Dad, a short story by Emma Wells at
Hans Veth



written by: Emma Wells


Mint and lavender tights, a sheep-wool warmth, reminds me of you. Two pairs. One for her. One for me. Thick for winter on days out with you as cream that drifts atop a milk bottle top. I miss those childhood days when abandoned birds’ eggs were sought, especially coloured or patterned ones. I remember the sky-blue shell with mottled brown specks, perhaps a blackbird’s brood. You placed them in sand in used chicken nugget boxes from McDonalds. An irony exists in that, I wonder if you realised? Perhaps, you didn’t care. They were abandoned or so you told us: good for the taking. We went along with it as the bends and curvature of a rollercoaster track, falling into your Sunday plans.

Looking back, we would have done anything in your sway, always wanting time with you to stretch longer as height charts as children grow. I’d count hours left on my watch or clock, wanting time to slow as the hands neared all too closely to going home time. You were fun. A treat from the norm. Maybe I should have told you how valuable you were then, an almost god with a gleaming black BMW? I’d mime along to Cindy Lauper and Phil Collins’ songs as you drove, rearing around roadside bends, always a little too confidently. I’d never sing aloud, allow my voice to be heard, but over thirty years later, I still know most of the words, my mouth fumbling for the memory in the backseat, watching you drive us back home.

Sausage and chips on a Wednesday at nan’s after school: a weekly routine. It was sacrilege not to keep to it. Do you remember the time when Heinz tomato sauce exploded on Nan and I? That’s when bottles were made of glass, and we had to rely on a firm, adult hand to shake the substance loose. Oftentimes, it would pour out as river flow, drowning our plates. We used to scream in mock alarm, loving the silly sense of panic as we all sat around nan’s dining room table. In hazy sepia, I glance at nan dabbing sauce from her floral top with a red chequered tea towel. Not angry. Just nan. Wholesome. Readying herself to serve raspberry ripple ice cream from her chest freezer as dessert. I’d whip mine to a frenzy: making an icy yoghurt – something I only did there.

Pound coins, newly minted if you could find them, were always displayed on grandad’s cabinet. Our weekly pocket money (you never forgot). A place where worn tobacco tins held bill payment money, meticulously counted by ageing eyes, down to the last penny. Figures and workings left in scribble marks on folded paper, pressed exactingly into metallic worlds for safekeeping. Grandad, so precise in arithmetic. Him and nan would add fifty pence coins or pounds, if we were lucky, topping up our kitty for the week.

Once, you sat by the door in a new wax jacket, the leathery tang wafting through the house. An umbilical cord to you. I asked to smell the sleeve up close, wanting you to tuck me away into its evergreen folds, so I could breathe the escape for a little longer. I can still recall the exact detailing: a chequered lining (blue, red and green) with a waxy finish to the leather outer, keeping out the cold and rain. You were always a shelter.

Life has spun its timely web and you are changed, as am I. A god no longer yet I love you just the same. My inner child still gazes at you in wonder: the same hue as time spilled before when you would hunt for birds’s eggs in a forest, keen to impress us. Now, your own vision leaks from its once sturdy hold – cataracts smudging memories. When I was young, you had eyesight as keen as a kestrel. The loss unsteadies you, stumbling a little now, with less assured steps.

Each spotting of a kestrel bird, even in my forties, reminds me of you. I gaze upon each sighting of one with their rhythmically flapping wings, hovering expertly above a shrew in a cornfield. The vibrations take me back to being an idolising girl by your side, drinking in your wildlife facts and trivia, sipping them deeply, eager to learn more about the universe, soaking knowledge like a bath sponge in bubbly water.

I buy you a pint: the first, you say, in forty-two years. I laugh at the reversal of fate and the fact that you’re right. You are cognisant that you drink too many of them: the guilt etched into ageing wrinkles that cast your face. More sorrowful now. Life-weathered and worn like a flung pebble caught in the relentless to-and-fro of an incoming tide.

Today, you wear a black leather jacket, dust coating the shoulders a smidgen: charcoal dandruff flakes. Thin, grey hair speckles your crown, where once lustrous waves flopped as a younger father. I take you back to memories, you willingly allow me to, metaphorically holding my hand, letting me soothe your health-riddled mind with nesting nostalgia. You smile faintly at memories. I tell you that you did a great job. Look at me now. I’m writing. Teaching. A mother. Happily married. I’m ok. You let the comfort slowly moisturise your skin, a balm you can only find from me. I hug you, recalling the leathery scents of your previous coats in childhood, finding that I don’t need to hold you so long or so tightly.

I say I’ll visit soon. I mean it. I will. I won’t let time take you from me where you only exist in shadowy corners. You are worth more than that, even you, riddled as you are with guilt, acknowledge a half-gilded truth of what I say. Purging my upset, to a degree, but letting you know that you mean something, I ghost away, imprinting some solace into your wind-swept, ageing soul.

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