The whole truth is an excerpt from Book IV, A Family Affair by Bernard Preston
‘No, you bloody well can’t have half an hour of my time. Why are you following me like this?’
‘I told you, Peter, all I want is half an hour to explain everything. Then I’ll leave you alone. I promise.’
It was only ten days since their fraught meeting at Peterhouse in distant South Africa. Santie had been aghast to hear from Mabel that Peter had precipitately resigned his teaching job of twenty years, and fled, telling only his principal, and giving not even a day’s notice. Cannily, she had wormed out from Peter’s mother that he had left within days for the west coast of Ireland, asking her to get packers to put everything into storage.
Nervously, now that the moment so long planned had finally arrived, Santie leant her cycle against Peter’s and sat, not too close, next to the unwitting father of her child. A dull thunder of the waves far below and the gentle whisper of the wind through the tufts of grass on the cliff top were the only sounds to disturb the silence. A gull surfed the currents of air striking the cliff, with the only option of rising straight up. The rolling waves, and the setting sun had them both entranced, and gave her a few moments to prepare her thoughts.
The whole truth as Santie is devastated that Peter resigned precipitously on hearing her revelation.
‘Well, get on with it. It’ll be dark in an hour.’ Peter was clearly rattled. Santie’s declaration that Carlo was his son had shaken the middle-aged bachelor. ‘You know perfectly well we’ve never slept together, so where on earth did you get the outrageous notion that I’m Carlo’s father?’
It was less than a month since June’s twenty-first “conception party” when Peter’s life had been turned on its head. In a moment the staid bachelor, bed-rock teacher at a famous high school for boys, was astounded to discover he was the father of three adult children. But at least he knew that he’d slept several times with Janet, their mother. Now a fourth…
Clearing her throat, Santie asked: ‘Do you remember the day…’ cocking her head, thinking … about nineteen years ago when Janet met you at float-building when you were still at uni?’
‘Yes,’ he said curtly.
‘Well, I don’t know exactly what happened, but …’
‘She seduced me!’ Peter said angrily, edging a little further away from her, staring rigidly out over the ocean, crossing and uncrossing his legs irritably. ‘You’ve got four minutes left,’ he said tersely, more agitated than ever.
’Well, what you don’t know is that Janet arrived home with a test-tube of … Santie hesitated … of your semen,’ she rushed headlong on.
‘Your semen. She squeezed it out of the condoms after you had gone to sleep.’
‘Yes! That same day we were both inseminated by our gynae with your semen.’
‘How could you! That’s monstrous!’
The sun was setting majestically in a fiery ball, mysteriously changing oval-shaped, seemingly with tongues of fire shooting out over the sea. Was this really where Columbus set out for the New World Santie wondered, astonished at the irrelevant thought. ‘I must confess that I’m embarrassed at Janet’s ingenuousness. It was her idea.’
‘This is totally ridiculous. Just a month ago I was a bachelor, happily without a worry in the world. Not you tell me that I’m the father of four children.’
‘There’s one mitigating factor, Peter. You have four very lovely children. I haven’t come here with a paternity suit. I support Carlo. But he wants to know who his father is. And I promised to tell him when he’d finished school.’
The sun was half sunk. They both stared, fascinated, distracted, and unfamiliar with a west coast sunset. Santie came from Johannesburg, central in South Africa and Peter from the east coast. Many times he’d watched the sun rise from his sea-kayak whilst fishing off Durban. Peter jumped up cutting her short. ‘Well, are you finished? We’d better get down to Kilkee or we’ll be stranded up here after dark.’
The small town was a hive of activity, thronging crowds jostling for places at the restaurant tables set out along the promenade. Peter and Santie had to brake hard coming down the steep incline. ‘What on earth is happening here?’ asked Santie. ‘It’s a book town, famous for its shops with hundreds of thousands of old musty books. I hope we can find rooms,’ Peter replied.
They’d had the last two nights separate rooms, of course. The only hotelier in the town shook his head. ‘Even with a shoe-horn I couldn’t squeeze you in. Try the B&Bs.’ Anxiously, they pedaled up and down the streets, but all the B&Bs had ‘No vacanies’ hung up. Finally on the very edge of the town they found a room. ‘A couple just left suddenly after a quarrel,’ the woman said, hopeful of renting the room twice.
‘Only one room?’ asked Santie anxiously. ‘I’m afraid so, my dear,’ the owner said, realizing they weren’t a couple. ‘We’ll take it,’ said Peter. Turning to Santie he said: ‘I’ll sleep on the couch. We’ve no other option.’
Neither Peter nor Santie were in the mood for dinner, after her revelations, but the owner agreed to scramble them a couple eggs on toast, and to provide a sleeping bag for the couch. Neither of them were used to preparing for bed with a person of the other sex. Awkwardly, using the bathroom they made ready for the night. Santie tried to read but, distracted, soon gave up. It was Peter who broke the pregnant silence. ‘How long did you and Janet live together?’
‘More than twenty years, I guess. Since we started our articles in Johannesburg.’
‘Janet lied to me. She told me you were accountants. And of course called herself Jane.’
‘She did it so you wouldn’t be able to find her,’ Santie answered lamely, turning slightly, wondering if she could see Peter in the dark. There was just an outline on the couch.
‘So you were lovers? What caused you to break up?’
There was an embarrassing silence. ‘I had an affair.’
‘With a man?’
‘No,’ answered Santie uncertainly, wondering where all this was leading. Who would have thought only two weeks ago that she would be sleeping in the same room with a strange man, tens of thousands of miles away from home. Santie had never before shared a room with a man. ‘With a woman. In fact with several women. I got sucked into a nasty group. I’ve never slept with a man.’
