My pocket vibrates and I reach for my phone. Tom’s name appears on the screen beside a cheesy photo of us kissing. I hardly utter a greeting before he cuts me off in a rush of words.
“My Dad’s not on my birth certificate.”
“I don’t understand,” I reply.
The strong, masculine voice that I am so familiar with becomes slow and shaky, “My Dad’s, not on, my birth certificate.”
“I’ll come to yours. Stay there,” I manage to say and hang up the phone.
I gather my things and leave home, cursing myself for living in a place that’s a 45-minute drive from where I need to be right now. I fumble for my keys, and suddenly, inserting a key into the car door becomes a hard task.
I’m trying not to jump to any conclusions as I wrap my hands around the steering wheel and reverse out of my driveway. I turn on the radio in an attempt to drown out my thoughts, but everything sounds too cynical; I turn it off and focus on the road.
It’s all downhill and the road is lined with rainforest. I wind down my window and let the breeze hit my face. The air is damp and thick from the recent down pour and I concentrate on my breathing.
The greenery dissipates as I pass the cemetery near my house. Headstones replace the trees and I can’t help but think how out of place it looks every time I drive by. Even from afar, the contrast seems bleak. The polished and flower-laden graves radiate remembrance next to the unkempt and overgrown neighbouring sites; perhaps their mourners have now settled beneath the earth too.
I find him on the floor, slumped over a piece of paper averting my gaze. I kneel beside him and kiss his cheek, he tastes salty and I realise that I’ve never seen him cry.
He hands me the document, and I already know I won’t have the answers he needs. I recognise the first name, and do a double take.
Name: Thomas Reed
Only that’s not the person sitting in front of me. He has always been Thomas Winter. I don’t question it but continue reading.
Father: Lawson Reed
That makes sense, the last names match. Only I’ve met Tom’s dad numerous times and his name is David Winter. I search the rest of the document trying to pull a piece of honest information from it when my eyes settle on his mother’s name. It’s the only part of the document that I know to be accurate, but confused and speechless, I know I need to say something.
“Have you talked to your parents?” I ask. He just nods and half whispers, “They should be here any moment,” and as if that was some sort of cue, the front door creaks open.
I have a different biological father. Apparently I look like him. He died when I was two years old. He used to play the drums. My mother was married to him; she has their wedding taped. My family has kept this from me for 18 years. My dad isn’t my real dad. I’m part of another family tree. I want to meet them.
He talks and I listen to all of this new information. He gets up suddenly and declares that he wants to go for a drive. An odd request, but something I’m not willing to question. We get in the car and it’s full of tools, materials and bags of large stones. I sit around the chaos and notice the drive is a familiar one, the same road as if we’re heading to my place. I’m trying to read his face, but he’s like a closed book; I hear the sound of gravel beneath the tyres and look through the glass. We’re in the car park of the cemetery.
It takes me longer to arrive at an explanation than it should have, but he breaks the silence between us to confirm what I was thinking.
“I drive past almost every day to see you, and I had no idea he was buried here.”
We start searching for the roots he has laying deep in this field, and a feeling of apprehension clenches in the pit of my stomach as I help to scan each headstone. I roam through three rows before I look up and see Tom sitting in the grass, flanked by two bags of stones that he’s carried from the car.
His father’s name is engraved, but almost illegible due to the build-up of grime. The site looks like an abandoned house, neglected and worn. The plot is raised like a tomb and full of dirt. A small jasmine tree growing at the foot of the plot looks unbecoming, yet hopeful.
He rips open a bag and hands me a stone, it’s soft and powdery. He starts to line the stones over the dirt, and I mimic his movements. We lay the white pebbles over his father’s resting place and I agree to help seek out a family he never knew he had.
Cover by Greg Ortega