by Kathleen Whelan
When the news came that Bernadette committed suicide I thought it was a scam, just another way for Bernadette to catch a windfall.
Yellow roses arrived from Bernadette announcing that by the time we received them, she would be dead. At first, Mother and I wondered if Bernadette was serious. Mom said it was more frightening than the time two ambulance drivers ran into the house. They had the wrong address, but for a split second Mom wondered if she had had a heart attack, and this morning she wondered if Bernadette was dead. She said that Bernadette has the right body to wear the clothes you see on Fashion TV and that she has everything to live for.
I decided to bite the bullet and call Bernadette in Wilno.
The last time she was in town, Bernadette stole ten thousand dollars from Daddy and I was still upset with her. She told him that she wanted to go to university, even though she is in her forties, and that if he didn’t give her the cash, she would tell Mom that he used to fool around with her.
When she was little, some called Bernadette precocious.
Bernadette always had a talent for finding men with strange desires, but I have never understood her attraction to Cat Palubuski. He is a gelding. Cat and his brother were members of a bike club, the Vagabonds, and when they held up a gas station once, Cat’s brother shot Cat’s balls off. I am not conversant with the details, but anyone would know that his brother didn’t miss the mark.
Bernadette told Cat about the money she stole from Daddy, but she forgot to tell him that it was gone. She usually spent her money on clothes and then donated her purchases to a shelter. Bernadette didn’t consider the needs of homeless women while she was actually shopping. When the money was gone and she was destitute again, she would decide to repent. At the end of the day, Bernadette didn’t have enough money to pay her rent and she hoped to be rewarded with another windfall. I wonder if she repented before she killed herself.
Mom was pleased that Bernadette had found a steady man and said, “Will he love her if she gains weight?”
Mom wrote to her and told her to put on makeup every morning and to never take him for granted. She reminded Bernadette that it is her responsibility to make sure that her man is well groomed and eating healthy food. She told Bernadette that she would not speak to her again until she paid Daddy back, but that she was willing to correspond by mail.
Bernadette was as thin as a rail, but she still couldn’t stop lying to get her own way. Cat believed that if he spent some time in Istanbul, he could give up a life of crime altogether. Bernadette does not want to go to Istanbul, she says that it is too pedestrian and that her heart’s desire is to own a hunt and fishing lodge somewhere in Canada. She convinced Cat to visit Barry’s Bay. She told him that it was the first Polish settlement in Canada and that vampires live in nearby Wilno. I wonder if she planned to kill him up in Wilno. Bernadette seems to love Cat, but who knows what she will do to have some fun. Bernadette chose Barry’ s Bay because she could afford the bus fare and because it is fairly close to home. All that stuff about vampires, the hunting lodge, and helping Cat to find his roots is crap.
When she was thirteen, Bernadette took Daddy’s car keys from his green work jacket and drove his prized white Dodge with fins and push buttons around the block. When she was eighteen, she drove the same car against the garage door repeatedly. Daddy was away and Bernadette came to her senses the next morning. Her boyfriend tried to fix the car so that Daddy wouldn’t know, but it was a hopeless situation.
Daddy was reserved when he saw the Dodge. He took his pickup truck and went to the cottage to cool out. All the Pattersons are like that, but Bernadette has no Patterson blood, her father took off when she was born and when she was six, Momma married Daddy.
They got married the day after Bernadette’s birthday and she still has not recovered over not having a party that year. He was born in England and Bernadette has that wild mixture that is Mom and her father. They are all drifters and dreamers, her relatives. Momma is, too, but Daddy settled her down. He hates Momma’s family and won’t even touch anything they cook. Which is too bad because for all their faults, they know how to serve up a good meal.
When we were young, Daddy would take Bernadette to the Ottawa Ex and leave me behind with Mom. I am nine years younger than Bernadette and knew that she resented any attention that he gave me. Now I live with Mom and Daddy and am there in case they need me in their old age. They are old, but they don’t seem to need me yet.
