The Illegitimate One
The Illegitimate One
By Miranda Max
Her single voice searched a house which was modest, made of exposed brick and hardwood and was bought with money her father had newly acquired due to his most recent divorce. Her voice echoed throughout the thin hallways and high ceilings, bouncing off shinning floors and through dim lights.
“Dad?” she repeated, now leaning into the front room through the porch doorway off the front of the house, as to peer inside. She moved into the room and looked about with fairly familiar eyes and she felt neither comfortable nor foreign in her father’s home; a way she had always felt regardless of where he was residing.
His home was dimly lit with shades pulled open and even a window or two despite the chill. The room radiated browns and deep thick fabrics, consisted of an old sofa, a few leather chairs, wooden tables and some art done in charcoals that she had never seen before. His plants appeared to be watered and the tables neatly cluttered. His daughter noticed too, that there were pictures of herself and her brothers and her sister set about. As she crept slowly through the room she stared in the direction of some of these frames encompassing their smiling faces on different trips, images that spanned over many years and occurred in many places, but she did not approach them. Instead she looked from afar into the memories of her childhood and adolescence, into her early adulthood face, in a way she felt she had always done when regarding her life with him.
She stood for a quiet moment and looked into one photo in particular. They were all there and huddled around him. She looked at his broad smiling face, his perfect white teeth and his jet-black hair, one arm tight around her shoulders. They resembled, she thought, the man she knew, the man in her mind.
A photo of her mother suddenly caught her eye, a high school photo in which her mother wears her hair long and her skin tan. She is small and the pain and regrets of life have not yet dulled her clear blue eyes. Here is a woman I will never know, she thought, and she approached the photo, leaning down close, peering into the small frame. This is a woman she desperately wanted to know, but always understood that she never would. And the daughter is sure then, that her father keeps this picture present for the same reason that she keeps a photo of her mother from high school in her wallet, where she sits in a boat in the middle of a lake surrounded by forest wearing a faded denim jacket, poised in mid-row with two oars and flashes the brightest most perfect smile into the lens, her head thrown back only slightly in a genuine moment of laughter.
After a moment she moved on to mindlessly shuffle through some mail and papers on a small table. She loosened her scarf and followed the narrow hallway before her where a light shone at the end. Running a hand through her hair she inhaled deeply and exhaled loudly, raising her shoulders and letting them fall.
She finds him sitting under a low light emanating from a small desk lamp on the kitchen table scattered with tools mostly, more papers and some dishes- though they appeared clean. He is fixing a clock, holding in his right hand a small screwdriver. She watched his eyes as he peered through the thick glasses he now wore; saw the rest of his face calm and collected, smooth and deeply attentive to the work at hand. She paused for a moment as she stepped nearer to the kitchen doorway; watching his hands despite how old they were, work coolly and swiftly as though his tools fit into them with ease. This kind of work was second nature to him.
She stood in the doorway for a moment, leaned against its frame, tilted her head to one side. At first he didn’t notice her and there was a peace between them through a lack of realization. And we are just here, together, she thinks. Then suddenly she seemed to snap out of this private quiet space, the intimacy of the two of them alone and she felt the softness she had allowed to enter leave her and she was reminded as to why she came.
“Dad,” she stated flatly, loudly. He jumped to a start and looked at her through his thick lenses with startled, wide eyes.
“Quinn,” her father answered. “Hi.” He smiled widely and the creases around his eyes became suddenly more visible. His eyebrows shot toward the ceiling. His smile filled the space.
“What are you doing here doll-face?” He pushed his chair back loudly, leaned back into it and opened his arms. “Give your old man a kiss.”
She paused for a moment in her immediate reaction to do as he told her, and then did. Leaning down she planted her lips lightly on his stubble cheek and pulled away quickly before he could lock her into a hug.
“What brings you here, kiddo?” he asked as he again picked up his clock, though still looking at her over the top of his glasses.
Quinn was quiet. She walked about the kitchen slowly, examining what lay around and what was clipped to the refrigerator. “What brings me here?” she asked with an air of condescension, “Well, dad,” she said flatly, “let’s see.” Quinn paused and turned to face him.
“Is everything alright?” her father asked.
She was quiet still but looked at the older man with scathing eyes. “No,” she said. “No dad, everything is not alright.”
