Summary: He was special, even among the special men: his father. If only….
Word Count: 1600
For a long time, I didn’t know who was my child’s father. Not an uncommon occurrence for women of my profession—but still, sometimes a girl would like to know if this handsome stranger or that rich dude had added his contribution to her burden.
Jonathan never was a burden, though. He was a quiet child, and a good boy. He never complained when I had to leave him alone in our small room at the end of the corridor, he never woke me when another late night made me sleep long into the morning. And when I eventually woke up he would sit there, in the middle of the room, reading in his storybooks or drawing beautiful pictures he would give to the other girls.
The older he grew, the more I was convinced I knew who his father was. Heck, at the age of four, there was no mistaking whom my little black prince took after.
He was one of the men you remember forever. Don’t take this the wrong way, it’s not that you forget all customers as soon as they’ve paid their fee; but some are confusable, some are so pale their memory just fades away like morning dew, and some are of the type that you most certainly don’t want to remember. Some men, though, have an impact on you. It can be their look, their money, the way they talk, or how they were friendly, or shy, or even courteous.
Jonathan’s father was one of them, but he was special even among the special men. He came only once; a cowboy, obviously, but a well-spoken fellow, and well-read, too. He used fancy words, recited a poem, and recommended a book to me. It was endearing: he really thought I could read! But he wasn’t only gallant and kind, he was a magnificent lover, too, if I may say so. Even though he was bone tired from the cattle drive, or whatever had brought him to San Francisco, he took care of my needs as much as I took care of his. He was gentle and polite, and…yes, caring. I’ve never done anything as close to making love as I have with him. I remember, he never told me his name, but I asked him to call me not by my saloon name, but by my given one, Maryann. I still can hear him saying it, low and husky, and with a long, savoured M. Mmmaryann. Oh yeah, I was more than happy when I realised he had fathered my child.
When he was old enough, I told Jonathan that he was a child of love, not just a whoreson. I don’t know why this amused him that much, but there are many things I don’t understand about my son. When I sent him to school, soon it became apparent that Jonathan was smarter than any other child of his age, and that neither I nor the small institute that allowed children like him to attend could satisfy his thirst for knowledge. And so I decided to take double shifts, to not only entertain men but also serve drinks, and use all of my earnings to send Jonathan to a boarding school in the East.
He did well at school. He did so well that his teachers suggested he’d go to college after graduating. My son—to college! It wasn’t easy to meet the costs for college, but Molly, who had lost her only child to tuberculosis when he was three, slipped me money whenever she could. She said maybe Jonathan would find a medicine that helped with lung diseases once he’d finished his studies. She never understood that he studied engineering and business, as often as I tried to tell her.
If only I had known his father’s name, and where he came from. He was a cowboy—I already told you that, didn’t I? But from the way he talked, and from his expensive boots, it was easy to tell he had money. I’m sure he would have paid for the college, or at least part of it. Maybe he even would have attended Jonathan’s graduation day. Yes, I’m sure he would. He would have been so proud. He would have sat next to me and applauded just as enthusiastically as I did.
I was proud. My handsome, smart son, best of his year, spitting image of a man I’d met only once, more than twenty years ago. Oh, how I wished I could tell his father, how I would have loved to see those dimples deepen in joy at the sight of his graduate son.
It was only weeks after I returned to San Francisco, when it finally happened that I met him again.
I don’t know what made me look into the window of that bookshop; usually I’m not interested, for obvious reasons. There were some brightly coloured children’s books on display, if I remember rightly, maybe the memory of seeing Jonathan with those made me stop and look. The books didn’t hold my interest long, though, when I saw him through the window, standing in the middle of the shop and flipping through the pages of a book. My heart jumped; and before I could really think about it, my feet moved of their own accord and my body had no chance except to follow them into the shop.
He looked pretty much the same as I remembered him from twenty odd years ago. Some tiny wrinkles at the edges of his eyes, and a little grey at his temples were the only traces time had left. And his clothes were different: he didn’t look like a cowboy, but like a respectable businessman.
“Long time no see,” I managed to say; and immediately I realised how stupid that must have sounded.
He looked up from his book, clearly puzzled. But he smiled his polite smile, and his voice was just as pleasantly kind as it had been that night, when he answered, “I’m sorry, I don’t seem to remember…. Do we know each other?”
“It’s been quite some time,” I said. I fumbled at the collar of my coat, like a little girl. Really, I’m sure I bore no resemblance to the forward professional I use to be. “More than twenty years.” More than twenty years! Time had been kind to him; but being in the job I am, time hadn’t been kind to me. Of course he didn’t remember me. He’d need more than my face to get an idea who I was.
“The name’s Maryann Benton; we met—”
It was a questioning voice, a clearly bewildered voice. The woman belonging to that voice turned up from the left side. She was younger than he, Adam, about ten years or so. She had a toddler on her arm, a dark haired child with chubby cheeks and a wet, dimpled grin. Two older children were accompanying her, a boy who looked scarily like Jonathan at the age of twelve and a tall, blonde girl who was only a little younger and looked at me with the same curious observance her mother bestowed on me.
She was a lady. And as every lady she sensed immediately that I wasn’t one. She adjusted the toddler on her arm, closed the distance between her and her husband with two quick steps, and put a hand on his arm, her eyes wandering from him to me and back.
The two youngsters had kept up with her and eyed me suspiciously now. The boy frowned, and with that looked even more like Jonathan, and then he asked. “Pa, do you know this lady?”
The lady lifted an eyebrow and curled her lips into an amused smile. “Do you, Adam?”
Adam—Jesus, what a lovely name—Adam displayed his polite dimples and shook his head. “I really don’t know, but apparently…”
The lady looked surprised. Not displeased, don’t get me wrong. Just…astonished. She smiled at me, invitingly, obviously waiting for further explanation. Jona—no, the boy, his boy, his and her boy, he gazed at me with this odd silent consideration Jonathan often displayed; and the girl, who looked so much like her mother, gaped at me with big round eyes as if I was about to tell her the most amazing fairy tale. The toddler on his mother’s arm suddenly turned around, flashed me a toothless grin and then held his hands out to his father.
Adam took the child from his wife and chuckled silently when the little black prince leaned forward and planted a wet kiss on his father’s cheek.
To this day I don’t know what made me do it, but I took a step back and said, “I’m sorry. I thought I knew you, but hearing your name is Adam, it can’t be. I apologise for causing confusion.”
I didn’t even wait for an answer but left the shop hurriedly, though not before seeing the lady’s small smile as she mouthed, “Thank you.”
I said he was one of the men you remember forever. And I will. He’s Jonathan’s father, after all. I won’t forget her either. I can’t. I’m reminded of her every time I look into my mirror.
They looked like a happy couple, a happy family.
I bet he’s a good father.
He’d be so proud of Jonathan—don’t you think?
With many thanks to Sklamb and Joaniepaiute for their terrific beta-service.