Flannel: Short Story Part 3 of 4

I knew I had been adopted, this hadn’t been a secret. While my brothers and my sister looked like apples that had fallen from the family tree, I never quite fit in. My parents, that is my adopted parents, have loved me as if I were their own. Though the questions about where I came from always plagued me. I would ask, of course, and they promised they’d tell me at the right time. It’s been 27 years since I entered their house, and I am engaged to be married. It’s time. So, I began to pressure them for answers, knowing I couldn’t start my wedded life with questions about my history.

Tuesday, they asked me to come over for dinner that night. My siblings were older than me and we had all moved from the house many years ago. We all stayed in the Atlanta area, family means everything, and we didn’t want to fly too far from the nest. Now, invited into the house I grew up in, sitting at the table with just my parents, it seemed staged and empty, like a backdrop to a play. I was anticipating they would tell me my mother was a crack addict. When you have years to play scenarios through your mind, you come up with a lot of ideas.

My parents sat down and stared at me as we ate my Mom’s chicken pot pie. Delicious and comforting as always, but the food wandered around in my mouth, not really wanting to go down. After dinner we stayed at the table, and my mother brought out a wooden crate with the words Whitmore Farms branded on the side. The crate was old, scratched up, faded, and looked like it would fall apart if you looked at it for too long. I asked what this was about in a calm voice. Mom could not contain herself and tears started to streak her soft cheeks. My dad rose and went to her, steadying her arm, he took the box from her.

“Son,” he said. “This is the box that we found you in and all its belongings. I’m about to tell you a story that isn’t easy for us to tell. I’d like it if you waited until I was finished before you speak. Can you do that for me?” My father’s gaze told me that he was serious, my mother let her sight wander around the room, never crossing over me. I nodded my head and he slide the box in front of me. It had an envelope addressed to me, a red flannel shirt, and what appeared to be my birth certificate with words written on the envelope.

The story that unfolded left me dizzy. My father told me he was in fact my biological father. He had an affair with a young woman named Mary during a business trip, which he frequented for a stretch of time. While he did care for this woman, it never compared to the love he had for my mother. He said he decided to come clean, break it off with this woman, and beg my mother for forgiveness. It took time, but Mom learned to forgive him and he forgave himself. Less than a year later, he went to leave for work one morning and there I was, in this wooden crate, wrapped snug in this shirt and fast asleep. My father said he could sense my biological mother was hiding just feet away, but he knew I was his son the very minute his eyes laid on me, and knew what he had to do. The birth certificate was accurate, and included a small note on the envelope it came in: I’m sorry Mark. He’s yours and I have no one. Please love him, his name is Gary. The second note was addressed to me and was unopened.

After my father was done speaking I wasn’t sure what to say. I felt sick. Never would I have dreamed up a truth like this. I had always hoped in some ways, that I would find out I wasn’t adopted, and my parents were the ones who brought me into this world. Part of that was now real, though this was a lot to digest at once. It was all a lot to digest. For some reason the first thing I said to my father was, “A white woman? But I’m so dark.”

My father looked at me with wide eyes, he slapped the table, and started to laugh so loudly my mother shook her head and left the room. “That’s what you heard? Outta everything I just told you!” He was tripping up his words, his laughing started to cause him to cough and tear up.

“This isn’t joke!” I hurled my words at him, hurt at his outburst.

“Son, I know this is a lot to take in. Her name was Mary Henderson. She’s a girl from the deep south, her daddy was a peach farmer or something. She was a good girl, not like your mama of course, but a good girl. I’m sorry for what I have done to this family and lord knows I never wanted to tell you. It’s disgraceful. You can do what you want with this information, your siblings don’t know it. They were so young, we just told them they had a new brother and they accepted it. I knew you were my son, and I wanted you here, where you belonged.”

I held up the note, addressed to Gary. I always hated my name, and now that I knew it came from some country white woman, it made a bit more sense. I asked my dad a few more questions, my mom stayed out of the room. Wanting some air and space to think, I packed up the crate, shirt, and note, then began to wonder how to tell my fiancé about all of this. I hugged my parents with a strong embrace and thanked them for the truth. I told them I loved them and then sought the car for refuge.

The nightfall was a blessing; it hid my thoughts from the world. I pulled my car over on a small dirt road sided by corn fields. The letter from Mary rested on top of the shirt in my front seat. I needed to read her words so I opened the envelop to find a note written in cursive. It said:


I’m so sorry we may never meet. Your father is a good man and I loved him, though he would never leave his family and I accept this. My father, whom you are named for, passed away soon after I found out about you. I knew I would be alone to raise you with him no longer here. Giving you to your father seemed best for everyone. Not a day will go by that I don’t think of you. I have so many hopes for you. Please know that I love you very much. Forgive me.

