Secrecy of Sin
by Gerdun (Gerald Dunnett)
Tom Sinclair trudged the meandering River Thurso in search of his first salmon of the year. His father had forced him from his warm bed to join him in their yearly competition on the opening of the salmon season. The day was bitter even for the North of Scotland. A fresh layer of snow had fallen overnight, which left the valley blanketed in white.
‘This is a perfect spot,’ declared his dad in hip waders. He flicked his line into an expanse of deep pools. The fly flew to the far bank, tempting anything in the water’s depths. ‘I can spy a beastie here, Tam, for sure.’
‘Aye, ye said the last time too,’ Tom’s face remained sour hating this nickname, and his nose tingled in the icy air. He wanted to complain about the cold but bit his tongue as he stared at his dad standing waist deep in the inky water. He father had returned from Sword Beach on D-Day with one arm. Unperturbed, he designed a crafted harness, which held his fishing rod close to his chest allowing him to fish one-handed.
A ‘whoop’ came from downriver. The surface erupted, and a huge salmon raced away. ‘I told ye, Tam… what did I tell ye?’
Tom followed with envy and admiration as his father executed a chaotic choreography. The line howled, and he planted his feet and grabbed the reel, the rod bending. He fought against the strain by bending forwards and then leaning backwards, reeling in and releasing. The fish jumped into the air, and he whooped again. By the time Tom arrived to help, the fish lay defeated in his father’s lap.
‘Isn’t she a beauty? Must be at least fourteen pounds,’ He caressed the silver scales with a kindness that made Tom jealous because he never received any tenderness from this man. ‘I told ye, didn’t I? Use the Hairy Mary fly.’ He shoved his soft, black hair away from his eyes with the back of his hand.
’Aye Dad, ye beat me again.’ His stomach churned.
‘Why didnae ye mind me, Tam?’ He jabbed a finger at his son, eyebrows drawn.
His face darkened. ‘Well, I… I wanted to beat ye… fair and square,’ he replied, crossing his arms and hiding the knowledge that he had been using this fly all day.
The silence remained uncomfortable. His Dad rose, towering well above Tom’s head of bushy, ginger hair. Tom took a step backwards, threatened as always by this imposing figure.
‘Never ye mind. I’ll make a fisherman out of ye yet,’ He snorted and ruffled his hair.
Tom reddened with embarrassment and jerked his head back. In five weeks, it would be his sixteen birthday. He was restless and had decided to escape the town of Thurso and everything he despised here. He had found a postcard from his uncle Johnny in his mum’s bedroom–it featured beautiful, scenic, faraway beaches. He dreamt of joining the Merchant Navy and seeing the world, introducing himself as Tom, Tommy or even Thomas but never Tam.
‘We better get ye back home. This beastie will make your mam happy, though,’ Donald announced, placing the salmon into his Hessian satchel. ‘She’ll be worried sick. Can you see that sky? It must be near supper time.’
Mary opened her eyes and squinted at the light streaming in through the window from the lamppost. A Nat King Cole song drifted from the wireless. She stretched, relaxed, and basked in the heat that emanated from behind the wire-grated fireplace. The knocking roused her because it was loud and desperate. She wondered who this could be so late in the afternoon.
Her daughter, Susan, stood head down trying her best to resemble Doris Day with her dyed blonde hair cut short . She wore a brown knitted swing coat cinched tight around her waist. ‘Why didn’t you answer?’ she questioned her face a mess from running make-up. ‘Why is the door locked?’
‘I was… Now, hold on a minute,’ Mary stood, legs apart, guarding the doorway. ‘No sight or sound of you for ages, and not even a ‘how are you, Mum?’ You cannot just waltz back in here from Edinburgh like there is no tomorrow,’ Mary yelled, shocked and concerned at her daughter’s appearance, she is all skin and bones since moving to Edinburgh and living the high life… not my baby girl anymore.
‘Mother, you’re never going to believe this,’ Susan brushed past her mother and darted into the sitting room.
‘So, what have you done now?’ Mary barked, shutting out the cold draft. ‘What trouble have you gotten yourself into this time?’ She shouted and entered the room behind Susan. ‘Well, spit it out,’ Her hands were at her sides–she braced for bad news .
‘Jack has found out.’
‘Jack?… Jack who? Found out what? Whatever are you talking about, Sue?’ Mary asked, her brow furrowed.
‘Tom’s father… Remember?’ Susan’s mouth was grim.
‘Oh, oh dear… Oh, my sweet Jesus, no,’ Mary said, now at her side.
‘Indeed… What can we do, Mummy?’ Her voice was a young girl. She was no longer the precise lady she had worked so hard to become. Gone were the airs and the graces and the arrogance.
The silence continued for some time.
‘Let me make you a cup of tea,’ Mary stated.
