Darryl's mother Wanda had never told him the name of his father. And that bothered him. It was Christmas holidays and he was returning home to spend it with Wanda. He was resolved to ask the question and get some answers.
Holidays were never fun at home but he was relieved to leave campus this year. After some sorority girl had been found half dead from an aborted suicide attempt - at a tanning salon of all places! - the school had talked of little else. When he first heard the news, he was momentarily worried it was Audra, but it wasn't, although she did know the girl. They belonged to the same pussy palace sorority, or so he was told. They said she was currently in a vegetative state and her friends were spending all their time at the hospital.
The sky was slate gray, leaded with snow and it coloured the small bland buildings that squatted underneath it, seemingly huddled together for warmth. The forecast called for several inches, but it hadn't started yet. It was a good thing too because once it did, travelling by bus would slow to a crawl as holiday travelers packed the one-room bus terminal. It was a converted train station, but the train had long since gone and the grain silo had been converted into another kind of storage. There was nothing festive about this last December day and the pathetic old Christmas decorations that had been strung carelessly throughout only served to underscore how lonely the season could be.
Wanda felt like she had been waiting for ages in the cold green-tiled bus terminal when she decided to sneak off and have another cigarette while sitting in her car. It wouldn't do to stand outside and smoke. Only sluts with no breeding stood outside and smoked on street corners. Everybody knew that. She waddled outside, casting disparaging glances at the young women who were entering with their luggage; on their way to some exciting Christmas vacation to fornicate and be promiscuous, no doubt. Wanda glared behind thick glasses and shook her head but it was hard to take her seriously as she fumbled with her lighter while dragging a small oxygen tank behind her. No, she preferred to sit in her car where she could be comfortable and listen to the bible-thumping radio station. The holy roller this afternoon was well-oiled and halfway through his long and detailed list of sin and vices that afflicted the masses as she humped herself behind the wheel and lit up.
The declarative sentences and brazen judgements filled Darryl's mother with a sense of righteous indignation that by turns got her blood pumping and relaxed her. She liked knowing that someone was in charge. She wanted to be with the winners. She happily puffed away listening to the state-sanction hate machine that was republican radio when she noticed a well-dressed man headed right for her car. He walked briskly with a small leather duffel bag slung over his shoulder and a pair of expensive-looking sunglasses to cut the flat light of the dreary afternoon. She did the only thing she could do, she began to panic. Who the hell was this? What did he want? The radio man would have said he was there to rape her. They talked a lot about rape on that radio show, actually, she just hadn't noticed before this moment. How for some women it was their god given destiny to be raped, which was truly awful if you thought about it. But was that true? Was this her moment?
Her breath caught in her throat as she inhaled and she began to cough frantically, waving her hands in the air, ashes flying. Her breasts heaved as she tried to catch her breath and more smoke caught in her throat. She had effectively hot-boxed the car and the atmosphere was dizzying. Wanda clawed furtively at the driver's door to roll down the window. A sharp gust of wind blew through the car as the passenger side door suddenly opened and a man sat down beside her in the passenger seat. He reached across and rolled down the window for her, plucking the cigarette stub from her hand and flicking it out the window in one fluid motion. Then he gently put his hand on her back and began to rub in small circles. Her hacking cough began to subside and she was just choking on mucus caused by the eye-watering smoke, then even that began to clear in the icy air.
"Just breathe", the man said softly. He was looking at her with a furrowed brow over his elegant sunglasses. The a fresh of gust of wind blew through the car again and she realized that a few small snowflakes were falling from the all-white sky. The man snapped off the radio with a dismissive grunt. The small kindness of human touch robbed her of her defenses and she was rendered speechless. She swallowed a few times experimentally and the rigid fear in her body unknotted.
"Who-" she attempted to speak. The man lifted his glasses over his head and looked at her with clear eyes. They were beautiful blue and for a moment she was lost in time.
