Confession is Good for the Soul
‘Mum will kill you when she finds out.’
‘Please, don’t tell her. She doesn’t need to know.’
Through the open door, the polished floor reflects lifeless white walls in a sterile room. My mother lays in wait under her favourite Chantilly lace, its faded white texture matches her hoary face. At her side the esteemed child, 27 years in Hollywood, three children and a producer husband. Not once capable of finding the time to visit, only Christmas cards. Now, the mother I have spent years caring for will soon be all a dither with the grandchildren she will meet only once.
In two weeks my forty-fifth birthday. My present will be one of great joy served on a slaver of regret, sorrow and pain. The many men who passed me by. The slog of long work hours. Yet, dear Olivia comes to the rescue in the nick of time – with token gifts from a far to soften God’s waiting room. Forever will Olivia be treasured in mother’s eyes. If only Mother knew her little darling’s truth.
‘Hello there, you must be May? Olivia’s sister.’ A strong American accent collapses my thoughts.
At first glance he is stunning, a true Hollywood hunk, his smile genuine. ‘Yes, and you must be Charles.’
A warm and unexpected embrace. Hmm, I might like this Yank.
‘Chuck, please call me Chuck. I’ve heard so much about you, I feel like I’ve known you most of my life. You surely are much more beautiful than the photos suggest.’
‘Oh, you and your American charm, stop it. Stop it next week.’
He laughs and his eyes shine. My god, Olivia really has caught a good’un.
‘Have you met our children? They are dying to meet you. They simply can’t believe you are real. The stories Olivia tells about you two in your youth, are truly unbelievable.’ Confidently he leans towards me his expensive blue suit opens to reveal a sculptured body. Did you both really make it into The Beatles hotel suite when they toured here?
I lean close to his ear. Expensive aftershave. I whisper, ‘Don’t you know it’s impolite for a lady to kiss and tell.’ I feel the heat of blood rush to his skin, eagle eyes flame hunger. A live wire.
A tall blond college boy approaches. His bronzed face curious. ‘Hey Pa, mom wants to.’
‘May, my dear May.’ Olivia brushes past her son. Arms stretched they wrap around me in an enthusiastic embrace. Startled, I’m slow to respond, such a torrent of affection. I can’t believe tears, my tears. Where’s the resentment? I want to remain strong, it’s not meant to be about you. All eyes are on me.
‘You are a treasure to behold.’ A smile so grateful so welcoming, so… What is going on here, you bitch.
‘Oh May, you look so good. I can’t believe it. How do you stay so young?… I have forgotten my manners. This incredible hunk of a man is Max, he is at UCLA studying law, although, he has a contract in an upcoming major movie.’
Yes, if I was only twenty years younger.
‘This is Scott, he’s the smart one, he’ll probably own his own corporation one day soon.
His dark hair highlights serious eyes. They seem out of place. Who’s the father? It’s my father, he is a ghost. I look upon his expression. My father’s voice echoes my name. Without blinking I ask, ‘has mum seen him?’
‘Do we still have photos of Dad?’ Filters through my mind. ‘Does she ever mention him?’ Christ she can still read my mind. Does she never forget.
A shy elegant 18 year old Californian girl is thrust in front of me. ‘You must be Mellissa? You’re much prettier than you’re mother.’ A blush crosses her cheeks. ‘Must get that from your father dear.’
‘Don’t listen to her Mellissa – she’ll lead you astray. Mum is still a sleep. Let’s go for coffee.’
By the hand, they escort me away. Away from stability, away from the reason we are here – away from my resentment.
We only manage to be seated at the Barista’s Bar when from behind comes, ‘Ms Hetherington, your mother is asking for you,’ calls a puffing duty nurse. All eyes turn to Olivia as if to say, here is your moment of truth. Our collective silence forebodes as we return. An unspoken death march sees the eldest Olivia lead the rest of us into mother’s room and we take our respective places around our ailing matriarch’s bed.
Pink eye lids reveal sunken grey ringed eyes, they focus to find delight. Everyone jumps as her erratic gasps sound of death’s rattle. Olivia grabs her face. Max fumbles for the emergency button, Chuck clasps the two youngest.
‘Stop,’ I say. ‘It’s okay, Mum’s throat is dry. It’s the shock of waking up to find you here.’ From the bedside table I lift a glass of water to her lips. ‘Look Mum it is Olivia and family. They have come all the way from America to see you, aren’t they gorgeous?’
Tears stream, Olivia plummets to hug the frail woman, ‘Oh mother.’ They embrace emotions flood the room euphoric. The Americans shuffle together and hug each other. To Olivia, Chuck passes a large handkerchief. Her children ready to respond. How I never wanted to see this. Yet, it should be, needs to be. How I wish, be still my stomach.
Finally, mother’s dry lips whisper, ‘I’ve been waiting for this moment. I prayed for you to come.’ Mother’s voice croaks with more tears. ‘Show me my darling grandchildren. Max, you’re so handsome and strong.’ Mother’s crooked fingers point. ‘You are so beautiful my girl, blessed be you.’ Mother’s stare is captivated as she ogles Scott.
