It was Epiphany.
Later this evening he’d switch off the Christmas lights and the garden would be shrouded once more in the dark January night. On the weekend he’d return, remove the lights and put them safely back in the loft where they’d been stored for as long as he could remember. But now he gazed out of the window watching his mother sitting upon the garden bench, shoulders hunched, collar upturned, alone in the naked garden.
Maybe it was time.
He snapped open the clasps of his briefcase, the sound reverberating in the stillness of the room. His actions, his feelings, seemed magnified as he slowly withdrew the creased envelope. His secret.
“Maybe you should come on in Mum. It’s freezing.” He sat down beside her. The cold, damp fingers of the night already penetrating his thick Aran sweater.
“I will in a minute Dear. I was just thinking about your father.”
“I know you were. You’ve been thinking about him for 6 whole years. Maybe it’s time to let him go.”
She turned towards him, the red Christmas lights reflecting off her hair. She looked different bathed in the colourful illuminations.
“I’ve got something to show you,” he said, watching her breath blossom in the wintry air.
“And I’ve got something to tell you,” she replied. “Me first.”
“Okay then.” He began to feel nauseous; the envelope felt like fire in his hands.
“I’ve met someone I really like; his name is Alan. I’ve been seeing him for about two months… I hope you’ll like him… I know how much you loved your father.”
“Oh Mum!” He threw his arms around her shoulders and pulled her close. “Of course I’ll like him. If you like him he must be pretty special; I can’t wait to meet him! I’m so pleased for you. It’s been too long.”
He kissed her on the cheek and squeezed her tighter. She did look different. He could see it now; she emanated beauty, radiance.
“I know, but I loved your father so much. It just seemed such a futile waste of life. I never even found out where he was going.”
“Maybe that’s just as well. Having a focus or someone to blame might have made it harder,” he reasoned. “It was just a tragic accident.”
“You’re probably right. Now, what’s this you’ve got to show me? Good news?” A smile spread lovingly across her face.
“Oh, this is nothing special,” he waved the envelope nonchalantly. I’ll save it for another day. Let’s go inside and celebrate your news!”
“I’ll be there in a while. I just need a little longer.”
“Well okay,” he hesitated... perhaps this moment was her making peace with the past. “But I’ll stoke up the fire and break out the champers. So don’t be long.”
He threw another log on the fire and withdrew the letter out of the envelope; the letter addressed to his mother which he’d accidentally opened the morning his father’s car had slid on the icy road. He remembered the panic, the pain in his chest as sobbing he’d read the unexpected words.
A request for a divorce citing irreconcilable differences.
But he knew there had to be more to it. Especially when he'd seen Her standing slightly apart from the other mourners at the funeral. He could see it in her eyes. Her guilt, her loss. The Other Woman.
He tossed the letter, followed by the envelope into the fire. The flames leapt up, the paper curled, sizzled, and shrank into glowing embers. Suddenly, he felt a huge burden leaving him.
Because he knew that now, no matter what the future held, he would never break his mother’s heart.
Copyright Jane Turley 2009
This story was the first short story I'd written since a teenager and was first published on The View From Here on 6.1.2009 (The feast of the Epiphany.)