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A tale of true love at last
By Don José Alondra
Based on a true story.
Dedicated to my beloved and perfect Amanda, my English Rose and my great muse and inspiration, who knows who she is. May God bless her.
When my father died, back in the spring, it came as a great surprise.
Mind you, he was 87, and thus perhaps it should not have been so surprising. But what I mean is that the doctors had said his heart and other organs were in remarkably good shape for a man his age, and they expected him to live on for years. His mother had lived into her 90’s, and so we had expected Dad would live well beyond her. But the herniated disc in his lower spine had left him in ever more excruciating pain during the last couple of years of his life, and the last six months, most of it in a rehab centre, were particularly hellish. He lost the ability to walk; then came the wheelchair; then came nothing but bedridden pain; and then at last the release from that pain.
At least he spent his last few days in the home of my sister, Nancy. She has a beautiful house in a pricey neighbourhood in Raleigh, and I suppose that was better than a sterile hospital-type environment. The Hospice nurses were very attentive.
“Oh, we always love to see Mr Renn! He’s always so sunny and upbeat.”
Dad put a brave face on it. He tried to maintain his sense of humour. But soon, even that left him. Eventually, he couldn’t swallow. He could not eat or drink, and even the oral dosages of morphine were hard enough to get into him.
My mother, of course, was worn to a frazzle. She was very dedicated, taking faithful care of her husband of 61 years. Late on a Friday night, she left him alone for five minutes, going downstairs to get something to eat. When she came back, he was gone. He had a smile on his face.
For a month or more, Mom was distraught and beside herself. And with the possibility of her breast cancer from the 1970’s returning, her own health was now precarious, and I suddenly found myself worried about her and her impending biopsy results.
Nancy had actually had it worse. She had endured a double-mastectomy some years ago. The cancer had metastasised into her right lung, necessitating its removal.
Following Dad’s death, she was surprisingly stoical, yet I guess that is simply how she coped. But her loutish, obnoxious, atheistic husband and lumpish son were frankly emotionless pricks. I could not understand them, and I didn’t want to.
Mom moved in with Nancy, and to my shock, my materialistic sibling seemed to care more about her enormous house than about our own mother—-very odd, considering all they both had been through. She strangely refused to allow Mom to so much as bring her favourite recliner from her own home, which Mom would soon have to put on the market—-this despite the fact that my sister’s house was big enough to get lost in. Visitors would need a bloody schematic to get round the place, and there was more than enough room for Mom’s chair, bed and so on. Yet still my bitch of a sister refused, caring seemingly more about her own odd concept of feng shui and the aesthetics of her museum-like tomb of a home.
I was of course gobsmacked by this inexplicable behaviour. But I said nothing, as I knew it would do no good. Nancy was 10 years older, and thus I’d grown up essentially an only child. We rarely talked and had nothing in common but DNA. I reside near Charlotte, and so there is physical as well as emotional space between us.
Indeed, countless times, since I was 12 years old, I had found myself passionately wishing I had a sister. Another sister; one closer in age to me, with whom I shared significant common interests; someone in whom I could confide and vice versa.
I was and am an ardent Anglophile. I wanted someone who shared my love—-my deep, abiding love: of the Beatles, the Who and other such bands; of Shakespeare and BBC films and period dramas; of the Queen and the Windsors; of monarchism and tradition; and on and on…For me, the very word “British” was synonymous with culture.
I didn’t want a brother. No. I was an artistic, sensitive boy, and I wanted to be a Renaissance man. As a writer, an artist, an actor, a singer and a drummer, I wanted someone who shared my passions. I didn’t need a bloody brother—-some spotty, sporty, sweaty, screaming yobbo, mad-keen on football and other such neo-pagan, mindless pursuits, the exclusive province of hoi polloi idiots. Leave that crap to my nephew.
No. Hell no. I wanted someone soft, sensitive and sweet; someone as beautiful as she was intelligent; a built-in best friend. Somebody I could talk to and who could talk to me.
“C’mon, sis,” I imagined myself saying. “You can tell me anything.”
Then when I was 15, not quite 16, in the summer of 1984, I read Christopher Nicole’s Secret Mémoires of Lord Byron. The great love of this greatest of the Romantic poets was none other than his own beautiful, busty half-sister, Augusta. Indeed, they had a daughter, gaziantep sahibe escort bayan Medora, and she looked just like Byron.
Of course, as they didn’t even meet until Byron was 14 and Augusta, 19, they grew up without the Westermarck Principle. That would have explained a lot.
