Skeletons in the Closet

WINNER OF SAN FRANCISCO

BEST SHORT STORY ENTRY, 2018!

“Skeletons in the Closet” is a thirty-one-page story (7139 words) of a good family man’s encounter with at least two “skeletons in his closet”:  an ex-girlfriend and her son have come home to roost.

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SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET

– By Richard Bonte

 

“Hi, Dad!” was all he said as he looked me in the eye.

There was this strange man standing on the porch, looking at me. He

was probably late twenties, tall, blond and good-looking. Fairly normal

looking compared to many of the young people today. That is, he wasn’t

obese. In fact, he was quite clean-cut, shaven, no earrings, piercings or

tattoos, no extra-large jeans or pants hanging off underpants which might be

seen hanging out on all sides, no evidence of substance abuse like needle

marks or blotched skin betraying severe alcoholism, no dilated eyes or airheaded

feel. No, this was the guy next door with a frank, levelheaded gaze,

his blue eyes piercing right through me.

“I’m sorry?” was all I could manage to respond.

“Sorry for what? You are Michael A. Thomas, aren’t you?” he

countered, very impertinently for someone standing on the porch of a house

that wasn’t his.

“And your name, Sir?” I answered back. “What is your business and

what is your name?” I said very formally, trying to throw my weight around

in an “I live here; who are you?” type of way.

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With that he produced an Ontario’s driver’s license with a Toronto

address.

“Ring any bells?” he asked. Since I didn’t answer right away, he said,

“May I come in, Dad?”

“Dad! Dad? Why do you call me ‘Dad’?”

“Because you are my Dad,” he answered back, his gaze always direct,

blue, square, looking me right in the eye. I looked at him hard for a long

time. Then I stepped aside.

“Please come in, Mr. ‘Charles’?”

“Brian Charles. Should have been “Brian Thomas,” if you know what

I mean. “Charles” is my stepfather’s name, Chuck Charles. He and Isabelle

brought me up.”

He stepped into my apartment and looked around.

“Nice place you have here. In fact, there are beautiful villas all

around here. Nice gated community,” he rambled.

“Exactly,” I responded. “How did you get in here?”

“I noticed that when you drive in, they ask you to produce an I.D. or

state your business,” he said, without really answering my question. Plus, he

had used my own phrase, “state your business” and called me “Dad” at least

twice. I noticed that. Since he was Canadian, he spoke more clearly than

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most people. Indeed, it seemed this way. He definitely had an English-

Canadian accent.

“Isabelle?” I suddenly said. “Did you say ‘Isabelle’?”

“Yes, you remember her?”

“I used to know an Isabelle,” I repeated stupidly.

“Yes, I know,” he replied. “That’s why I’m here.”

But all I could think was, “who was this guy?”

“Anything happen to her?” I blurted out.

“Oh, yes,” he said, “but all that happened long ago when you were

around. Or rather two thousand miles away! But you know all about that,

right?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, come on, Mr. Michael A. Thomas, ‘Dad’! You know damn well

what happened. I’m your son. Isabelle was your girlfriend”…My mouth

dropped open in disbelief while he continued to talk but I made up my own

words as the years suddenly flashed back on me:

“I was driving back from my sabbatical year in Toronto. I had been

teaching, doing research there. The school year had ended and I started back

in my little Saab. It was late May, maybe the third week or so, and I had

decided to detour through Montreal for some reason, Montreal, which was

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North of there. So I headed up the 401 and not too far from Kingston,

Ontario, my engine seized up on me. That is the crank stopped turning. The

pistons had heated up and probably melted their cylinder block, or ‘seized

up’. It had been the fourth or fifth used engine on that two-stroke, threecylinder

Saab, and now the engine had gone again. I didn’t know what to do

besides call AAA and see what they could accomplish. But it was a 1966

two-stroke Saab, and this was 1976. The car was already ten years old, and

no one worked on two-strokes anymore. They never would have had any

parts for it even if they had been able to tow me wherever I wanted to go. It

was a ‘foreign’ car. I called up different Saab places—there was one in

Toronto, Ottawa, one in Montreal, one even further away, in Buffalo–but

they only knew about new cars. What I needed was a guy with a used

engine–someone with a new crank and pistons to replace the defective ones

that had seized up.

