The Cursed Year, the Year of Bliss

  short story by Sha’Tara – part 8

“How it ends”

I slept like a log and woke up the next morning around 10 AM with a slight headache and some confused memories.  I remembered some words and somehow I felt better, less confused, less worried.  I wanted to write my story, that was all.

I took a longer than usual shower, took more time with my face and hair, fixed myself a good brunch of French toast with whipped cream and canned strawberries and got myself ready in an ankle-length plain brown skirt, a dark green sleeveless turtleneck top and pulled my hair back with a white band.  I pulled on a pair of black fake leather boots on two inch heels and put on a wide brimmed brown hat. I hefted my small black shoulder bag instead of the briefcase.  I needed sun glasses to complete the effect but I didn’t have any.  Then I remembered I had some change left from the tenner I’d gotten for the taxi.  I’d stop at a drug store and pick up a nice pair of glasses and a pair of black gloves.  I asked myself, was I trying to impress someone?  I smiled in the foggy mirror, then stuck out my tongue at myself: brat.

Raymond arrived promptly at one and deposited me in front of the Lonin Towers.  I was quickly and deferentially escorted to the penthouse.  Joe was waiting for me. 

“Good afternoon Helen.”

“Good afternoon Joe.  What’s on the agenda?”

He leaned back in his chair and looked me in the eyes.  “You are.  Please sit down.  I need to square something with you.  Serious, really serious.”  I nodded.  Serious – I can do serious.  I waited, listened.

“I was up all night completing some research and what I’m going to say to you now; what I’m going to reveal to you; might come across as if I’ve lost my mind.  It certainly did to my attorney, Frank Beck earlier this morning.  But I have to do this.”  He leaned forward and looked deep into my eyes.  I had trouble holding his intense gaze.  Then he completely threw me for a loop.  

“How much, do you think could I trust you?”  Tension in that question, the air seemed to crackle around me. 

“Weird question, I know, but bear with me here.  For instance, with proper, acceptable compensation, how far would you be willing to go for me, to cover for me?”

“How could I answer that Joe?  Would I jump off a bridge?  No.  Would I help you launder money, or channel drugs in or out of the country?  No.  Would I lie for you in court?  No.  Would I protect your interests inasmuch as I could understand a certain situation, and it was in my power to do so?  Yes.  Could you trust me in some legal – and note I’m saying “legal” with emphasis – transaction involving large sums of cash or property or with someone’s reputation?  Yes, to the best of my knowledge and ability, I would serve you in such capacity.”

He sighed deeply and leaned over his desk towards me. 

There were tears in his eyes.  I shook my head and looked again.  He was wiping his tears. Then he faced me again, extended his arm and opened his hand.  I instinctively placed my right hand in his and he held it tightly for several seconds,  saying nothing.

I ventured: “You want me to feel something; something you want to say but would rather I deduced for myself.”  He nodded, yes. 

I let my feelings flow freely through his grip.  And suddenly I understood, with a shock, what he wanted from me.  I let my mouth speak the craziest words I’d ever said, and I’ve said quite a few crazy things over the years, as I looked directly into his eyes.

“You want me as your heir, like if I were a daughter…”  I stopped, not knowing what else to say.  He nodded again, yes.  I realized he was finding speech very difficult, so I continued,

“But you know nothing about me, Joe.  I’m a stranger to you, a girl with no past, no future, no family, nothing.  A stray, a nobody.” 

A part of me wanted to tear my hand out of his and run from this, as far away as I could so I’d never be found again.  I’d fallen into another man-made nightmare that was going to tear me apart.  This time I felt trapped and really scared; scared because I couldn’t physically fight this man. I just couldn’t.   

Yet an equally powerful part of me went in the opposing direction, falling into his mood and I felt a great welling of compassion for that man.  I also felt a sense of belonging, as if the present was a formality between us, as if I’d been his daughter all along, and I’d been in a coma, and I’d just awakened.

I heard myself say with a quite reasonable tone of voice, “What’s going on here Joe?  What is happening?  I’m confused.  I feel as if I know you and somehow I belong here, with you.  Have I been drugged? Joe, please talk to me; level with me.”

He stood up, walked around the big teak desk and pulled me out of my chair.  He took my hair band off and ran his fingers through my hair.  He held me carefully, as if I was suddenly very fragile and his tears flowed freely now.  I heard him say, “Oh, God, thank you.  Thank you!”  I waited, comfortable in his arms and loving his fingers through my hair.  I leaned my head against his shoulder, waited.  Then I heard him say life-changing words in my ear.

