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Clement's Corner: Duty Bound

Owen Clement tells a tale of faithful infidelity.

The last embrace, the last message of condolence said, Sarah sighed, climbed into her car and drove home.

She had wanted her mother to be with her at her father’s graveside, but Emma had begged off, saying she was worn-out from looking after him during his long illness. Even though he had been away on business or had followed his own selfish pursuits for most of their married life, when he became terminally ill he had come home to her to die. Quietude is what she now desperately needed, she said.

Considering what her mother had put up with during her married life, Sarah decided that she probably did need time on her own. She also wondered if things might have been very different, if he’d had a son instead of a daughter.

Never once did Sarah hear her mother criticise her father though. According to her, he could do no wrong. Hadn’t he given Sarah a good home, a good education the very best that money could buy? She had vowed to love, honour and obey her husband, and had kept that promise for more than forty years. Such an oath meant nothing to young women nowadays, she had said.

Sarah had long realised that her mother accepted the role of being dominated.

*

In her late husband's study Emma started to make a list on a sheet of monogrammed note paper of things which would have to be got rid of. She had been concentrating on this task for over an hour when she realized she had begun to repeat certain items. Neatly folding the sheets of paper she tucked them under the leather-bound blotter, part of the desk set she had given Sam on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. She replaced the cap on the pen and rubbing her eyes made her way wearily to the liquor cabinet where she poured herself two fingers of Sam’s finest malt whisky.

Returning to his wing-backed leather chair she flopped down, crossed her legs and swung her foot, a practise that Sam had disliked. With a smile she reflected on her future plans. After finishing her drink she carried her empty glass to the kitchen and rinsed it out. Moving to the bathroom, she pulled off her clothes, flung them on the floor and stepping into the shower, allowing hot water course over her body. Once dry, she sauntered into Sam’s bedroom, dug out his silk pyjamas and put them on. Wandering back to her own room she climbed into bed and despite the early hour was soon asleep.

*

She woke early, following a disturbing nightmare of a prowler in the house. The sounds of someone moving about downstairs forced her to dress quickly and quietly. Then she realised it was her daughter Sarah.

“What on earth are you doing here at this early hour?'' she demanded, marching into the kitchen. "You scared the life out of me?”

“Hello mother dear, I thought you might need company,'' Sarah said, giving her a kiss.

“That's very sweet of you dear, but I’m fine really. As you can imagine, I have a lot to do.”

“What’s the rush?”

“I need to be occupied, that’s all. It makes the time go quicker.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“I may not want to do it later”.

“Can’t I help?”

“Not at the moment dear, later maybe.”

“Oh well, if you don’t want me, I’ll go,'' Sarah said.

“Sarah, don’t start that again, you always overdramatise. I’ll call you soon and let you know what you can do. At this moment I need a bit of time to myself, that’s all.”

“Seeing I’m only in the way here,'' Sarah said, stalking out of the room. “I’ll call you in a day or so.''

She did not kiss her mother goodbye.

*

After a light breakfast Emma took a box of plastic garbage bags into Sam’s bedroom and began sorting through his clothes and other personal effects. While going through his pockets she found an apparently forgotten note tucked in the inside pocket of an old suit jacket. She took it over to the window. It said, “Our son was born today. I’ve named him Helmut, Lotté”.

She read it over a couple of times. stunned.

So Sam had fathered a son!

She paced back and forth, her thoughts confused.

Then she searched the desk drawers, his briefcase and filing cabinet. There was no more information on either the boy or his mother,

Emma rang her accountant, asking him to check on whether there had been any payments to a woman by the name of Lotté, or a boy named Helmut. She also contacted Samuel’s bank manager to check if any payments to mnother or son.

Could there be more children, she wondered? She knew that she should be furious, but she was intrigued.

The accountant and bank manager found no trace of payments to mother or son.

Now Emma rang Lang Barber, one of Sam’s closest work colleagues and asked him of her husband had ever mentioned a woman called Lotté. Yes, was the reply. There was a Lotté Jorgenson. She had been Sam’s secretary many years ago when he was based in Sweden. At Emma’s request he agreed to dig out the old staff records to see if he could find an address.

Sarah would have to be told.

*

She had returned to sorting through Sam's things when Lang phoned with an address in Sweden.

Using Sam’s computer she found a telephone number for the address and promptly rang it. A young man answered the phone.

“Hello, are you Helmut Jorgenson?” she asked.

“Who is this please?” he asked.

“You don’t know me. My name is Emma Handley. My husband employed your mother Lotté as a secretary many years ago. It’s very important that I speak to her.''

“My mother is out at the moment. Can I get her to call you?”

“I’m calling from England. When would be the best time to call?”

“She will be home this evening.”

“Thank you Helmut, I’ll call back then. Make sure you tell your mother that nothing is wrong okay?”

He agreed and she hung up.

*

Moving to Sam’s bedroom she tossed the half-filled plastic bags into his wardrobe, closed the door, then tried to organise her tumultuous thoughts.

The telephone rang. It was Sarah.

“Hello Darling. I’m glad you rang. I have something interesting to tell you.”

“Do you want me to come over now?”

“No, this evening will be much more convenient, I’ll be able to deal with it better then.”

“Deal with what?” Sarah asked anxiously.

“I can’t tell you over the phone. Come over after dinner.”

Without saying another word Emma hung up.

Unable to concentrate on her tasks she sat at Sam’s desk and doodled on a pad trying to come up with what would be the best course of action.