Thinking about this, I went to the local coffee shop near where I broke

down (at least I wasn’t too far off in the boonies) and I sat down for a

sandwich, coffee and bran muffin. I looked around: truckers all round, big

fat prole truckers listening to a CB radio, which was located behind the

counter. The waitress kept filling up our cups with coffee: “More coffee,

Hon’, she would say?” I remember filling up three or four times and taking

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a BLT on white, but I kept getting up to phone or go to the bathroom. I

needed to find parts or a complete engine.

An over-friendly trucker got to talking with me; he had detached his

own CB and brought it in with him to the café. He started calling out, “Hey

Big Daddy, 10-4, hey Red Mountain, etc.” Each CB had its “handle” or

“user name.” Anyway, this trucker finally located a guy who would be able

to repair my Saab. That was pretty nice of him, I thought, so I didn’t think

anything of it when he suggested driving me to the local gas station to get a

tow truck to bring my Saab over to this other guy located on the other side of

the border in Upstate New York.

The only thing was, this trucker was a flaming faggot: as soon as I had

gotten in his cab, he had his meaty palm on my thigh and was telling me

what a big strong boy I was. I was young looking but no ‘boy’! I didn’t

panic but lied that I had forgotten something back at the café and when the

light turned red, I jumped out of the truck.

This was when I met Isabelle, but I can’t believe she is your mother. I

had returned by foot to the café when I saw this pretty little blond sitting at

the counter. It seemed to me she was wearing a short brown leather coat, but

I could have been wrong. After all, it was May, but the weather was brisk.

Or maybe it was that short leather coats were all the rage back then. I

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remember ordering soup because I didn’t want to spend too much money, so

to keep down my costs, I ordered just soup or sandwiches. (I noticed the

truckers were always stuffing themselves with full meals: SPP, I’d call them,

or steak, potatoes and peas).

Your mother had this airy quality, radiant, ethereal, her teeth slightly

buck, but she had beautiful skin, playful light blue eyes, and she looked me

straight in the eye when she talked. I was 26 then, and she must have been

19 or 20-”

“Twenty,” Mr. Charles suddenly blurted out and I glared at him, this

strange man purporting to be my son and sitting in our apartment, but then I

returned to 1976 again:

“Twenty. Yes, that’s what she was. And we talked a long time and I

told her about my Saab, about the trucker who had been kind but then had

gone too far and I asked her about herself, where she was from, where she

was going to. It turned out she also wanted to go to Montreal to see an aunt

or a sister, but she didn’t have a car; I wasn’t sure where she was from and

where she was staying. I liked her, and I was serious when I told her I

would take her to Montreal if she wanted, once I got my Saab fixed but then

after, I would have to drive it back to California where I was from. She told

me she knew people in California, too.

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By this time in the afternoon, the lunch hour traffic had gone; and we

were alone in the coffee shop. I wasn’t really thinking about hitting on her

because I was concerned about my car: I was attracted but detached. I kept

trying to get a hold of this Saab guy and I was finally able to arrange to have

the car towed over then. It was convened that I go over to his shop when it

was fixed. I shouldn’t expect my car for a day or two, but this Saab guy had

promised to make me top priority and put in a new engine or pistons in the

old one as soon as possible. Isabelle and I went out to supervise the towing,

and after watching it bob down the street, we found ourselves alone outside

the café.

At first, I thought Isabelle had a place to stay but it turned out she

didn’t so we walked around for a while until we found a hotel.

We were very attracted to each other and over the next couple of days

became inseparable. We’d hang out in that café listening to the CB radio

and I’d be on the phone popping quarters and dimes in the jukebox and

talking to the Saab guy about my engine.

There were complications, but finally it was ready so we called a taxi

driver who took us over to get it. All I remember is our sitting in a taxi cab

waiting to cross the river which was the USA/Canadian border after which

we did the fifteen-mile journey south in Upstate New York where this Saab

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man was located: his ‘garage’ was in a pasture with cows grazing nearby,

and in the immediate vicinity around his mobile home were old cars, rusty

car parts and Saabs—every kind of make one could imagine—two-stroke

and four-stroke coupes, Spitfires, station wagons. At first, I said to myself:

what kind of a man is this living in a Saab burial yard with cow dung all

around except that then I thought how fortunate I was: I break down in

Canada, and just fifteen miles away in the USA, I find a Saab man: this was

meant to be.

