I drove back straight into the chaos of Waitangi Day. I should have come much later once everyone was watching the Maori canoes on the harbour, but I was impatient. My inheritance was still my secret. I didn’t know why I hadn’t told anyone. You’d think I would be busting to tell. My husband had been at a conference all week but he’d be back tomorrow and I was going to have to tell him about the house.
That night, I watched the Waitangi Day ceremonies on TV, another disquieting echo of merging past and present. Waitangi Day was supposed to be a day of celebration, but old wounds ran deep. The officials liked to think of it as a symbol of two peoples living as one community, ignoring the streak of violence that flows fiercely below the surface. That’s the New Zealand I know, innocence and anger, naive and menacing. A country united only in sport and isolation.
I had hoped the house would’ve given me answers, but all I had were more questions for the lawyer and an amazing confession for my husband when he got home. I dreaded telling David. I didn’t know why, but now I know to trust my intuition. Completely.
I knew that as soon as I told my husband, I would start to lose control. David would ask questions, make decisions and it wouldn’t be mine any more. And for the first time, I wanted something for me. Was that was why I had gone to see it before I had told him about it? I must have known even then, that David’s reaction wouldn’t be right. I even considered not telling David at all. I had sat gnawing on a nail, surprised that I had even thought of not telling David, a part of me dreading it.
When he arrived home that night, I listened to him with half an ear, wondering how he would take the news. He didn’t like surprises. He looked so capable in his dark suit, white shirt and maroon tie. You wouldn’t call him handsome but he was so practical, his clients instinctively trusted him. I never did say anything that night, I later learned to my detriment that was the worse thing I could’ve done. I brought it up next morning, over a leisurely Saturday breakfast. ‘David, something... well... something unusual has happened.’
Sorting through the week’s mail, he was only half listening. ‘What, your cat Marmaduke’s eaten us out of house and home?’
‘Don’t be silly. No, David, I...’ I really didn’t want to tell him. My hesitation caught his attention and he looked up. ‘What is it, Sam? Is something wrong?’
I laughed although it didn’t sound natural. ‘No, just the opposite, I’ve been left an inheritance.’ Suddenly I felt excited, alive. ‘It’s wonderful.’
‘An inheritance? You mean the uncle that sent you that box of papers from Germany?’
‘Oh, you know, I’d forgotten about that. No, not that. It’s the strangest thing, I’ve never heard of this man before, his name is Frederick Hopmann.’ I tried the name out as if saying it out loud would bring sudden understanding. I noticed that I now had his full attention.
‘Good God! Are you saying that some chap has left you something and you don’t know who he is?’
‘Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.’
‘But you must know him.’
‘I don’t. I’m sure I’ve never met him.’
‘How strange. So what has he left you?’ David picked up the morning paper.
I took a deep breath. ‘A three-bed roomed house in Manurewa and a bank account with $20,000 in it.’
He folded his paper very carefully and placed it beside his plate. ‘Say that again.’
‘Here, look for yourself.’ I went to hand him the envelope and suddenly reluctant to hand it all over, pulled it back and retrieved the bank statement, which I held out to him. Quickly he scanned the bank statement and raised his eyes to meet mine, staring at me as if seeing me for the first time. ‘Good God. Sam, are you sure you don’t know him? I mean, a man wouldn’t leave a house and money like this to a complete stranger.’
‘I know but I’ve no idea who he is. I can’t work it out.’ I turned towards the kitchen to make coffee so we could discuss it.
David followed me into the kitchen and settled himself at the dining table. ‘You know you could tell me anything, don’t you Sam? It would be all right, I’d understand.’
I remember filling the jug, plugging it into the socket at the back of the stove still innocent of what was to come. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, if there was anything in your past that you’ve been reluctant to tell me, it would be all right, I wouldn’t be upset. After all, it must have been before you met me. That was a long time ago.’
‘David, what are you talking about? There’s nothing to tell.’
The way he was looking at me, made me uncomfortable. ‘Why didn’t you tell me when I got home last night?’
A flood of guilt made me look away. Suddenly he walked towards me and gripped me by the arms, turning me to face him. ‘It was before we met wasn’t it? Or was it more recent? Is that why you can’t tell me? Well.’ He moved away from me, almost talking to himself, ‘I’d never have thought it of you. But…’ he looked at the statement in his hand, ‘the man has tried to make amends. I guess I can try to forgive and forget.’
