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Clement's Corner: True Lies

Owen Clement tells a searingly believable story of a teenager's attempt to discover the name of his father.

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Damien Johnson always blamed himself for his father leaving home. His sense of loss increased at low points of his life. To deal with these lows, unknown to his mother, he imagined his father standing at the rear of the assembly hall at the important school ceremonies, or that his favourite birthday and Christmas gifts secretly came from him, not from the name written on the tag.

One morning shortly before his seventeenth birthday, ill at home with the flu, he awoke dreaming of his father. He lay with his eyes closed sending out a plea for his father to make contact. There were so many questions that needed answering. No real father disappears for years without getting in touch with his child. Damien had not heard of any, that is. He roused himself to check the mail, hoping that his wish would be granted and that something had arrived either about or from his father. Dragging himself downstairs to the hall he found half a dozen letters in his mother’s slot. Checking through them he could see none of interest to him. Carrying them up to his mother’s desk in an alcove off the kitchen he dropped them onto her desktop.

Getting a glass of water he sat facing the alcove that reflected his mother with books and papers lying messily around. Realizing that she would not be home for a while, he decided that it was about time he satisfied his curiosity. As long as he replaced the items more or less as he found them, she would neither know nor suspect that he had gone through her desk. There had to be something on his father filed away somewhere.

He moved to the three-drawer metal filing cabinet standing in the corner and opened the top drawer where he scanned through many unmarked manilla folders containing receipts of the purchases of major items. He closed it and then moved down to the middle drawer where he fared no better. Moving finally to the bottom drawer where his mother’s kept her correspondence, both business and personal. He carefully worked his way through them. The personal ones were in the back of the drawer. Many were from his mother’s parents and there were a few in her grandmother’s beautiful copperplate handwriting. He was about to put off his quest when to his delight, he saw a large envelope marked “Martin”, a name his mother sometimes mentioned. There he found letters, the most recent being dated only a week ago. He carried them over to the window. It soon became clear however that they were official letters concerning money matters. Nowhere was he mentioned. He carefully replaced the folder.

He was about to close the drawer when his eye caught sight of a brown paper package tucked at the back of the drawer tied up with red ribbon. On opening it, he found a few postcards and letters going back many years from a Derek Knowles bearing Canadian stamps. He then remembered that one with a Canadian stamp had arrived earlier. Checking it he saw that it too had come from Derek Knowles. Excitedly opening the letter, he found great difficulty deciphering the scrawl, but his patience was eventually rewarded when he recognized his name mentioned.

So intent was he that he did not hear his mother arrive.

“How dare you touch my things?'' she demanded.

“They’re about me as well,'' he said heatedly.

Stunned, she gaped at his belligerent attitude.

“You lied to me,'' he continued.

“Give me that immediately.”

“You can stick it up your arse,'' he said flinging the letter on the desk and storming past her.

“Come back here,'' she commanded thunderstruck at his behaviour. She heard his bedroom door slam. She stood trembling, trying to decide how to handle the situation. Then she dropped down onto the chair putting her head in her hands, sighing deeply. The dreaded day had finally arrived. Pulling herself together she rose wearily and went to his room where she found him sitting on the windowsill with his feet dangling outside their third story apartment.

“Come inside at once,'' she demanded, terrified that he might fall.

He stayed silent and did not move.

“I can’t possibly discuss anything with you sitting there. Please come inside.”

Once again he ignored her.

She moved cautiously towards him. “Damien, stop being silly and get inside.''

She was horrified to see him lean outside.

“Damien, for God’s sakes, talk to me.'' Breaking down, she pleaded, “Please darling, come back inside. Please!”

“Who is he?'' he demanded, finally turning around.

“Who?”

“My father, that’s who?”

“I’ve told you before, I don’t know.”

“You lied.”

“Oh, God, why don’t you believe me?”

“You do know his name, don’t you?” He turned and faced her. “Whatever it is Mum you have to tell me.”

“I’m not lying to you.”

“You are. I always know, because you flick your eyes upwards when you do.”

She dropped down onto his bed. There was a long silence before she finally said, “All I do remember is that his name was Rex and that he was married. He never knew about you.”

“Who is Derek Knowles?”

She looked at him and shook her head. “He’s a friend. The only one, apart from Gran and Grandad, who knows what happened.''

“Does he know my father’s surname?”

She shook her head.

“I have to know his name,'' he demanded.

“As I said, I don’t know. We were both at a party, had too much to drink, and I let him make love to me. It just happened. It never happened again. There, are you satisfied now?”

Damien came back inside the room and stood looking at his mother. “Where was this? When you lived in Sydney?”

She nodded.

“Is he still there?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who else was at the party?”

“Look darling, it’s so long ago I can’t remember.”

“Write to this Derek fellow and ask him.”

Looking at his determined expression she said, “I’ll do better than that. It’s too late today but tomorrow I’ll ring him and you can talk to him. How about that?”

He moved back to the window and looked out. She rose and went to him, putting her arms around him. “Before you were born Derek and I tried to find out his name from the others so that I could let him know. They neither knew nor would tell us. All I found out was that he was married. I was very young as you know and my only concern then was how my parents would take the news. Mum took me to Aunty Diana and Uncle John in the country where I stayed until you were born. None of them, thank God, suggested that you be adopted. When you spoke to me the way you did just now,'' she pasued “it was like being stabbed with a knife.”

She felt his body sag and heave with sobs. She turned him around and held him close until he finished. Pulling himself together he brushed away the tears off his cheeks and said, “I’m sorry, truly sorry Mum, I’ll never bring up the subject again.''

“We’ll ring Derek tomorrow.”

“No”, he blurted out, “I’ve been so wrapped up in my own pain I haven’t considered yours. It doesn’t matter now. Whoever he is is dead as far as I’m concerned.”

She lifted his chin and saw a young man and not a boy.


© Clement 2007

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