I paid off the cabbie and knocked on the mobile home door.

A peculiar, unshaven man with greasy grey hair and long, mucky

fingernails appeared. He was very jovial and invited us into his abode, but

both of us were afraid to sit down. After first bending low enough just to get

in through the door, we were suddenly face to face with his wife and two

children. Everything was covered in grease, two horrible cats were lapping

up pieces of food and the children were filthy dirty. The smell was horrific,

but I pretended to think nothing of it. I didn’t want to drink anything out of

a glass but I did accept a cold beer in a can and Isabelle an orange juice,

although we were both careful to wipe off the top of the cans first.

Fortunately, the car was ready so we didn’t have to spend too long

talking to the guy and his family. The repairs were about $189 which I

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thought was a pretty fair price, even in those days, for three pistons, an

engine overhaul and assorted work.

Isabelle and I drove back over the border and up to Montreal. We

spent the night there, and then returned to Toronto where she was from. But

once in Toronto, we realized we would be apart so she asked me if I would

take her to California to see her friends. I wanted to but I didn’t: I wanted to

because I liked her but I didn’t because I was afraid of the consequences.

How much did I want to get involved with this young girl?”

“You were already involved!” my young interlocutor interrupted,

glaring at me, but I returned to the past.

“Where was she from and what was her background? Was I robbing

the cradle, even though she was definitely of age to know what she was

doing?

We began the long trip across country, along Highway 80, listening to

music, talking, and staying in Best Western motels along the way. I

remember she wanted to see the Grand Canyon, but I nixed that idea – we

would have had to cross the entire country north to south—and I wanted to

get back. The delay with the car and going to Montreal had been quite

enough. In retrospect, I wish I had gone to the Grand Canyon. Why was I

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always in a rush to get to the goal? What about enjoying the experience

along the way?”

“Maybe you were enjoying yourself just a bit too much at my

mother’s expense and felt guilty about it? Maybe you were already planning

to ditch my mother—subconsciously of course—and felt uncomfortable with

what the future might bring?” said my alleged and most perspicacious son.

“I left her in San Francisco,” I continued as if my son hadn’t even

spoken, “at the Greyhound Bus Station where she told me she would see her

friends and I would return to see my Mum and sisters south of there.”

“I guess you didn’t want her to meet your Mum because how would

you have introduced her?”

Mr. Charles was like my subconscious as well as a son, but I

persevered without a break, so interested was I in telling the side I had

always told myself.

“A few weeks later I received a call from her. She was in a hotel in

San Francisco and wanted to say good-bye. I went up to see her and it was

very hot, a full moon. It was late June and I went to her room. We had

‘good-bye’ sex; terrific passion of a short duration because we both knew it

would be the last time. Then we went outside and walked around for a while

holding on to each other. I walked her back to her hotel and held her for a

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long time. Then I drove back to the safety of the suburbs and never saw her

again.

In the middle of November, I heard from her. It had been almost five

months since I had seen her. She told me she was pregnant and she was sure

it was from me. She wanted me to go to Toronto to see her.

You have to remember that during the time between late June and

mid-November I had absolutely no communication with her. There were no

cell phones, no Face Time, no Skype, no e-mail and we were geographically

separated and that was that. She didn’t call me and I didn’t call her. As

horrible as it might seem now, to you, our son, it had been a wonderful

adventure between us, and we realized it was over, and she had gone her

way and I had gone mine. In fact, I didn’t know how she had located me

(because I had moved) so she must have called ‘Directory Assistance’.

We had a long conversation with her crying and my trying to be

reasonable. I told her I really had to check this out through the school nurse

and hospital, and I would get back to her. I took down her number and

called her back the next day.

I spent the next twenty-four hours talking to different “specialists”:

doctors, nurses and a school psychologist. All of them told me that this

girl—Isabelle—had waited until the last moment to call me. Why had she

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done that? Hadn’t she known she had missed her period, that something was

amiss, and that she was pregnant? Hadn’t that crossed her mind? Was it fair

to me to let me know at the last minute and give me no choice as to what to

do? This was the era of free love, free sex, where most women had some

sort of birth control. This was pre-AIDS, and many men didn’t wear

condoms because most women had protected themselves from getting

pregnant. You had to be careful about picking up a virus, a non-specific

urethritis or crabs, or even venereal disease, but if you were careful, you

usually didn’t get into trouble. At least, this was the way I saw it. This was

my male perspective on all that.”

