while Rob cooked our supper, so he didn’t see my tears and was unaware of my shame. I sat alone at my desk and read them one by one, then read them all again. It did not take me long. The eight letters were very short, but their words will stay with me for a long time. I understand them only too well now, and know why I should never have taken them.
I sat there once I had finished reading, thinking about the eight people who had written them with such frankness. I could not play the video Amy had filmed, even if it had still been functioning, as videos are a thing of the past. But I dimly remember it contained some images of my father, so I stamped on it and crushed it to be sure there was no possibility it could ever be viewed again.
And I wondered about Mary Reid and why she had had such an impact on all these people. Her name was vaguely familiar. Had I read about her in an article on an exhibition or was I thinking of her obituary? And whatever the implications, did it really matter? It all happened so very long ago.
Nick paid for his love of rich food and wine, when he was disabled by a severe stroke in his early sixties and now he cannot walk or speak. He requires constant care and has been living in a nursing home for the past fifteen years. Sarah visits him once a month and reports that she cannot stay long as her presence upsets him and she cannot bear his tears. She is still highly critical of others, but satisfies her own feelings of importance and entitlement by being chairwoman of the regional antiques appreciation society, a vocal member of the parish council and also chairman of the local village hall committee.
Dear Charles is still decent and charming and has been applauded and honoured for his charitable work, while Alex is eternally elegant and loves her recently acquired title of Lady Wilson. She is quite charitable herself these days, although I suspect she enjoys the celebrity garlanded events more than the organisations which benefit from the funds she helps to raise. And Helen is serene and her work is deservedly acclaimed. She eventually divorced Simon and he moved away so we never see him now.
And my father …… my father has worked conscientiously and tirelessly for peace for as long as I can remember. He is a good, good man and I will not allow anything to tarnish his name and his honourable record.
And my mother is dying. And her feelings are all I care for. I unfolded the crumpled press cutting she had enclosed with her letter. If this was all my mother had ever had of Mary, then she had kept nothing of this remarkable woman or their relationship for herself. She had devoted herself entirely, for the rest of her life, to her children, to her grandchildren and to my father. I felt she was blameless. But if this friendship was so precious to her, I wanted to know more about Mary. If she was still alive they could have one last chance to speak, to meet, to maybe say goodbye. Would that make amends for the terrible wrong I had done?

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