“You’re my daughter, Suzanne, my daughter, my only child.” He paused again, just holding me for what seemed a long time.  Then he resumed,  “I will tell you a story that is hardly believable, but it will make sense to you eventually. 

“I married your mother twenty years ago.  It was one of those impulsive youth things.  She was young, beautiful, attractive, luscious and so full of promise.  She was an entertainer in a Toronto bar, a university girl who’d gotten trapped by drugs and into the sex trade.  I bought her freedom and kept her in a private apartment so my parents wouldn’t know about her right away.  Yes, a kept woman, but I was sincerely in love with her and determined to marry her.  I got her re-enrolled in university to legitimize her in the eyes of the family.  Eventually I convinced my mother to meet her. 

She was accepted in the family and we were married.  I bought us a suite uptown, quite luxurious, and all went well.  She finished her accountancy degree.  About two years later she got pregnant and nine months later, there you were.  So beautiful… such an incredibly beautiful baby. And I swore over your crib that you were going to have everything to make your life heaven.  We, well your mother actually, called you Suzanne.  You were my Susie and the world revolved around you.  Six months of perfect bliss between my new partnership at my dad’s firm, in this building, and home with you. 

Then it all went to hell. 

Your mother kidnapped you and disappeared from the radar of police and private investigators.  Nothing, not a trace.  She had planned her run very carefully; left no trace.   She took the money from her private account but didn’t close it so as not to arouse suspicion right away.  She’d also bled a substantial sum from a company account she had access to through her part-time position in the company.  Investigators concluded that she’d embezzled enough money to live comfortably practically anywhere in the world, enough to easily buy new identities for herself and you, allowing her to disappear forever. 

I must say, sadly, that the very last place anyone would have thought to look for her was in northern Alberta!  The police, the investigators, Interpol – we all thought, California, Costa Rica, Europe, England, France, Tuscany, Spain; the Caribbean, Brazil perhaps, the Philippines, even Japan.  I spent a fortune in stocks to keep investigators and Interpol looking: nothing, as if she’d taken you on a ship and vanished in outer space.  What really covered well for her is that she had a lover and she took his  name, effectively cutting all traces.  She had money, she did not need to apply for government money or get a job.  And in her new status, everything about her was legit and above-board.  As I said, no trace and we weren’t looking within the country, not until I hired a retired ex-FBI agent with a different approach to solving kidnappings.

“But I still don’t understand Joe.  How can you be so sure I am who you think? I don’t remember being called Suzanne.  Ok, how old am I?”

“You’re almost 17.  November 11th is your birth date.”

“True.  My mother didn’t change that then.  Any other proof?”

“You had a little birthmark just below and to the right of your belly button.  A tiny little starfish shape with one arm missing.”  My heart jumped.  I had that birthmark.

I couldn’t stop myself any longer.  Imagine the longing to belong after all I’d gone through, and my current state of loneliness.  I blurted:  “Dad?  Can I please call you dad?”  and I turned around and threw my arms around him.  We stood there, holding and crying for a long, beautiful, unforgettable moment in time.

But it was not over, not yet.  I still had questions, maybe not doubts as such, but definitely questions.

“When did you discover that this crazy girl was your own lost daughter?”

“Do you remember a fifty-something man in a black trench coat and a fedora kind of hat engaging several conversations with you on the train from Edmonton to Montreal?  Do you remember him buying you a few meals in the dining car and escorting you when your train was held up overnight in Winnipeg?”

“Yes, he said his name was Roger.  I remember him quite well.  He was rather annoying, insistent, I thought.  Kept asking me dozens of questions, especially about my childhood, and what I remembered, if anything, of my early Peace River farm days; said he was doing research in the history of Canada’s northern farmlands; their development, and he added he was especially interested in the movement of people, and what brought them to that lonely north country with so much against it, a country that truly belonged to bears, moose and muskrat and not human beings.  But I’m sure I didn’t say anything revealing, I didn’t, and still don’t, remember anything of that period.”