I stared at him, speechless. He was forgiving me for an affair I’d never had? My mind scrambled for some more obvious solution to offer him. ‘How do you know I’m not some long forgotten distant niece or something! How can you jump to such conclusions?’ I demanded.
‘Why are you so angry?’ David asked calmly.
‘You accuse me of having an affair after eight years of loyalty, and you ask me why I’m angry?’ Breathless, I put my hand on my chest, trying to contain both the shock and the indignation.
He placed the statement on the table. ‘When you’re ready to talk about it, I’ll be ready to listen.’ He turned and walked out of the room leaving me staring after him. The sound of the front door closing was followed by the muffled roar of the car backing out of the garage. It reminded me that I hadn’t looked into the garage at the house.
What had just happened here? The whistling of the jug brought me back to reality. How dare he insinuate that I’d had an affair. It was ridiculous! Married to an accountant, working in the university bookshop - that’s about as normal as it gets! My wardrobe was practical mix-and-match, I’d had the same short hairstyle all my life. ‘Not exactly inspiration for a virile young man looking for a bit of slap and tickle,’ I muttered viciously under my breath as I poured a coffee. How could he believe that of me?
I was working myself into an indignant fury when the phone rang. ‘If that’s you David Harrison ringing to apologise, you can think again.’ But it would seem my hopes were destined to be dashed. It was my brother.
‘Sam, can I borrow your weed-eater? I promised Jenny that I’d do the back yard and she’s keeping me to it.’
‘Good for her!’
‘Sam? That doesn’t sound like my little sis.’
‘I’m sorry, Brian. It’s just, well I don’t know where to even begin to tell you what’s happened.’
‘Why, what’s wrong?’
‘That’s the stupid thing. Nothing should be wrong. It’s wonderful. But David’s twisted it into something… well, he’s got it all wrong.’
‘Look, I’m on my way over now to get the weed-eater. You make me a coffee and tell me about it when I get there.’
I was still pacing and muttering when Brian drove up. I heard the garage door open as he helped himself to the weed-eater and took great delight in the knowledge that David wouldn’t be impressed. Everything Brian borrowed was a real struggle to get back. But right now I didn’t particularly care. I would’ve lent Brian David’s complete set of tools if he’d wanted them. I’d never been this angry with him before.
Not for the first time, I thought about how different we were, Brian and I. Brian’s way of life was distasteful to both David and myself. He was on the dole and they never seemed to have enough money, even though Jenny had a part-time job. Although, as David continuously pointed out, they always had enough money for beer and cigarettes. Brian drove a battered old car and lived in a three bedroomed State house, their four children in bunks, two to a room. It wouldn’t have suited me at all and yet Brian seemed quite content with his lot, never seemed to have any ambition in life. He handled whatever life chose to throw at him. Just took it all in his stride. ‘Hey, little sister.’ He leant down so I could pop a kiss on his cheek.
‘Hi, Brian. Get the weed-eater okay?’
‘Yep. Now what have you and David argued about. Oh, ta.’ He took the mug of black coffee, poured two heaped teaspoons of sugar in it, gave it a vigorous stir and settled himself at the table.
‘He’s concocted this amazing fantasy.’ I was still grappling with it.
‘Let me start at the beginning. I’ve inherited the belongings of a Frederick Hopmann.’ Why did it take such effort to tell anyone? ‘Who’s he?’
‘That’s just the trouble, I don’t know. And David has jumped to the conclusion that it must be someone I’ve had an affair with.’
‘Yea, well David always does only see his side of things. What exactly have you inherited?’
I’d never heard Brian say anything against David before. ‘What on earth do you mean, David only sees his side of things?’
He grinned at my surprise. ‘David is only interested in David’s way of doing things, prim and proper, everything under his control. I don’t know how you stand it.’
‘Well, he is careful but that’s why we’ve got such a stable life.’ That didn’t quite sound how I meant it.
Brian shrugged. ‘Don’t have to explain it to me, sis. But obviously a stable life to you is different from what most people would call a good life.’
‘Brian, if you’re trying to stir me up...’
‘Look, it’s your life. I say live and let live. Okay?’ Brian tended to become philosophical when he got into dangerous territory. He could be opinionated but backed off if he thought someone would pursue it. I decided to let it drop. ‘Anyway, back to the inheritance. David has jumped to the most ridiculous conclusion about why I’ve inherited.’ Embarrassed, I walked to the window and stood looking out over the back lawn. My beloved cat Marmaduke was stalking a sparrow. I watched him creep forward and freeze. ‘He thinks I must have had an affair with the man.’