‘So you’re a lesbian?’ Pausing, Peter went on: ’Is that what broke up your relationship with Janet? Excusing me prying, but I’d like to know more about the mothers of all these children of mine!’ Santie couldn’t make up her mind if he was teasing or angry. ‘Yes,’ she replied eventually.
‘But Janet doesn’t mind who she sleeps with?’
‘It’s not like that at all. As far as I know she’s only had a relationship with you and me. I’m the one who was wayward. Stupidly.’
‘Do you love her? Would you like to get back together?
‘Yes, very much, but she won’t have me. I can’t say I blame her.’
There was another long silence. ‘Do you think Janet ever loved me? Just a bit?’
Santie thought about that. ‘That wasn’t the idea in the beginning, but yes she did grow to love you. More than a bit I should think; it caused a considerable amount of friction between us.’
‘So what was the idea in the beginning?’
‘Peter, I really don’t want to talk about this. It’s too personal.’
‘That’s a cop-out, Santie. You started this by following me. Now I want to know.’
‘I suppose willy-nilly we are now going to have more to do with each other,’ sighed Santie.
‘Damn right. So why did Janet, Jane as I knew her, start chasing me?’
‘You probably don’t know but she had another son. She was raped by her boss, but the bastard kidnapped the boy when he was only two. It was only quite recently the lad contacted us for the first time. But anyway, Janet went into a terrible depression. It became truly life-threatening. She wouldn’t eat and when she got down to only 46 kilograms, the only doctor she trusted, her gynae, came up with a suggestion.’
‘And that was?’
‘Well not at first. The gynae recommended the semen bank, but Janet came up with the strange notion that it was like stud farm.’
‘So she wanted a real man. Me. She raped me, the bitch. You have no idea, Santie, how you two women have ruined my life. I lie in a cold bed, night after night.’
‘I’m truly sorry, Peter. So you’ve never met anyone else?’
‘Not after my fiancé broke off our relationship. Damn it, Santie, were you party to that too?’
‘Absolutely not. Janet never even told me she wanted a third child. She knew I would have created. First I heard of that tryst was when Janet missed her period. She did deeply regret though that your fiancé found out about it.’
There was another long silence broken only by the sounds of distant revelry. Eventually Peter joked: ‘Those bookworms know how to party.’ Then more seriously, ‘So who are you, Santie. A lawyer? You’re something more aren’t you? A judge?’
Santie bit her tongue, not want to let her identity slip out. It wouldn’t do if he found out that she’d been a judge in the Constitutional Court. ‘I’ve been in government. I was in charge of dealing with the Aids epidemic.’
‘Oh, that’s where I saw your name. Right. And now? Were you said.’
When Santie never answered, Peter repeated said, ‘Well?’
‘It’s too embarrassing, Peter. I don’t want to discuss it.’
‘Remember I don’t want to be here either, Santie. It’s your choice that we’re stuck in this lousy room together.'
‘Well, I suppose having come this far, you might as well know the whole truth. I was caught in a sting. Those women who enticed me into their lair filmed me unbeknown to me in very awkward circumstances. They turned it into a blue movie, and then when I was appointed to high office they started to blackmail me. I resigned last week from government.’
‘Ha, so you’re a fugitive too!’ Peter snorted.
‘Call it killing two birds with one stone.’
Peter lay thinking about his strange relationship with the two women. Gradually the old anger re-formed itself, building with a new vengeance, despite his growing admiration for Santie. She didn’t seem to have Janet’s guile and deceitfulness. But undoubtedly they had toyed with him, using him for their own purposes. ‘If rape is about impregnating a woman without her consent, what is using a man’s semen forcibly without his consent?’ he demanded.
‘I never used any force to obtain your semen!’ Santie replied, irritated at where the discussion was leading.
‘Okay not forcibly then, but deceitfully and without his consent,’ he pressed.
‘To my knowledge it’s never been tested in the courts.’
‘It wasn’t violent, but in a sense you raped me too, Santie. I feel like I was raped. You may not have planned it but I have a real sense that you were an accomplice to Janet’s scheming.’ Peter had raised his voice.
‘No, it was never like that.’
‘Simply by accepting my semen, stolen goods, you became an accessory. And in case, you must have known what was brewing. You knew that Janet didn’t want to go to the semen bank. You were with her there at Castleburn when we first met, being all sweet. You must have known.’
‘I was against it from the beginning, Peter. Remember, Janet and I were lovers. She was my partner. I was devastated that she wanted to sleep with you. Yes, I’ll admit that I did know that she desperately wanted you to father her child. In the end it was my love for her that allowed me to let her do it. Remember she was on the edge of a life-threatening depression. Literally, she was starving herself to death. What we never realized was hard to catch you would play.’
Santie’s shame was palpable. ‘I’ll admit the sleeping tablets were my idea. I’ve regretted it ten thousand times ever since.’
Peter was strangely elated. ‘So my father was right. She did drug me!’
‘Yes, I’m afraid she did.’
‘And you still deny that you are an accomplice? Rapists both of you,’ Peter retorted bitterly.
‘But you have four beautiful children, Peter. Remember that.’
‘Four bastard, illegitimate children more likely.’ Peter turned abruptly onto his side, away from her. Santie sensed him sobbing silently.
‘Bastard perhaps, Peter,’ she said eventually, ’but certainly not illegitimate. They were born into a very loving family,’ ending lamely.
Peter lashed back: ‘So what do you want from me?’
‘I’d like us to tell him. Together.’
‘You tell him. And make sure you bloody well tell him how he was conceived too!’Bernard Preston » A family affair » The whole truth
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