After reading this remarkable book, it hit me as a blinding epiphany: I wanted a girl who was at once my sister and my lover.
And why not? It made perfect sense, as I discovered later. At university, I spent long years researching the topic of incest and found that it was far commoner than many supposed. It was in fact common to all cultures at all times throughout human history. Years later, I found the “Literotica” Website. I beavered through textbooks on human sexuality. There was Kathryn Harrison’s mémoire of her affair with her father when she was an adult—-a thing she entered into joyfully.
Sure, there was an unassailable logic and indeed beauty to it, proviso quod one was talking about consensual acts between adults. It could be a glorious, beautiful, life-affirming experience. Yet it truly remains the last love that will not dare speak its name.
Friends come and go. Spouses divorce or die. But a sibling is a matter of always. A sister is for ever.
And it was for such a sister that I burned for 33 torturous years.
So if Dad’s death came as a surprise, I was in for an even greater surprise.
And this one would turn out to be a very pleasant surprise indeed.
“I have something to tell you.”
My father’s voice was very hushed. I leaned in closer.
“He wants his morphine,” Nancy said quietly.
He grabbed my sleeve, a wild look suddenly coming into his pained eyes.
“No! I have something to tell you!”
“It’s all right, Dad,” my sister said, her voice raised to accommodate the deafness he had acquired with age. “Tommy’s gonna get your morphine.”
She directed me to go to the bathroom to retrieve the stuff. I came back within just a minute and handed the morphine to my sister.
“Dad,” I said, my voice raised, too, out of habit, “what were you gonna say?”
“You were about to tell me something.”
“Oh. Sorry. Don’t remember.”
Soon he was asleep, and Nancy and I sat across from Dad’s bed in matching, high-backed chairs that he had upholstered himself. My father was a consummate craftsman, and he had spent more than 40 years as an upholsterer. In fact, he covered every piece of furniture in my sister’s house.
“What do you think that was about?”
“Who knows?” Nancy asked rhetorically, great weariness in her voice, her plain, equine face sagging even more than usual. “He’s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s now, Tom. He repeats himself a lot. Or he can’t remember things. He can remember 1945 as if it were yesterday. It’s yesterday he can’t remember as if it were yesterday.”
“Of course,” I said.
Yet the look on his face and his seemingly desperate words would haunt me. What could he have possibly meant? My father was very plain. He kept no secrets from anyone.
For days after that moment and even more so after the funeral, I found myself thinking about it quite a lot. I wracked my brain, trying to think what Dad could have meant.
It was my sister who solved the riddle.
“We have a sister.”
“What?” I replied, feeling suddenly shocked.
“And where the Hell were you yesterday? I tried all day to reach you.”
“At the homeless shelter. Where else would I be on a Friday?”
“Ah, yes. You and your stupid volunteerism. You and your stupid God.”
“Hey, now…What the Hell did you just say?”
She sat across from me, snarling and sneering, in my somewhat cluttered living room. She set her cup of tea, barely touched, upon an English cork coaster on my chaotic coffee table. I tried to remember that her health crises of recent years could have made her bitter and that it would be better to pray for her, rather than simply hate and resent her. But my God, that was hard, especially considering her unaccountable ingratitude and bitchiness toward our mother.
After nearly two decades, my marriage to Wendy, which had been dead for years, had finally been annulled. We were childless and had spent the past eight years living as glorified roommates, she in the master bedroom and me down the hall in one of the guestrooms. Thanks to a combination of laziness, apathy, bad genes and bad luck as an underemployed, on-again-off-again schoolteacher, she had grown fat and unattractive, and I’d gone off her long years ago. So when she met some hairy hound who paid attention to her, I was actually happy for her.
Having grown up a nominal Methodist, it was easy to become an atheist, and thus I was for perhaps 15 years. But then when the Mohammedans attacked America on the day before my 33rd birthday in 2001, I thought, Ecce signum. Yes, it was time to get right with God. I became a Traditional şahinbey escort bayan Catholic—-of the exclusive old Latin Mass, Vatican II-hating, orthodox variety. The only thing that distinguished me from my fellow parishioners was my long ponytail, a holdover from my days as a rock drummer, prompting our manly, charismatic and tough-as-nails priest to jokingly refer to me as “Thomas the Longhair.”
