AUNTS AND MOTHERS
It is not an easy thing for a young woman of twenty to find out that her mother is actually her aunty. And that her aunt is her real mother. And that her father is not in the least bit worthy of the near-sainthood she’d bestowed on him.
Her face almost as white as the hospital sheets she lies on, Beatrice hears a wail, then a series of whimpers, childlike and pitiful. It takes a moment to realize the sounds are emanating from her throat.
Her eyes flit from face to face. Her father stands before her, his head bowed, his shoulders stooped as if he has aged a century more. Her mum, the only one she’s ever called mum, looks stricken, her lips trembling with the exertion of trying not to cry.
The third face is that of her aunty Lara. Vivacious, spontaneous Lara. The one with the outrageous clothes and odd-colored hair. The one who is more Beatrice’s friend than her aunt. Lara stands behind her sister, as if she could be emotionally shielded from what was to come.
“Tell me it’s not true.” Bea manages to croak past the constriction in her throat. “You guys are playing a practical joke, right?”
She watches as two miserable rivers of tears make their way down her mother’s cheeks. And for a moment, she feels her heart stop. It would be so good to die right now, to sink into a dark unknowing place where your loved ones are not traitors, she thinks.
“I’m sorry, pumpkin.”
She opens her eyes back to the world. Her mother has moved closer to the bed and is gripping the railings so hard her knuckles are white.
“Tell me what happened.” Bea demands.
It was an unseasonably warm summer. Tina sought to drown her sorrow in a broth of work. She was thirty-one, had just learnt that she couldn’t have children. After five years of trying hard, the fertility expert had been her last trial, and the shock she’d come away with left her drained of life’s juices.
She drove silently into the garage, her headlights off, just wanting some minutes alone before going in to meet her husband and her little sister who’d come to stay the summer. There was an argument going on and the voices were loud. She stiffened.
“You can’t have the baby. It’d kill your sister.” Tina froze at the sound of Will’s voice, bracing herself against what was coming next.
“But I can’t have an abortion. My friend died of it. I can’t.” Lara’s voice, hysterical, loud, packed with all of the despair of a seventeen-year old child.
“We can’t tell her the child is mine. You know that, Lara. You know that.”
Unthinking, feeling nothing but the rage that swelled and broke loose in her heart, Tina flung open the door to the kitchen. Will’s hands were on Lara’s waist, his eyes shining with an intensity that defied explanation.
The rage in her heart became a roar in her head. Vision swimming, she ran towards them. And then collapsed just as she held out a hand to Will.
“I did it for the good of everybody involved.” Tina’s voice sounds as if it were escaping from a hollow reed. “I’d been so wrapped up in myself that I wasn’t satisfying your father sexually, although there is no excusing what he did. And Lara was just a foolish girl with stars in her eyes. I don’t know how it started…” Her voice trails. “But it had happened. She was pregnant, was not ready to have an abortion. I was childless, was desperate for a baby. And you were Will’s baby. By God, you were my husband’s child. I loved you from then. I wanted you like I’d never wanted anything. You were mine from the time Lara pushed you into the world.” Unable to go on, she begins to weep, a cracked, jagged sound.
Beatrice feels the onrushing power of a headache. When she opens her mouth to speak, her voice is nothing but a whisper. “So I wouldn’t have known the truth if not for this illness.” Since she was diagnosed, she’s never referred to the leukemia plaguing her body by any other name. “Thank you but no. I don’t want Aunt Lara’s blood. I’d rather die.”
That said, she turns her back to the three people she’d once loved the most.
***Based very loosely on a true story
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