I studied my son just like he was studying me. He was all-ears, and at

least for now, not overly judgmental, so intent was he on obtaining all the

facts, so I carried on.

“I was 26 then, and by my standards, very young, and to be frank, the

last thing I wanted to be was tied down with a child. Don’t get me wrong, I

really liked your mother, I really did, and if you’re mine, you were a love

child, but did I want to get married, settle down with one woman and raise a

family? No, I did not. And your mother was a girl then—a very young

woman—whom I hadn’t seen for almost five months. I mention five months

because that was usually the cut-off day for an abortion.”

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With this, my son twitched suddenly, as he realized he could have

been denied his existence.

“Had I, as your father, been given a say, or a chance–the school

specialists said–to terminate your growth? Remember, Roe vs. Wade, the

bill that granted a woman’s right to choose, had been around for only three

years at this point. However, I had never thought about ‘Roe vs. Wade’, but

now, looking back, maybe…It was a new concept” —

–“Oh, cut the crap!” my son suddenly said. “I wasn’t a ‘concept’,

except if you mean by ‘concept’ I had been “conceived,” because basically,

we’re talking about whether you had the guts to be my father!”

The doorbell rang. It was my daughter who was about fourteen. She

had come home from school, would get something to eat, change, and go out

and play tennis. This was why we were in Florida so she could attend a

tennis academy for girls.

“Hi, Dad.”

She peered at the newcomer.

“Hello.”

“This is Brian Charles, Cynthia, Brian Charles.”

“Oh, hello, Mr. Charles.”

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“Hello,” my son uttered, almost under his breath. He didn’t appear

too happy to see my daughter, his half-sister.

“Why don’t you get changed and snack at the cafeteria?” I ventured.

“Mr. Charles and I have a lot to talk about.”

My daughter immediately understood that we wanted to have a private

conversation, and went in her room to change. But we didn’t. Instead, I

studied my son and he did me as we remained in silence for the time it took

her to change. The moment seemed interminable as my daughter—behind

closed doors—went to the bathroom, washed her face and hands, brushed

and re-brushed her hair, slowly put on her tennis clothes, gathered her other

gear and went out the front door with a “See ya, Dad!”

My son continued to stare at me.

“Are there going to be any other interruptions?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact. I have a young son, and his mother will be

returning home soon.”

“And you, what do you do all day?” he asked me impertinently.

“I write about people like you,” I answered boldly, barely giving him

something to think about.

The phone rang. It was my wife. Could I go out and pick up some

milk? There was none for the morning. What about Josh’s breakfast?

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“That was the wife. I have to go get some milk,” I said to my

intruder-son.

“She couldn’t pick some up herself?”

“Come on. Why don’t you come along with me and we’ll get some

together?”

“Like father, like son?” he rejoined, also conscious of an incipient

father-son bonding that might develop, or was this all in my brain?

My mind was racing as we walked down the steps to the car outside.

Should I call the police, but what was I going to say to them? That I was

afraid that my own son, the fruit of my loins, might give me a problem? I

had no idea why he was there. But call the police on my own son? I

couldn’t do that!

Our car was a Mercedes, a fact he didn’t fail to notice. He took in the

parked Jaguars, BMWs, Cadillacs and other luxury vehicles in the adjoining

parking lot. Obviously, he wasn’t accustomed to the high net worth

atmosphere of the gated sports community where we all lived. How would I

explain his presence to my wife, let alone to my young son? I decided to

deal with that in turn as we slowly drove out over the speed bumps, along

the five-mile-an-hour driveway and out the gate.

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He was thinking, too, because he suddenly went silent and stared

straight ahead. I had a fleeting thought that maybe now he had found me

and satisfied his curiosity as to my identity, he would leave me alone in my

cocoon and return to his mother. She had obviously moved on even though I

didn’t know where since I hadn’t asked him, so busy was I thinking about

my own situation.