Wendy, too, was baptised and confirmed. Yet after an initial burst of interest, she never took it seriously, preferring to sleep in on Sunday mornings. Between her sham faith and the adultery, I had the grounds for an annulment. Mind you, I didn’t use said Trads, who can be rather silly about such things, frankly. I used the diocesan dogs, and they gave us what we wanted: an amicable annulment. She moved in with the hound dog, and I kept the two-storey pile, right over the bridge from Charlotte.
Being a bachelor now with two cats, keeping the house tidy was not exactly a priority. Oh, I kept up with the dishwasher and the laundry religiously. But being an editor of both a small-town newspaper and of a regional magazine meant that oftener than not, there was a small forest of papers strewn about on the dining room table, the coffee table and sometimes even spilling on to the Turkish rugs. I was barely able to keep the house and the car lease going. But it was all worth it to have Wendy gone at long last.
I knew my sister despised clutter, and normally I would have smiled at this. But at the moment, it felt as if my jaw had dropped to said cluttered Turkish rug.
“We have a sister,” Nancy repeated, “a half-sister, to be precise. That was what Dad was trying to tell us.”
“How do you—-“
“Mom came across some old papers he had hidden away, tucked beneath the panelling in the bottom of a drawer. She came across them quite by accident. Needless to say, she was devastated. The upshot is that when he was in Korea, in 1950, he met an English nurse—-an English Jewish nurse, to be precise.”
“Good grief. Surely you’re not turning anti-Semitic, thanks to that half-Kraut husband of yours,” I said, smiling.
This was something of an in-joke with us, as my ex was in fact half-Jewish herself.
“Will you shut up? Anyway—-and you’re too young to remember this; you weren’t even 3 yet at the time, in early 1971—-I was 12, and I remember it, Dad went to England with Uncle Joe, ostensibly for Joe’s reunion with his old bomber squadron mates from World War II. Well, it turns out that while he was there, Dad was gone for a while. He took a cab to Oxfordshire, to some town called Bicester.”
She mangled the pronunciation, butchering it as byce-ster.
“It’s BISS-ster,” I said. “I’ve been there.”
“Oh, yeah, so you have,” she replied, looking up at the ceiling, remembering my trip throughout the UK in the dear, old 1980’s. “Yeah, so, whatever. So, Dad took a cab to Bicester, and he met up again with his old flame. She was married by then, too, of course, to a wealthy solicitor named Spaak, distantly related to the Belgian politician of the same name, as I recall, and she had two sons. Well, this guy was away on a business trip, and so Dad and Mrs Spaak rekindled their romance from over 20 years earlier. They had a brief fling, and they evidently had a daughter, as this correspondence, legal documentation and photographs all show.”
She handed me a manila folder. I wasn’t interested in the paperwork and all its mumbo-jumbo. Instead, my eyes were immediately drawn to the beautiful girl in black-and-white and colour photographs, her image staring back at me with crystalline blue eyes, much bluer than my own. One piece of paper stated her name:
AMANDA CLAIRE SPAAK LOUIS.
Somewhere in my mind, somehow, I reflexively reformed her name and realised she would actually be Amanda Renn.
One of us, I thought. She is one of us. A new addition to our nest of Renns! My sister. The one I’ve waited for; the one I’ve always dreamt about!
I shuffled through the photographs. One showed a cute, utterly adorable, little girl of about 6, her middle tooth prominently missing in a smile that in turn made me smile. Then I saw a girl with the most beautiful, big eyes and the luxuriant, big hair of the 1980’s: “Amanda, 1988,” the caption read. She would have been 16, not quite 17.
I moved on into the 1990’s. She was gorgeous: abundant, brown hair; striking, laughing eyes; always smiling a perfect, gleamingly white, movie-star smile.
Then a pang of jealousy hit me.
She was married.
Well, of course, Tommy, you idiot, I thought, reproaching myself. She’s 45 now, three years younger than you. Of course she is—-
And then I saw it: a copy of an annulment certificate.
Wow, Dad had all of the details about her and her life! Amazing! And my God, she’s a Catholic and in the same happy boat as I am! An annulment! Yahoooo!
Then I saw her kids. There were six, ranging in age from şahinbey bayan escort a gap-toothed, little cherub, her mother’s Doppelgängerin, not quite 7, to a handsome, black-haired lad of about 20.
Good Lord, I’m an uncle again. Let’s see. What’s this?
