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Clement's Corner: Relatively Speaking

Ada Lane’s brother-in-law suddenly shows up on her doorstep. She hasn’t seen him in more than a year. He didn’t even attend the funeral of Ada’s husband, his own brother. Where has he been?

Owen Clement tells an intriguing family story.

The darkened house added to his trepidation. However, his spirits rose when the metronomic sound of a Bach piano sonata greeted him as he knocked on the front door.

Ada Lane unwisely swung the door wide open.

“Can I help you?” she asked coolly,

“Yes Ada, maybe you can!”

“Oh for heaven’s sakes - Alistair, where did you come from, especially at this time of night?”

“I must say that’s a fine way to greet your long lost brother-in-law.”

Alistair walked inside uninvited.

Closing the door she said, “You have a nerve, what do you want?”

He continued on into the living room and looking around, took in the bookshelves cluttered with well-thumbed paperbacks and cheap memorabilia, humorous postcards haphazardly thumb-tacked into the wood. Compact disks lay in collapsed stacks all over the floor. “You never were a tidy person, Ada.”

She walked up to Alistair tucking an untidy wisp of hair behind her ear; “I don’t hear a word from you since your brother’s death, which is over a year ago now and suddenly you pop up out of nowhere. What is it you want?” She sounded hurt and angry.

Alistair raised both hands; “I don’t want anything. In fact I have something for you, if you’ll give me half a chance.”

“Alistair, you have never liked nor approved of me. I am cynical enough to believe that you came because you want something, am I right?”

He pursed his lips and shook his head slowly. “’Oh ye of little faith’. You claim that I neither liked nor approved of you, shouldn’t the shoe be on the other foot?” he snapped back.

Her voice rose sharply,”I don’t want to argue. Just tell me what you’re doing here?”

“I am very tired, Ada. I feel as if I have been travelling for days. May I at least sit down?”

“Oh for God’s sake come in here.” She led the way into the kitchen. “Will a cup of something be okay, or would you rather something stronger.” She said as she pointed to one of the two Bentwood chairs.

“Coffee would be fine, thanks.”

He lowered himself into the chair while Ada busied herself making the coffee.

“Alistair, why did you leave me to cope with Andre’s death on my own? I was furious with you for taking off suddenly without saying a word”. She fought back tears.

Alistair stood and moved towards her, “Ada, I wish you’d stop judging me without giving me a chance to explain.”

She stepped back glaring at him.

Defeated, he sighed turned around and began walking towards the door. “Ah well”, he said,” It looks like I am not very welcome here; I’ll see you another time, shall I?”

Ada crossed her arms and dropped onto one hip before saying; “Your mother and father must have come close to strangling you at times, I’m sure. I almost wish they had. You can be so damned exasperating.”

“Yes - well.” He said continued towards the doorway.

“That’s right put your tail between your legs and run away, just like you did the last time.” Ada said mockingly.

Alistair turned slowly and faced her. Though slightly shorter and with fairer hair the resemblance to his brother was startling. She saw that he looked old and extremely unhappy.

“Come and sit down. And stop behaving like a spoilt child.”

“Is that how you deal with situations by treating others as children? Despite what you think, I did not run away, as you put it.”

The verbal fisticuffs over, she poured the boiled water onto the instant coffee and brought over the two mugs, a sugar bowl and a jug of milk and put them on the table.

He sauntered back and sat down.

“Sorry. Where are your things?” she said, her tone softening.

“Outside.”

“You staying here or have you somewhere organized already?”

“Here if I may! That was one of my favourite pieces you were playing a moment ago. Isn’t that on of Glen Gould’s renditions of Bach!”

“Never mind the music. Please tell me where have you been?” She cupped her elbow in one hand; the other held a gay hand-painted mug.

He took a sip, put the mug down and gazed into space; “Where do I begin? I can’t even remember the last time I saw you – yes I do – It was on a fishing trip not long before Andre died.”

“That was when you and Andre had a fierce argument about money matters, wasn’t it?”

“That was all he ever talked about - I should have listened more carefully as it turned out.”

“You both always had trouble communicating.”

“Look, we are getting away from the point of my being here.”

“I’m not stopping you.” Ada responded crossly.

After a log pause he added, “I’ve been in prison. That is where I have been, Ada dear, in prison, in the slammer, the cooler, the lockup – whatever. I was released just two days ago.”

Ada slumped back in the chair as she put the mug down.

“Í didn’t want to tell you, but I realized that you’d find out eventually, so I decided to tell you everything. Now you know.”

“Know; I know absolutely nothing”, she exploded; Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she carried on, “I can see that I am not going to be able to sleep a wink tonight. You better cover the bare details, as it’s getting late.”

Alistair went on to say how he had been unwittingly involved in a scam with his business partner. The partner had taken off leaving him to clear up the mess, consequently he was convicted and sentenced in a minimum-security prison for a year and was now out on parole. He ended by saying; “You think I’d have missed Andre’s funeral otherwise!”

“Why in God’s name didn’t you let me know? “

Alistair shrugged, “I wrote you letters almost every evening just before lights out - I could not post them that’s all. I was too angry. I hated my partner, myself, and unbelievably I was angry with Andre for dying and I even blamed you for causing his death.” He gave a brief laugh as he shook his head.

Ada broke down and began to weep.

Alistair too spent emotionally to move, waited for a few moments before saying, “Come on, I’m over it now. Do you remember me saying that I had something for you? I’ll just go and get them.”

“What are you talking about?” Ada managed to say as he began to leave.

“My letters.”

“Alistair,” she spoke quietly, “just get your things.”

“You sure you want me to stay?”

Ada rose and moved towards him taking him in her arms.

© Clement 2006

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