The panoramic view of what existed all around her was outstanding. Everything was there. This locked door had held all of the secrets of her life. Thirteen years of lies and deceit, and it had all been there the entire time. How could he have done this to me?, she wondered, how could my own father lie to me like that?
It was apparently thirteen years ago that everything in Clara’s life had changed, and she had never known anything about it. Her own mother and older brother had gone for a ride for his birthday, but Clara was too young to remember where they had headed off to. Three hours later, she and her father had received a phone call from the paramedics. There had been a car accident, and everything in Clara’s life had instantly been flipped upside down – destroyed, and gone forever. Clara had forgotten everything, until today. Today, the most dramatic memories penetrated her forgotten past that had been blocked because of her father.
Her brother had been her best friend. There had been one year separating them, and her last memory with him was at age three: they were playing Candyland, and she was winning. Clara could never beat her brother at any game, but so far, she was winning... and he was happy for her.
She focused back on her surroundings, trying to forget the misfortunes of her past – realizing how difficult that would be as she continued to look at everything that was practically reliving itself right before her eyes. Clara couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Her heart was racing, beating in disbelief. Her father had lied to her, about everything, and she knew that she shouldn’t stay there and dig through the past – her forgotten past – but after thirteen years of secrets, she couldn’t – and didn’t have the willpower – just to turn away.
Footsteps overhead sounded, seeming to get closer. Did I close the door behind me? she asked herself. Her heart continued throbbing as she hoped she would be able to stay in this room longer – this extension of her mother and brother. Everything around her resembled them. Everything around her was they. The footsteps above her passed over the entrance and began to fade off into the distance. Her heart went back to its original fluttering that occurred upon discovering this addition in their house.
After walking around for a minute, running her hands along the old memories, Clara decided to open one of the dust-covered, worn-out boxes. In doing so, she found pictures that were stuck to one another, dusty and faded. Working through the piles of faded memories, a letter lay at the bottom. Opening its crusty creases, it read:
If you’re reading this, that means you’ve found the secret addition. I guess you now understand why I refused to move so many times. Also, if you’re reading this, I’m sure I’m gone by now … knowing me, I am very protective of this room and would in no circumstances let you find it while I was around. I guess I won’t ever be able to explain that to you, but I hope you don’t blame me.
I’m sorry I kept the memories from you. I’m sorry I kept Gineene and Ralphy from you. I never intended to hurt you, but I couldn’t let you discover the truth, Clara. There was never a car accident – and I’m sorry I could never be a good enough father to you in order to tell you this to your face: Your mother did not hit that truck as the papers and doctors led you to believe. I’m sorry I can’t bring myself to tell you the complete truth even in words, but I can show you.
Inside this envelope that you found this letter, there is a key. I’m sure you’ll figure out what it is for.
I’ve always loved you, Clara, and I’m sorry I couldn’t be the father you needed.
Try to forgive me,
Tears trickling down her fair skin, she tried to understand what he had meant in his letter. How could they have not been in a car accident? What else happened to them? Where are they? she wondered. Obviously he had been wrong about his protectiveness of the room, as he was just upstairs and she had in fact found the mysterious hiding place.
Remembering the mentioning of a key, Clara realized that she hadn’t found the letter in an envelope. Looking back in the box, she noticed a small crevice in the corner – the perfect size for a small key. Giving the box a bit of a shake, the key popped out of the crevice. Too small to be for a door, the key resembled the one Clara used to use for her jewelry box as a child. The fact that the key was hidden made sense to her, as Clara’s father had brought her up, training her to look at the unexpected as he had done throughout his life as a reporter.
Pocketing the key in her shirt pocket and the slightly damp letter in her back jeans’ pocket, Clara continued to look through other boxes. Few were titled “Home Videos”, others: “Pictures”. Not having a VCR available, there wasn’t much she could do with the videos, but opening the box, she realized they were all from before she was three-years-old. Closing the boxes and putting them back where she found them, she decided to move onto the photographs.
Pictures of Ralphy – pictures she thought had forever been destroyed, were right in front of her. Photographs of her hugging her older brother, being held by her mother, holding onto her father’s pants leg – never wanting to let go … all of these memories began to overwhelm her. Her father had told her everything had been destroyed and that he couldn’t handle looking at their faces every day after the accident. He told her that he had destroyed all memories of them in order to make the pain less. So why did he lie?
Footsteps overhead sounded again, except this time doors were slamming and someone was running. Clara’s heart was racing and she realized that it was getting late – and she hadn’t checked in with her dad since that morning. She heard every door in their two-floor, three-bedroom condo open with a gust, and slam with heartbreak. After five minutes of the consistent slamming, the footsteps died down and she realized she was safe in the room – for now. Pulling out her lavender Motorola Rival, Clara realized it was 9:42 P.M. – practically three hours late for dinner. Flipping the phone open, Clara found her dad’s number in her contact list and dialed.
Hearing the ring overhead, she knew it wouldn’t be long before she heard his worried gasps through her speaker.
“CLARA!! I’ve been worried sick! Where are you? Are you OK?”
“Yeah, Dad, I’m fine. I’m sorry I never called you... I got distracted. I’m at Sasha’s house. Can I stay the night?”
