Dear Mother,

I do hope this letter finds you well. Though I’ve not heard from you in quite some time, I shall assume the reason is my constant moving about, and not something wrong on your end. Is cook still reading aloud my letters to you?

The division has been on the march for nine straight days, with no end in sight. Though our commanders keep us well fed, I cannot say the same care applies to other commodities, like boots and gloves. I’ve managed to keep all my fingers and toes, but I am unable to say the same for some of my men.

There has been a thing weighing on my mind, and that is the subject of your blindness. In your last letter, you described the doubt your doctor placed on its source being “bad heredity.” Indeed, I must confirm that your childhood blindness was, in fact, the result of a kitchen accident involving bleach. Your father, rest his soul, admitted such to me years ago under the strictest confidence. Trust me when I say he is sorry it happened, more sorry that he never confessed it, and most sorry of all that it was his fault.

Please forgive him, if you can find it in your heart to do so.

The doctor’s other comments regarding my complexion and hair color, in contrast to yours, do, as you point out, raise serious concerns regarding our shared ancestry. Alas, you have again happened upon an inconsistency of which I am now driven to clear.

You see, I was actually born to your mother, my grandmother, two days before you delivered your own son stillborn. In the post-birthing confusion, sensing an inevitable crushing blow, your mother, and, technically, mine, promptly put me in your arms, pretending that I was your own.

This ruse was agreed upon by doctors and nurses alike, considering the suspect nature of your pregnancy. You see, you had assumed it was your lover, Hans, who had snuck himself into your bedroom that fateful night to make love to you while you were still in the throes of yellow fever.

But Hans had taken an apprenticeship in Bremen the week before, intending to send for you once settled in and a proper engagement arranged. As you know, Hans was killed en route to his new position.

The stranger who entered your bedroom that night was none other than your father, back from sea duty and more drunk than any Irish poet could have dreamed. Intent on having a tryst with his wife, he entered your room by mistake and didn’t leave till morn, upon which he learned his error and forthwith continued his mission in the proper bed.

Growing up thinking I was your son, I was of course shocked to realize I was actually your brother. I remain embarrassed that I continued nursing to the age of four.

I had earlier claimed that this information came to me by way of your father, whom I had called grandfather, who is actually my father. This, in fact, is false.

The truth is, Mother-Sister, that I was killed in action one year ago today, while under the direct command of your Father, my Father-Grandfather, who is indeed very much alive. Embarrassed by my command gaffe that resulted in my death, plus your recent illness, I elected to continue writing to you as your Son-Brother, though I am in fact your Father, and Father to your Son-Brother and your stillborn son, who was actually a girl.

I wish to tell you directly how profoundly embarrassed I am by the bleach incident, an incident that found me enlisting in the army the very next day.

I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me for my transgressions and falsehoods. And for pretending to be a baby sucking at your teat, seeing as your Mother’s child, your Son-Brother, was also stillborn. And a girl.

Love always,
Your Father