The woman's face was serene and in perfect symmetry. Her wavy hair was gathered behind her head and tumbled to her shoulders in a way that evoked the lines raked into the sand of a Zen garden. She wore a tunic that framed her graceful shoulders and a diadem. Her eyes stared forward, her pupils absent.
Megan read the placard on the nearby wall.
Bust of Woman (Helen of Troy?)
Attributed to the Diomedes School
c. 3rd century BCE
Concerned about his daughter's increasing isolation, Michael had suggested this trip to see the Greek Treasures of the British Museum exhibit that would only be open for a couple more weeks. Megan, self-conscious about her appearance, had resisted until Michael arranged to take time off of work to go see the exhibit in the afternoon at mid-week, when the field trip groups and tourists would be relatively minimal.
Megan didn't really care about the Greeks, but she wanted to have a chance to speak to her father. In the days since she wrote Maria, Megan had been thinking about Maria's letter, about Maria herself, and about some of the ugly things that the situation implied. She didn't want to think that her parents could be that selfish, but it was hard to come to any other conclusions.
Michael wandered over and stood beside her, joining her in regarding the woman.
"Where are her eyes?" asked Megan.
"They were probably once painted on," explained Michael. "All of these statues were once really colorful. After a couple thousand years, the paint wears off." He pointed at the marble tiara the lady wore. "That might have been covered in gold leaf."
"Pretty," observed Megan.
"Well," her father smiled, "it is Helen of Troy."
"Another Helen," said Helen. "Like Mom." She tilted her head. "Kinda looks like Mom."
Michael squinted as if to see the resemblance better. "Darken the hair...brown eyes...yeah, kinda." He smiled again. "The face that sailed a thousand ships."
"So they could get away from her," muttered Megan.
"Hey, now. That's not a nice thing to say."
"Well, Mom hasn't been very nice lately."
"She's just worried. Same as usual."
Megan nodded. "Worried about her mom?"
Michael blanched. "Her mom?"
"Why would she be worried about that?"
"Her mom wrote her a letter," said Megan.
"Yeah," said Megan, and fixed her father with a frown.
Michael was silent for a moment. "Did she tell you that?"
"Then how do you know that?"
"I found the note in the trash," Megan admitted.
"I see. You shouldn't go rooting through the trash and reading things that don't belong to you."
"I was curious," retorted Megan. "I mean, how often do you get mail from beyond the grave?"
Michael closed his eyes and grimaced.
"I thought she was dead," continued Megan.
"Yes. I know."
"But she's not, is she?"
Michael hesitated, then shook his head. "No."
"How long have you known?" demanded Megan.
"A long time."
"Why did you say she was dead, then?"
"Because she was," explained Michael. "As far as your mother was concerned, she was."
"What does that mean?"
Michael sighed, unsure of how to explain it. "Your grandmother...made a lot of mistakes. She did things that really hurt your mother. It was your grandfather." He looked around the gallery to make sure they were alone, then lowered his voice. "He was a drug addict, and he abandoned your mother over and over again, and your grandmother kept taking him back."
"And Mom hates her for that?" Megan was incredulous.
"She wanted to get away from a bad situation, and once you were born, she thought it was best that you not be involved in that either. She thought her mom was weak and cared more about him than her daughter, and she couldn't forgive her for basically choosing that man to be her father."
"It is, maybe, but since I didn't grow up with a dad who checked out all the time, I can't understand how it feels. And I'm not going to tell her how to handle her relationship with her parents."
"How about him?" Megan asked bitterly.
"Who? Your grandfather?"
"Yeah. Is he secretly not dead too?"
"No, he is dead," said her father quietly.
"You sure?" challenged Megan.
"Yes." Michael frowned. "When we took you for the genetic tests and they hadn't seen your mutation before, they ran your code through the database to see if there were any matches. There was one."
"And he was dead?"
"Yeah. They had found him in a park years earlier and had taken a DNA sample before they cremated him in case they could ID him somewhere down the road."
Megan considered this for a moment, then asked, "How did he die?"
"They weren't sure," Michael admitted. "He was...well, he was a skeleton when they found him. He had been there a long, long time. There was a syringe nearby, so they think he overdosed. But there was no way to know for sure."
"It may have been somebody else's," Megan pointed out.
"True," agreed Michael. "But given his history, it was probably his. We don't know, but...yeah."
"And he had what I have," she said quietly.
Realizing what she was concluding, Michael hastened to reassure her. "He had the mutation, sweetheart. That's all we know."
Megan didn't answer.
"We don't know that he had what you have." He peered intently at her. "You're not going to end up like that, honey, if that's what you're worried about."
She looked back at him. "Did you tell the geneticists that my grandmother was dead?"
Taken aback at the question, Michael shook his head. "Megan, she isn't the source of the gene, it's your grandfather--"
"Did you tell them she was dead?" she growled.
Michael couldn't bring himself to answer her, and as her suspicions came true, her eyes grew wide with anger.
"Did it ever occur to you," she said hotly, "that maybe my grandmother has the same mutation, or that her genes combined with his somehow was the reason I have what I have?" Her face crumpled. "Mom is mad at her mother for putting up with her deadbeat dad, so you think it's okay to lie to my doctors? Maybe that's the key to what's wrong with me!"
"We can't be sure of that--"
"We won't be sure of that! You closed that door! Nobody knows anything, and they need all the information they can get, and you're hiding things from them? You didn't even stop to think about it! You and Mom were so concerned about her hurt feelings! Did you ever think about the fact that this is killing me?"
"Megan," Michael urged her, "calm down." He reached for her arm but she yanked it away.
"I'm inside all the time! I have no friends! I can't do anything! My life is ruined!" She turned and ran out of the gallery, crying, "How could you? How could you?"
Ashamed, Michael stood frozen, watching her disappear. He turned helplessly to look at Helen of Troy, as if she could offer any counsel, but her eyes only stared ahead, stony and blank.