“He’s old but not blind.” Sarah looks at a photograph of her five-year-old son with two store-window dollies dressed as society friends. “The photo should have been only of Charles.”
“It’s not to fool the old man.” James grins with self-absorbed satisfaction. “But to make him curious.”
“How did you manage to get Charles to pose?”
“I promised him yellow cake, though he made me buy a large chocolate one.”
“Sneaky, like his father.” Sarah sits by the window.
“I’ll send a letter with the photo,” James says. “Charles’ smile will remind your father what it is to be young, having a life full of possibilities.”
“Possibilities with adequate funds and good connections,” Sarah says. “He won’t reply…”
“Diplomacy and time. We’re not asking him for his estate, only hinting he entertains the possibility of funding Charles’ education, one day.”
“I’m tired of fighting for the crumbs. I want to eat my cake. For once.”
“I’m sorry,” James says.
“No, I’m the one who’s sorry. I should have been more up-front with you. You should have been the architect you wanted to be, building country estates, instead of delivering mail to them.”
“You might as well know…” Sarah clenches her hands, bracing herself for James to explode. “Charles isn’t yours.”
“I know,” he says softly instead.
“How?” she looks up, shocked.
“Long ago I knew Evelyn. After two years, she left. She wanted a child. So did I.”
“I don’t understand.”
“When I saw her again, she was as big as a pickle barrel. Expecting. So when you told me after the fourth date, I knew it wasn’t mine.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Say what? That I’m half the man I am? Not all scars are visible. Some are deep inside.”
“What matters is that Charles has a father to look up to.”
“Don’t you think he should know, someday?”
“Why? Does his father care?” Sarah shakes her head, finding comfort in silence. “Do you know where he is?”
“Serving life…” James looks away hearing it. But Sarah is unable to resist the truth, this time. “He was with the carnival. One evening I stopped by, hoping to get free rides. And drinks. One thing led to another. When I told him a month later, he didn’t want to hear it. He was in London then. One night he got into a fight, drunk. Somebody pulled a knife.”
Sarah stands. “Malina left me when I told her I was expecting. I was alone, scared, so I married you when you proposed.”
“Who’s Malina that you cared what she thought?”
“She’s the rift between father and I.”
“We were lovers. For six years.” Sarah pauses, looking squarely at James. “She was Indian and had the most bewitching black eyes. So was her pink. A blooming lotus.” She smiles awkwardly, pressing him to say something.
“Why did you propose? I didn’t…”
“…Didn’t love me?” he interjects. “Sometimes you don’t question the past or doubt the future, but just seize the moment before it fades. You were my only chance to have a real family. I knew we could make it work. Even if we weren’t a perfect couple.”
“More like a charade.”
“Nothing ever is as it seems.”
Joseph Baran is a New Jersey-based writer and poet. He writes adult drama/adventure about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations. His novel, “The Big Dream,” a story of growing up and growing old, is in editing and his current work in progress is a Holocaust story based on first-hand accounts of his family member.
When away from the screen, Joseph enjoys running, cycling, photography and painting. Follow him on Twitter @josephjoebaran