‘And did you?’
‘Well then, enough said. Anyway, what did the man leave you? Love letters or something?’
I took a deep breath struggling with a sense of reluctance. ‘A house and some money in the bank.’ It had become a bit like a mantra. I turned to find Brian staring at me. ‘I know it sounds strange, but I honestly don’t know why he’s left it to me.’ I walked back to the table and sat down facing him.
‘It must be a distant relation then. We must have relations still left in Germany. Frederick Hopmann sounds German.’
‘I haven’t had the chance to ask the lawyer yet. I’ve made an appointment to go back and see him. Now that I’ve had a chance to think it through, there’s a lot more I’d like to ask him.’ I sipped my coffee pondering those faded patches on the walls in the house at Manurewa.
‘Well, let me know when you’re going and I’ll come with you.’
Warmth flood through me, it was good to have support. Brian had never been protective of me before but then I’d never argued with David before. You would’ve thought that our mother’s murder would have brought us closer together but we’d never been a close family and a small hole in my life filled. ‘Brian, that’s sweet of you to offer but I’ll be fine. But I appreciate the offer.’
‘But don’t you see, I’m the eldest, they mightn’t know about me.’
‘Well, if Frederick Hopmann is a distant relative, which odds are that’s exactly what he is, I’m the eldest. It should have come to me. Of course, I’d still split it with you, like you will with me.’
A snake of apprehension stirred in my stomach. ‘Like I will what?’
‘Split it with me. It’s only fair after all.’ He drained his coffee and leaned forward, elbows on the table. ‘So what’s it all worth then? How much do we get?’
‘Brian, what makes you think that we should split this?’
‘Well, we’re family. And after all, I know you wouldn’t take it all for yourself, you’d share it with Jenny and me. After all, we’ve got four kids to feed and clothe. Not like you and David with both of you working and no kids. I’ll bet your superannuation scheme is well topped up. We haven’t even got super.’
I heard the bitterness creep in. Resentment was quickly followed by pity. ‘Oh, Brian.’
‘So, in a way, you owe me.’
‘What! How do you figure that?’ Suddenly, I didn’t want to hear any more. I got up and walked over to the sink and stood with my back to Brian, rinsing my cup. What had got into them? Money. It was money. I’d heard stories about what happened when you inherited money, how it split families. God, I’d thought my relationships were rock solid.
‘Sis? Don’t you see?’
I felt drained. ‘Brian, I’m sorry. I wasn’t really listening. Can we talk about this another time?’ I turned and smiled to soften the brush-off. But at the look on his face, I turned back to the sink. I felt sick. He was lit up like a Christmas tree. And that was it, I realised, he thought all his Christmases had come at once.
‘Okay. But maybe Jenny should come over later and you two can have a chat. That might be helpful.’
Right words, wrong intention. ’Brian, Jenny and I have never had a ‘chat’ in our lives. Why would we want to start now?’
‘Well, you know, you might want to talk to her about your argument with David or something. I don’t know what you women talk about when you get together. It might help.’
‘I don’t think so, Brian. But thanks anyway,’ I added lamely. ‘Look, I’ve got work to do,’ I added when he continued to sit there.
‘Oh right.’ He stood but made no move to go. ‘Well, call if you need anything.’
‘Brian, I’ve never needed to before, why would I now? This inheritance has made you very helpful all of a sudden!’
‘I’m just trying to help. Boy, you’re touchy since you got this money, sis. I won’t be like that when I’ve got my share.’
‘I haven’t said I’d give you a share.’ I really didn’t care how he took it, I didn’t see why I should share it with him. Or David, come to that.
He reached out and placed his hand on my shoulder. ‘Look, you’re just upset. David will be back soon and you’ll sort it out.’ He gave a squeeze, a clumsy attempt at comfort from a man who normally didn’t like touching or being touched.
Nausea rose and with it, anger. ‘Brian, will you just go. I can’t take any more of this sickly understanding. You make me want to throw up. Please go.’
‘All right sis, but I’ve got to tell you, I don’t like the Sam I’m seeing now. This is not the Sam David married. I can understand why he’s upset.’
‘Brian,’ I faced him full on, all business, hands on hips, ‘you’d like it if I made you a cup of coffee while you and David decide what you’re going to do with my inheritance, wouldn’t you!’
‘Yea, what’s wrong with that?’
‘You heard me. Get out!’