Here was her whole life. Devout Catholic, having converted from Judaism at an early age; courageous anti-abortion crusader; known for her advocacy work for the poor and for helping the family of Charlie Gard and other such worthy endeavours; Mr and Mrs Spaak were Geordies, but Amanda grew up in North London; worked for a time as a literary agent and publicist at Faber & Faber, back in the 1990’s, before marrying Mark Louis and becoming a full-time, home-schooling mum with six kids. Marriage annulled, due to his drunken, abusive behaviour.
The swine, I thought. I’ll kill ‘im.
“Wow,” I said quietly. “Just—-wow. We have a sister! We have a sister!”
I ran a hand through my moppish long, brown hair. I scanned more data and photographs. What an interesting person! I was fascinated. I felt as if I were studying some glamorous celebrity. Well known in orthodox Catholic circles. Published poetess. BBC interview in connexion with her organisational work against abortion. On and on.
Then Nancy’s braying snapped me out of my reverie.
“She’s due in at Douglas at 3 p.m.”
“Hmmm? What are you—-“
“You’ve got to pick her up, Tommy. I can’t. I’ve got to get Karl to his basketball camp.”
Her stupid, selfish son. Of course.
“I was just at Mom’s retrieving some important papers, including these, and getting the house ready to sell,” said Nancy. “So anyway, it’s all there: the blood, the DNA paperwork and all the rest of it. Amanda Louis is our sister. Still can’t believe Dad kept this from us, and I can’t understand his reasons—-not fully. He and Mrs Spaak kept in touch over the past 45 years. There’s a huge cache of letters here, too, in this file. It seems the Spaaks have plenty of money, so Amanda was well cared for. But revealing her true parentage would have been too much for both families, at least in the ’70’s, according to this exchange between Dad and Mrs Spaak. And so they agreed to keep it a secret, just between the two of them, and to reveal it only when one or the other of them died.
“This is the sort of thing that happens all the time, really, you know,” she continued, looking away. “Remember Mom’s only brother, our uncle, Jack, dead at the age of 19 and gone now 75 years. Remember how he sired a bastard with that girl in Hickory, mere months before he died in that swimming accident, and we didn’t find out about this guy until the ’90’s. We have a 75-year-old first cousin in Hickory, and for some reason, when he found out, he wanted nothing to do with us. I guess people have their reasons. But sure, it happens.”
She shuffled a couple of letters, well-worn, creased and soft, their ink fading now.
“I’ve read through them all, and you may want to as well,” she said, glancing at her watch. “But look, I’ve got to get back to Raleigh, so I can’t go to Douglas. You’ll have to do it.”
“Oh! Well, of course. I can…uh, that is…”
“She’s our sister. She’s flying 4,000 miles, coming here to meet the family that she’s never known. Surely you don’t suggest we put her up at the Holiday Inn?”
“No! Oh, no. I’ll be glad to—-“
“Then get a move on. Get this place cleaned up. I’ve got to get back to Raleigh. Maybe you can bring her up later and—-“
“Yeah, sure. Sure!”
“Of course, I don’t think Mom will be too happy that she…never mind. Look, I’ve already talked to Amanda on the ‘phone, and she’s very nice. It’s all arranged. Trust me, you’ll love her!”
Yes, I thought, I don’t doubt that I will.
Presently, several perfunctory pleasantries and an obligatory hug later, Nancy was gone, and I was thinking about my new sister. My real sister: Lady Amanda!
I made some haste.
I did multiple loads of laundry as quickly as I could. I washed and changed the bed linens in both guest bedrooms, my own and the one that would be Amanda’s. But I confess I was already hoping that she would simply sleep with me, as I was already falling in love with her, sight unseen. I vacked upstairs and down, cleaned both upstairs bathrooms and set out fresh towels. I then spritzed down every room with my best German cologne.
“Ah,” I said, breathing deeply. “Very nice. And now, a bath.”
But before that, I couldn’t resist turning on my laptop computer. I found the BBC interview, and she looked and sounded wonderful: very well put-together and immaculately dressed; eyes bright as ever; friendly, smiling demeanour; her soft, alto voice an intoxicating combination of a North London dialect and the Queen’s English.
And what courage! Attending a weekly witness event or more, stationed only with several friends and monks outside abortion clinics, she had endured profane, belligerent behaviour, language and general abuse. As she told the interviewer, she had been spat upon and called horrid names; her tyres had been slashed. And on and on it went. Yet through it all, she was never upset, never perturbed in the slightest. She never returned this gigantic hatred with anything but love, and she simply kept smiling, remained positive and adopted a very Christlike attitude of “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
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