The silence continued as we got out of the car, walked through the

supermarket to the milk aisle and back to the cash register. We were served

immediately and went back to the car.

When we returned home, my wife and other son were already there

and I introduced them. “Mr. Brian Charles” was the name I introduced him

with but my wife wanted to know more, especially when he nodded curtly at

her, turned on the TV and sprawled out on the sofa. I was surprised at his

effrontery but obviously, I didn’t want to divulge anything about him in

front of her. She kept trying to catch my eye when he wasn’t looking, but

this was impossible, and I made it difficult for her by feigning ignorance of

what she was trying to do.

After a while, I finally said, “Could you lay out another place mat,

Sylvia? Brian will be staying for dinner?”

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Sylvia winced at this but said nothing, all the while pretending that

there would be no problem whatsoever. I could almost hear the machinery

of her brain cells churning as she was trying to figure out what was going

on. As she always did the cooking, I would never invite someone to dinner

without asking her first. So why hadn’t I this time? What had I been

thinking?

In addition, I had called him ‘Brian’. Who was this guy? And why

hadn’t I told her something about him? Was her husband really who he was

supposed to be?

Brian had something to say: “Actually, I was wondering if I could

stay with you guys a few days? I have some things to work out with your

husband here.”

The words rang out like heavy balls dropping on the lanes of an empty

bowling alley. Sylvia, who was pouring some olive oil out onto a frying

pan, suddenly jerked her right arm and poured twice the quantity of oil she

would normally have used. The oil started to crackle and sputter

dangerously.

She moved the frying pan, lowered the heat and turned around to face

Brian Charles.

“Where would you stay?”

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Her voice was low and controlled, emanating from some survival

instinct of a mother protecting her home from outsiders.

Brian stared back at her contemptuously. Then he looked at our

young son and said,

“What’s your name, Son?”

“Josh-u-a,” my son said, slowly articulating all three syllables, as he

had been taught to do in school.

“I’ll stay in Joshua’s room. Dad can pull out an extra cot here for his

other son, can’t you, “Dad”?”

Sylvia, who was about to return the frying pan to its original position,

started shaking and slammed down the pan.

“What is going on!” she exclaimed, turning to face both men.

“I’ll tell you, but it’ll take awhile,” I murmured.

“Perhaps we could do it over dinner? What are you cooking there,

Sylvia; it smells good and I’m hungry,” rejoined my oldest son, not without

a little presumption.

Joshua, who was only four, was running about trying to call attention

to the electric toy motorcycle he drove all over the apartment.

“Look at me! Look at me now!” he kept yelling, quoting from Dr.

Seuss’ ‘Cat in the Hat.’ “It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how!”

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He had no idea what the excitement was about. All he knew was that

this strange thirty-year-old man was staying over for dinner.

“You didn’t tell him Joshua slept in our bed, did you!” my wife

screamed hysterically. “And what’s all this about ‘Dad’? Who is your

‘Dad’?” She looked scornfully at Brian.

“He is…” he said simply, pointing at me. “…And guess what? If

Joshua sleeps in your marital bed, then there won’t be any problem for me!

I’ll sleep in Joshua’s bed–with my Daddy and fake Mommy close by, unlike

how I grew up which was just with my real Mommy, except that I was all

alone in my bed,” he said, scowling at me, his eyes doing all the work while

his head remained perfectly still.

Joshua had noticed a change in atmosphere and came naturally over to

my wife who held him protectively. Suddenly, she bellowed,

“And who is this ‘Mommy’ you keep talking about?!! Where is she?!

Do you have another wife, Mike!?”

Now all three of them were scrutinizing me: Joshua with fear, Sylvia

with rage and Brian with bemusement.

“It’s a long story,” Brian finally said in the ensuing silence. “Why

don’t we all sit down and have a quiet dinner with wine and make ourselves

at home and we’ll talk about this later and during the next few days,” he

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said, reclining on a sofa with a can of beer he had just fished out of our

fridge. He extended his legs along the coffee table and stared at the TV that

had been on for a while on low volume.

“I’m leaving!” screamed Sylvia, clutching Joshua and marching to the

front door.

“Why would you want to do that?” said my son disarmingly. “Don’t

you want to know?”

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Joshua wailed, beginning to tear.