Simmering, I watched him walk out the back door. I realised that if I quietly handed over the money and apologised for causing them all so much trouble, they’d probably forgive me. And then ignore me as they made their own plans. Well, I’m not going to do it. I froze. Could I do that? I tried to imagine my life with David if I kept the inheritance to myself. I didn’t know the first thing about managing property. It would drive David nuts not having control over it. He’d always been in control of the money. He decided how to allocate it, 10% for savings, 10% for investment, as little as possible for spending. That’s why we’d had a comfortable retirement to look forward to.
God, I want to be comfortable now, not to go to work tomorrow. I wanted to buy a huge bundle of books and not feel guilty about it. To spend the next few weeks living on takeaways and snuggling down in my favourite chair reading. I wanted to hire a cleaning lady, have my hair and nails done, buy some new clothes. Maybe I could start going to a gym. I laughed out loud and the sound startled me. This was dreaming. But a small voice added, it didn’t have to be a dream. There was no earthly reason why it couldn’t be real.
When David returned with wet hair and carrying his sports bag, it took a moment for me to realise he’d been playing squash. I’d imagined that he had been driving around trying to come to terms with the thought of me having an affair, but it seems he’d been chasing a silly ball around a court. I put my head down and continued peeling the potatoes for dinner. I wasn’t going to be the one to make the peace. I had nothing to apologise for.
He walked up behind me and kissed me on the neck. ‘Let’s talk about this later.’
A long curl of potato jammed in the peeler. ‘Fine.’
I set the table and walked into the dinning room carrying the two plates to find David opening a bottle of wine. ‘What’s this?’
‘I just thought it would be nice for a change. After all, we’ve got something to celebrate, haven’t we?’
‘Have we? You wouldn’t have thought so an hour or so ago.’
‘Yes, well, I’m sorry about that. It was a bit of a shock you know. I bet you took a while to come to terms with it, too.’
I softened. ‘I walked to the nearest coffee shop and just sat there.’
‘There you go, you see. It was just the shock. I’m sorry if I upset you.’
‘That’s all right.’ Relieved, I walked over and kissed him on the cheek. Things seemed to be back to normal but I looked up once or twice to catch David staring at me. I decided it was best to ignore it, he was obviously still getting used to the idea of the inheritance. ‘By the way, Brian called round and borrowed the weed-eater.’ I watched to see how he’d react.
‘Maybe, we should buy him one now.’ He grinned and lifted his wine glass to me. ‘Pity we couldn’t buy him a job.’ The sneer was unmistakable.
I stared at him. ‘David!’
‘Oh, come on Sam. Isn’t it time you stopped pretending? He’s nothing more than a good-for-nothing layabout. He’ll probably expect a cut of the money, mark my words.’
That took the wind out of my sails. I’d been about to object. ‘David, he’s my brother. He just hasn’t been able to find a job he likes.’
‘Yea, right.’ There didn’t seem anything for me to say. I concentrated on eating my dinner. Had I been blind about both of them all this time? Was the money revealing what had previously been hidden to me? I was rinsing and stacking the dishes, David was finishing off the last of the wine when he strolled into the kitchen. ’Why don’t you do those tomorrow morning?
I turned, surprised. ‘But it’s still early. I’ve got plenty of time to do them now.’
He stepped forward and took me by the shoulders, turning me towards him. Leaning forward, he ran light kisses down my neck. I gasped, both with the shock of what he was doing and the weakness which flooded through me. “David, this isn’t like you.”
“Maybe I’m not feeling like me tonight.” He pulled the neck of my dress aside and I felt his teeth scrape my skin giving me goose bumps of alarm. David never did that!
“Maybe I feel like you tonight.” And he was pulling me towards the bedroom. His urgency confused me and I stumbled along with him. He pushed me back on the bed and fumbling with his belt, reared back to hurriedly remove his trousers.
I realised why I could see him so clearly. “David, the bedroom light....”
‘Doesn’t matter, don’t worry.’ He slid his hands up my legs to my knickers, hooking his fingers in them and wriggling them down. ‘Don’t worry about anything. It’s going to be all right.’
My alarm abated as his urgency, his excitement infected me as well. I lifted my hips to allow the knickers to slide down my legs. David always simply moved the crutch to one side to allow him access and made love to me leaving my knickers on. He was suckling at my nipples, his hand massaging my breast a little harder than usual. I felt a little uncomfortable, but decided that it must be the wine. I was ready for him when he slid inside of me and put my arms around him to pull him even closer.
‘It’s all right.’ He murmured into my neck as he nuzzled me. ‘You can tell me.’
