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“What are you talking about? What truth?” Gertrude asked her daughter.
Judith took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. She knew it would be hard to tell her mother the secret that had been kept from her for so many years. The secret that was kept from her to spare her delicate condition. The horrible truth behind Edward’s death that would have devastated her. It was possible that thirty years later the truth might still shock and hurt her.
“Will someone please tell me what is going on?” Gertrude asked.
“Mother,” Judith said. She had started to wring her hands together. It was a nervous habit she had as a child when she had to confess her misdeeds to her mother. Even as an adult, Judith still played the role of the child at times.
“It’s about Edward. He …” Judith started to explain.
“What does this have to do with Edward?” Gertrude interrupted. “You and Myron were talking about sending me away. I still have all of my cards together. Now stop this nonsense,” she said.
“As I was saying, there is something about Edward that you don’t know, that you should know, Mother. He, he …” Judith stopped, then looked at her son. He nodded to go on.
“It wasn’t an accident that he died, Mother. Edward killed himself. He went to Indian Road Woods, rigged the brakes on his old Chevy Nova, then sat in the parking lot drinking for several hours. When he was filled with enough liquor to host a party, he drove out to Central Avenue and put his foot on the gas pedal as fast as he could go, watching the tall thin trees speed by him until he crashed. Dad found a note in his room sometime afterward. Edward had written that he couldn’t live up to the pressure of being a perfect son. He had failed to get into his top choice of graduate school and did not know what else to do. Dad said he would help Edward find a job, but Edward didn’t want his help. He didn’t want to live at home again. He didn’t want to hear y…” Judith cleared her throat before continuing. “…you telling all her friends how brilliant he was, how special he was, how talented he was, and how successful you told everyone he would be.”
There, she had finally said it. She had carried this secret with her for so many years. She had promised her father that she would never tell, but he was gone now. It had weighed her down like a big boulder, crushing her spirit and her relationship with her mother. She still loved her. It had always been difficult living in Edward’s shadow, but it was even worse to compete for her mother’s love with the imperfect ghost of her dead older brother.
For once, Gertrude had no words. She sat in silence. Myron and Judith watched her. Then a sound came leaking out of the old woman’s body, filled with anguish and mourning. It rose and fell in jagged peaks, like the lines on a heart monitor. It elicited goosebumps. Judith let the sorrow fill the room, then waited for some of it to leave before she spoke again.
“Mother, I’m so sorry,” Judith told her. “His ashes are not in the backyard like you think, either. They are in that old flour tin on top of the cabinet in the kitchen. You can take them with you if you want.”“Why would you keep something like that from me? I deserved to know the truth like everyone else, “ Gertrude said, her voice weak from wailing.
“Dad just wanted you to move on with life again after Edward died. Then when you idolized him even more after his death, he wasn’t sure how to break the news to you. Keeping it a secret seemed the best solution. But it made our relationship worse.” Judith finished telling her mother.
Gertrude got to her feet and walked to her room, closing the door behind her. She remained shut in there all day and refused to join Judith for dinner. She did not appear the next day at breakfast, and had locked her bedroom door. Gertrude was now the pouting child, and Judith the concerned mother, issuing threats through the door.
Summer drew to a close as children returned to school. They plodded along in new shoes and empty backpacks eager to be more grown up. Leaves of amber, crimson and pale ale covered the sidewalks where Gertrude had pushed baby carriages, Edward had skinned his knees and Judith had jumped rope.
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The sun was hot and it was only eight in the morning. A woman with hair the color of trod upon snow and tight polyester pants lifted up her garage door and began the task of arranging the multitude of items littered around the dusty floor and tables. Like items together: jewelry, books, baskets, clothes, purses. From time to time she glanced up from her organizing, watching for potential customers. A woman in her late twenties or early thirties walked up to the garage.
“Well hello. I have the perfect cameo pin that would match your blouse. It belonged to my mother. Or perhaps you’re the crafty kind? I have a beautiful set of crochet hooks, that also belonged to my mother. Or a like-new handbag? My mother had a purse to match each one of her outfits. She was fashionable in her younger days. All of her friends called her the Jackie O. of the neighborhood, ” Judith said as she smiled.
The woman murmured “no, thank you,” and continued walking. Judith sat in a chair and cried for the first time in thirty years.