I stayed long enough to make sure that Mom’s ashes were delivered and placed in the painted vase on top of the mantle, and then I’d packed up my things and left.
The new nurse had come just before, a friendly, pleasant enough woman, and I’d seen her introduced to Frank before I left. She’d wanted me to stay; to help her get organized in the house so that she could come and go more easily but I’d slipped out before she’d had a chance to plead. I couldn’t stay in that house, not one minute more. I’d go crazy or do something I’d regret, maybe both.
Frank said nothing about my leaving. I could almost feel sorry for him. I didn’t want to ostracize him, not really. He was the closest thing my son would have to a grandparent since Zoey’ folks were both gone. And even if he wasn’t my father, I’d still pay for his home care and whatever else he needed. He’d clothed and fed me for most of my life, I could do the same for him.
But he hadn’t said one word to me since our confrontation that night. He wouldn’t even look at me at the funeral when I’d given Mom’s eulogy. The only thing he’d done was have the nurse hand me Mom’s old photo album with an envelope stuck between the pages.
“He said it’s a new draft of his will he wants you to look at,” the nurse, Stephanie, explained, looking bewilderedly at the book in my hands, as if she couldn’t believe she’d been asked to do something outside of her medical practice.
I rolled my eyes. Even furious, he was still trying to use me for free legal advice. More than once I thought of throwing it away, forcing him to pay an attorney for once, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. Maybe it was because it was in Mom’s album, among her pictures. She would have wanted me to help him.
Maybe it was just anticipation. I’d confirmed with my wife before I’d boarded the plane: the results were in.
When I arrived home, Zoey was there to greet me with a smile, “How was your flight?”
“Fine, I’m just tired.” I kissed her and led her inside. She shouldn’t have been on her feet at all at this point, but I’d learned to pick my battles. “Did the mail come yet?” I didn’t care if it was too soon, I still needed to know.
She smiled, almost sadly, “Yes, it’s on your desk upstairs.”
I made her lie down before I hurried up, placing the photo album and Frank’s letter on the desk while I grabbed the stack of letters.
There it was, sitting right at the top. The DDC logo stamped onto the envelope. I let everything else drop back onto my desk and tore the report out, unveiling it like some glorious proclamation and adjusted my glasses so I could read it properly. I was almost startled when the phone began to ring. I turned back to the paper: “Dear Mr. Baker…”
“Zoey, do you mind getting that? I’m just-”
My words cut off in my throat.
My breath cut off in my throat.
“… Our report shows that neither of the genetic samples sent to our lab under the names Frank Baker or Lilly Baker possessed any hereditary material which would indicate a paternal or maternal connection to the DNA sample you provided…”
I stared at the letters without comprehending, without understanding. My hands gripped the paper tight enough to leave nail marks in the page. I let the pages scatter on the floor and reached for the family photo album, tearing it open.
Frank’s letter was there, nestled between the pages with my parent’s wedding on one side, and my baby photos on the other. I ripped the envelope nearly in half, sending the contents flying across the desk before my shaking hands could grasp them. Two papers: one white, one on old newsprint with a photo in the center. I grabbed the first one and realized it was a typed letter with a hospital logo stamped in the corner dated nearly thirty years ago with both Frank and Mom’s name.
I held it up to the light and read: “… We regret to inform you the results of the tests conclude that both partners are listed as infertile… chances of conception are unfortunately negligible…”
They couldn’t have a baby, the thought paralyzed me, made me fall into the chair and stare at the words until they were seared into my eyes. Mom always wanted a family, but they couldn’t have a baby…
The article was torn from a newspaper. A hospital was in crisis, security had been breached. The newborn son of one Matthew and Anna Jackson had been given to a woman wearing hospital scrubs. She exited the building and drove away in an unmarked car with a male partner and had yet to be found.
It was dated almost thirty years ago. The year I was born. The day after I was born. The memory of Frank’s dry, brittle laugh took the breath from my lungs.
They couldn’t have a baby. All Mom ever wanted was a baby.
I felt hands on my shoulder and realized it was Zoey, telling me that something had happened with Frank. He was going to the hospital. He’d swallowed his pills. All of them.
“David! David! Are you listening?!” She was shaking my shoulder. Her voice sounded so distant.
The picture in the article was whole and untouched, only slightly yellowed with age. A young couple wrapped in each other’s arms, both fair haired and slight of build. Even with the poor quality, I could see the man’s eyes were blue behind the rims of his glasses.
Mom hadn’t been lying; I did have my father’s eyes.
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