How can it be a home coming if you’ve never been there before?
But that’s what I’d like to call it. It was 1923, and I was heading into a small town in Southern Mississippi called Escagoula Point. If what my mother told me on her deathbed was true, the only time I’d been there was the night I was conceived. Here I was, twenty-six years old, just coming off burying my mother after a long bout with everything God could throw at her, driving into what amounted to foreign ground to look for the man who spawned me. He was supposedly the richest man in town, and he’d probably assume I was just looking to get his money, but I didn’t want anything at all from him.
I just wanted him to know I existed.
I’d gone this long without taking anything from him; I could finish out my days without him. It wouldn’t be too bad to be in town — a man I knew in the Great War, Winston Cavanaugh, hailed from this area, and if the stories he told were true, the small town wouldn’t be so bad. It certainly had to be better than the bumpy, dirt roads that were taking out the last bit of my tires as I got closer. I couldn’t wait to see Winston, but first I had to see Robert Donnelly, my birth father.
Oh, me? My name is Kate Nass.
Yes, my mother named me Kate. She was a strange one, travelling as she did with her family and extended family from town to town. Some people called them gypsies, but they weren’t. They were just wandering, making money however they could — mostly as entertainment. For the last decade they travelled with a carnival. I’d grown up on the road, and kind of liked the idea of settling down. Even when I signed up to go to Europe, I got to be in one place for a longer time than I ever had before. We sat ’round that basic training place for weeks — weeks in one spot! It was amazing to me.
To hear Winston tell it, he’d never left Mississippi before joining up. Like me, he went when the country asked him to. Ever since the war I’d made a living doing what I did in the war: watching people. A few smart officers almost immediately picked up on the fact I could see through people and all the garbage they threw up in the air to distract from them and put me to work on intelligence.
Donnelly’s house was more than I expected. A massive, all white mansion with huge white columns, like the pillars from a Roman temple. By the design I guessed it had been there before the Civil War, and with the flat fields around it, I would have pegged it as a plantation house. Despite travelling all my life, I’d learned more than most people I encountered. It wasn’t in spite of my lack of schooling, but rather, because there wasn’t much else to do but learn when sitting in the back of a horse drawn wagon. I wasn’t good at whittling.
The place was even so grand as to have a butler in a suit nicer than anything I owned answer the door. He looked at me with the sort of disdain one usually reserves for the bottom of his shoe after he realizes he’s stepped in dog shit. Great, this is going to go well.
“I’m here to see Robert Donnelly,” I said — no, I announced!
He scoffed. “Do you have an appointment?”
“Tell him I’m here with a message from Jolan Nass.” Maybe he’d remember her name. She remembered his. “He’ll see me.”
“I doubt it, but if it will get you off the porch…” He shut the door in my face.
True to my word, he decided to see me. I didn’t have to wait long for the butler to return and let me in. He led me up a grand, beautiful staircase and into a study where he instructed me to sit and left. Moments later, an older, thin man entered the room. Like the butler before him, this man was over dressed. By my mother’s description of his build, the dark, wavy yet short hair and clean-shaven face, I knew I had found the man I came to see. His eyes betrayed confusion yet anticipation, like a child being given a present he didn’t expect and couldn’t wait to unwrap.
“Please, sit,” he said.
“I’d rather stand,” I said.
“Then, so will I.”
Interesting, I thought. He didn’t seem standoffish. “Jolan Nass died a month ago,” I said. Donnelly seemed to be staggered a bit by that.
“You have some message from her for me?”
“I am the message. I am her son, fathered by a rich boy in this town many years ago.”
His expression turned angry. “What do you want?”
“The same thing I’ve gotten from you for the last twenty-six years — not a damn thing, sir. I don’t need your money. I just wanted you to know I exist. I wanted to see you.” I was so… angry? It didn’t make sense to be angry at him — Robert Donnelly never knew I existed. My mother never told him, never even spoke to him again after their tryst. She told me she worried he would claim I belonged to another. Now we would find out if that much was true.
“She confessed to me who my father was on her deathbed, after having kept it from me, and me from you, for all of my life. Because she feared you, like many before, would deny your charge,” I said. “I don’t want anything from you, Robert Donnelly.”
“I am sorry,” he said, finally taking a seat at the massive, ancient oak desk in the center of the room. “It is such a shock.”
To avoid looking at him, I took in the study as much as I could. A hand-made glass cabinet behind his desk housed all manor of liquor, topped by a pitcher of what appeared to be tea and a pair of clear, tulip-shaped glasses on a silver platter. The walls were lined with more books than I’d ever seen, shelves that were only broken up by the occasional decorative weapon. A globe stood waist high next to a sofa in one corner. It was a study I could get lost in. I envied any children Robert Donnelly had legitimately.
“According to my mother, you are my father,” I said. “But I expect nothing from you.” I couldn’t help but repeat it. Maybe that would make it true.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” my father said. “No Donnelly will go without. You must meet your brothers and sisters.”
“I’m not a Donnelly. I’m a Nass.”
With that I turned on my heels to leave.
“I don’t even know your name,” he called.
“Kate,” I said, without turning.