Forgiveness of Trespasses
By Michael Shafto
HE OPENED THE letter
and read it straight through, from beginning to end without pause. Then he went over to the window of the livingroom of his
third floor flat, stuck his head out and swore in angry frustration. It was as though he couldn’t bear to have the words
and the rage with which they were flung from his mouth sully the clean, well-lit neatness of the small bachelor flat. Finally,
his anger exhausted, he began to tear the letter in small pieces and let the fragments flutter from his fingers to the courtyard
below. It was just a short letter, one page, and the job was soon done.
His name was Jack Robinson, and at school he was known as “Flash”: because he was the fastest runner over any
distance up to 400m, and because of the expression people used to describe swiftness. You know, “before you could say
Knowing the probable consequences, no thinking parent would have coupled the two names. But then neither of his parents had
given the name. His father, whoever he might have been, didn’t know of his existence. His mother was Renee Robinson,
and it was she who had tied a label to one of his tiny wrists with the inscription “Robinson” on it. Then wrapping
him in a shawl had placed him on the doorstep of the Brer Rabbit Home for Abandoned Children.
It was Marcia Truehart’s fault, when you came right down to it. Not that she’d done it with any malice. Marcia
simply didn’t have time for malice. She was the home’s matron and general factotum – and that job description
alone ought to tell you just how busy she was from morning till night, running after the eighteen kids she had charge of,
without a single helper. It was twenty-three years ago now that she’d opened the front door as usual to let in good
fresh air in the early morning, and found the little tyke. She looked at the nametag; it was tied with soft wool that was
fast coming loose. “Robinson,” she read aloud. “Hmm… We’ll have to call you ‘Jack’.”
BY the time Jack
was eight he’d already been in four foster homes. His foster parents –decent normal people without exception –
all had the same reservation about him: Jack could not settle down and become part of the family. Matron Truehart would have
been the first to concur. From his earliest days at the home, after the matron had explained to him how he was different from
other children, Jack became obsessed with finding his real parents – his mother in particular. Never a day went by that
he didn’t pester the matron about finding his mother.
Marcia had kept the nametag. “Robinson” was written on it in script that was mostly small and spidery, only the
capital R done with a stubborn sort of flourish, as though the person who’d written it were saying: “Yes, that’s
me – my name – and I’m proud of it!” Jack had immediately demanded she give it to him when Marcia
told him about it. “I want it. It’s mine,” he said, with a pent up, barely controlled fury.
He never tired of asking questions about his arrival at the home. He wanted to know everything. Marcia told him she was certain
his mother had not been married; that almost definitely Robinson was her surname; that, yes, probably she was a resident of
their city; and that maybe she even lived in the close proximity of the Brer Rabbit home.
He was very bright. By the age of four he was demanding the matron search the
local telephone directory
for Robinsons in their city, also the nearby towns and districts.
One weekend when he’d
been alone at the home with Marcia – the rest of the children all
prospective foster families or on the elephant park outing arranged by the
– he’d nagged until she had phoned all twenty-two Robinsons in the district.
“No, Jacky,” she told him when finally the marathon phoning session was over, “none of them could have been
her. Honest, darling. You heard, I asked them all – all the ladies I spoke to – whether any of them had a baby
four years ago. Some got quite cross!” She said his mother must have moved away; that he should forget about that now
and concentrate on a family, the Pattersons, who were making inquiries about fostering him, with a view to full adoption,
if things worked out. They were wealthy and would be able to give him all the advantages of a privileged life.
Marcia was not telling the complete truth. One of the women she’d spoken to had sounded very uncertain of herself. Answering
in a shaky voice, she had become strangely agitated, almost confrontational when Marcia’s questions had taken on a personal
aspect. “Who is this? What gives you the right to ask such a personal question? Have you know I take great exception
to this… sort of thing,” and abruptly rang off.
The entry in the telephone directory was Robinson WW, Accountant, in one of the city’s upmarket suburbs. The matron
had underlined it at the time. “Yes, this is the Robinson residence,” the nicely modulated voice had begun when
Marcia got through. “Is it my dad, Mr. William Robinson, you’re wanting? He’s not in I’m afraid. I’m
Renee. Beg your pardon…? Who is this…?” It was then her voice had begun to shake.
The following year, Marcia Truehart met and married a new doctor who was called in to look after several of the children following
an outbreak of measles at the home. Becoming Mrs. Denbow, she and her husband later that year moved to England and a country practice in Somerset. After a while, becoming a mother herself, she forgot about the intense young lad
she had found on the Brer Rabbit home doorstep; the boy she’d given the name “Jack” to go with the surname,
Robinson, that was on the nametag tied to his wrist.
EVERY word of
the letter, its scraps still floating on the late afternoon air, was imprinted on Jack’s brain. Silly cow! On his birthday,
what’s more. His twenty-third.
Darling - Happy birthday! Now that at last I’ve found you after
all these years of searching I am able to say it. You’ll never know
how I’ve longed to see you, to touch you, to talk to you and be with
you. Be able to say just that, Happy Birthday!