“Roger, well his real name is Stephen, is one of the last two private investigators I’ve had on your case through the years.  And you did reveal things.  They didn’t make sense to you because we’re sure your mother and her man drugged your milk so you wouldn’t remember anything that happened to you.  Even at six months old you may have been able to see things in your past and asked dangerous questions.  You “woke up” on the farm they’d bought with some of the money she’d stolen from the corporate account and you were brainwashed to think you were born in that house, not in the hospital and there would be no records because they hired a midwife for the delivery.  Remember them telling you this?”

“Yes, and for a time they made me feel special about it.  I was a true farm girl, born right in the family home, not in an impersonal hospital.  They wanted me to feel safe, secure and loved.  But things changed.  The man I called dad became an alcoholic and abusive.  Dangerous.  That’s why I ran away.  But how could I have an older brother on the farm?  What about Gene?  Did your guy tell you about the older brother?”

“That’s the key part.  Your mother’s lover already had a two-year old son you see.  This Gene is no relation to you and he’s got a big mouth.  He remembered things and bit by bit he told a story about his beautiful younger sister.  “She’s no kin of mine and I can legally fuck her,” he bragged to some acquaintances in a bar.  The story got told around and Roger heard about this and he did his math.  He did research on the family, then went looking for “the no kin of mine” younger sister.  He called me and told me he thought he had a substantial lead when you suddenly left your home.  He traced you to Grimshaw and got on the same bus to Edmonton.  He kept watch over you while you stayed in Edmonton and when you booked passage on the train to Montreal, he got on too.  He then contrived to have several conversations with you.  He’s a dedicated employee and as an ex-FBI operative, he knows his business.  He knew how to gain a degree of your trust without alarming you.  And he’s a bit psychic.  He told me that your decision to take the train to Montreal was an indicator you were being guided home.”

“That Roger guy on the train… you kept private investigators looking for me for 16 years?  You love me that much… dad?”

“I do.  There is no explanation for this kind of love.  It’s the kind that travels infinity and I’m convinced, lasts throughout eternity.  I sensed it when you were born, and I know it even more so at this moment.”  And he whispered it as he hugged me even tighter: “I love you, Susie.  Welcome home.”

[end of part 8 – How it ends]

(Teaser questions:
Will Suzanne write and publish her story about the City’s slums and their occupants?
Will she fulfill her dream of becoming a full-fledged investigative reporter?
Will she become a director of her father’s conglomerate news empire?
Will she return to the Peace River country and confront her mother?
Will there be indictments and criminal charges laid against the mother, and the step-father?)

 

 

 

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12 thoughts on “The Cursed Year, the Year of Bliss

  1. Dermott Hayes

    Two nights ago, about 2am, lying in bed, I began reading The Cursed Year and vowed then to wait, until I had time, to read it all at once. It is a cracking yarn. As a father of two girls and a grandfather with two grandsons, two things that will always worry me is how the world treats my daughters and how my grandsons will relate to the world. There is a paradox in that, one that I’ve always been aware of but my girls are strong women with a belief in themselves and their independence. Their sons will grow up with a respect for that. I spent 25 years working as a freelance journalist and those early years, with a young family and a mortgage, were the toughest and the happiest of my life.
    Helen’s story and travels, as they unfold, are compelling. Her distrust and independent resolve inform the story’s development but sometimes, in the narrative, as events unfold, you long, as a reader, to see her everyday engagements with the world around her; so that is not always a confrontation or reading like a list.
    As a former journalist, my immediate impulse, on reading the tale of the two muggers and the one, left bleeding and fatally wounded by his partner for the sake of a couple of dollars, was to think, there’s her passport to the front page and a job in the news’ pool.
    The ending, unfortunately, I found too implausible, not in its content but its construction. It reads like it’s been pasted on as an afterthought.
    I thought questioning how a digital clock ‘ticks’, very funny and wondered why you should call Macbeth, McBeth?

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Ah, thank you for that amazing in-depth probe at the story. I didn’t like the ending either, well, yes to the idea, but no to the construction – there’s a term for that construction, something about gods and creation, which escapes me at the moment, anyway, food for thought, and if I decide to “push” this story further, I can easily re-write that part. McBeth it MacBeth? Who knew? Just kidding, probably a spell-check caused error… got to blame someone, why not the robot? Hey, I suspected there was more to you… pleased to have you read my stuff, Dermott. Sounds like you are retired, so enjoy the days.

