He watched , impassive , the fly crawling up the woolly arm of his yellow turtle neck sweater. Did the insect infringe upon his space, or did he its, he wondered? Such a long, strange walk from the crook of his bent elbow towards the distant horizon of his wrist and protruding shirtsleeve. Perhaps at home this explorer fly would be hailed a hero, for deeds beyond the call of insect duty, he alone brave enough to venture upon this strange landscape, the alien fibres beneath his (feet?) cloying at his very progress, but his (many) eyes never losing sight of the ultimate goal: the peculiar hair sprouting land between vein and muscle named on the ancient maps as - HAND. Perhaps never before had his kind reached this final goal where a delta of raised blue veins stretched away to the bony knuckled distance and the long fleshy extensions called – FINGERS. Lazily, he swatted the invader from his arm and shifted in his armchair, his thoughts regrouping for another assault on the sorry world that was HIS LIFE.
Dad was wrong, he knew that. But Dad was his Dad and the normal thing to do, he supposed - generously , he thought – was to forgive him. Things get said. And being said, they stay said. The Moving Finger Writes, and Having Writ Moves on, and all that. It’s family, like it or lump it. He squirmed a little as he remembered the china teapot clattering to the stone kitchen floor and shattering into a thousand tiny fragments, to be closely followed by one of Dad’s favourite eggcups, the one emblazoned with the silly farmyard chicken before a five-bar gate. Both gone for ever, dreadful sorry Clementine. A thousand jagged pieces of pottery laying useless on the cold, stone tiled floor, mixing misery with mayhem, mayhem with misery. Dad didn’t even notice. He was too wrapped up in his own red-faced anger: The furies had got him. Had got him and were – apparently – strangling him at the throat, squeezing every last drop of sanity and reason from his wiry, drink sodden frame. Not a pretty sight. Dad had taken a swing at him, of course. He always did. But like most of the others, it missed. He remembered the pain – the only physical pain of this ugly confrontation – as his twisted, bestockinged left foot ground into the lethal carpet of smashed teapot/eggcup. He remembered that moment clearly, he supposed, because of the sudden, surprising pain. Everything was thrown into sharp relief and etched forever on the dusty, graffiti-covered wall of his subconscious mind designated ‘Ugly Moments to Forget’ where it clearly belonged. The joke was, of course, that everything on that reject wall would never be forgotten, could never be forgotten. Ever since he last wet the bed – at ELEVEN! – right up to slipping over at Marcia’s sumptuous wedding and spilling red wine all over the beautiful £6,000 wedding dress. The gasps! The terror! To listen to Mum you would have thought Marcia’s man had just announced he had AIDS and, incidentally, had also spat in every individual plate of vol-au-vents, just for fun. God, he’d only had a drink too many, just like Dad does all the time. Wasn’t that what weddings were for? All this inglorious family history written on the subconscious Wall of Things to be Forgotten and never would be.
But Dad had overstepped the mark this time. Words are only words, sticks and stones they are not, but they can be barbarous weapons in the right hands (or out of drunken mouths). He and Tracy had had their problems , nobody would ever deny that. But HE booted HER out for God’s sake. He hadn’t allowed her the satisfaction of putting the boot in and gave her her marching orders long before she had a chance to turn the tables. That sod Graham was even there to pick her up from the door in his bright yellow Porsche sports. What a wanker. Best gone, best forgotten. But Dad was totally out of line in the kitchen. Tracy and I had just grown apart, that’s all. It happens. She went off looking for pastures new, and he...well he was biding his time. Time will tell. Time will tell. But Dad’s cruel streak got the better of him: ‘You’re a fuckin’ faggot,’ he’d said. ‘You couldn’t hold on to a woman if she had handles sticking out her backside.’
His words cut right through to the marrow. Drunken old louse he is most of the time, but he’s still MY DAD, he told himself. He had turned, that’s all. Quite understandably most would say. He told him what Mum had said on the day of his 15th birthday. ‘You’re a big boy now,’ she’d begun, lightly enough. ‘You’re old enough to be told things.’
Old enough to be told things? Nobody is old enough to be told those things. But he’d kept quiet about what he’d heard. Kept it a deep, dark secret from his Dad but most of all from himself. If he didn’t ever mention it, it was more because he didn’t want to hear it confirmed by his own voice than anything. Kept quiet that is, until last Tuesday......
I shouldn’t have blurted it out, he said to himself as he plucked at the sleeve of his turtleneck sweater where moments before the fly had enjoyed his brief excursion . I should go right upstairs and tell Dad I’m sorry. Like it never happened. That it wasn’t true, anyway. Nobody would ever believe that. Hold him in his arms and get him to sing along with Danny Boy like they used to. He made a move to rise from the armchair but then his father’s accusing, drunken voice came back to him from the vaults of last Tuesday’s insanity. ‘You’re nothing but a faggot. A fucking faggot!’
He slumped back down into the embracing folds of the armchair, the cigarette burn from last Christmas staring up at him from the arm. He couldn ‘t be expected to take that, could he? Limits are limits, family or no family. ‘Me, a faggot?’
He thought back over his two years with Tracy. It’s true he missed her. But her treachery outweighed any of the last vestiges of feeling he still harboured. That fucker Graham was just a posing twat. Him and his bright yellow Porsche and Notting Hill penthouse. If she’d only held on a month or two, he felt sure he could have landed a decent job and then he could have bought her all the things she craved. Not down at the steelworks; anyone could get a job there. No – he was better than that, surely she could see that? He had to wait, bide his time. No point in taking any old thing that came up. That’s the road to hell and damnation. Surely she didn’t want him standing in dirty overalls all day, scratching his backside and going slowly deaf from the incessant noise of the giant grinders and turners? She’d given up on him, that was all. She had quit too early. Things could have worked out but she was too bloody impatient. A quick screw in the back of some slimy bastard’s Porsche was more important to her than all their plans for a proper future; a family, their own home. OK. So be it. He was better off without her. She wasn’t family and perhaps she was never going to be. But...Dad. He’s family. We may exchange a few heated words but in the end it all comes down to the blood in the veins. Same blood. Same bloody minded blood.
OK, he said a few things. We all said a few things. But we are still family. ‘He’s MY dad,’ and for the first time that day, he smiled. Oh Danny Boy, the pipes the pipes are callin’.....his eyes took on that dreamy look that is normally achieved by three straight pints of Harvey’s followed by a Scotch chaser or two. ‘He’s MY Dad. So he’s allowed to call me a faggot from time to time, ain’t he?’ He smiled coolly: ‘I’ve certainly called him worse.’ He rose from the armchair, its heavily worn arms offering little grip to help him rise to a standing position. He stood there a moment; A man of action, poised to do battle for righteousness. ‘I’ll go up and say sorry right now,’ he said to himself. ‘He’s MY Dad – no little tart is going to come between me and MY Dad.’
At 42, his body still resisted the sudden demands made upon itself after so long sitting motionless in the big, comfortable armchair and he was aware of an ache or two as he made stiffly for the sitting room door. He went out into the hallway, which still smelled of damp tobacco from Uncle John’s 40-a-day habit, and lumbered up the narrow staircase. He was uneasily conscious of a slight struggle to breathe as he climbed the steep stairs and, more to catch his breath than his thoughts, paused for a moment outside his father’s bedroom. For a few seconds his eyes rested on the green fading carpet at his feet before he raised his head to gaze at the open, mahogany coffin on his father’s bed.
“Sorry Dad,” he whispered. “So sorry.”
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