The red shirt was your grandfathers, it means a lot to me that you have it.

Love Always,

Your Mom, Mary Lucinda Henderson

I put her letter face down on the dashboard and withdrew my hand as if the paper were hot. Then I cried, long, hard, without pause. My mom was not a crack addict, she was a young woman who loved me. She was scared. I rolled down the windows in the car and took in a deep breath, the smell of burning tobacco hinted in the humid night air. Strange, but peaceful. I sat, listening to my sobs dry up, and the tree frogs holler at each other, until eventually I turned back onto the road and drove home.

When I arrived home, my fiancé Joy, was sleeping peacefully, so I readied myself for bed and decided tomorrow I was going to tell Joy about my biological mother, and confess to her that I had been seeing another woman. My father came clean to my mother, they survived, I need to do the same before the wedding.

The next day came and I eagerly told Joy about Mary, however I couldn’t come clean about my other girl. Tomorrow we were having our engagement photos taken and Joy became wrapped up in the idea that I had this newly discovered history and we should embrace it. She suggested we dress in flannel shirts for the photo shoot, to acknowledge the past and what brought us here today. Joy was a passionate woman with vivid ideas, I love her creative passion.

The next morning I slipped on my grandfather’s shirt, the warmth came quickly. My hands tingled as I buttoned it up, and there was that faint smell of tobacco again. I lifted the collar to my nose and breathed it in. “Hi Gary,” I said aloud, which surprised me. I shook my head and walked to the porch where Joy was standing. She was wearing a near matching shirt, a long black skirt that hit just below her knees, and these sexy as hell black heals. My woman could sing without making a sound, I couldn’t help but to smile.

Later that night, as we lay in bed, we talked about how much fun the photo shoot was, and what we would do with the photographs. Guilt started to course through me, I could feel my neck starting to sweat. It wasn’t right to have such a good woman and treat her this way. I knew this. I had to tell her, now was the time.

“Joy, baby? I have something to tell you. It’s gonna hurt for while, but I know we’ll be okay,” I said. I sat up and stacked a pillow behind my back, she sat up too with a worried look in her eye. Silence hung longer than it should, she took my hand, and I blurted out, “I’ve been unfaithful to you, but I love you and it’s over with her. Baby I swear I will never do something like this again. I love you. You know that right?”

“You said what?!” The string of curses and flare of anger in this tiny woman was frightening. She started to strike me with her open palm and then scratch at my face. I held up my arms to protect myself, but she wasn’t about to quit. I high jumped out of bed and threw the blankets out of my way. “Gary, you are a no good @#%#$%@ cheating son of a !$#&@. You get your sorry $%&@! outta my house before I kill you!” She was speaking so fast it was react. I stood at the end of the bed in my boxer briefs, and started to beg her to calm down.

She picked up the bedside lamp and threw it at me missing. Then she picked up the alarm clock, then the phone, then the pillows. When she ran out of things to reach for she stood up on the bed and started to grab things off the wall. A picture frame sailed at me, I ducked as it struck the wall behind me and it shattered. With not much time to think I grabbed a dirty pair of shorts and a t-shirt from the laundry basket, ran to the door, grabbing my wallet and keys. I ran outside, started the car. Joy came running out behind me with arms full of my clothes and tossed them on the yard. Neighbors started to appear on their porches, dogs were barking, and my fiancé was screaming obscenities at that seemed to overlap one another.

As I back onto the road and start to drive away, I hear her shout, “Don’t you ever come back here you @#$!!#%@! Cheater! You’re no man! Coward!”

My fists gripped the wheel and I drove toward my parents’ house. When I arrived my dad was waiting on the porch for me. News traveled faster than I did. Embarrassed, I tucked my tail between my legs walked up onto the porch. My dirty laundry in my hand, barefoot, I asked if I could have my old room for a while. My pops shook his head and held out his hand to clasp me on the back. “Son, you can stay here as long as you need.”

The next morning, with borrowed clothes and shoes, I drove to my house and caught two charity trucks loading boxes. I shouted at them to stop, but it was too late, I saw one truck pull away with boxes poking out the top that read, CHEATER on them. My relationship was over, why did it hurt and feel like a relief at the same time? I paid the remaining truck driver $50 to let me take the boxes off his truck, explaining that I was “the cheater”. The man smiled, pocked the money, and stepped away from this truck so I could get to work.



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