      Reply
      1. Dermott Hayes

        Not so much retired as incapacitated. Since January, I haven’t worked because I have a degenerative arthritic condition. In other words, while the spirit is willing, the body hauls itself around, leaning on a stick. I gave up journalism 14 years ago because I couldn’t stand it any longer – my last job was showbusiness editor of the Mail on Sunday (christ, it gives me goosebumps to write that). Since then I’ve tried to be true to my nature and be the writer I’ve always wanted to be and believed I am. To do that, I’ve earned a fraction of my old salary, live in a garret (literally) and for many years, worked as a waiter (I know, you should have a chuckle at that). I used to call myself a wraiter, geddit?

      2. Dermott Hayes

        By the way, I would be very pleased to provide you with a critical backdrop, if you like. Writers should always embrace criticism as there’s no way forward, I can see, without it. To say I despise the blander comments might be a bit strong but not so much. I’d prefer someone give me something to chew on, even if I disagree. But even then, in the face of a blanket of bland, one worries if to critique might be perceived as a cutting a hot knife through the marshmallow.

      3. Sha'Tara Post author

        Your offer is extremely kind, Dermott, especially coming from a professional journalist, which means you had to develop a thick skin along with a high degree of patience and humility to accomplish your goal of telling a story while “pleasing” your editors – I couldn’t begin to imagine. I’ll answer in kind: I can’t pay anyone to critique my work, so if you do it, it’s because you choose to do it, OK? Also, for what it’s worth, I don’t write for remunerative publication, not now, not in the future. I write things I feel that I cannot share with real human beings, so I create characters to say and do those things I would do but cannot. And I write to entertain myself, primarily, and others who share my kinds of sentiments, or my kind of humour. So writing is, for me, a kind of therapy, and for others, entertainment unless they can see the deeper “messages” in the stories and essays and perhaps benefit from some additional insights. The “Teachers” (as aspect of my life I definitely need to expound on at length here because I get so many questions on the subject) didn’t teach me how to write, but how to take a second, and longer, look at the cosmos and how it works from their point of view (non earth). I spent long hours translating into English, sometimes French, the “thought forms” they dropped like little pills of information in my mind while I was awake (usually driving) or sleeping, in dreams. A thought-form capsule can easily contain an entire novel. Most of what I received, I lost. What I managed to keep and assemble was, to me, quite revealing and amazing. Anyway, back to the topic, if you feel a strong desire to critique the work, and think there is gain in it, for you and for me, feel entirely free to do so. Take care o’ you, friend.

      4. Dermott Hayes

        I never mentioned remuneration, nor considered it, either. I like your style, that’s all. If I thought your writing was shit, I wouldn’t bother. You can’t teach people how to write, they must learn. They do that, as I’ve said before, by reading, writing, reading, writing and reading and writing some more. You learn by your mistakes how to tell a story. As for your teachers, well, you can tell me about them, if you wish, but I haven’t asked. Let’s take it like this, if you have questions I can answer then I’ll answer them. If there’s writing you want someone to read for a second opinion, I’ll be that opinion. Writing, for me, is like breathing for others. I wish I was far more successful than I am but I never doubt my ability to write . So enough of this remuneration stuff. As a writer, I feel obliged to help other writers.

      5. Sha'Tara Post author

        OK, let’s see where it goes, and maybe I can provide some satisfaction for your obligation 🙂

  2. Woebegone but Hopeful

    Not the ending I was expecting, but having said that it tended to set all sorts ideas wandering about my head.
    Is Joe all he seems? Is there an agenda there?.
    OR
    If Joe is genuine then is there a measure of a synchronicity working here to draw them together and why?
    OR
    Is Helen a catalyst is she drawing strands together about her by her nature?
    The story as a whole appealed to my sense of the OtherWorld.
    I reckon you should come back to this at sometime and see where it may lead.

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks for that comment. The story wanted to continue, the characters were screaming for more time to prove themselves, but “god” was tired and made that famous comment we hear so often these days: “It’s all good” and there you have it. I’m shooting for the same results God got from his Genesis experiment.
      “But God, you’re leaving them on their own, just like that? New world and all, and naked too?”
      “Don’t sweat it Mikey, I gave them a perfect start. Take my word for it, nothing bad is gonna happen, trust me on that.”

      Reply
  3. Sha'Tara Post author

    I probably will, but given the state of the union, climate change, summer, kayak dreams and, well, the fact that the moon is up again, what can I say… it may be a while.

    Reply

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