11 years ago, Dad slipped away. Approx 1.30 on the 6/9/2008. The death certificate says the ninth, we all knew that was wrong but does it matter? A bit of detective work revealed he had his hair cut that morning so was in his best togs and cheerful according to the hairdresser that popped in that day. He cooked, eaten and washed up; one pan, plate to the side, one knife, one folk, a potato peeler and a serving spoon stood like soldiers next to them on the stainless steel draining board.
It puzzled me for years where was his beer mug? I realised yesterday it would have been on the round table next to him, the one he made for his mum and dad that now sits at my beside. I guess Michael had moved it when he found my dad. It would have been the sort of thing he would have done, pour away the stale beer before the undertaker arrived. I meant to ask him last night but it hardly seemed timely after seeing Romeo then Juliette top themselves.
How did I know the time? There next to him was the Radio Times, in his own peculiar bordering on obsessive way he’d circle the shows he wanted to listen to or see and tick them off. It was open at the TV page, which I have somewhere with the trinkets, coins and some of the sweet little gifts he’d give us. Never at birthdays or Christmas just as and when. Some are out and about. A silvered bottle opener in the shape of a dolphin keeps company with the breadboard scoured with age in my kitchen.
In those last years so lonely and so alone. So unable to speak his grief he softened. One time we were watching the football, a women’s league or perhaps the final. One of the players, lanky with dreads hammered the ball into the back of the neck from way outside the 18 yard box. For a moment I froze. Expecting. Preparing a response to his, “Bloody wogs.” I looked over at him in his silence and he said, “Good goal!” Nodding with genuine approval. That father had died a long time ago. I knew that but old habits die hard.
He endured Lara Croft with me and joked about it. A good bad film. Sometimes I could get him to step into the garden with me as I pulled endless streams of ivy and bind wind that was smothering the evergreens.
He would tell me about the visits from Emma and the twins from next door that he adored, a feeling which was obviously mutual. At ten years old I guess it may have been their first funeral. Emma had dressed them impeccably, I don’t know how she could afford it, and they each carried a red rose to place on the coffin.
At the wake the girls wriggled together in his armchair. One of them said to me, “Look he’s there, he’s watching us,” and giggled and someone put on Charlie Parker, so despite all the shit about a Christian funeral he got the send off he wanted in the end. I looked around the room and say so much colour.
Truth is he never really left I reckon til last year. Not being a believer guess he wouldn’t wondered what the hell was going on. Emma not me that night, when his body woulda still be turning cold, one of the pencils he gave the girls, engraved with their names, flew across the room and landed at her feet.
A year ago in Andalusia, I met him at the foot of the mountain I could see from bedroom window at the writing retreat. Slowly we made our way to the top. He grumbled all the way. It took a very long time believe me. At the summit I said, “Look can’t you see they are all waiting for you?” Mum and his parents stood together reaching out. I’m not sure how, because a could hardly have lifted him, and no angels came down shimmering, but some how in the end he reached up and he was gone.
He comes here sometimes, I can smell him. We don’t exactly talk but if we did would it still be one sided? He used to berate what he called “the talkers” the experts; novelists, Nobel prize winners, appearing on radio 4. “ Never done a proper job like me what do they know.” And I wonder what he thinks when he sees me talk or perform, to audiences or on radio, am I now just another “talker” to him. Something tell me not if he has continued to soften, or let that soft side show. To those who couldn’t or wouldn’t see him. It is your loss. I feel sorry for you. I forgive you.