I loved my sister Bernadette, but we have been at each other’s throats for years. I have not done the things I wanted to in life because it would upset Bernadette. She can’t stand to have someone, especially me, get ahead of her. Once, while I was explaining to her how she had affected my life in an adverse manner she screamed at me. “Chester is an asshole, he used to do things to me. After it stopped, I said to him, ‘Are you going to do the same things to Melissa?’ and he said, ‘You wanted it.’ ”
The last time he touched her was the last time he took her to the Ottawa Ex. He took her on the lovers’ ride, kissed her and felt her breasts. That was the last time Bernadette referred to him as Daddy. After that she always called him by his Christian name, Chester.
Bernadette tried to tell me what he did to her during the 100 mile drive back from the ex, but I put my hands over my ears and screamed.
Once, she was on a Greyhound Bus from Sudbury to Ottawa and she believed that the bus, which was packed to capacity, was empty. She stood at the front of the bus and told the bus driver that she had a whip in her hand, that she owned the bus, and that he had to follow her orders. Of course, her hands were empty and the whole thing was a delusion. She was lucky the bus driver didn’t drop her off at the loony bin in North Bay. That wouldn’t have been anything out of the ordinary for Bernadette, to spend time in the psych ward. It is all very clear to me, I have read that schizophrenia is genetic and has nothing to do with abuse or growing up with a bad family. Someone on the bus sat with her and talked her down. She was on acid on the bus, but that stuff only brings out the truth a little faster.
After I screamed, I hugged Bernadette and told her I was sorry if Daddy hurt her but I also acted as though she was lying. I didn’t say she was lying, I just gave her that look that says, “Come off it.” Daddy has his faults like everyone else and there is a thing called loyalty. He is, after all, my real father.
Bernadette had a woman’s body by the time she was eight. And she was tall for her age. He isn’t a pedophile. He was just getting back at Mom because she wouldn’t let him discipline Bernadette when she was a young. Pull down her pants and spank her, that kind of thing.
She is not dead, I know it in my bones that Bernadette is somewhere with Cat Palubuski. Probably in Barry’s Bay looking for vampires in nearby Wilno. She only wants us to believe she is dead. I have heard that Al Capone hid out there, and if it worked for him it will work for Bernadette.
When Daddy was told that Bernadette had killed herself, he said, “She wanted it.”
I have to admit, that gave me a moment’s pause.
Bernadette didn’t stop Daddy from touching me, too, and for that she can rot in the Madawaska Valley. She left me alone with him and Momma and she knew that only she could stop him.
The last time daddy took Bernadette to the Ottawa Exhibition, she came home and came into the house and made a fool of herself. She screamed, “You don’t know what he does to me.”
Then she broke her hand when she hit the bathroom door. I remember wondering if Momma was also thinking, “But he spoils you.” I wanted him to spoil me, too, and the next summer he took me to the Ottawa Ex for the first time.
I know that Bernadette would say, “You are such a copycat. Blackmail him too.”
I desperately wanted to tell my sister my secret and I finally telephoned Wilno.
Cat answered, “This is no scam. Bernadette took an overdose and left you her beat up Land Rover. She bought it with the money she took from Chester.”
I said to Cat, “She also left me alone with Momma and Daddy.”
Cat said, ” We joined the Ottawa Valley Land Rovers Club. Get your ass out here to pick up your machine and sign up too. We are going to have a party and throw her ashes in a field near here where there are a team of Clydesdales. The Land Rovers don’t party like the Vagabonds, but they all were impressed with Bernadette. And they all have their balls.”
I told Cat that my best memories of her were when she pretended to be a horse and I would ride on her back. Bernadette would prance and whiney and I called her Topsy.
Kathleen Whelan is a writer living in Toronto. Her work has appeared in The Spirit of Women, Other Voices and the Brobdingnagian Times.