“Nothing, sweetie, nothing to worry about. Everything’s alright.”

Pulling my young son behind her, she marched to my daughter’s

bedroom. I stood in front of her and held her firm.

“I’ll explain! I will explain!” I pleaded quietly, my voice a whispered

croak, my eyes intense, as I’m told they are. I picked up Joshua and lead

Sylvia gently to the table and made her sit down. She was trembling, her

eyes looking straight ahead; she was totally focused on her hurt self. I

brought Joshua back to a little table we had set up in the living room. He sat

down quietly in one of his tiny chairs and proceeded to play with some

blocks I had bought him from the previous Christmas. He had gone very

quiet.

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My older son, sensing the urgency of the situation, quietly turned off

the TV and took his place at the table opposite my wife. My daughter,

sensing drama from the sudden lack of noise, exited her bedroom where she

was doing her homework, and asked about dinner. I told her to sit down

quietly and proceeded to finish laying the table. I then finished cooking

dinner and served everyone.

After we had eaten quietly, I served my wife another glass of wine,

brought another beer from the fridge and sent my daughter off to do her

homework. Joshua had fallen asleep, meanwhile, and I sat down at the head

of the table and looked at the two of them.

I then retold the whole story. When I had finished, Sylvia stared at

me for a long time. Then we both looked at Brian.

“What do you want to do?” we both said simultaneously. My son

stared back at us disdainfully and said nothing. This silence lasted a long

time. Finally, I asked the question I’d been dreading for years when I

contemplated one of the major skeletons in my closet:

“What do you want me to do for you?”

“You mean, what will I go away for?”

The doorbell rang. Except for my oldest son, we all looked at each

other with astonishment. Nobody ever rang the bell after 9 pm in this early22

to-bed sports community. Even my daughter left her work to see who was

there.

I opened the door with trepidation. There in front of me, I saw the

pretty little blond Isabelle of thirty years ago superimposed on what she had

now become: two faces settling into the one facing me, yet I knew that the

one from the past was just under this one staring up at me and I kept digging

for the former with my mind as I tried to be both sociable, happy and

surprised to see her. But I wasn’t, as she and her son (also mine) had blown

my staid life apart in a few hours. I was afraid, but curious, also annoyed

and ready to be aggressive. I was both happy and sad to see her.

She was dressed the same, with blue jeans and a short brown leather

coat; in fact, it was the same as that of thirty years ago. She had kept her

slim, lithe body, but whereas her hair was formerly a natural wavy blond,

now it was a shiny bottle job, dazzling to the eyes but unsettling to the spirit.

Her super white, slightly buck front teeth of before were now a shade of offwhite,

while her silky, fair skin was lined and taut. Her sensuous mouth had

wrinkled somewhat and her big blue Barbie eyes—this was what disturbed

me the most—her enormous blue eyes had lost their luster and marvel and

had been transformed into two dark holes fringed with red veins around the

corneas.

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She smiled wanly as she said, “Hi, Michael,” and sauntered in. I

could smell her as she walked very close past me; she took in the others with

a superficial nod and then turned back to me.

“You still look good, Mike, after all these years”.

She said this in ‘film noir’ fashion, like Lauren Bacall calling out to Bogie in

a throaty siren voice, and tilted her head back like Bacall used to but now it

didn’t have the same effect. Her scent was like it was thirty years ago—no

doubt she had used the same perfume on purpose—and she pushed her body

up against mine as she kissed me gently on both cheeks. “You smell good,

too.” I stood there blithely and let her do this, whereupon she turned around

and went to Sylvia saying, “Hi, you must be Sylvia. I’m Brian’s mother.”

She shook Sylvia’s hand that Sylvia didn’t offer, then looked at Joshua who

was sleeping,

“Cute boy,”

and then went to my fourteen-year-old.

“And you must be Cynthia? You look like your Dad, too.” How did she

know her name, I wondered? Cynthia said nothing, but did not back away

from her gaze.

Isabelle sat down without asking, as did Brian—who resumed his post

in front of the TV set—while the rest of us just stood around in our own

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house. She took out a cigarette and was about to light it when my wife, who

was absolutely fuming, grabbed and crushed it and spat out, “No one smokes

in here!”