"Mom!" He said sharply, "I'm going to drive". And rattled the keys in his hand beside his head where she could see them. "Are you hungry?", he grinned, "I know I am!"
"Darryl", she gasped. "Darryl, oh, it's you…" She sounded different to her own ears. More gentle, more…. needy? No, just softer. It was okay. It was okay how she sounded. But he couldn’t hear her because he had stood to move his bag into the trunk. He dropped the lid with a firm thunk and came around the driver's side. She slid on along the bench of the old model Grand Prix and Darryl dropped the car into gear. He rested his arm behind her head as he back out of the parking space and negotiated the extralong car out of the lot. It wasn’t crowded but the snow was beginning to stick. It would be a white Christmas after all.
In the end it wasn't that bad. Over coffee the two of them flipped through old photographs and newspaper clippings. Almost twenty years of articles and pictures that Wanda had carefully stored in albums and folders concerning Dr. Micah Ballantree...
Wanda and Dr. Ballantree had had a whirlwind affair, the stuff dreams are made of. After weeks of sending yellow roses to her office, he followed up with a small silver necklace with a pendant of a moon. The card attached said, "Only once in a blue moon do you meet the One. Will you have dinner with me?" Since there was no way to respond she simply had to wait until he made the next move. It was agony, but in a good way. It was also profoundly destabilizing in that she never knew what to expect when she went into the office. In retrospect, she probably should have spoken to someone. The whole affair had always been on his terms.
"So this is my father?" Darryl asked hesitantly. "But this means..."
Actually it felt good to go over things in her mind. The whole situation had left her so humiliated and ashamed and scared that she had buried it tightly and never looked back. By the time he told her he was married, Wanda was already pregnant. From a legal perspective, she knew that David Ballantree and his ice queen of a wife had the power and the means to remove her child from her custody. But still she was in love with him. She dreamed of a life with him but her pragmatic farmer's upbringing eventually won out: nothing real can be built on a fantasy. Those final weeks of her relationship with him were how long it took to come to terms with her new reality but everyday she came dangerously close to telling him.
Sensing something was wrong, David came to Wanda and told her that he was thinking of leaving his wife, that he wanted to make a future with her. But talk is cheap and Wanda in her heart didn't really believe him. Some part of her wanted to raise this baby on her own. In David's world she would always be the "second wife", the legal secretary, without family money or connections or breeding. She would always be an outsider. Something inside Wanda revolted in disgust. Disgust at herself for falling so hard, disgust at David and all the men like him who did this to women, disgust at the air of respectibility that favoured doctors no matter how many vows they broke.
So she ran. She moved out of her apartment and back home to the farm. She quit her job at the legal firm - a truly stupid move in retrospect - and took part-time work as a cashier at the local general store. This gave her the support and time to raise her son in veritable anonimity. Darryl was a strong brave boy, good with animals and loved to run and camp in the fields. He was his father's son. When her own father died and her brothers sold the farm, she moved back to the city and picked up where she left off as a legal secretary but this time it wasn't as easy.
The salaries were meager and she had trouble settling in any one place, always fearful David would find her good, bright boy and take him from her. She followed his career and family in the newspaper. He seemed to be thriving, which created a spark of bitterness that took root and grew within in her. More and more Wanda leaned on her son as the man of the house, ultimately emasculating him. She smoked too much and it began to cripple her lungs. She drank too much and the weight gain caused diabetes.
"Does he know about me?" Darryl asked, quietly. This was a lot to take in.
"No. Not as far as I know. But you are 21 now and free to ... free to ... leave me..." For Wanda, the tears had finally begun to flow. She had done a horrible thing robbing her son of a father. She was just so scared. So, so scared all the time. She curled in on herself and cried and cried endlessly, almost silently. Long minutes passed. Then she felt his arms around her. But they almost could not get all the way around her.
"We are going to start exercising", he whispered in her ear.
And they both started laughing.