Unwittingly, I opened up a can of worms by blaming the tsunami for all of my troubles. Truth was, Richard and I had been becoming more estranged by the day, but we never admitted it. Never got close enough to admit it. The tsunami only accelerated our separation, although in the most tragic way possible.
Mid-afternoon, and by then the restaurant had emptied, leaving us two mature ladies behaving anything but. Both tipsy, and Mary acting like the world owed her a favour. But rain still fell outside and our second bottle hadn’t been finished.
I picked up my glass, sipped at the wine. Tasted like chardonnay, but not as fruity. Or it could have been my imagination — nevertheless, it strengthened my resolve. My turn to pry into Mary’s affairs.
‘You mentioned your grandson. What’s that all about?’
Her mouth opened then closed again. She dabbed a hanky over her lips, all the time staring at me.
She picked up her pack of Marlboro and shook one out. Lit it. Soon it would join the pile of dog-ends smouldering in the ashtray. She inhaled, held her breath, and then waved away the exhaling smoke.
‘You’re lucky,’ she said, and blew another stream of smoke my way.
Lucky! Lucky to have an estranged husband, a cheating lover, and no Angelique.
‘Mary…’ I said, but she wasn’t listening.
‘You had it all. Your inheritance, two men who adored you, and your joi de vivre. I had nothing but shallow affairs, a husband who died leaving me with a pittance and a bastard daughter to upkeep.
A sharp pain knifed through my stomach, my mouth dried up.
‘Jane? I don’t understand. She wasn’t…?’
‘Oh, she was mine alright.’
‘Delcie, you don’t know, do you?’ She studied my expression, decided that I really didn’t. She sighed, as if exorcising a huge burden. ‘At around the time Jane was conceived, Jamie was undergoing his chemotherapy sessions. His doctor was quite emphatic.’
Oh, no. It wasn’t…
‘Jamie was fucking sterile. He couldn’t possibly have been her biological father.’
I couldn’t stop shaking. Had I realised that Mary’s outburst was more than simply venting her frustration, I wouldn’t have pried. I’d been drawn into a quagmire of deception and deceit — matters of the heart I believed were long buried and forgotten.
She stubbed out her cigarette. ‘Now you know,’ she said.
I didn’t, and perhaps I should have left it there, but my tongue well and truly lubricated had a will of its own. ‘Who was the father?’
The waiter stood close. He tapped his watch. I waved him away. He turned off the fan. I asked him to turn it back on. He did. I watched him backtrack to the cash desk, sighed, and regarded Mary.
She lit another cigarette. ‘Delcie, don’t be naïve. You weren’t the only one with a bevy of suitors.’
Naïve? Then it hit me. Her calls to Charles and Richard. Her conviction they’d return sharpish. It couldn’t be…could it?
Tears welled up inside my eyes, and I cried. I plucked a tissue out of my bag, dabbed my cheeks and blew my nose. ‘Who was it? Richard or Charles?’
Mary leant back, blew a cloud of smoke up into the air. ‘I don’t know. It could have been either…or neither.’
The knife inside twisted some more. It wormed into a dark lonely place, but I needed to know what was there.
A shadow fell across the table. I raised my eyes to see the waiter hovering with our bill on a tray. He placed it in front of Mary. Not me. She counted the cash Hamish had left. It wasn’t sufficient, I could tell. She slid the tray over to me. ‘I haven’t much money.’
The waiter prodded his watch as if it had stopped. I delved into my purse. I had scarcely enough to settle it, plus a small tip. I put it all on the tray and handed it back to him.
‘We close,’ he said. ‘Rain finish.’
I stood up, gathered my belongings. ‘I’ll call a taxi. We’ll stop off at an ATM, okay?’
Mary hesitated, crumpled her now empty Marlboro pack and discarded it in the ashtray. ‘I’m flat broke,’ she said. ‘I’m hoping you’ll help me out. Or one of the boys.’
Money. It was all about sodding money.
Her head bowed, she looked so down, so beaten, so wretched — emotions I knew so well. I plucked at her arm and pulled her close.
‘What happened?’ I said. ‘Your house in London?’
She smothered a sob. ‘Mortgaged up to the hilt. Jane supported me for the last few years. Now she’s gone, and I’m lumbered again with another baby to upkeep.’
I now realised why she was acting strangely.
She was hoping to wangle a benefactor.
We walked out of the restaurant into bright sunshine, but inside my heart there only lay black clouds.
Would I help? Would I want to help?
I could imagine the scene when she confronted the boys.