“You didn’t have to crush it,” my ex-girlfriend said.

“What is it you and your son want from us?” my wife shot out

quickly, staring her right in the eye and not moving away.

“Millions, Miss Sylvia, millions. I take it you do have millions, don’t

you?”

“Why you little bitch!” Sylvia screamed, and was about to scratch her

face when I restrained her and said, “Perhaps Cynthia would like to finish

her homework and we could put Joshua in our bed while the rest of us talk

this out?”

Although Cynthia loved drama, she sensed she was a little bit over her

head on this one, so she quickly left the room and went back to her bedroom.

Sylvia grabbed Joshua, carried him to our room, placed the sleeping boy on

the bed, and then slammed the door and locked herself inside.

“Well, well, you married someone with a temper!” Sylvia purred.

“What the hell are you doing in my life after all these years?” was all I

could reply.

25

“Let’s put that a little differently,” she said. “Where have you been in

my life all these years? I told you I was having a little boy, and now look at

him. Looks a lot like you, doesn’t he?”

“He looks a lot like you too, Isabelle. That was thirty years ago!

How do you know he’s mine?”

“DNA. I had some of the dried spunk that you left on my underpants

that night tested and compared to Brian’s DNA. A perfect match! Besides,

there wasn’t anyone else after you for a long time, like I told you in our last

phone call. But you didn’t believe me! Or were you too cowardly to do

anything about it, so you closed that chapter in our book together?”

“It’s been thirty years, Isabelle. You didn’t wash your underpants?”

“I put that precious pair of red panties in a drawer. I never wore them

again. The sperm was a little memento I wanted to keep of you. Just lately,

I started thinking about you a lot and DNA never goes away.”

“What DNA? Why didn’t you come after me sooner?”

“Because you didn’t want to get involved with me.”

“That’s a lot of carnival and you know it.”

“The boy wanted to meet his father.”

“Yeah, right, at thirty years old?”

26

Brian looked up from the couch. He was more direct. “She needs

money; we all do.”

Sylvia, who had been listening from inside the bedroom, suddenly

intervened:

“Work for it!” she hissed.

Brian waved her off and marched over to me. He was two inches

taller than me and quite menacing:

“You were a deadbeat dad and now you got to pay!”

Little Sylvia jumped in between us and took him on:

“Who says?”

Isabelle completely ignored her as she spoke to me, “Our son is a

lawyer. Perhaps he could advise you.”

“He couldn’t have been very successful,” Sylvia retorted, “why would

he and his mother be knocking on people’s doors trying to scrounge money

after all these -”

She didn’t get to finish her sentence as Isabelle slapped her and

stunned her momentarily. Sylvia then lunged for her throat and scratched

her rival’s hair and was about to go for her face when I grabbed my wife and

Brian neutralized Isabelle and held her firm. Everybody stared at everyone

else and caught their respective breath. There was something sexy about the

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two of them, breasts heaving and faces flushed, and as they both stared back

at me, I thought of the two kids in their rooms and wondered how I,

someone who had always tried to mind his own business, how it was I had

created a mess like this?

It got worse as Isabelle started rambling in a very sarcastic way:

“You see, Michael and Sylvia, you happy couple, you, yes, we know

everything about you; about your life in Europe; about the jackpot you

inherited a few years back, your kids’ schools, their interests, their activities.

About your conflicting political beliefs, your living here when really you

don’t belong anywhere. We have access to your records—I told you Brian

is a lawyer, a top, top lawyer—and as such, he’s always been interested in

justice -”

– “Sounds like he wants to exact some sort of bogus revenge,” Sylvia

couldn’t help interjecting.

“Exactly. Revenge!” Sylvia confirmed, her voice mounting in tone.

She glared at Isabelle. “You don’t know what it’s like to be abandoned by

your husband, do you! Everything’s always been done for you! In my case,

I was first abandoned by your husband, then by my legal one! How am I

supposed to do anything when I have to take care of my only son? You’ve

got two kids; you’ve got a career! What have I ever had? Access to your

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husband? Is that what that smirk on your face is supposed to mean?!! Was

he that good?! Did he mean that much to me!!? And look what it’s done for

me? Look where I am now! I’m on your doorstep, inside your house! As a

beggar! We need money; we need some place to stay!”

