We were in the apartment over the flower shop when I told Marlo I loved her and that I loved Candy too. She broke down and cried and I was ashamed when she said, in her little voice, “If you love Candy I’ll learn to live with it, even if I don’t like it.” I told her that Jeannette wanted me to tell her I didn’t love Candy and she became furious, and told me to leave.
That evening, Jeannette agreed to meet with me again and talk about it. I took her to the Bird Cage and we sat in the same booth McClenden and I had sat in when he told me that Marlo had been gang raped.
I admitted that I was incapable of lying to Marlo and that I had told her everything. Her eyes flashed in anger and then were philosophical and finally sad.
She said, “I should have known it would come to this.”
“Everything will work out,” I said, reassuringly.
“You fool,” she said, looking at the table, but her voice was soft and almost tender.
My pride was hurt and I stifled the reflexive, angry feeling that rose up to cover the pain.
She said, “I was wrong.” and looked up at me, resigned. “You were right to be honest. I was dreaming.”
“At least I told Marlo I love her.”
She put her elbows on the table and her head in her hands. Her dark curls fell onto her cheeks. She said, “I need a drink.” The dark mascara shadow was painted under her lower eyelids again and she seemed infinitely beautiful and yet not beautiful at all. Her upper body twisted suddenly towards the bartender behind her and I was lost for a moment in the shimmering light and shadow of her hair. Holding her fingers in a victory sign, she ordered two Manhattans. The bartender came over and asked for my ID even though I was certain that he recognized me. Sweat broke out on my forehead as I dug my wallet from my back pocket and handed him my driver’s license.
After he left, she raised the glass to her lips and drank ceremoniously. “For starters,” she said, placing the glass in front of her like a little shield, “it’s my opinion, and I admit it is only an opinion, that your mother killed your father.”
I snorted, “I guess I’ve never thought of that.” I paused and looked into her eyes to see if she was serious. She was. I said. “You know how I feel about my mother.”
“She loves me in Christ.”
I was offended by the edge of white teeth that appeared through her parted lips. Then her face softened and she sipped from her glass.
I said, “Women aren’t good mothers just because they’re born female. I forgive her.”
“For murder?” Her voice was sardonic.
“For not being a good mother.”
She said, “Forgiveness is the message of Christianity, isn’t it.”
I assented with my eyes but the thought of my mother killing my father was absurd.
She added, “Hatred destroys the hater and love exalts the lover. Why can’t those goddammed Christians learn the message of their Savior?”
I said, “I don’t know.”
“She killed him.”
I felt my heart beating. I asked, simply, “Why?”
“Your mother was the only person who knew that I was planning to run away with your father.”
I blinked. She took my hand, moved by my sudden emotion.
I asked, “How did she find out?”
“I don’t know. But one thing she didn’t find out was that I was pregnant with your father’s child.”
I stared at her.
She said, “You think I’m crazy don’t you?”
“Tell me why you think my mother killed him. What is the evidence?”
“Your father and I planned to run away with Candice and Marlo.”
I stared in disbelief.
She said, “We were 22 years old. We didn’t know anything.”
I tried to say something moralistic, but I couldn’t form a sentence.
“Robert Hollyfield was a mistake for me and Rhonda Bradford was a mistake for your father. We loved each other.” She fixed her eyes on mine again. “He loved me Brad.” Her voice vibrated with emotion. I watched as she regained her composure.
plan was for him to meet me and Marlo at a restaurant
She stared at me with wide eyes.
“Tell me, what happened.”
“She went down on her hands and knees and raved like a madwoman. I was paralyzed with fear. I couldn’t move.” She looked into my eyes for a few silent, terror-filled seconds and then emptied her glass.
I said, “My mother’s like that.”
She said, “Rhonda never knew that Candice was your father’s daughter. Hollyfield doesn’t know either.”
The bartender was laughing in the dark, behind her. He was standing behind the bar, about twenty feet away, holding a glass up to the light in one hand and a white towel in the other. His head was moving back and forth and his eyes were closed. Suddenly and improbably, it occurred to me that he might be crying.
“The look on her face, the emotion in her voice. I had never seen her like that before.”
“She’s an evangelist.”
“Your father loved me Brad. We planned it for a year.” A lone tear formed at the corner of her eye. “And I’m sorry to say...” She looked around to make sure we were alone. “... He hated your mother.” For the first time, I noticed a tiny mole on her left cheek near her mouth. I found myself staring at the strands of hair that covered her forehead and seemed to disappear into her dark, painted eyebrows.
“A lot of people hate my mother.” We sat in silence for a moment. I asked, and there was desperation in my voice, “Is Marlo my sister too?”
A sad smile appeared on her face. She put her hand on mine. “I didn’t even meet your father until after Marlo was born.” She touched my cheek. “Marlo is Robert Hollyfield’s daughter, all right. She’s not your sister.”
“And Hollyfield raised my sister, Candy, as if she were his own daughter. Because he didn't know that she wasn't. And you are Candy’s mother. At least he knew that.”
“Are my father and Hollyfield brothers?”
“Of course not.”
I shook my head in disbelief.