From her front pocket Quinn pulled out a white envelope. She first held it in front of his face and then somewhere between dropped it and threw it onto the table before him, spreading her hands then in the air as if to signify she could no longer stand to touch it.
Her father sat bemused. It was a strange line of motions and words and he did not know what to make of them.
His fuddled expression only exasperated Quinn and she sighed loudly, turning away from him and putting her hands on her hips. Standing over him as he sat to her side, she gazed out the kitchen picture window. Through its pane she saw a small backyard and a dense forest at its edge. The sun was setting earlier now and the light had already begun to change. The tops of the trees were illuminated far brighter than the earth below them and the forest had begun to go black. “It’s from Little Lake, dad,” she said with her eyes searching beyond him.
Quinn glanced down at her father who still looked lost. “It’s from someone by the name of Gordee.”
The recognition spread across his weathered face slowly. His smile lessened and his eyes narrowed for a moment.
“Angle Gordee,” Quinn added.
Her father leaned back in disbelief then. Slowly but surely the smile reappeared, as it always did when he found himself in a sticky situation and he let out a soft chuckle. “What in the world is going on here?” he asked.
“You tell me,” Quinn said.
“How could I possibly tell you?”
“I mean, you could tell me who the hell Angle Gordee is, for one. Then you could maybe tell me how she came to be, her conception story, like when we find out how The Leader in The Hulk comics comes to exist, except your story won’t have any cool superhero affects, I believe your story will just be about a good fuck you once had.” Quinn paused and for a moment was disgusted yet again in her ability to let her anger get the better of her. She looked away from him and turned around, “I’m sorry,” she said, and she sat down across from him in one of the same old brown leather chairs with wheels and arm rests that he sat in. “Who is Angle Gordee, dad?”
Her father laughed aloud. He laughed for a moment and took the glasses from his face, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He turned the letter over in his hands and looked down into it as though to find something. Then he looked back at Quinn, who sat with arms crossed and a tight face, a posture and expression, her father thought, which she wore very well. “Quinn,” he said firmly, the smile fading a bit, “I have no idea who Angle Gordee is.” He paused. “But Deb Gordee,” he said slowly, his eyes leaving her, “that’s someone I know.”
A moment of silence passed between them. “But that was a long time ago,” he said quickly, his eyes returning to her. “I haven’t seen Deb in…” He paused, “Shit, a long time.”
Quinn watched his face. “Why is this funny?” she asked suddenly.
He laughed. “It’s not funny, Quinn. It’s just, well, what in the world is going on here?”
Leaning forward onto her elbows, she placed them on the table top. For a moment Quinn let her face fall into her hands and when she emerged she looked at her father and said, “Make me a drink?”
As if startled by the fact that he hadn’t yet her father perked up and stood, “Of course, what will you have? Tanqueray and Tonic?”
“Good, good,” he said and turned to the refrigerator. While leaning inside he said, “Quinn, you always knew I was with a woman in Little Lake, maybe you’ve just never known her name. You’ve even known that she was a waitress at Drag’s, you’ve heard this story before. I’ve been open with you about this. That was Deb and I didn’t see her for very long, a couple times a year for a few years, but it was never really anything. Obviously I was still with mom and had no intention of leaving her.”
“Not at that point, apparently,” Quinn said lifelessly.
Standing now beside the counter her father cut limes and then poured two stiff gin and tonics. He set one down in front of his daughter and took the other back with him to his own leather chair.
“Now, Deb Gordee and I haven’t talked in ages, I mean years, and I haven’t the slightest clue as to why she would be sending you a letter.”
Quinn chuckled mid sip, and set down her glass with a thump. She smiled at him across the table, but not out of love. “I didn’t say it was from Debra Gordee. I said Angle Gordee.”
She had him puzzled once again and he looked into her young face dumbly. He sipped his drink and she watched the level of liquid lower in his glass. She sipped hers.
“I don’t have any idea who Angle Gordee is,” he finally said quietly. And Quinn noticed an inflection in his voice that suggested he might be able to guess.
She sighed and leaned back into her chair. She looked toward the front room. Her mind wandered through the photos she had looked at a moment ago where they had stood at different locations in Little Lake. She thought of the ones her mother was in, though these were not on display here in his home.
