On Saturday mornings while mum was cleaning we walked along the canal, my hand holding on to one of his fingers. On the way back from the shops he would swing me up onto his shoulders so he could carry bags in each hand. Now I realise how I must have tugged on his hair but he was a quiet man.
Be sensible, son. I know you will be. I was eighteen and leaving home and did not know what sensible meant. Years later I began to understand and he did not judge. Stay as long as you need, son. This is your home. Stay as long as you want. A quiet man.
In the supermarket he gripped the trolley and his legs would not move. As we carried him to the car, he closed his eyes so others would not see his embarrassment. He was silent in the car and until he was safely in his chair in his new home. Thank you, son, he said and I started to tell him thank you for everything but he raised a hand. He was a quiet man.
For Sid, 1915-2008
You smiled quietly when we gave you a card, cleared your throat and said thanks. We found them all you know, when we were clearing the loft, all in date order (you’d pencilled the date on each envelope), held together with a rubber band, wrapped in plastic and sellotaped down. I’m not sure why we all wrote this one.
On Father’s Day he used to pretend he wasn’t bothered but mum told us he used to smile to himself and tell her he loved us. Later we found every card we ever sent him in a plastic bag inside a box inside another plastic bag. We think they were in year order.
Between the clouds pales the sun’s snow-washed face
J turns to catch his shadow but it’s gone
His father left the village on St. Joseph’s Day
Across the mountains he walked and the sea held him close
Goodbye to my father, goodbye as the days grow
One day I will follow, go with you to the sea
The young man ran, fell to his knees, ran again. His breath was ragged, the swirling night mist a cold knife to his lungs. He fell again, groaned. Behind him in the darkness a light tracked from side to side.
His hands sinking in mud, he levered himself up and staggered on. The light drew closer then suddenly was gone. He crouched, breathed, swallowed a sob. The light snapped on again. he covered his eyes. “Yer da says hello.” Two shots cracked and echoed.
A long way away a phone rang. “Done? … Good…. The other half will be with you when I see the photo. I need to see it…. It’s so important you hunted him down and held him. I miss my boy so much…. Held him…. What? Held him…. Held him!”
On the phone there was the sound of breathing, of the wind and then silence.
Dad would have been 99 today. Just one more year until he returned the telegram to sender. That small satisfaction was not to be.