He was at the end of the path at the little green iron gate he painted every three years, but why he was there now escaped him. His hand lay tentatively on the metal. In front of him, the world ambled by as it always did, but behind him, up the short concrete path, the little terraced house was a thin wedge of the world in which time had left a hole.
Something had brought him here but what it was hovered just out of reach, like the name of a friend that inexplicably escapes you in conversation. The lavender his wife, Mary, had planted edged the path in full summer bloom, inviting visitors in on soporific wafts. Its heavy purple heads nodded sombrely while bees ambled about their work, like the rest of the world.
Jenny drove up, parking on the road in front of the gate, breaking the spell.
“Hi Dad, are you off out?” she asked. She looked like him but had her mother’s mannerisms, those eyebrows that asked questions.
“What?” said Jeffery absently. “No, no. I was just…” the sentence trailed off and Jenny bustled past with bags of shopping.
“I’ll make tea,” she said, helping her dad out. Jenny was good at making tea. She could make tea for Ireland. In the last month it felt like she had. “I got a few things in,” she called back over her shoulder, shrugging the shopping bags at the end of her arms.
His hand left the gate and he went back up the path after her, lavender brushing against his legs, reaching out consoling hands.
“Do you want a biscuit, Dad?” the question sang from the small kitchen at the back. Jeffery sat in his usual spot looking out at the street, over Mary’s chair opposite, where she used to knit. So much knitting, for their children, then their grandchildren, and then the church and therefore all of the children in Africa or Bangladesh who apparently needed knitwear. Jeffery had a vision of grateful little children in Ethiopia sweating under double-pearl cardigans. He smiled and felt a pang.
“It’s good to see you smile, Dad,” Jenny said, putting his mug of tea on the edge of the hearth. She took the weight off in her mum’s old place. “What were you thinking about?” she asked.
“Your mum and those little cardigans and woolly hats she knit for children in Africa.”
“Yeah, she had a big heart.”
He didn’t embellish his thought for her. Jenny had the same straightforward way of looking at the world as her mother. Not that they didn’t have a sense of humour, only that it was a straightforward kind of humour, You’ve Been Framed type of thing. Children gratefully sweating away in the desert would require an explanation and then the joke wouldn’t be funny anymore.
Blowing on her tea, those eyebrows raised another question, “Are you sleeping any better?”
“I get some in the end.”
“Have you spoken to Doctor Mathews about it?”
“Don’t need pills, love.”
“It might be good to talk to someone outside of the family.”
“There’s no pill for this.”
Jenny left it alone. She felt caught: taking on extra responsibility for her dad now her mum had gone, but she wasn’t her mother and knew it. She didn’t have the same leeway to push an issue with her father like Mary could have. Some things daughters can’t do but she still worried.
They sat in comfortable silence finishing their tea. They’d been here drinking tea from these mugs thousands of times before, only their positions had changed and one of them was missing.
Jeffery hadn’t slept properly since Mary died, upstairs in their bedroom. The Marie Curie nurses, helping them through the quiet ritual, tended the pipes in and the pipes out of poor Mary. The speed of the cancer at the end was terrifying, eating her away so that she lay like tracing paper. She became more and more translucent until, finally, she wasn’t there anymore. Like a great soul had shed its skin and moved off to leave behind only a husk of itself as a family keepsake.
Now there were holes everywhere: in chairs, at the sink after dinner, in the passenger seat, at his left hand on walks to the shops, in conversations, in their bed and everywhere else. At night Jeffery turned restlessly, until he needed a pee or put on the lamp to read a book to wait for Mary to grumble about the light but she never did anymore. He’d close the book and hold back a “Night, love,” and lie back, eyes open.
Jenny was washing the mugs in the kitchen. “Do you want to come and stay for a few nights, Dad?” she called back to the front room. “The kids would love to see you.”
“No thanks, love. I’ve a few things to do around here. Another time, maybe?”
“Okay,” Jenny chirruped. She wanted to gather him up and take him home and look after him, but he was her dad and that was his job and there are some holes a daughter cannot fill.
He walked her to the end of the path.
“You call me if you need anything,” she told him in a hug.
“Yes, love,” he said hugging her back. The scent of lavender caressed them, the smell of her mother, his Mary, and he remembered why he had been at the green gate. “That’s it! Right, love, I’ll see you tomorrow?” he said hurrying back inside.
Jenny stood for a moment, puzzled, furrowing her face just like her mother did at her father’s inexplicable behaviour. She got in her car. She’d bring up Doctor Mathews again tomorrow.
Jeffery found it in the cupboard with the mop and hoover in the box of occasionally useful objects. It lay now on his lap under his book. He read until he yawned, putting his book on the side table, folding his reading glasses and placing them neatly on top. Then he picked up the lavender cushion Mary had made and he had filled with lavender from the side of their path that evening. He placed it on her pillow and curled up on his side, the scent of lavender filling the room once more, caressing him.
“Night, love,” he said closing his eyes.
Once Dan was an academic but the sentences proved too long and the words too obscure. Northern Ireland is where he now lives. But he was born in England and raised in Byron’s home town, which the bard hated but Dan does not. They named every other road after Byron. As yet no roads are named after Dan but several children are. He tries write the kind of stories he wants to read and aims for readers to want to turn the page. Dan’s work has featured in The Incubator, Storgy and the horror magazine Devolution Z.
Blog: Clockwork Rainbows