The Rest of Her Life
He'd been dead two months when the letter arrived, stained brown by something she fervently hoped was tea. Uncle Edgar Reymer's trademark blue-black ink had dissolved into a multihued wash incorporating every permutation between. The faint address assumed that one was capable of interpreting handwriting universally acknowledged as indecipherable. Carmen was surprised she'd received it at all. She picked the envelope up, turning it over and thinking about the days after she'd gotten the call about Edgar.
Bangkok was impossible, steamy and noisy. It cost a thousand dollars in bribes to get Edgar's body out of Thailand. At Edgar's Bangkok home, she discovered his "wife," a beautiful Chinese woman named Lie Ang. Talking to Ang had exposed an entirely different facet of her uncle, and Carmen wished she'd known that man.
The Edgar she knew was gay, living in San Francisco with an artist named Russell. She wondered why Edgar never told her about Ang. He'd told Carmen he was gay, but hid a heterosexual relationship. It didn't make sense. Edgar must have had a reason.
In San Francisco, she'd told Russell about Edgar's death, leaving out any mention of Ang. Russell fell apart. Once he'd calmed down, Carmen asked if Edgar left any instructions about how they should arrange his funeral and burial. "No," Russell replied, and lapsed into a fresh gale of hysteria.
Edgar's funeral was an odd affair, and Carmen was glad that Ang turned down her offer of a plane ticket. "I have my memories of Edgar," she'd replied, and Carmen still recalled her placid smile. "I'd rather not have them replaced by the sight of him in a casket."
Russell pulled himself together for the wake and the funeral, and was even cordial to guests afterward. Carmen found no instructions for settling Edgar's affairs, and when she tried to discuss it with Russell, he changed the subject. She returned to Toronto and moved on with her life.
"My dearest Carmen," Edgar's letter began. "If you're reading this, I'm dead. I've asked Trevor Scott to post this upon hearing of my death. Contact him if you need help in sorting out my affairs, since he's also the executor of my will.
"Thai mail being what it is, you've undoubtedly already returned from Bangkok, so mentioning Ang is probably moot. I loved them both, Russell and Ang, equally but differently. You know how jealous and demanding Russell is. If he knew I had another lover, it would be impossible and I didn't want to lose him. So I kept that secret to keep the peace.
"I wrote this letter, my dear, because I've kept another secret from you your entire life. You'll find ..." Whatever stained the letter had soaked through the envelope, and the bottom of the page was so damaged she couldn't tell what Edgar had written. She turned over the page and picked up Edgar's narrative at the top.
"You'll find proof of this in an old book in the San Francisco house library. A small, leather-bound volume, five inches by three, worn cover, and the edges are rather rough. The title inside reads 'Aristotle's Secrets of Generation.' It's really a homely little book, the pages are quite tattered. But it was the first antique I owned, and I've treasured it.
"Inside, you'll find proof of what I told you. I always wanted you to know, but couldn't find a good time to tell you. I'm sorry for a lot of things in my life, Carmen, but I'm sorriest for that." There was nothing more except Edgar's signature. She put the letter down on the table, then called and booked an overnight flight.
She fell asleep on the plane and dreamed about Edgar. He showed her the book, told her how important it was to her. She opened it and read the inscription: "To my darling Edgar." But when Carmen tried to read the signature beneath, she awoke to the pilot's instructions to fasten her seat belt.
"I got rid of all Edgar's old books," Russell said defensively. "Most of them were rubbish anyway, I only got $500 for the box of them." He'd been suspicious when Carmen arrived, telling him about the letter and asking to look through Edgar's books. He wanted to see it, but she said she'd left it at home
When he told Carmen about the used bookstore, she walked out on him in mid-sentence. She felt the oddest mingling of excitement and dread, wondering what she'd find and dreading news so important Edgar had hidden it until after his death.
She was in the book store and there it was, the treasure she'd seen in her dream. She pulled the dusty volume from the shelves and quickly made her way to the antique cash register. She didn't dare open the book...yet.
She looked for some haven in which to examine the book. At a nearby cafe, she ordered cappucino and opened it. When she saw the frontispiece, she gasped. The inscription she'd dreamed about was there, signed "With Love from Jayne." Carmen looked away, puzzled. The only Jayne she knew was her adoptive mother, Edgar's sister. A few years after Carmen was adopted, her adoptive parents had a baby. All three of them had been killed in an automobile accident when Carmen was thirteen. Afterward, Edgar became her guardian and sent her to boarding school.
Flipping through the book, she discovered a child's photo that she recognized immediately. It was her first school photo. She continued paging through the book until she found a small, yellowed scrap of paper, tightly folded. Gingerly, Carmen opened it and read it in astonishment. It was her birth certificate.
Her mother was listed as "Jayne Reymer." Carmen was instantly confused. Why had they told her that she'd been adopted? She quickly found the spot for the father's name, and an involuntary cry escaped her. Her father had been listed as "Edgar Reymer." Her adopted mother had been her real mother, and the beloved uncle who'd taken care of her all these years had really been her father. She hadn't been an orphan after all. She was something unimaginable. Every remembered incident was now being recategorized, reexamined and rewritten in her memory as something entirely different than what it had been an hour ago.
She threw money down on the cafe table and wandered out into the street, not knowing or caring where she headed. She sat on a bench in a small park until dark. Her mind was reeling from what she'd learned, and she struggled to understand what it meant for her now that everyone else involved was dead.
Carmen walked for a few more hours, then hailed a cab and went back to her hotel. She drew a steaming bath and sank into the soothing water. In the end, she decided it didn't really matter at all. Knowing how she'd come to be didn't change her. That was something separate, unaffected.
Tomorrow she'd call Trevor Scott and put the rest of Edgar's mysteries behind her. And the day after that, she'd start the rest of her life knowing exactly who and what she was.
24-Hour Short Story Contest Entry (subsequently edited)