I had always pictured myself throwing up over everyone at this point. But, I couldn’t, I could not make sense of my feelings. I need to get out, need fresh air, need to think. I leave the happy family to savour their moment.
I stare out at blue sky from a hard plastic seat. A tailored sleeved arm encircles my shoulders. I look up the charm never stops, the smile debilitating. Smooth as silk the words leave his lips. He must have had his way with more women than James Bond.
‘Looks like Olivia has many hours to make up for, how about you taking me out and show me the sights of Sydney. You can show me some of your more… private haunts.’ The Devil would kill for that smile.
‘What, no wine, no chocolates? Fuck off. Just fuck off.’ Obviously, he is not used to rejection. ‘You’re married to my sister that makes you family. I don’t fuck family.’ I get up and storm off, my knickers moist.
God no, here comes Father Luciano, mother’s emotional crutch.
‘Good afternoon May, how is your mother?’
‘Right now, I would say she is in Heaven.’ The palm of his hand stops the sharp intake of air. ‘Sorry, I mean Olivia is with her.’
‘Your mother will be so pleased. Truly, God has seen fit to bless her in her hour of doubt. Her spirit will be strong again and able to clasp God’s hand.’ His face solemn, his pose reflective.
Bloody God’s hand on my Mother’s estate. I wish you would piss off you cattle tick. ‘Chances are, she may be clasping all too soon Father. The doctors think this will be her last sunset.’
‘I will go to her and pray and bring relief to her long suffering soul.’
Shit, I bloody know who’s is suffering. ‘Do that Father but, a word of warning, there’s more than one sole that needs saving.’
Deeper into the foyer I stumble over my own feet. I don’t believe in apparitions but, there at the snack dispensing machine is John – John O’Connell. We used to have so much fun. I could use a distraction. ‘Hello John, what brings you to the morgue?’
‘You were always one for inauspicious humour. My Father.’
‘Sorry John, how is he?’
‘Not good, they say it could be any day now. It’s Mother I worry about. She will be lost without him. I am contemplating a move for her to my residence.’
‘You haven’t found that someone special yet?’
‘I did once. Unfortunately, she could not reciprocate. Had commitments of her own.’
The silence is awkward. I fist my hands in order to stop them shaking. ‘My, my Mother is here. It, it’s not good. My sister Olivia has flown in from the U.S. with family in tow. Tell you the truth John, I am scared. Not for Mum but me, what will I do with myself after all these years of servitude.’
‘Find yourself a good man.’
‘I did once, I’m not sure if he would look at me now.’
‘You are still an incredibly attractive woman May. Once you have ordered your personal situation. Approach him, I am sure he would find room for you in his life.’ He drops the snack and bends to pick it up. His gorgeous blue eyes peer up at mine – my gut tightens with a lifetime of regret. Our souls caress for the briefest of moments. He motions, ‘I must go, I still have the same number. Let me know about your mother, I will make the service. Escort you if you like.’
‘That would be good John. I’d really like that.’ I float alone in a sea of people as I watch him fade to a distant door.’
Aimless I walk outside my mind toking a fat joint. The setting sun breaks through the canopy of trees. The smell of car exhaust assails my senses. What day is it?
‘Aunt May’, a warm hand caresses my arm. ‘Aunt May, they want you back in the room.’ I turn to find exquisite eyes that verify a loving heart.
‘Sorry Mellissa, I was miles away, lead the way.’ She smiles with sincere affection, our arms intwine.
Hollywood has come to town. As we enter the room the last rays of sunset lay a gold halo around mother’s head. At the beds end the priest kneeling recites in Latin verse. The infrequent daughter seated close to mother bleeds tears that flash rainbow as they fall in the twilight – her loving family huddled behind. I take my place on the opposite side, lifting mother’s right hand into my own.
‘Mother,’ Olivia starts. ‘I have a confession to make.’
She can’t, not now, she can’t tell everyone about her abortion for Christ’s sake.
‘Mum, it was me… who broke your Royal Dalton collection. I was running up the hallway when I shouldn’t have and fell head long onto the display.’ Her sobs quite earnest. ‘I knew you would be upset, but, oh Mother.’ She buries her face into mother’s hand.
Wild eyes flare as the strength of anger recoils wizened hand. The etched character of face hardens with welcomed scorn. Her accusing finger injects venom like a striking snake. ‘It is not me you should confess too. All these years I have borne contempt for May, and she has proven loyalty to you far beyond what you have ever shown me. You must seek forgiveness from her you hussie. So many years of shame. I pray she can find it in her heart to forgive you.’
Reality has just left the building. Never could I have imagined those words, now embedded in my brain.
Those sunken grey eyes now stare into my ambiguous face.
With Mother’s final heartbeat a whisper escapes her trembling lips, ‘I am sorry May.’