True to redheads, his bright blue eyes gleamed with a naughty satisfaction, while his black, mourning suit proved sure contradiction. He held himself in high esteem; that much was clear. He sat slightly reclined, right ankle crossed on left knee, arms sprawled across the back length of the love seat. I could not help but wonder where lay the humour at such a time. Smug. Smug was the only word to describe the man in the photo.
"Mom, who is this man?". I asked as I was turning the photo over. Mom and I were sorting through some of Dad's things on the one year mark of his passing.
I had not realized Mom was already behind me, until I heard the gasp. I jerked my head round, and Mom was standing with jaw dropped, and face as pale as a ghost.
Carefully sliding from my chair, I took her by the shoulders and guided her to the sofa to lie down. I hurried about getting a cold, wet, cloth and a glass of water to help Mom recover. She sipped ever so slow, as I tamped her neck and forehead with the cloth.
"Mom. What happened? What's wrong?". I asked when her color was coming back.
"Oh, nothing, dear. I think it may just be a little much for me still. Do you...do you think we could just stop for the day? I need a little more time."
" Of course, Mom. It's hard on all of us. We'll wait until you are ready.". And with that, the photo was pushed back in it's original box, and quickly forgotten... so I thought.
Tossing and turning in bed that night, a nagging feeling would not settle out of my bones. My husband suggested I have a glass of warm milk to calm my nerves. Daniel, I knew, was mostly concerned for my well-being, but also had to be at work by five in the morning. He needed his sleep.
I tromped to the kitchen and warmed a cup of milk. Already awake, I decided to see what was on television, hoping for a comedy. Something caught my eye in the mindless clicking and I went back two.
There, on screen, was a picture. The same naughty, blue eyed gleam I'd seen in the photo earlier in the day. Again, I wondered, who is that man?
I turned up the volume, hoping to hear some identifying detail.
"Known mainly by the people in the industry, Malcom McCraty known by most as "Soothy" for his way of soothing heartache with his musical compilations, has left this world for his ever after home. His career was at it's peak in the late sixties with twenty two compilations hitting top ten on the charts. Not many knew the man behind the songs, which were compiled for other artists. McCraty never performed to crowds, as he had terrible stage fright. In nineteen seventy-two, he saw a brief stint in jail for assault, and thereafter, took to drinking and drugs that ultimately led to, as much of the social buzz is speculating, his overdose last evening. Arrangements will be announced when they are finalized and likely take place in his hometown...the Windy City.
Wow! I was awestruck. My Dad had a picture of this "Soothy", and I was anxious to find out why.
I grabbed my laptop and dove in. I switched to coffee by three a.m. determined to find answers. I was reading away, when at four-fifteen, Daniel cleared his throat behind me. Nerves already frayed, and hyped on coffee, I startled, knocking coffee across my notepad I'd been using for reference. We both grabbed paper towels and got to cleaning.
I tried to jabber my way through the embarrassment by explaining what I'd discovered. Daniel turned me toward him, kissed my forehead, and told me to go to bed. He'd finish cleaning, lock up, and they would talk when he got home.
I went right away to bed, but I'm convinced I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. There I slept soundly, until the postman rang the bell just passed eleven. Ugh. I wrapped myself in a housecoat and hurried to the door.
"I'm coming, I'm coming. Hold on!".
I yelled as we so commonly do.
Peeking to make sure it was the postman, I open the door a tad
"Package for you, Ms Bonnie. Gotta have your signature on this one."
I paid no mind to the sender's information as I signed my name on the receipt, nor did I look when I tossed it on the sofa. I needed a shower right then. No more, no less.
A shower is most rejuvenating. I was actually smiling as I stood in front of the mirror wrapped in a big fuzzy bath towel applying a little concealer. I dropped the towel and ran for the closet, coming up short when I saw the voicemail light flashing on the phones bedside base. I grabbed the handset and hurried to the closet.
I flipped the light on, dialed the voicemail with the phone on speaker and began choosing my outfit for the day. I had a very basic wardrobe. Blues and browns and some green in everything from pants to dresses and tops. Different styles, but generally within the same colors. There were only so many colors we red heads felt comfortable wearing as we always try to deminish the over attention were accustom to.
By the third voicemail, I'd chosen my outfit, and began to worry about my Mom. Why had she called so much, and what was she saying about not answering the door? Truly, she was making little sense.
Finished dressing, I dialed Mom's number as I was headed to the kitchen for some...well, I guess it would've been lunch by that time.
"Bonnie! Where the devil have you been child! I've been trying to reach you all morning!"
"Right here, Mom. I was in the shower when you called, and asleep before that. I guess Daniel turned the ringers off so I could sleep. What's so important, mom?"
"Oh, nothing. If you've been asleep, I guess you haven't checked your mail. Tell you what, I'll come right over and I'll grab the mail on my way in. Sounds like you may have had a rough night if you slept that late. You can tell me all about it when I get there. Give me twenty minutes.".
That was it. She didn't wait for my response. She did, however, remind me of the post delivery. I reversed course to the den and picked up the box. I set it on the counter in the kitchen to grab a knife. As I was cutting the tape, I read:
Brassfeld, Byer, and McCall
The return address was in Chicago. I could not fathom why anyone in Chicago would need to contact me through an attorney.
As I opened the flaps on that seemingly insignificant box, I quickly realized my whole life was about to change.
I had every item from the box spread across my table. Food, forgotten. There were pictures, newspaper clippings, my birth announcement, letters to and from my parents, and there was a smaller box that contained two small keys but no lock. There was also a stack of letters addressed to me. One for every year of my life, unopened and never sent, just sealed. They simply said Bonnie girl.
Mom, always one for manners, seemed to have tossed them to the wayside that morning. She came bounding through the carport door, into the kitchen, arms full of take out. "You know I never get take out. Hardly know how to order, so I went to the one place I see on television all the time. That ,"Fat Burg" or whatever...got one of everything because I don't know what half of the menu even means. You know, they're not so fast. Anyway, let me drop this on the counter. You dig in while I run and check your..."
Her voice trailed off as she realized I had opened the box. She went pale again. This time, I sat her at the table and gave her some water. I sat opposite her and stared right into what I then knew we're guilty eyes.
I waited. And waited. Finally, she spoke. "I need to explain some things to you. I really do want you to eat first. Nothing else will change in the next twenty minutes. Please. Let's eat, and we'll talk."
As we ate our over priced, unhealthy, fast way to the grave, "food" we stumbled for conversation. I just wanted to answers. Mom didn't know how to start. When the silence broke, the life I had lived for forty-five years was all built on lies.
"Soothy" was my real father. The assault charge that derailed his career was against the man I called Dad. Apparently, Mom had a brief affair with Soothy while Dad was trying to court Mom. Soothy beat dad pretty baddly. Mom and Dad agreed to have the charges dropped if Soothy would agree to give up parental control over me instead of fight for me when I was born. The one caveat to the agreement was before they died, they had to tell me the truth. Soothy, knowing Dad had died, thought Mom wouldn't tell me either. He had his attorneys handle his affairs to ensure I knew.
At the end of that meal, my family, as I knew it, was a broken farce, at best. My history took on a whole new level of interesting. And my pocket book was such, that I would never want for anything.
Not even Soothy's money could buy back my sense of security and family I had just lost. I would rather be broke, than broken.