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Clement's Corner: Carmen's Secret

Carmen told the most wicked lie that a wife can tell to her husband.

Owen Clement's story reveals the extent of her shocking perfidy.

One late grey drizzly afternoon a small group gathered under large black umbrellas watching a coffin being lowered into a flooded grave.

Don Alston stood back watching the mourners return to their cars after the service.

One person stayed by the graveside watching him intently. He walked up to her, “Hello Helen, how are you?”

“Hello Don. I didn’t expect to see you at Carmen’s funeral?”

“As a matter of fact, I came to see you.”

“Me! What on earth for?”

He took her elbow to gain the protection of her umbrella and began to lead her to his car which was parked nearby.

“I have my own car, thanks,” she said gently pulling away.

“We’ll come back for it later.”

Intrigued by his unexpected forceful manner she went along.

He drew an envelope from his pocket and handed it to her saying "Please don’t open it yet.''

“You’re being very mysterious.”

While they drove they talked about Carmen and the illness that ultimately caused her death.

It was only after arriving at his unit and they were seated in his he living room did he smile, reach over to pat her hand and say affectionately,” You’re the only person I could ever talk to in your family.'' His expression became serious when he continued, “Did Carmen ever tell you about Joshua?”

Helen frowned, “Joshua! What about him?”

Don rose, walked over to the picture window and stood looking out at the cityscape.

Carmen said, “Can I open this yet?”

“In a minute.” He turned and walked back and sitting beside her took back the envelope.

“Carmen’s lawyer forwarded this to me recently, stating that it was not to be opened until after her death.” He began tapping the letter on his palm.

“Now you are being even more mysterious. For heaven’s sake tell me.”

“I will, I promise.”

He rose and strode once more to the window.

“Do you remember that Joshua was born almost nine month’s to the day of our wedding?”

“Of course I do. What about it?” Curious, she joined him

“Carmen and I had just had one of our most violent arguments about money - she was a very self-centred woman your sister -.”

“Don’t I know it?”

“- in a rage she blurted out, ‘Joshua is not your son’ “.

“Good God!”

“I said I didn’t believe her. Then she gloated when she told me that at the pre-wedding do given by one of her girlfriends, the male stripper had taken her to his place after the party where, in their drunken state, they had sexual intercourse. She said that he was Joshua’s natural father. You couldn’t imagine how I felt. For the first and only time I hit her. It was so hard, she fell”. Don turned to Helen, “Do you know what she did?”

Helen was too stunned to respond.

“She laughed. She sat there rubbing her cheek and laughed. I was so mad. I wanted to kick her face in. Fortunately I just looked at her in absolute disgust and walked out.”

Helen slowly shook her head.

“I came back the next day, collected my things and cleared out. As you know, our marriage had lasted barely two years.”

“Why did you never mention this to me before?”

Don turned to Helen. “Did you think I could? I just wanted to crawl away and die. My beautiful little son was not mine. Before the divorce was finalized, she promised that she would never tell Joshua if I also promised not to either. Needless to say when she discovered that she was fatally ill with cancer, she broke her word. And when this arrived a few weeks ago, I knew it was about Joshua; I did not want to read it on my own.''

As he spoke, he tore open the flap and they both read it in silence.

Helen burst out, “The bitch, the rotten bitch.'' She snatched the letter from Don before he could rip it up. “No”, she continued, “this needs thinking about.''

“Could it be true?” Don’s eyes filled with tears.

Helen sighed, “I don’t know, but we must tell Joshua.''

“I can’t imagine what I did to her to deserve such vindictiveness.”

“For heaven’s sake don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault. Come on get your things. You are not going to be on your own tonight.”

She took his arm and led him to his bedroom. She sat on the bed while he packed an overnight bag.

“When was the last time you saw Joshua?” she asked.

He looked over quizzically, “I mean before the funeral”,''she quickly added.

“I saw him about a month ago. He said that he had been busy trying to locate his “real” father and that it was proving impossible. Now this, what is he going to think of his mother now?”

Helen shook her head. “Come on, we’ll deal with that tomorrow.” She handed the letter back to Don who rejected it saying, “You keep it, I don’t want to touch it.”

Helen folded it and put it into her handbag.

They drove in silence through heavy rain back to the cemetery, picked up her car and continued separately to her unit.

As soon as they were inside Helen pointed to the liquor cabinet saying, “Get me a drink will you? And have one yourself.''

He poured two scotch and sodas and handed one to her.

She drank hers straight down before saying, “I must change into something more cheerful and then, my good man, we are going out to dinner. Not for a wake but to celebrate my dear sister’s passing.'' She spat out the words..

Picking up his overnight bag she walked to the guest room and tossed it on the bed. “You’re in here”.''

“I hope I haven’t caused you to hate your sister.''

“No, I don’t hate her,'' she said moving to her bedroom door. "She, you, and Joshua for that matter, have to be pitied. She was a sick woman you know. I can remember back to some of the things she did as a girl. She could never see it as being either cruel or wrong. I remember her once buying an expensive designer gown which she wore to a ball and then returned it to the shop, claiming a refund. She had no scruples.''

Helen came out freshly made-up wearing a white linen pant-suit over a scarlet silk blouse, “Look Don, Carmen’s dead. Our job now is to show Joshua the letter and help him come to terms with the terrible lie that he’s been fed.''

“Do you really believe her this time?”

“Yes I do, Carmen was not religious, but I cannot imagine her telling such a wicked lie on her deathbed just in case there is a hell. You, my dear, have much to make up to your son”.

© Clement 2006


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