What would you do if you received a poison pen letter, suggesting you tell your husband who your daughter’s father is? This is what happens to Madalena in Honor’s Shadow. Somebody clearly believed that there was doubt about the paternity of Madalena’s daughter, Bella, recently all over the tabloid Press for her affair with a rising pop-star. Who was looking at the pictures of Bella, wondered Madalena, and noticing that she really didn’t look anything like Jack? But who did she look like?
Madalena is the pampered long term partner of straightforward Alpha male Jack, who provides her with a luxurious and protected lifestyle in return for fidelity and obedience. She knows she must find the letter writer and prevent them from stirring up trouble that might threaten the life she loves. She wonders if it could be Pat, Jack’s ex-wife; and she goes to visit her, finding her engrossed in the morning episode of the Jeremy Kyle show.
“I must watch this last moment,” said Pat, turning towards the TV. “Jeremy’s about to announce the DNA results to see if this boy’s the father of her child.”
Madalena looked at the screen, at two wretched looking youngsters, Wayne and Shelley, sitting in armchairs, a few feet apart. The girl, hair scraped back into a ragged ponytail, her face scarred with spots in various stages of evolution; and the boy, weedy and underfed, his face a mutinous scowl.
They both held their breath as Jeremy Kyle opened an envelope, gazed at it in silence, as the girl and boy, clinging to each other, barely more than children themselves, waited for his verdict. The audience held their collective breath. “The DNA results show that Wayne………….. is ……. NOT……. the father of Shelley’s son.”
The audience gasped. Shelley dissolved in tears. Wayne stood up, and turned on her: electronic bleeps stood in for his language. He stalked off the stage, outrage and grief etched into the lines of his body.
Pat leaned across, switched off the sounds of human misery; and made Madalena’s coffee.
“These programmes fascinate me. Imagine not knowing who the father of your child is.” She was watching Madalena’s face.
“Dreadful. Impossible to imagine how that must feel.” Madalena blinked repeatedly.
The Jeremy Kyle Show attracts almost 2 million viewers daily, for it’s breathtaking revelation of DNA results, revealed live on TV to cheering, jeering crowds. It typically features a woman trying to establish which of two or more men has fathered her baby, or a man wanting the certainty that a child he is raising (or not…) is his own biological offspring.
As I imagined myself into the heart and mind of Madalena in Honor’s Shadow, I wondered how it might feel to look at your child and not know who its father was. To always be watching, looking, wondering; or is there a point when you just make your best assumption then forget all about it?
Many fictional stories explore the search of adopted children for their natural parents, or mothers seeking babies they gave up; or foundlings trying to find their origins; or the consequences of babies mixed up at birth in some way…. But I can’t think of an example of a fictional story of a woman who has the paternity of her child questioned. Surely there must be some, about such a thoroughly modern conundrum? Perhaps now that is it possible to buy DNA tests online for less than £100, and receive the results by email within a week, there’s not much of a story to tell: there’s no need for wondering and worrying: the truth will set you free. Or will it?
It certainly set Madalena free, though not in the way she had hoped and imagined.