It took me a long time to absorb what Clementine had said.
‘You mean . . . she lied to us?’ I whispered finally.
‘Not exactly,’ Clementine said, looking deeply uncomfortable.
‘What do you mean not exactly?’ I bit out.'All those years we came down here, she never said a word.'
‘She just . . didn’t tell you everything . .’ Clementine said faintly.
‘But she told you,’ I said bitterly.
‘Sometimes it’s easier to tell stuff like that to people outside of your family,’ Clementine said, and I knew she was referring to herself.
Something deep inside me shifted.
‘She should have told us,’ I barked angrily.
‘Why? It wouldn’t have changed anything. Besides, she always said she was happier for you to see her the way you did,’ Clementine said.
I looked around the room, at the framed photo of Aunt Dee, dressed up as ‘an oriental lady’, manning the cake stall at the 1974 Field Day, at the picture on the mantelpiece of her with Fr John, the two of them grinning into the camera as though they’d just shared a joke. The picture shifted and re-arranged itself like a hologram, Aunt Dee's smiling face growing younger and more defined, Fr John disappearing altogether to be replaced by a faceless dark-haired man whose heart shrank and shrank in his chest until there was just a singed black hole.
I thought of my mother, of her faith in Dee, of the summers I’d spent down here, the three of us sitting in the garden, my mother and Aunt Dee topping and tailing beans while I played some crazy made up game that only an only child could play.
‘We never really knew her at all,’ I whispered.
Clementine was silent.
‘What happened to the child?’ I said finally, ‘to the baby?’
Clementine stared deeply into her empty glass.
‘It died,’ she whispered shakily.
‘Oh,’ I sighed, and the world suddenly seemed impossibly sad.