If I was a nail-biter, I’d have chewed through the quick of all ten. Carl, pedantic as he was, liked the sound of his own voice. I found it humorless as a textbook on sperm whales. Today he was clad in a sports coat and jeans. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him in a suit and I doubt this was due to lack of affordability. I imagine his lackadaisical approach to lawyering and life was too lax for formal attire.
My eyes aimed at the manila envelope lying straight-angled on the desk. A terse and tedious gathering of questions leaked through the barricade of Valium I’d prepped for our meeting. A crowd-turned-riot threatened violence on my thoughts, thinning the threshold between impatience and blown-out anger.
Thank god I’d remembered to take that extra dose, otherwise, I’d be jittery as a crack addict fiending my next fix. That’s the last thing I need… a lawyer thinking I’m a druggie.“I’m sorry this was all they had left,” Carl was saying. He lifted the packet and waved it with an air of indifference. My folded hands clamped into a single fist which I tucked between my knees. Burying a scowl as best I could, I replied,
“Something is better than nothing.”
Every investigation should begin at the source. The source, in this instance, was Kimberly Winston, my mother. In the months prior to her murder-suicide, she’d sought counseling. It made sense then, to start there. Maybe her crime wasn’t as sudden or shocking or inexplicable as many were impelled to believe. Her complete therapy records had long been purged, but the summaries of each session were kept in the archives at Hope Community Mental Health Clinic.
Carl handed me the packet. As I seized it, an electric impulse channeled through my fingertips. It was like securing a stolen treasure pried from the petrified hands of a corpse; a corpse concealed for centuries by the curse of a Shaman. It should’ve read “Confidential” or “Top Secret” in bold, red letters.
Suddenly, the frightening thought that maybe I shouldn’t have access to these records, snagged a corner of my mind and spun my thoughts in a jarring, kaleidoscopic frenzy. Maybe there was good reason it had taken a fight and a lawyer.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “What were you saying?”
“It’s just that – well it’s been over twenty years, I’m surprised they had this much.” He paused to scratch his chin. “It’s not my nature to pry into my client’s personal business, but what exactly do you plan to do with this?”
None of your business: that was what I wanted to say. I caressed the sealed flap with my index finger and replied,
“I feel it’s a way to connect to my biological mother. I know zip, zero, zilch about her and I thought this would help.” It wasn’t untrue. I knew my mother was beautiful, in a haunting way. I knew she had gray Mona-Lisa-eyes that followed you from every photo she faced the camera, I knew she had a natural complexion, that it wasn’t Mary Kay or Maybelline which gave her pink hues high on her cheekbones, in her dimples when she smiled. Yet, who she was as a human being – wife, mother, killer – was a fragmented story I’d scraped from newspaper articles and vague strands of description told by Uncle Theo and Aunt Liz.
“May I offer you a piece of advice?”
The question tugged me out of a daze; I shot him a wary, squinted look and battened my feet to the floor to stop them from tapping.
He smiled. “It’s free.”
Instantly, his grin dropped and his expression thinned into something solemn, colorless, like a January sky hovering above Boston’s harbor. Round contours of his face were shadowed by the small, off-white lumens cast upward from a desk lamp and fading sunlight lurked across the room in sharp-red, downward angles through venetian blinds.
“Be aware that you may find some things you don’t like or aren’t what you expect. Some people keep secrets for a reason and what’s said in therapy, in a safe place, isn’t an exchange of pleasantries. It’s usually the things we don’t want others to know. Reading those records –” he nodded at the envelope “– they may give you a false impression of who your mother really was as a person.” He idled and watched me, waiting for a reply.
I said nothing. What was there to say? He didn’t know about my past. My mouth opened to a generous yawn and I didn’t bother covering my mouth. Carl must have concluded that I wasn’t interested in engaging this topic because he shifted again – a stiff side-step around his desk – and said, “I guess, all I’m trying to say is, there are things that should stay hidden.”
I almost told him where he could shove that advice. That was the same philosophy which, for years, kept my aunt and uncle from telling me the truth about my mother.
“I appreciate the word of caution but I think I’ll be okay. I doubt I’ll find anything too shocking.”
He nodded and extended his hand, a small smile – professional, like his ad – returned to his face.
“Pleasure working with you.”
“Likewise.” I shook his hand, spun around, and shoved the door to escape.
A resulting shoosh of wind sprung cool April air through tendrils of hair, sparking the roots of my scalp. A wave of tiny hairs locked in a vertical formation down my spine. I wasn’t wearing a coat today, but the rising goose bumps forming on exposed skin weren’t from the cold. The thrill of carrying this intimate knowledge – like the tickle of whispered secrets – struck a high-octane chord somewhere in the well of my eardrums. It zipped through me, lightening my step. I was inches closer to learning more about the details of Kimberly Winston’s mind than anybody else, aside from her counselor.