“Get your son to look after you! Leave us alone! We haven’t ever

done anything to you!” Sylvia yelled back. Isabelle tried to claw at her but

Brian held her firm.

“That’s right!” Isabelle screamed, now glowering at me. “You’ve

done nothing, that’s what we’ve discovered, you’re nowhere, you know that,

but people think you’re somebody in the financial arena; you’re making

money, staying afloat, you’re morally respectable, even though you’re really

not; you’re living through your children just like me! In fact, we have a lot

in common, except that you’ve got two and I’ve only got one! I need a job

but who’s going to look after my baby!?”

“Your baby’s thirty years old!” Sylvia couldn’t help but scream, but a

switch had been turned on in Isabelle’s brain and she blocked Sylvia out:

“You see, he was abandoned too! Not just by a lover, like me, but first by

your husband, his real dad—he never had a chance, poor boy—and then by

his sweetheart, although truth be told, she was a first-class, two-timing, golddigging

harlot! But there was no gold to dig, hah!”

29

Isabelle’s voice was shrill, and my wife was turning cold with

fear as Isabelle bore on: “The gold is here! We’ve found the gold! Maybe

we could move in here with you, three in one bed, my son with yours in

Joshua’s room and your beautiful daughter—you must admit, she is a

beauty—in her own room. She wouldn’t have to change rooms, poor girl!

And you, Sylvia, I’d share a bed with you and Michael, but we’d put

Michael between the two of us, a buffer for our love, a bridge over troubled

waters, “take it to the bridge, hah!” Or alternatively, I’ve seen a place for

sale in ‘Sports Park’, that condo development just west of here, and we

could stay there, but you’d have to buy us a unit—we’d reimburse you,

obviously—I don’t know why my former husband had to abandon us, that’s

why I’m considering leveling charges against you, even though that’s not

really fair, but then who cares? If he had left me some money, then I could

have taken care of the bill. That would have been fairer than a lawsuit,

right?”

“I know my statute of limitations has long done gone. I could

fight anyway, that’s what my son says. I could make both of your lives a

misery! I know my rights! All you have to do, Sylvia, is open your eyes to

the truth of your situation. You gotta admit, it’s not like mine. We could all

get along under one roof! We could get to know each other. Why not try it

30

out? You’re beautiful, Sylvia, just like I was, and I think we’re about the

same age, aren’t we? Men still tell me how good I look!”

“You know, Sylvia, the best sex I ever had was with your

husband here! I’m sure that’s the case with you two. That’s why you’re

married to him. And a little variety would do you both good. Do me good, I

can tell you that! I’m throwing myself at your feet, I know, and I’m not

being very dignified, but sometimes, a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s

gotta do. As for Brian, he won’t be with us all the time; he’s got to go out

and go to work! Brian’s the man, he bold guy!”

She pronounced the last bit like a black person from the ghetto. She

had begun to lean heavily on her son and her eyes started to close. She had

had too much to drink. She was falling asleep through the emotion of it all.

Even her son had trouble holding her up. As for me, I found myself about to

fall into a deep sleep or at least change states as I began to stagger. But I

fought against this falling feeling and shook myself awake.

Suddenly, I saw what I had to do and took charge completely,

something I had never really done in my life. I called the front desk of the

condo association and reserved my two intruders a room nearby. I then

grabbed their car keys and accompanied them downstairs to their car. Brian

seemed asleep and didn’t lift a finger as I drove them to their hotel. I

31

checked them in, snatched the room keys from the desk clerk, and then

pushed them along a hallway until we found their room. I shoved them

inside and yelled:

“I want you both gone by mid-morning!”

I turned around and went back to the condo where my wife was

shivering in bed. We held each other for a long time until she finally shook

me awake. I was surprised to find myself in pajamas.

“I just had the worst dream of my life but it’s over now so I can go

back to sleeping,” I blathered.

Then I went to the bathroom, and began to shave. I concentrated

completely on doing a perfect job, shaving every hair away, every bit of

lather, putting on after shave, brushing my teeth and then my hair. I took a

long time with all this. As I let the emotions from the night fade away, I

shook violently as a flash image from my former self—the self that Isabelle

had known—suddenly jumped out of the mirror at me, winked, and then

disappeared.

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