I am your mother, Renee Stricker. You, I believe, are known as
Jack. Now that it’s possible I want us to meet. Make a note of my
number at the bottom of the page and call me as soon as you can.
I want to make it all up to you, darling! I can’t wait – all these
years and I’ve never even set eyes on you.
The letter was posted locally. That certainly suggested she still lived somewhere
in the city.
“After all these years of searching” – that was rich! She was the one who had
deposited him on the
Brer Rabbit home doorstep twenty-three years ago; all she’d have needed to do thereafter was contact the trustees. You
didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes. It was all there in black and white: how it hadn’t worked out with the Pattersons
or the MacIness family or the D’Arcys or the Websters, and that in the end he’d returned to the home and while
he went to high school and then university, had helped Marcia Truehart’s successor run the place for more than ten years.
Indeed, Jack thought, it was exactly this his so-called mother must have been doing these last couple of days. How otherwise
had she managed to find out his address to slip this letter under the door of the flat he had started renting just a month
As the years had passed with no word from his mother, Jack had become increasingly embittered. Now suddenly, after twenty-three
years when it suited her, she’d decided to make contact. Damn her! All those years when night after night he’d
cried himself to sleep, wanting no one but her – his mother – where was she then? No, she could rot in hell before
he’d get in touch with her. In any case he didn’t have the number now. It was somewhere, minced into small pieces,
among the confetti he’d sprinkled over the courtyard below.
Even if she got hold of him again here or at work – he presumed she must know everything about him by now – he’d
simply put the phone down on her or close the door in her face. Whatever.
BUT by morning
he’d changed his mind. Still simmering with the injustice of it all Jack looked up the number in the telephone directory.
There was just the one Stricker in the book, an advocate. HL Stricker, Sunny Park. It had to be her. He began to dial on the
phone on his desk at work. It was just after nine.
“Hello, Mrs. Stricker speaking.”
There was a shocked pause. “Darling! You’ve phoned! Oh, I’m so glad. I’m lost for words. Don’t
know where to begin. When will I see you?”
Jack had it all worked out. It was a Friday. “I thought tomorrow would be perfect. Let’s have morning tea at Jericho’s… you know the little café in Denison
Lane, just off Main? I’ll meet you there at ten-thirty.
I’ll be waiting for you in the last booth but one against the wall on the lefthand side. Okay? Good. Looking forward
to seeing you, Mum.” He gave a sort of strangled sigh. “Gee, I can’t tell you how excited I am!”
“Me, too,” she replied. She gave a nervous giggle. “I wonder if you still have that lovely curly blond hair?”
Jack Robinson smiled to himself as he put down the phone. Brian Cooper looked across from his desk. Jack and Brian were doing
their articles together at the accountancy firm of Beckwith, Harper & Associates. They were good friends, though they
hadn’t known each other long.
“What’s up?” Cooper said, running his fingers through his blond hair. “Got some gorgeous new chick
on the bite there, Flash?”
“Let’s go over the pub for lunch,” Jack answered. “I’ll tell you all about it.”
In the private bar over a couple of beers and curry and rice from the Federal Hotel kitchen, Jack told Brian Cooper of his
plan. It was the first time Brian had heard about his
At first he was not at all keen to go through with it, but gradually the passion with which Jack put his case won Brian over.
“D’you know what it’s like wondering why your mother abandoned you? You’re just a small kid with no
one to turn to. Then, when you understand the circumstances, you think well at least some day she’ll contact you. But
it never happens. She doesn’t care. You’re just a sordid little mistake!”
“Easy, Jack. Easy,” he said. “Okay, I’ll do it.”
was already seated in the last booth but one against the lefthand wall when Jack’s mother arrived. Jack was in the corner
booth, next to the kitchen door. Brian rose; he held Mrs. Robinson’s hands a moment, kissed her cheek, then embraced
From the end booth Jack grinned sourly to himself as he heard her dolefully tell the sad tale of her life. “I was only
eighteen when you were born. Your father, of course, walked out on me. It was a terrible strain keeping it from my parents.
My father, a total puritan, would have disowned me had he found out. When I married Mr. Stricker I opened my heart to him.
I so wanted to reach out to you, darling. But, good man though he was, my husband was unrelenting on this point. If I so much
as tried to contact you, he’d divorce me, he said.”
Jack sneered. Likely bloody story! Her only reason for wanting him now was to round out her life as the saintly martyr. But
then Jack’s ears pricked at a sudden change in his mother’s tone.
“Young man,” she said, “d’you really think a mother wouldn’t know her own son? One she has longed
to hold all these years. I don’t know who you are. But you aren’t Jack.” She gave a strangled cry, a mixture
of outrage and bitter disappointment. “You can tell him that I waited twenty-three long years to claim him as my own,
so I could make it up to him. Give him everything he missed through his unhappy childhood. Mr. Stricker left me very well
off. A millionairess would not be an exaggeration! But as Jack seems unwilling to acknowledge me, I no longer have any wish
to meet him either.”
Jack heard her stand up. Peering from his seat, he saw her trim shoulders give just the slightest twitch of irritation as
she walked out of the café, never once looking back.