'I don't want to meet him.'
I crumpled the letter into a ball. Today I would be on my own, the boss had a conference in Birmingham which was fortuitous because I didn"t feel like talking to anyone. I forgot the letter and the request it contained for an hour while I dealt with the mail and entered up the month's sales figures but when I stopped for coffee the blank screen seemed to reflect the request:
"I'd like to come - to pay my respects and for us to meet again."
'No way. Why should I agree?' He had walked out on me twenty-five years ago. My eyes filled with tears at the memory. There had been no warning. He was there when I went to bed and in the morning he had gone.
Mum had held me tightly when she told me. We shared the grief. For weeks I cried myself to sleep. He had cut himself off, not a birthday or a Christmas card. Remembering brought back the tears.
In the cloakroom, I removed my smudged eye makeup, reapplied it, combed my short blonde hair and touched up my face. He would not approve. "Rapunzal hair," he used to say as he gently brushed it through. Then it was light brown.
It had been a long time. I had changed so much but so must he. 'Would we even recognise each other?' I shook the thought away. He wasn't coming. I would write back tonight and tell him I didn't want to see him.
Back at my desk, I logged on to my e-mail. Clive, my boss allowed me this perk. As a boss he was pretty good. No unreasonable demands, paid overtime and occasionally he treated me to dinner. He wasn't bad as a guy either. Quite dishy really, kept himself fit, nice tight bum, square shoulders. His dark hair was beginning to recede a bit but his mouth - I stopped.
On the screen was a message: "Your mother wanted me to come."
My stomach knotted, misery overwhelmed me. How had he discovered my e-mail address? Anyway he was lying, he must be lying.
I wanted to throw a brick through the screen. Would have done except it wasn't my property and anyway I didn't have a brick. Before I could reply I had to once more remove my eye makeup which, despite the maker's claim had run all down my cheeks. My eyes were red, the lids swollen and my face was a blotched mess. There was little point in attempting to repair the damage. I washed my face and returned to my computer. I sent a one word reply, "No" before returning to the day's work.
Clive, my boss, returned. He took my hands, "Melanie, my dear I hadn't realised you were so upset. What an inconsiderate swine I am. You must have a million things to arrange. Go home and take what time you need. I'll get a temp. from the agency."
His kindness brought on another flood of tears. He held me in his arms and I sobbed out my grief.
"I was eight when Dad left us. Day after day I waited for the postman sure he would write. I can still remember the pain like a knife twisting in my belly when I looked through my birthday and Christmas cards. Not a word! In twenty-five years not a single word. Now he wants to come to the funeral. He sent an e-mail claiming Mum wanted him to come."
The light on the answer phone was blinking when I arrived home. I flipped it on. More condolences. Half listening I left it running while I put the kettle on. The last message demanded full attention. "You don't know me. My name is Susan and I am your half sister. I am arriving at seven thirty at the Midland Station. Please meet me in the station cafe. I must see you."
My hands shook as I made a cup of coffee. My legs threatened to collapse. First, my father decides he wants to meet up and now an unknown woman claiming to be my half sister. Anger coursed through my veins. She could go to hell. 'Why should I put myself out to meet her?'
I took my coffee through to the lounge and sat opposite Mother's chair. Her Gardenia perfume seemed all around me. "Mother," I sighed. "Why didn't you tell me?"
The clock stuck seven. The rain rattled against the window. An unknown woman was waiting, in the dark, on Midland Station. The cafe would probably be closed. The scent of gardenia and my mother's voice echoed in my mind.
"I wouldn't leave a dog out in this weather."
She stood in the empty entrance hall, a slight figure with long dark hair. Hesitantly I approached her, "Susan?"
I ignored the proffered hand.
"Is there somewhere we can talk?" She spoke with an American twang.
I wanted to refuse. But she looked so pale and my better nature or Mother's teaching prevailed. After all she wasn't responsible for her Father's misdemeanours. She could have her say and go. There was no way I could be persuaded to meet him.
"Coffee?" I asked as I took her through to the lounge where she sat herself in mother's deep armchair. Susan was much younger than I had supposed. She couldn't have been the cause of the break up.
"Father's never forgotten you." She began.
"He deserted me and my Mother. He has no right to come back into my life now."
"No, he didn't desert her. He emigrated expecting her to follow when he'd gotten settled. He wanted to keep in touch but your Mother refused."
The anger in my heart was replaced by regret. Whatever the truth he was my Father.
"Eleven twenty at All Hallows. We leave home at ten fifty."
Mother never liked new places. She went to Skegness every year.
Father sent a spray of Gardenias.