This story is by Sandra Yoong-Chia and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I have seen many families come and go over the years. I have watched them in their daily lives. Most stay only a few years but the Wongs stayed the longest. In thirty-five years, they have transformed the place in many good ways; giving me a double-door fridge and new countertop units but still retaining a comfy, cosy feel.
Today there are boxes all over, on the table, next to the pantry, there are even boxes blocking the door to the garden.
Mrs Wong is packing up her good china plates, wrapping them carefully in newspaper before putting them into the boxes. Grace and Nat have come back to help her pack.
I like Grace and her brother, Nat; of all the children who have lived here, they were probably the least destructive. They did have their moments, though. I remember when they were allowed their own pocketknives; oh, that was painful for me!
Grace walks in, carrying a slim brown box, “Mum, look what I found in Daddy’s commode.” She puts it on the kitchen table and opens it, “Daddy kept all my drawings. Remember he used to sit me at the windows and had me draw what I saw.”
Mr Wong passed away just over a year ago. It happened right here.
They had just finished their dinner. Mrs Wong was washing up while Mr Wong made them some coffee. Suddenly, he dropped the cups and fell to the floor. Mrs Wong rushed to his side. He was breathing hard and holding his chest. I was unable to help. Mrs Wong reached for her mobile and dialled the emergency number.
“Nancy, I …”
“Shhh… just try to breathe. Help is coming.” Mrs Wong cradled his head on her lap.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.” Mrs Wong kissed his forehead.
His hand dropped to his side. The front door opened, “General Hospital Emergency Service.” A voice called out.
Mr Wong died that evening. It was the first time a family member had died here.
Now Mrs Wong is going to move in with Grace.
Mrs Wong looks up from her box and smiles as Grace holds up different drawings for her to see, “Your father was quite good at drawing himself. He dreamt of being an artist but had to drop out of school and start working at fourteen.”
Mrs Wong freezes as Grace lifts out the last drawing, revealing a small blue book in the old box. She straightens up and walks to the square wooden table. She snatches it up, “It’s just your father’s rubbish.” She clutches it to her chest.
“Mum, that’s not rubbish. It’s a photo album.”
Mrs Wong looks away.
“Mum, give me the album. Maybe it’s some long-lost family photos.”
Mrs Wong sits down at the table, still holding the album, eyes closed, head down.
Grace walks around the table and kneels in front of Mrs Wong. She reaches for Mrs Wong’s hands and peels her fingers away from the inch-thick album. Mrs Wong lets out a sob.
Mrs Wong looks at Grace with an expression I have only seen once before; when she found the album for the first time and asked Mr Wong about it. It happened here too.
They had been living here just two years. The kids, then just toddlers, had gone to bed and Mr Wong was sitting at the table with his newspaper and coffee.
Mrs Wong slipped the blue album, then holding only a few pictures, under his newspaper. He stopped reading, put down the paper, picked up the album and looked at Mrs Wong. I wished I could have spoken comforting words to her. She sat down opposite him, her face wore that same expression of a thousand tears which Grace is now seeing.
Mrs Wong sighs and taps the album, “Open it.”
Grace turns the cover. It’s filled with photos of a woman she does not recognise, with a younger Mr Wong. There’s one of the woman and Mr Wong with a very chubby baby girl. And lots of photos of what appears to be various birthday celebrations for the little girl.
“Who is this woman? Why is she with Daddy? Who is the baby?” Grace asks, tapping hard on the photo.
Mrs Wong sighs and rubs her arms, something she does when she is nervous or unhappy, “She was your father’s girlfriend.”
Grace’s mouth falls open, “Daddy’s girlfriend? Daddy had an affair?”
Mrs Wong shakes her head, “We never wanted you or Nat to find out. But I guess it doesn’t matter now.”
“Of course, it matters!” Grace clenches her fists.
“Well, it wasn’t an affair, exactly.” Mrs Wong shifts a little in her chair and folds her arms across her chest, “We had just started dating when he found out she was pregnant.”
“Was Daddy still with her when he started dating you?”
“Sort of. I only found out years later.”
“Daddy was two-timing?”
“I guess you can say that.”
“Oh.” Grace covers her mouth with her hand.
“Anyhow, she wanted to keep the baby and…”
Grace pulls out a chair and sits beside Mrs Wong, “So she wanted Daddy to go back to her?”
“It would have been the right thing to do but your father chose to stay with me and at the same time support her and the child.”
“But when Daddy and you got married, you didn’t know about this?”
“No, I didn’t.” Mrs Wong bites her lower lip, “When I found out, he said he had not wanted me to be jealous, that he chose me because he knew I was his soulmate and not her.”
Grace throws her hands in the air, “You believed him?”
“He did say he was sorry. He had been faithful ever since.”
The front door opens, and Nat calls out, “I got the boxes, Ma.” All six feet of his person fills the doorframe.
He carries the flat-packed boxes under his arm and walks toward the kitchen, “Where do you want them?” He drops the boxes to the floor. “What’s wrong?”
Nat may look like the best nightclub bouncer ever, but he has a sensitivity that is quite special. I have seen his heart on display many a time over the years.
Grace looks up at him and points to the opened album. He reaches out for it, flips through it and shrugs his shoulders, “What about these?”
“Daddy had another family.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“You know?” Mrs Wong and Grace both look wide-eyed at Nat.
He shifts his weight onto his other foot, “Didn’t you? Dad talked to me about it when Wendy and I got serious. He wanted to be sure I didn’t make the same mistake he did so he told me the story. I assumed he told you too.”
I remember. Mr Wong had called Nat to come over when Mrs Wong was away at her ladies’ weekend and Grace was at uni. Mr Wong paced around the whole day, muttering to himself. I had wished for the ability to calm him somehow. Then Nat arrived, they had coffee and Mr Wong pulled out the photo album.
“And you are ok with it?” Grace asks Nat.
“Well, yeah, it all happened before he and Ma got married so it’s his past. It doesn’t change who he was to us, right? Besides, he did what he thought was right. He supported the other woman and the girl but also stayed with Ma and us.”
Grace looks from Mrs Wong to Nat and back, “So everyone was in on the secret but me?!”
“It was certainly not my idea to tell Nat.” Mrs Wong stands up, “Anyhow, now you both know. It’s done. Let’s finish this packing.” She walks out of the room, “Nat, bring the boxes upstairs, please.”
Grace is left with the blue album opened on the scratched up old table. “What do I do now?” she asks. For a moment, I think she is talking to me. But humans don’t communicate with us directly. I wish I could tell her that it will all be fine.
Grace picks up the album and slowly flips through the photos. She stops and touches each photo of the little girl; with every turn of the page, she breathes easier.
“There is a whole other part of Daddy out there. I have a sister. I may not like this other woman, but this little girl is my Daddy’s child, just as I was his little girl.” Grace calls out to Mrs Wong and Nat, “I want to find her, my half-sister, Daddy’s other little girl. I will find her!”
I hope she does. I half wish that they were staying on so I can meet this new member of their family. I wonder what the next family moving in will be like.