by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents|
Book III: At Home With Robert
Chapter 7: Springing Leaks
part 1 of 2
Just over a year ago, quite close to my seventieth birthday, I received a call on the telephone in my room at the Home. It was Catherine.
‘I don’t believe it!’
‘It’s true, Donna. And I hadn’t spoken to her in almost four decades!’
‘How did she know your number, after all those years?’
‘I wondered about that myself. She told me later that she’d tracked me each time I’d moved home.’
‘My god ...’
She was as brusque and efficient as usual. So after a very brief exchange along the lines of ‘How are you?’ and ‘Mustn’t grumble ...’ and ‘Good!’ and ‘But the old bones ain’t what they used to be ...’ she got straight back down to business.
And she told me that someone rather special wanted to talk to me.
I said nothing to Robert at this point, but I have to admit I couldn’t help wondering to myself just who this special person might have been ...
The first one I thought of, quite ridiculously, was that so-called Shaun character who had tricked me out of so much money (and other precious things) more than ten years ago. But I really have absolutely (hah!) no idea why he came straight to mind!
And then I wondered if it might have been Robert’s brother Peter, because I’d recently had the crazy thought that he could have been Shaun’s father, and part of that awful “conspiracy” against me. Hah! How stupid can you get, Donna?
Then I briefly fantasised that it might have been my long-absent father, whoever he really was! Or, if that uncaring, walk-out-on-us man had actually been an adoptive parent too, just as “Mother” was, then maybe this mystery man of Catherine’s would turn out to be my true father?
And then I thought ‘Hang on! Why am I assuming this man has got anything to do with me? Maybe it was Catherine’s husband — if she ever got married. Hah, what an idea! Or perhaps it was Jane’s son (if she’d had a son!). Or even that child’s adoptive father, he of Bonnie and Clyde fame ...’
And then, of course, I remembered that Robert had actually said ‘someone rather special.’ So why on earth had I jumped to the conclusion it would be a man?
Then I realised Robert was still busily talking away, and I’d completely lost my concentration. So even though what he’d been saying was sure to be safely on the voice recorder (and it is — I’ve checked), I asked him to start again from the moment where Catherine had first mentioned that man — no, I mean, that person. Because I just couldn’t bear to lose the thread at this fascinating point in his story ...
Yes, she said somebody rather special wanted to talk to me. She wouldn’t give me his name, but as she told me a little more about him, he was obviously the man I’d always thought of as Clyde. I suspected she’d forgotten that little nickname after all these years. In fact it turned out she hadn’t — of course!
I knew it was a man! And it was Clyde! Oh my goodness, Donna ...
Naturally, I asked Catherine at once why she had changed her rigid rules about “no contact” after all these years. She simply said that would become very clear, if and when I spoke to this man on the phone.
If I did agree to take his call, she would give him my mobile number — she assumed I had one — and nothing more. He’d already promised her that he would not use that number to try and investigate my identity any further — because he personally had no real interest in knowing any more about me. And I wouldn’t need to tell him my name or anything else if I decided I didn’t want to get involved.
‘So you finally knew you were a grandfather, Robert!’
‘Well, I was beginning to suspect that was probably the case ...’
I shrugged my shoulders again — I’m good at doing that when I’m on the phone — and agreed she could go ahead. Well of course I did. You don’t say ‘No’ to Catherine. And anyway, I was quite intrigued — there’s not usually much mystery or excitement in your life at the age of seventy ...
* * *
Clyde rang the next day, and he told me right up-front that he had indeed been the adoptive father of Catherine’s grandchild. But he didn’t give me his real name.
‘She says you always thought of my wife and me as “Bonnie and Clyde” for some reason, so let’s stick with that for now, shall we?’
‘So, you’re obviously wondering why I wanted to talk to you ...’
‘Of course I am.’
‘Well, to put it very bluntly ... ever since the baby was born, I’ve been increasingly plagued by a combination of contrition, and regret, and guilt, and other such feelings about what happened all those years ago. Frankly, I was never happy with the whole idea in the first place ...’
‘Yes, I knew that, Clyde. Catherine made it clear to me at the start that you had a lot of reservations about it.’
‘Quite right. But I finally agreed to play ball, of course. She’s a very persuasive woman ...’
‘Well, I now feel it’s time to remove the veils of silence and deception. To relieve my own conscience, of course, but also to give everyone else the opportunity to get involved with each other again ... but only if they really want to.’
‘And when I contacted Catherine quite recently, and suggested this, I was pleased to discover that she’d mellowed a lot in her old age. She agreed in principle with what I was proposing to do. And one of my conditions was that the baby’s real father and other grandparents, whoever they were, should be told all about it and allowed to play their part in trying to set things back to rights — but again, only if they wished to.’
‘OK, I think I’m still with you, Clyde ...’
‘Thanks, that’s good to hear — I’m not finding this very easy, as you can imagine. So, on Catherine’s strong advice, I’m starting with you. And here’s where you need to make a big decision. If you definitely don’t wish to learn any more about what happened, and don’t want any further involvement, I promise to fully respect that position, and throw away your number, and never contact you again. If you’d like to think about it for a while — a day, a week, more if you need it — that’s also fine by me. Or if you feel perfectly happy to go ahead and listen to my story, I’m willing to tell it, here and now.’
This is extremely strange. Hardly believable, really ...
Surely Robert isn’t fabricating the whole thing? Surely he’s not actually the baby’s adoptive father after all? Surely not?
I thought about it for a few moments, and then I took the plunge.
‘OK, I’ll hear what you have to say, Clyde. But that’s all I’m willing to do, for the time being at least ...’
So then he recounted just what had happened back in that long-distant autumn ...
‘Catherine’s told me you knew all about the scheme she’d concocted. Well, once everything was set up and ready, she and her own parents spread the cover story: that Jane had really wanted to travel during the school holidays, but had suffered a long-lasting dose of summer flu and tiredness, and hadn’t even been well enough to embark on her carefully planned sixth-form course in September. And she still had a strong urge to travel, so she’d decided that once she’d recovered she was going to spend the next few months seeing Europe and doing casual work wherever she could. Then she planned to come home and start back at school the following autumn, if they would allow it.
‘And in early October she did indeed depart for France.
‘Meanwhile, we put our lovely Wood Green apartment on the market, rented a small furnished one in South London, and moved down there in mid-October. I carried on commuting into town, but Bonnie had already handed in her notice, and she stopped working at the end of the month.
‘Jane stayed in France for several weeks, including two in Paris, which she loved. Then, at the start of November, she took the boat train back to Dover and came straight from there to Clapham to join us, late at night and very quietly, in our anonymous two-bedroomed flat.
‘The three of us sat tight there for the next six months. Well, I went off to work in the City each day as usual, of course. Jane never went out once, the whole time. But Bonnie had been very busy ever since we’d moved in.
‘She’d spent three weeks making very discreet enquiries in various parts of South London, well away from our new flat: places where nobody knew us or gave a damn about her. And she’d eventually found exactly what she was after: a sympathetic midwife who had never worked in our area, was very short of money, and was willing to give Jane all the very private care she needed, throughout the pregnancy and birth, in return for a generous cash fee.
‘So the most crucial element of the plan was at last in place, and we knew it was going to work out fine.’
Clyde stopped at that point to let me take it all in.
‘Hey, are you all right, Donna?’
‘Oh ... yes, thank you, Robert. I was listening very carefully this time, but I was also deep in thought again. It’s all still quite remarkable, isn’t it? Curiouser and curiouser ...’
Copyright © 2010 by Michael E. Lloyd