“I don’t know Clara... I haven’t seen you all day. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yes, Dad! I’m fine. Please? We’re... we’re working on a project for school. It’d help our grade if I could stay longer...”
“Thanks, Dad! I’ll talk to you tomorrow! Night!”
Hanging up her phone, Clara took a deep breath and was thankful that the lying was over for now. She hated lying to her dad. He had always been there for her; always looking to help her whenever she needed or wanted – but she felt as though the circumstances had changed and it wasn’t such a horrible thing to fib a little bit this time. She was after-all supposed to be at Sasha’s … she just never went.
Pocketing her phone, Clara remembered the key in her button-down shirt pocket. What truth could this thing show me? she pondered. Closing the box of photographs of Ralphy, Clara took a few steps forward, until she saw a gleaming piece of metal in the corner. Lodged between two stacks of dusty boxes, was a briefcase.
Yanking it out of its hiding place, Clara realized it needed a key to be opened. Remembering the one her dad had left for her, she pulled it out of her shirt pocket, and placed it in the shiny keyhole. With a twist, the buckles released and a gap remained between the top and the bottom of the briefcase. Placing the key back into her pocket, Clara slipped her fingers into the gap and pried the briefcase open with a sharp tug.
Newspaper cut outs cluttered the floor. Clara had never seen these before, but they were all about her mother and Ralphy. Picking up one specific, “dog-eared” article, Clara began to read...
KINGSBURY, NEVADA – MARCH 1998: Local Fitzpatrick family faces tragedy. Mother and wife, Gineene Fitzpatrick was driving with her son, Ralph Fitzpatrick, 4, on his birthday towards the local petting zoo when an oncoming moving truck strayed into the lane and hit mother and son in a head-on collision. Mother of two children and wife of six years killed instantly. Son was declared dead upon fatal injuries to his cerebellum. Father claims no comment and remains in his Kingsbury home with his daughter, Clara.
Questioning this article, Clara realized it had been written by her father and submitted to the Kings Journal for publication. But this doesn’t make sense, Clara thought to herself. He wrote in the letter that there had been no accident. If that was true, then why would he have written this article? Fidgeting through the other papers, different headlines filled her sight: “Daughter Raised By Father … Does She Know?”, “Father and Daughter Live In Denial”, “The Truth Exposed!”. Confused by this, Clara picked up the article with the heading: “Truth Is Out! Daughter Knows Nothing!” and began reading...
KINGSBURY, NEVADA – MAY 1998: Local family has recently been exposed. Father, Roger Fitzpatrick, submitted an article to the Kings Journal describing the fatal events in his family. Upon further investigation, against the wishes of the family, it turns out the article had been a fraud – as had the accident. Due to the inability to locate death certificates for supposedly deceased family members Gineene and Ralph, Roger Fitzpatick provided the Kings Journal with proper commentary on the matter.
On Ralph’s birthday (4), Gineene took him out on a car ride for ice cream and a trip to the zoo. Six days later, Gineene returned home, greeted by a worried husband. Upon questioning by Roger, Gineene explained why she returned late – and without her son.
Gineene confessed to taking an extensive detour in order to abandon her son in hopes of “getting rid of the stress in her life.” Roger immediately filed a Missing Person’s Report, which is another part of what led us to realize there was no car accident. No responses were ever returned to the family on Ralph’s behalf.
Upon explaining her circumstances for abandoning her one and only son, Gineene refused to disclose any information of the whereabouts in which she left him (police have reason to believe it was out of state). After further refusal, Roger locked her out, and wrote the false story as to allow his daughter, Clara, to grow up with no hard feelings of her mother.
Clara’s jaw hit the cement floor with a smack. She couldn’t believe her eyes. The real truth was hidden in a briefcase?! Flipping through other articles, she realized they were all the same: Mother abandons child – daughter knows nothing. All read the same way – except for one. At the bottom of the pile of newspaper clippings, was a ragged and taped piece of rustic paper reading “Fake Story Comes True?”. Unfolding it, Clara began to read:
KINGSBURY, NEVADA – JUNE 1998: Three months ago former reporter, Roger Fitzpatrick, published a false account of the occurrences in his family pertaining to his wife and son. On the other hand, yesterday marked the death of Gineene Fitzgerald, who was recently found guilty for abandoning her son on his birthday. Gineene, upon downing nine shots of tequila, proceeded to get into her rustic 1996 Oldsmobile and drive an increasing 97 miles per hour on Interstate 80 and managed to drive through the guardrail, down the mountain, and smash into an evergreen tree. She was declared dead at the scene. Have past events come back to haunt us?
How could he have done this to me? Clara wondered. The words from his letter flashing before her eyes: “I couldn’t let you discover the truth Clara” … “I can show you” … “I’m sorry I couldn’t be the father you needed” …
Tears rolled down her freckled skin. Slipping down to the grimy floor, Clara wrapped her arms around her knees and pulled her legs close to her chest. I miss Ralphy, she thought.
Moments passed as she sat on the unfinished basement floor, leaning against a knobby dirt wall. Tears ran down her face, moisturizing the patches of earth that were scattered between blobs of cement below her. Her father’s hand on her shoulder was the last thing she expected; Clara knew she was as good as dead.