He hadn’t found it troubling because he knew that she had been keeping a different version of the same secret all that time. If he had only realized how different, he might have been more careful.
Their Sunday morning routine was so entrenched that Jim had only just opened his mouth and Moira was already reaching for the sugar bowl. The early sunlight that turned the stand of birch at the edge of the yard an unearthly gold, lit up her face with a youthful glow and when she smiled he said, “My God, Rosalie looks just like you.”
Moira’s smile disappeared into the deep recesses at the edge of her mouth and her hand paused in mid-air. “Who?” she said.
He could have lied and said, You know, the girl at the market who always laughs at us when we squeeze the tomatoes and giggle like school kids. Or, She’s the new librarian. You’re going to love her. Moira would have known he was lying but she would have let it go.
Instead, he said, “Our great-granddaughter.”
Rosalie, five years old with wild blond curls and an impish grin, perfectly matched his memory of the young Moira he had fallen in love with so long ago. She had been six, he had been eight, and she had shoved him into the dusty street outside Witt’s General Store when he had tugged one springy curl to see if he could make it straight. Ten years later, he had courted her relentlessly until she had finally agreed to a date.
“We don’t have a great-granddaughter,” she said and fixed her gaze on the birch trees. “If you’re suddenly imagining that we’ve had children all these years, it might be time for me to call the home.” She pressed her hands together and held them to her lips, her silent prayer for him to change the subject.
Jim pulled her hands away and held them between both of his own.
“We should have talked about this years ago,” he said. “I know about the baby. I’ve always known.”
There was only one reason back then for a young woman to be sent away for a year. Moira had left without saying goodbye and on that day Jim pledged to himself that he would make her his wife when she returned. It took him another year after that to convince her but they were married in the back yard of her parents’ house on her eighteenth birthday.
He had tried at first to coax the truth from her, but Moira stuck to her story: times were hard, her family needed money and she had gone to the city to work for her uncle. As year after year of their marriage passed without children, Jim stopped asking about her year away. Her sister, Edna, had been the one to finally tell him and it was Edna who, years later, had given him the letter from his adult son John, a letter addressed to Moira at her childhood home, asking if she might be interested in meeting him.
Moira doesn’t want to meet him, Edna had said. Don’t tell her I told you. He never did.
Now he wished that he had. In this moment, with sixty years of doubt and shame spilling down her cheeks, he wished that he’d had the courage to tell her what he knew and to tell her it didn’t matter.
Jim rubbed his calloused palms over the paper-thin skin on the backs of hers. “Moira, please look at me.”
She shook her head and closed her eyes.
“Just listen then,” he said. “I met him. I’ve met all of them.”
“Please, Jim,” said Moira. “Don’t.”
But his secret wanted desperately to be told. He told her how his annual July golf trip to Banff was a cover for visiting them; how every year he would stand next to the first tee and watch his son’s easy swing send the ball straight down the fairway. How proud Moira would be of John, now CEO of a Calgary oil company and how much she would love his wife, Connie, and their daughters Gina and Michelle. How much Michelle’s daughter, Rosalie, was the spitting image of her great-grandmother. “She really does look just like you,” said Jim. “Come with me this time and meet them.”
Moira pulled her hands away. “How could you do this? How could you lie to me all these years?”
“But you knew,” said Jim. “You knew he wanted to know you. He still does. I’ve told them all about you, of course, but they want to meet you if you’re ever ready. It’s not too late, Moira. It was a different time. John understands why you had to give him up. Please meet them.”
Moira shook her head. “You don’t understand.”
“Then tell me.”
She stood and smoothed the wrinkles from her pants. Then she leaned over and kissed her husband’s forehead.
“Oh, Jim,” she said. “He isn’t your son.”
She turned and walked out of the kitchen. Jim stared out at the birch trees, their golden glow fading to every day white in the rising sun. The sugar bowl remained at other end of the table, just out of his reach.
© 2012 Dawn Huddlestone
Friday Flash is a weekly opportunity for writers to pen and share short stories of 1,000 words or less with fellow flash fiction writers (and anyone else interested in reading them). For more information, visit FridayFlash.org.