` “I told you. Bob and Bill met on the Warner Brothers lot. They were stunt men for Todd Hunter. They looked alike from a distance and people used to think they were brothers but no one ever thought they were twins.”
“This is beginning to sound like a bad novel.”
“I’m telling the truth.” She signaled the bartender for two more Manhattans.
“Jeannette. I’ve looked at all the evidence and I don’t see anything that even remotely suggests that my mother killed my father. If you can think that Rhonda Bradford killed my father why should I believe you when you say Candy is my sister?”
She was silent and I thought she was weighing the possibility of not answering. She said, evasively, “Your mother’s maid told the detective Hal Lipset that Rhonda burned a lot of papers in the fireplace the day before we were planning to leave. Hal couldn’t prove they were my love letters but he managed to retrieve some charred pieces of paper that had my handwriting on them. And no one has ever found the love letters”
“So she was jealous,” I said, “and she burned them. So what.”
She was silent.
I said, “Well?”
“There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence. Your mother’s psychotic behavior that night for example.”
A look of terror came into her face and her eyes widened. Then a wave of panic passed through my body as I contemplated the possibility that her suspicions were true and that my mother really had murdered my father.
“Hollyfield and I never slept together again after your father’s death, and we had horrible fights.”
“Did Hollyfield find out about your affair?”
“No. But he must have known something, subconsciously at least.” She fixed me with her dark, magnetic eyes. “After one of our fights he said I wasn’t a fit mother.”
“It sounds like pure projection.”
next day, Marlo disappeared. I became frantic and
went to see Rhonda because I knew she was the only person he would listen to.
She wasn’t home but the maid came to the door with Marlo
in her arms. She thought Rhonda was crazy too, I guess. Anyway, she dropped
Marlo in my arms and I ran. I stayed in
I squeezed her shoulder. A pained, apologetic look came into her face. “I was forced into it Brad.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. Drinking.” She took out a Kleenex and wiped her face. “My face is a mess.” She blew her nose and I helped her wipe mascara from her cheeks.
continued, “I descended into madness, for three years. Then, one night, Marlo was sexually molested by a trick.” Her mouth dropped
open and she looked at the expression on my face. It must have expressed horror.
“That was the night I stopped drinking. The next morning, I packed all of our
belongings into two suitcases and moved to
I stared down at my empty glass. I felt very young and I didn’t know what to say.
“Rhonda and Hollyfield never found me. I don’t think they tried very hard. I think they were glad to get rid of me.” She looked into my eyes for sympathy and then back at the circle of brown liquid. “Then you showed up.” She tossed the remaining liquid into her mouth and swallowed with a grimace.
We went to her apartment, had another drink and sat together on the couch. I said, “I’m sorry I’ve caused you so much trouble. I’m sorry I came into your life.”
“Marlo was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen before I met Candy.”
“So you do love her.” She paused. “Your sister.”
“Candy’s not my sister!”
She sighed and closed her eyes.
I said, “I don’t care about biology.”
She opened her eyes and took my hands in hers.
I said, “I’m confused. I don’t know what to do.”
She squeezed my hands. She said, “The burden must be immense.”
“It is.” I repeated her word, “Immense.”
She pulled my hands to her face and kissed the back of one. Again, the absurd thought was there that it was Jeannette I loved.
“Don’t tell Candy or Marlo anything yet.”
She was silent.
I said, “I might never tell Candy that she’s my sister.”
“I see your father’s face, when he was 22.”
“Will you promise.”
She said, “I promise. Come here. Put your head on my shoulder.” She opened her arms. “Now, tell me why you don’t love my daughters.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Marlo told me.”
I cleared my throat and said, coloring slightly, “Well, do you know Stendhal’s book, On Love.”
I tell you I was working on my Ph.D. in French, at
I stared at her, self-consciously and I couldn’t find anything to say.
“I have to tell you something.”
“I stopped believing Rhonda killed your father a long time ago. Something came over me tonight, that’s all. Your face reminded me of your father I guess. Being so close to you. I don’t know. It all came back. All the poison and despair.” She kissed my hair. “I think its over now, for good.”
I got down on my knees in front of her and put my hands on the couch, on either side of her. “I have to tell you something too.”
She stared down at me.
“I’ve never in my life met women like you and Marlo and Candy. What I feel for all of you is much greater than love. It’s beyond words.”
She sighed. “I suppose you have such a great need to love and be loved by women because of Rhonda.”
“What do you mean.”
“What I mean is, your mother has the soul of a timber wolf. Dr. Orenstein said she was a psychopath. Your father agonized over leaving her because of what he thought might happen to you.”
“My grandfather shielded me from her and she wasn’t around much when I got older.”
She looked down at me with tender eyes. “You don’t remember anything about me, do you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Didn’t Dr. Orenstein tell you anything about me?”
“Yes. A little bit.”
“Did he tell you that I changed your diapers while your mother and my husband were casting out devils and lining their pockets?”
“Your father and I thought they were funny at first, but they became a very bad act, very fast. Did you know that the vice squad almost put them out of business during that period?”
“And who do you think was your mother during that time?”
“I don’t know.” I looked up. “I guess you were.”