Sweetness Follows won the Kentucky Derby in a surprise victory over Unafraid. Dr. Ellison was clearly upset. He had a history of loosing money at this party. A woman that I did not know won a large cut of the purse. I overheard several men complaining that her victory had nothing to do with equine knowledge; rather her bet was placed because she had liked the name of the horse. I laughed at their indignation. Gambling was all luck and those who thought different were destined for disappointment.
With the completion of the races, dinner was served. My mother had long ago abandoned the idea of a seated supper. The numbers had grown too large and most of her guests enjoyed moving and mingling while they ate. I was thankful that my mother did not have to endure the public spectacle of a seated dinner without my father. I knew that she was silently suffering without that added humiliation. I sampled the food but had lost my appetite. I wandered out and away from the tent and into the gardens. I was looking for some solitude. As I strolled through the garden gate and headed down the pebbled path toward the lake, I heard familiar footsteps. I was surprised to find my uncle walking up the trail back to the tent. We stopped and an awkward silence passed between us. After a minute, my uncle simply placed his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I wanted to say something but I was at a loss. He sighed and returned to the party.
The last guest drove away around midnight. Both my mother and I were exhausted. I knew that she wanted me to stay the night. I surveyed the aftermath and suddenly felt claustrophobic. I said goodnight and promised to return in the morning to help with the cleanup.
“Do you think that your father thought about us at all today?”
“Honestly mom, I really couldn’t say.” My eyes averted her searching look. I had never intentionally lied to my mother. The deceit, I feared, would show on my face. A swell of anger rose in my chest. My father had done this to me.
“It was okay, wasn’t it?” She faintly queried.
“What, the party?” I was distracted by the picture in my mind of the postcard that had arrived just yesterday.
“Yes, the party.”
“Mom, it was magnificent. Go to bed and try to get some sleep. You really need to rest.” I was not intentionally trying to dismiss my mother but I had grown uncomfortable with the secrets I was keeping.
I left my mother standing in the kitchen alone. Part of me felt a tremendous guilt but the better part of me knew that what she needed was something I could not give. I sat in my car and stared at the postcard lying on the passenger seat. The postmark was from St. Thomas. Little H ~ The hurricanes have come early this season. I am not sure how long I will be traversing the Virgin Islands. I am anxious to move on. One of the suppliers down here said to me ‘"Out of sight of land the sailor feels safe. It is the beach that worries him.” So very true. Love you, Papa H. My father was thinking of the horizon not the land at his back. The postcard slid off the seat and into the dark recesses of my car as I drove away. I could see through the window my mother still standing alone in the kitchen. She was trying keep herself from drowning in the swell of unhappiness left by my father’s departure.