Sarah, unable to keep away, arrived in an agitated state. “What is it Mum, what’s wrong?”

Emma took her daughters hands in hers, led her to the living room and made her sit on the sofa. “I’ll be back in a moment”.''

She collected the note from a drawer in Sam’s desk and returned.

“I’m afraid I have some very disturbing news. It seems that you have a half-brother.”

“A what?”

“A half-brother, Helmut Lidstrom is his name. He and his mother Lotté lived in Sweden. I’m going to ring her this evening.”

Sarah was shocked into silence.

“I was going through your father’s things when I came across this note tucked inside a jacket pocket.''

“Why do you want to ring this woman? Has she been blackmailing you?”

Emma shook her head. “I’m sure the poor thing doesn’t know that her son’s father is dead. I just feel it’s the right thing to do, that’s all. Don’t you agree?”

“You don’t know anything about her. She might be a prostitute.”

“She was your father's secretary many years ago. As far as I know, he has never contributed to the boy’s upbringing. I have to find out the details. Your father had his faults, but I cannot imagine that he would abandon his own child, can you?”

“I wish you would think this over. You don't know where it will lead.''

“Sarah, you’re not worrying about your inheritance are you?”

Sarah glared at her mother, “Is that what you think?”

“You have a half-brother dear. Don’t you want to get to know him? I know I would if I had one.”

“Sometimes you really surprise me Mother. Father’s just died. You find out he’s been having it off with another woman and produced a child and all you can think of is contacting them.''

Emma sat beside her distressed daughter, “Darling, I know it must be hard for you. Your father and I were married for a long time but we had not been husband and wife for much of that time, if you know what I mean.''

“Why did you stay with him then?”

“It was my duty. I made a vow when I married him.”

“He certainly didn’t keep it did he?”

“That’s not the point. I know you don’t understand but I have to meet them and find out why your father apparently abandoned them. I have to know.”

“I’m coming with you.”

Emma put her arms around her distraught daughter, “Darling, I know that this must be very difficult for you but I really think that until my passport arrives and I am able to speak with her, I won’t be able to make any decisions. I promise you though that before I do anything we will talk some more.''

“Did anyone know her?”

“Lang Barber did apparently What if I give him a ring to come over and tell us what he knows?”

Sarah agreed. Emma rang Lang and invited him to lunch saying that they needed him to tell them both about Sam’s old secretary and that she would explain why when he got there.

With very little in the house Sarah drove her mother to the supermarket where they purchased a few grocery items. Sarah studied her mother the whole time not once did she notice any sign of her having just buried her husband. In fact she looked positively serene.

“As soon as we get home I want you to go into the cellar and find one of your father’s good wines, a white one I think, and put it in the fridge to chill. You must think me quite heartless seeing your father has just died but in fact I feel strangely liberated.”

Sarah squeezed her mother’s arm. At the checkout Emma’s neighbour met them and was surprised at Emma’s clearly relaxed state.

“Hello Emma, you’ve made a quick recovery!”

“Hello Dolly I was exhausted yesterday from grieving for Sam for such a long time, it’s been a blessed relief both for him and for me. I know that he would not have wished for me to go moping around. In fact Sarah and I are off to Sweden in a few days time. Bye,''

Picking up her parcel she turned to Sarah and winked before strolling out, “That will give the old biddy something to gossip about.''

Sarah was confused at her mother’s behaviour.

“There is something else I must tell you,'' Emma said after they had put away the groceries. Motioning Sarah to a kitchen chair she sat opposite. “When you were born I nearly died. I was ill for weeks. From that moment on I would not allow your father into my bed. That was probably why he did most of his business overseas. It also must have been why he sought comfort in Lotté’s arms. And, I imagine, why he never mentioned her becoming pregnant and also why he did not support the child financially. How the poor man must have suffered”.

Sarah stared at her mother.

Lang did not stay long after they ate. His memory of Lotté was rather vague although he did recall that she was very efficient.

When Emma spoke to Lotté that evening she took the news of Sam’s death very calmly and when Emma asked if they could come and meet her and Helmut she resisted saying that Helmut did not know anything about his father. Emma tried to say that she was very keen to meet them and so too would Sarah, Helmut’s half-sister.

Lotté became angry. She and Helmut had been managing very well and did not need to have their lives disrupted just because Sam’s wife was curious about her husband’s child. She slammed down the phone.

Emma rang back immediately and pleaded with Lotté saying that Helmut stood to inherit his share of his father’s will.

Lotté again became enraged, “Do you think I am interested in Sam’s money after all this time?”

Emma finally managed to convince Lotté that Helmut would one day find out the truth and wouldn’t it be better to tell him now especially with Emma and Sarah there?”

Lotté would not be swayed.

Emma said “Lotté I give you my word that I will not do anything until I hear from you. Please believe me, I do think it would be good for all concerned for us to meet and talk this matter over.''

She gave Lotté her phone number before hanging up.

*

Two weeks later Lotté called. She had discussed the matter with Helmut who had taken the news badly at first but eventually had agreed to meet Emma and Sarah.

Sarah arranged for time off on compassionate grounds and she and her mother flew to Stockholm. The meeting went quite amicably after an initial awkwardness. Before long Helmut and Sarah began chatting away like old friends

When Emma asked why Sam did not help in Helmut’s upbringing, Lotté said that she had refused saying that unless he left his wife, Helmut would become her sole responsibility

“How could he agree to such terms?” Emma asked.

“He said that he had no option. It was his duty to honour his marriage vows,'' was the reply.

© Clement 2008


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