‘What?’ I thought I must have heard wrong.
Suddenly, he slammed himself into me. ‘You did, didn’t you? Have an affair with him?’ He was panting. He rammed himself deeper.
My body turned to ice, tears sprang to my eyes as I realised what was happening. He pulled back and thrust forward again shoving my head against the headboard. I tried to move my head sideways but he pulled back and thumped me forward again. I gasped with the pain and tried to wriggle sideways. ‘David!’
It came out as a whimper but he wasn’t listening. He was totally involved in his own sick little fantasy. ‘Where did you do it? Here? Did you do it in this bed, Sam?’
Suddenly he slid me sideways, dragging me down the bed. ‘Did you suck him off? You never do that for me.’ He withdrew himself and rammed my head down. ‘Do it for me now, Sam,’ he breathed. ‘Suck my cock for me.’
It was sticky and I almost gagged as it filled my mouth and forced my jaws apart. But by now, my mind had stopped working. Automatically doing as I was told, I sucked. Suddenly, it was pulled away from me and the bed moved as he turned. I turned my head away from him as he thrust my legs apart, desperate once again to get inside of me.
“I want to come inside of you,’ he gasped as he ground forward once again. ‘If he had you, I....’ He gasped, and I turned my head and looked at him as he froze above me. His face was distorted, eyes closed, mouth slackly open. I knew I would hold that picture of him until the day I died.
After David had finished, he’d dozed and then started again. The second time had hurt. Looking back on it, I asked myself why I hadn’t stopped him. That’s when I admitted to myself that I didn’t think he was stoppable. I had just lain there praying for him to finish. As I crept to the bathroom, I realised how sore I was. I showered, soaping myself gently but thoroughly, over and over again using water and soft lather to sooth and heal. As I dried myself, inspecting the fresh bruises enabled me to avoid meeting my eyes in the mirror.
I’d just made breakfast when he came into the kitchen. I glanced at him sideways and was surprised how normal he looked. He was humming to himself. Somehow, I’d expected him to look different.
He walked towards me and the mug dropped through my fingers as unfamiliar fear streaked through me. He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. He’d been out and collected the paper from the front lawn and he chatted about his plans for the day as he unrolled the paper. Then he sat sipping his tea as he read as if nothing had happened.
All day I wandered round in a dream while David pottered around the place doing a bit of gardening, edging the lawn, trimming the dead flower heads. He seemed unruffled by anything and even took it in his stride when he wanted the weed-eater and realised that Brian had it. Then the skies opened up with a heavy downpour and we spent the rest of our Sunday afternoon in front of the heater watching TV. As the evening grew closer I tried to shake a growing sense of apprehension. When we got to bed, in the dark, would we finally be able to talk about what happened?
As the time for bed drew closer, I found myself sneaking sideways glances at David, trying to gauge what he was thinking. How he felt about what had happened last night. I jumped when he finally rose, stretched, leaned over and switched off the TV. ‘Time for bed. It’s getting late.’
I hunched determinedly over my book. ‘Mm, I think I’ll read a little longer. This is quite good.’
The book was whisked from my nerveless fingers. ‘Nonsense. You’ve got work tomorrow, you can’t sit up reading half the night. You’ll fall asleep in the history section.’ He chuckled and I rose to my feet, limbs leaden and unwilling to move towards the bedroom. I spent longer than usual in the bathroom washing my face, toner was carefully applied, moisturiser thoroughly massaged and slowly absorbed. I turned to open the bathroom door and stood holding the doorknob, my knees weak. ‘Please don’t let that happen again.’ Said quietly enough with enough desperation, maybe it would touch the heart of an up until now, non-existent God for me.
I opened the door and found only my light beside the bed still on. Within the circle of light I could see David lying with eyes closed. I tip-toed over to the bed, draped my dressing gown on the foot of the bed, carefully eased into bed and switched the light off. I had just settled and released a great sigh when I felt the movement of the bed as David turned towards me.
The next morning, the weather was wetter, the sky a heavy shade of gun-metal grey, the bookshop quieter, shabbier. To the casual observer, I had a good husband, a good job, a good life. I knew that I should be grateful. But my normal life of last week was now tarnished and distasteful.
None of the staff at the bookshop noticed anything different. I have always been a bit reserved, a bit shy about making friends and letting others close. But when a customer dropped a book off the counter mid-morning, I just about jumped out of my skin and my hands shook for quite some time after.
It was during my morning break that everything changed.