Looking back at him she said, “How could you take her there? How could you take her on a trip to a place where you had another woman? A woman who served us dinner, a woman who you were with while mom wasn’t there and you left your children at the cabin to fend for themselves to go see…”
In a huff he replied, “You were fine, you were all there together, you loved it when I left you all alone.”
“That’s not the point. The point is how could you take her there? It hurt her more then any of us because she was your wife.”
He looked down into his drink and his eyebrows furrowed. Looking back at Quinn he raised his drink to his lips and scowled. “I loved your mother very much Quinn, you know that.”
“I know you can’t answer questions,” Quinn said in haste and she averted her eyes in anger.
The two sat there quietly sipping their drinks as the light beyond the picture window continued to change and the small desk lamp remained consistent. Small shadows of each began to appear about the kitchen near their feet and some fell over the tabletop. The small sounds of clocks and the home’s foundation moved around them and to an onlooker they would have appeared to be at ease with one another. This was because they were. For the past twenty years, Quinn thought, our relationship has been this, and we are comfortable in it.
“Well, you’ll have to read the letter,” Quinn said, finishing her drink.
As though he had forgotten it entirely he looked at it curiously. “What does it say?” he asked.
“It says, Dear Old Dad, Angle Gordee wants to meet you. She wants to meet you, and me, and Philemon, and Moody, and Mary and Walter. Angle Gordee even wants to meet mom. She wants to meet the family she has never known.” And with great effect, which Quinn had a knack for, she added, “The father she’s never known.”
And the silence that then filled the kitchen was too deafening even for Quinn, who enjoyed a quiet space. Her father looked startled and dumbstruck. He sat motionless, his eyes watching every movement and moment of Quinn’s face and body. Even his hand neglected to remember the existence of his drink, which was something he never forgot.
“You have an illegitimate child, dad,” Quinn said. And seeming to soften a bit as she usually did when her love for him got the better of her, she continued gently with, “She’s close to my age, has grown up in Little Lake with just her mother, Deb, as you call her, she’s even a waitress like Deb was. And well, it appears that Deb died a few months ago of cancer, leaving Angle all alone. She says that she wants to come meet us. And that if we let her, she will. She sent me the letter because, like I said, we’re close in age and she said she was too nervous to contact you right off the bat.” And as an insensitive afterthought Quinn mumbled, “Poor thing is nervous.”
Quinn’s father leaned back from the rigid upright position he had taken. He stood then and made two new drinks, and when hers was handed over Quinn sipped it in appreciation of the fact that she hadn’t had to ask for it. Now her father continued to stand, he paced the small kitchen a few times and then once again sat down.
“So Deb died.” He was silent for a moment and he looked up and past his daughter. “Well shit.”
“You had no idea you had a child with her?” Quinn asked skeptically.
“No,” he cried. “I can’t fucking believe it in fact, how were they able to manage? I never sent a cent. How did she know it was mine?”
“Women usually know,” Quinn said bitterly.
“Well it might not be,” he stated boldly. “We should really find out for sure, if this is the case.”
“Well we can pretty much piece it together, you know. If she’s my age, or a year or two younger that would mean you were fucking her around the same time mom got pregnant with me. If I was born in September then mom was impregnated in December, nine months prior. Was the last time you saw Deb in the winter?”
He was reflective for a moment. “I suppose it was,” he said thoughtfully. “In fact it was. We were driving in a snowstorm…” he trailed off. “The snowstorms are terrible all the way up there, can’t see a thing on the roads. We were fighting.”
Quinn sipped her drink, “She was mad?”
“Maybe she already knew.”
“She would have told me.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“No, she would have.”
“Why?” Quinn spat. “It’s not like you were the best catch dad, and despite that she named her daughter Angle, I’m sure she wasn’t too dumb to realize that you were never going to stick around. We all picked up on that eventually. You read like one of those airplane messages, made of smoke, dissolving, impermanent.” Quinn traced the fingers of one hand through the air in a dramatic interpretation.
Her father was quiet and looked at her steadily. “She would have told me,” he said.
Leaning back abruptly and thumping a hand down onto the table top Quinn said, “Well she didn’t. But sure, I think if she comes, it’s a good idea to have a paternity test done. But I would be ready.”
“If she comes?” her father asked. “Is she coming?”
Quinn was quiet. “Is she?”