‘Tea, tea… How is TEA going to help us?’ Susan screamed, waving her arms around. ‘Jack is coming here today. I saw him in Edinburgh yesterday. I don’t understand how he found out after all these years, but he wants to see Tom. He says he will tell him…’
‘Susan,’ said Mary, in a quiet voice grasping her hand. ‘We always understood that this day would come.’ She gave Susan a long hug. ‘We could never have kept this secret forever.’
Soon, they both began to cry.
Such was the scene that greeted Tom and his father when they returned home.
‘Who died?’ asked his Dad.
‘No one,’ Mary said, glancing at Tom. ‘Susan is just… upset, all right?’
‘You okay, sis?’ Tom asked. Her crying worsened so much that he backed away, retreating into the kitchen.
He could catch their murmurous voices which sounded quick and quiet. In between muttered sentences, he overheard his father’s voice shouting staccato phrases like ‘Who?’ ‘What?’ and ‘When?’ An eerie silence followed.
Tom returned to the living room, his father stood by the mantelpiece, staring into the fire. His sister and mother were both considering their hands.
‘Well…is anyone going to tell me what’s going on?’ He asked.
The knock made everyone jump–except for Tom, who went to answer the door. The man standing there wore a pinstripe jacket white shirt and navy-blue polka dot tie. He seemed uncertain and began to gaze, scanning Tom’s eyes. Soon, a smile spread across his face.
‘You must be Thomas,’ the stranger thrust out his arm, shaking his proffered hand with enthusiasm. ‘My name is Jack, pleased to meet you. I’m your father .’
‘What is this man talking about?’ Tom presented himself and this man to the room, imploring the others for help. His father stared with high interest at the fire which popped. He changed the position of the coals with a poker. Susan’s face grew pale and pinched, and she continued to stare at her hands. Only his mother rose to greet him, offering him a chair to sit.
‘I’ll get some drinks, shall I?’ said his father, lips pursed and headed for the larder.
‘Hi Mrs Sinclair, long time no see, hey?’ said Jack, with a half-smile and a nervous chuckle.
‘Mum, can you please tell me who this man is?’ Tom challenged again.
Mary approached and faced him, searching his blue eyes and holding his shoulders. ‘This man is your father–your real father.’
Tom tilted his head and narrowed his eyes at Jack. ‘My… my father, but you… I mean, you and Dad…’ He sat down in a daze, shaking his head.
‘It was during the war, Tom. Your sister. I mean your Mum… Susan . Well, you see…’ Mary stammered.
‘She… is WHAT?’ Tom’s face was mottled, and his teeth grimaced.
‘I didn’t have any knowledge that you were my son, Thomas, I promise you. I wish I knew, I would have been here for you,’ said Jack his voice trembling.
His Dad entered with a silver tray full of glasses and decanters. He poured himself a generous glass of whiskey and downed it in one gulp. Then, he gazed around examining the scene.
‘Aye Tam, this is the truth. I’m not your dad. We did it for Susan. We did it because we wanted to give her, and you, a better life. We…she was only fifteen, Tam. Your age. Can —’
Susan peered up at the roof and screamed. ‘Will you all put a sock in it? Jack, you are a stubborn bastard. You would not let this go. I told you yesterday… You are not his father.’
‘What?’ the room cried in unison.
‘What do you mean, Susan?’ asked Jack. ‘Have you gone mad? We…’
‘I was with someone else, Jack…this was before I met you. That is why I slept with you because I was already pregnant. I didn’t want my parents to know who the real father was.’ Susan revealed .
‘What?’ gasped everyone, the shock palpable.
‘Who?’ inquired her father, his face hard.
All eyes turned to Susan. Her shoulders were bent, and her face had gone grey.
‘Well? Tell me, Goddammit,’ He demanded.
‘It’s Jonathan,’ she whispered. ‘Your brother, Dad. Jonathan is Tom’s father .’
The room became deathly silent.
Tom moved slow and stood in front of this woman. His fists clenched tight. He was unsure what he might do. His nostrils flared, and he could imagine pummelling her face bloody.
‘You are a fucking bitch.’ He hissed and spat on her face. He turned around, daring someone to defend her. Then he walked out the room with no intention of returning.
I was born in the Caithness, Scotland. My story Secrecy of sin has it setting from here. However, my family moved to central Africa, Zambia in 1974 when I was six years old. At the age of twenty-six, I had a road traffic accident which crushed my spine and left me paralysed from the neck down and permanently wheelchair-bound.
My first journey in the life of a full-time wheelchair user was to go back to university and study. I completed an MSc diploma in therapeutic counselling which I used to help other disabled people and family members to deal with the traumas of daily life and their disability.
Recently, I decided to do another degree, a BA in creative writing and philosophy. I am now completing my final year, and what had started as a pastime has become a passion. I am surprised and honoured that the WritingForums.com has recognised my work. The publication is pushing me onwards towards…