by Teresa (Tess) Karlinski
We lie to ourselves all the time.
Until two days ago, Louise did not believe this. Two days ago, she changed her mind. Time did not heal. She had buried memories beneath layers of living and stretches of time. Her mantra during her life embraced shutting doors to the past, except for the one which would not close.
Now this. His memorial.
Dark-suited strangers milled about, solemn, in threes and fours, voices low, murmuring like drones. Heads bent, nodding, hands in pockets. Others laughed and joked. Apart from the glare of florescent lighting, the room had the feel of a cocktail gathering. Trust Parker Dean to generate a party ambiance for any occasion. This room without windows, might stand in for a chic club, minus the bright lights and the lack of a bar. And the soft organ music.
Where was Brendan? Having waited, uneasy, bouncing her knee, Louise sprang from the chair and surveyed the room. “There you are. Find a spot?” She smoothed the damp lapels of her husband’s deep charcoal suit, worn for occasions like this.
Brendan winked. “Had to park three blocks away—the lot’s jammed. Hey, feels like a party.”
She dropped a shoulder. “I had no expectations, but I’m not surprised. How he’s always done it is the mystery.”
“What?” Brendan dabbed a crisp handkerchief over his damp blond crewcut and the narrow shoulders of his tailored suit.
“He’s always been a party boy. Is it charisma? Talent? To be frank, he was as deceptive as a chameleon.”
“I came in expecting a bar because of the atmosphere.” A flush streamed from the collar of his shirt to the tip of his thinning hair. “Sorry, I know it’s no fun for you.” Serious warm blues scrutinized her.
“To the back?” Louise snaked down the aisle.
The room hushed. A PowerPoint presentation flashed on a large screen. The attendees dropped into padded seats. Wristwatches flashed. There, for all to see, hung the glorified personification of the itch she no longer scratched, the scab she used to pick till it bled. Her secret sorrow. She squirmed at an unconscious shiver. The photos were obviously dated. He would have hated that. Surely, Manfred could have done better—how long had Parker been sick?
Brendan caught her hand, a hopeful smile flickered. Lips pinched to a scarlet hyphen, Louise settled back in the chair. “I shouldn’t have come, but I had to know.” She breathed the words below a whisper. He patted the hand squeezing his.
The speaker tapped the handheld microphone. “Thank you for coming. My name is Manfred Dean. Today we celebrate the life and times of a humble, self-made man.”
“Shh.” Brendan raised a brow.
Humble? Try egotistical, cold, parasitic. Louise stabbed a hand to her mouth, shrinking in her seat. Coughs, throat clearing, and the rustle of clothing drifted about the room. Gaze dropped to her lap, she studied it as if her life depended on it.
“Parker Dean, a generous and respected philanthropist, a successful businessman in our community, is gone. We will miss him. I will miss him—my older—and only brother. Much to his sorrow, he had no wife nor children with whom to share his empire. Yes, he had married once, and loved, but not well. He lost his only true love through unfaithful dealings with a mistress called money.”
Lies! Try two-faced. Cheap. Womanizer. Louise fumbled free from her husband’s hold. The heels of her hands pressed against her mouth, great heaves shook her chest. Brendan leaned into her shoulder to examine her face. Widening fingers like bars, she choked on a muffled snigger and bit into the flesh of her hand.
Sighs and sniffles sorrowed in their midst. Heads nodded and turned but not to the back row.
I swore I’d never share the same space with him again. Ever. But I am. His ashes are up there, smirking down on me. I had to be sure he’s dead. Maybe now I’ll forget… No. The snicker stopped. Louise drew a deep breath and calmed.
“Let’s get out of here. I don’t want to socialize with anyone from our past.” Even in heels, her coiffed, ink-black hair reached a smidge past Brendan’s shoulder. They waited until the horde of bustling bodies, who exchanged salutes and greetings, thinned. Brendan and Louise had no sooner slipped into the aisle, than Manfred loomed before them. In a couturier black suit and matching custom shirt, he might have made a dashing figure. He still wore the curled and waxed handlebar moustache of their early adulthood when she had last seen him. Streaked with silver now against a pasty face, he looked older than his sixty years.
“Louise. Long time. Thank you for coming.” He withdrew a legal-size envelope from his breast pocket. “I found this with his papers.”
“No-o thanks.” She swayed against Brendan, hands diving behind her. “Too late.” In the security of his arms, she peered over her shoulder, brows knit. “Take me home, please.”
“Wait. No one knew how sick he became at the end. He rambled in his fever—always about you—how he messed up the best thing in his life. Here.”
Louise flinched. “Not another word. Don’t you see this is a figment of his imagination?”
Manfred’s gaze clouded. He looked into the distance. “You’re not playing fair, Louise. He changed.”
“Not enough and too late. It’s been thirty-five years—a life-time has passed. Why dredge up any of it now? No one needs to know about his life and mine. Not even you, since you chose to close your eyes to the truth, too. It’s time to let go. I’m here because I needed closure.
“He always believed what he wanted, when it suited him. You knew him better than most, and I knew him better than others, yet you’re willing to tell these lies?” Humble, my foot. She jerked free of her husband and pushed through the door into the vestibule.
Poised to hasten after her, Brendan closed a hand over Manfred’s shoulder.
“Please take this. I’m serious.” Shoulders slumped, he shoved the package into Brendan’s chest. “My apologies.” He spun around and disappeared through a door at the back of the makeshift chapel.
Brendan offered to bring the car around though the autumn drizzle had stopped. “No thank you. I’d rather walk. I didn’t need that last bit, did you? Sorry.” Sucking in her cheeks, his wife click-clacked on the cement sidewalk, trampling damp leaves beneath her feet.
Home an hour away, they drove in silence. No one had bothered with the radio. He stole sideways glances her way. The scent of rain draped the air. The sky remained dull and sagged with heavy clouds. Louise fiddled with the tiny leather purse in her lap, tilting her head as if listening to distant voices.
“You have been a good husband and made me a happy woman. I’ve lied to myself that I don’t have a vindictive bone in my body. I do. Until today’s memorial, I’ve hidden a festering grief from you.”
“It’s okay. No need to haul out the past.” He patted her lap.
“I must. Maybe, after today I will rest easier…” But I doubt it.
“What do you mean?”
“Parker, generous? Loving? Early in our marriage, he backed over a kid’s dog. He saw what happened in the side-mirror but screeched away. I wrapped it in a blanket, dumped potting soil in our driveway, and lied where I’d found him. The dog made it, but I was horror-struck by his cold-heartedness.
“Humble? Respected? The philandering before our marriage—I had no idea but found out he’d continued without pause. Times were, he drank himself senseless and insisted I call his work. How many times does a person catch flu? Stupid.
“He wasn’t father material… My greatest sorrow and deepest scar—I never forgave him and still can’t—I wanted to adopt. His refusal broke my heart. Later, with you, we were too old.” Louise hugged herself. “He wasn’t husband nor friend material either. He used people to his own end. His charm and good looks blinded them—blinded me. My sorry mistake.” Her voice cracked. Clearing her throat, she sat straighter, the side window stealing her attention. “Now, with death he’s gained sainthood, and I have been denied children and grandchildren.” She blinked back tears and exhaled.
Brendan squinted, wearing a perplexed look but made no comment. Instead, he pulled out the envelope and thrust it forward.
Louise glanced back and shook her head. “Burn it.”
Brendan and Louise died several years later after thirty years of marriage. He had been the pilot when they crashed.
They had willed their earthly possessions to his favoured niece. Brendan had changed the name on the envelope to hers.
Overnight, she became a triple-rich woman.