Professor Roberta Johnson, a distinguished forty-something Professor of Sociology fumbled in her purse for her door key while juggling two heavy Sociology textbooks and one fat loose leafed notebook. She managed to extract a heart-shaped fob holding a ring with two keys, which she immediately dropped onto the beige commercial tight-loop carpet that ran the length of the corridor and still bore the stench of the late summer installation. She bent and reached for the keys and dropped the notebook. She knelt on the carpet, retrieved the notebook and keys, stood, and once again attempted to manipulate the keys to unlock the entry door. She positioned the larger of the two keys in front of the lock as the notebook slipped forward causing her to grab for it to keep it from falling and cursed silently as the keys fell to the floor.
Roberta gave up. She knelt onto the floor fighting back the tears that would surely ruin her carefully touched up mascara. She sat her purse, the two textbooks and the haphazard binder on the floor, retrieved her keys and stood tall before the door.
She unlocked and opened the door of her condominium knowing that Jack, her student, mentee, and lover would be angry with her for being late. She retrieved her possessions from the hallway floor and stepped through the door. She looked and saw him sitting on the couch in the living room staring at a large opened book that was sitting in his lap. Even full across the condo she could see that his brow was wrinkled and his teeth were clenched, as they always were when he was upset or perplexed about something.
Roberta stepped into the entry kicked the door shut with the heel of her ankle boot. She turned to check her face, hair, and admire her figure in the mirrored panels that lined the vestibule. Satisfied with her appearance she moved to the kitchen island and deposited her things then turned to face Jack who was staring at her with a puzzled look on his face and the book now closed.
She took a step back shaking her head and said: “Sorry lover, the dean kept the advisory meeting going later than planned.”
“I’ve been waiting for over an hour.”
“I know, I know. I’ll make it up to you.”
She put her hand on her hips, tipped her head to one side, and smiled coyly: “Why my love, however you want, wherever you want, and whenever you want.”
Jack shook his head then bent it down and resumed looking at the book in his lap.
She crossed to the couch and set beside him. She looked at the obsolete textbook in his lap, wondered why she never threw it out, grinned at the oversight, and then kissed him on the cheek.
“That’s an old one,” she said. “I don’t think it has anything you can use for your dissertation.”
“No. I was just looking for a little historical perspective to contrast with my thesis.”
“How about a proper hello,” she urged, turning his face gently with her fingertips poised on his chin.
They exchanged a long intimate kiss then Jack opened the worn cover of the book and removed an old photograph. He closed the cover of the book and sat the photo face down upon it.
“I,” he said, “was hoping to find something from a couple of decades ago that was widely accepted then but that we would consider ludicrous today.”
“Did you?” she asked, wondering what was developed on the other side of the photo paper.
He turned the photo for her to see. “No, I found this.”
Roberta laughed and said: “I didn’t know there were any pictures left from the old days.” Damn, she thought, how’d I miss that one?
“Who’s the couple?”
Roberta shrugged, “Probably some old classmates. Ancient History.” She felt her face twitch with the confrontation of a ghostly reminder from the past she’d thought long since destroyed.
Jack took a deep breath, pointed, and said: “This girl is my mother: Louisa Ellen Kennewick.”
Roberta studied the girl in the photograph. She was scarcely a day over sixteen and very pretty by most standards with thick auburn hair and round maple syrup eyes that demanded the entirety of a man’s soul.
“She showed me this photo when I was maybe four or five. It was taken in the backyard of my grandparent’s house.”
Decades ago, she thought.
“She shredded it but I’ve remembered it ever since.” Jack pointed at photograph and asked: “You see this tree?”
Roberta nodded and answered with a gurgled: “Yes.”
“She hung herself from that branch when I was nine.”
“My grandparents raised me in that house. That’s my bedroom window. I never opened the curtains after that day.”
Roberta stared at the picture thinking I’m sorry, but not able to say it.
“I couldn’t even go into the yard.”
Roberta lowered her eyes and nodded her head.
“Do you know who the boy is?”
“He is my father,” his voice faltering, “He disappeared after getting my mother pregnant with me. I never knew his name.”
Roberta pulled back and then rose from the couch, her hand covering her mouth. Jack pushed the book aside and stood. He looked at the photo and then at Roberta who backed away towards the opposite side of the living room. He stepped after her holding the picture straight out, menacingly, as if it were a holy daggered cross to be feared.
“How did you get this picture?”
Roberta choked and shook her head as she backed into the wall of the living room while Jack continued to advance, closer and closer until she could feel his angry breath on her face. Jack turned the picture, held it beside her ear, and studied the faces.
Jack’s eyes widened incredulously and Roberta moaned and tried to melt through the wall of the living room and into the bedroom that lie beyond.
“You’re my father?”
This story was first published in the June 2012 issue of Fresh Ink, the journal of the California Writers Club, Inland Empire Branch.