“He’d been a philanderer for years.”
Those words spilling out slowly from my mother’s mouth, chin firm, lips straight, not a tear in her eye, about my father who had just died – came as a total surprise – especially when there was no chance to verify her accusation. He was gone, unable to defend himself. So as his son, I wasn’t sure to take the announcement as total truth or as someone’s bruised opinion?
The expression on my face must have come across as the question, because she shrugged and said, “I promised never to say a word while he was alive.”
“So he expected this to come out after his death?’
A slight smile crept across her lips. She said nothing more. As I poured us drinks, I scanned past moments I may have missed – with this new evidence enabling me to view them from a new perspective.
He was being hospitable. That’s what Dad’s should do – at least that’s what he always said. Ivy League proper. Kennedy like – not at the moment, but some likeness when they were classmates at Harvard. Maybe it was the pompadour. As a teenager his bits of advice were often points of contention between us, but as I matured he became a trustworthy teacher. I was always replaying his diatribes. He liked to hear himself lecture about the proper way to do things as if he was a professor which in itself was enough to turn me off as a kid.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Keri. And what do your parents do?” His smooth New York accent with the soft uppity rolling R’s ignited the atmosphere. He always was interested in what others did; for some reason it was important to him. It didn’t matter to me.
“They are insurance brokers.”
This was my girlfriend. We were both sixteen years old and we had spent the last four weeks hanging out on the beach and in the local town in which she lived. It was the first time she had been to our summer house. She drove over in her parent’s car unannounced – a surprise which would have been better had my parents been out, but certainly pleasing regardless. The summer was over and I had to get back to Chicago to start school. It was our last night and we had made all kinds of plans to communicate, letters, phone calls, pre-text era that it was.
He exposed his hypnotic smile in kind of a lewd way. It was as though he was drawing a gun from his holster. A smile shouldn’t be so calculating and powerful. It was a tool he never bothered to use on me.
He rarely showed me a human side – figuring I was only worth his professorial side.
I had been an awed witness at the club dances where he flitted from woman to woman using that smile as a magnet. The master of the ball always reserved the first dance with my mom – then dropped her off at the table and moved through the remaining troupe of woman – rarely shimmying twice with the same one. After hours of boogying, like all proper gentlemen, he saved the last dance for my mom, with whom he went home, or so I thought. Now new scenarios lingered, whether true or not.
Suddenly I was under his spell. Blushed pride jumped from my cheeks which were stretching to their ultimate tensile strength under the power of my own smile.
“Would you like a tour of the house?”
She nodded. Her own smile leapt from her cheeks. I couldn’t tell if she was embarrassed or excited. She might have been taking pity on the old man. That blush in her cheeks could mean both and all I really knew was that I wanted her to myself and wished the damn parentals would leave us alone. Was it my fault they didn’t have something better to do?
I had lost control of the situation. She was my girlfriend, correct? But he was my dad. He held the power.
I pleaded silently for help from my mom who was smoking a cigarette and sipping her martini while paging through some magazine, but she was ignoring me. Come on; lend your son a hand here.
She was my girlfriend and since he was my father it was the familial rule to trust him as he disappeared through the glass doors into the living room.
“Oh, I love the back to back fireplaces,” she cooed. I loved them too, but I wanted to be the one to show them to her. I wanted to make the introduction.
I stood mutely as they disappeared then tried to relax as time passed like paint drying – the cavernous house swallowing all sound, while each silent second fed my doubts, until I could no longer sit still. I threw my mother an incredulous look and jumped out of the chair. My pacing was obviously fueled by anger, but she didn’t seem to pay any attention. Did she think what I was thinking, and what was I really thinking. At that time I didn’t know what I now know so why was I so nervous?
Keri’s cheeks were aglow when she walked slowly back into the kitchen a few seconds before he followed. I had finally taken the chair across the table from my mother, focusing on her dainty sips of the martini and the fanlike inhaling and exhaling of her cigarette, the acrid smoke engulfing us in a cloud. The whole time she never lifted her gaze to meet mine, forcing me to keep my attention on the entrance. And the time that elapsed was ignored. I had not looked once.
“I better get home,” was all she said. Not even a “Nice to meet you,” to either parent.
She said nothing as I ushered her across the dew drenched grass to her car. Clouds camouflaged the moonlight and the breeze was sweet and wet off the lake, rustling the trees that surrounded the house. She didn’t look at me as she quickly climbed through the car door I opened for her and I had to step back quickly to avoid getting hit as she slammed it. I stood against the breeze, wondering what had just happened as her brake lights flickered on and off of the trees that lined the long drive. It was the last time I saw her.
Banner Image By Harrikkamies – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7611072