Continued from “Dead Town Waking” from the novel “Return to Cocoa Yard” a work in progress.
The night they watched the football, Anna went to her parents’ house and took her dad to bed. He was in the spare room now and this had become the norm; once he would tuck her up with a story at night, now it was her turn to do the same for him. Whereas the topic of conversation was now random, desultory or vague, it was once so clear…
Like the time they talked about Tony, to whom dad had never taken, always just about tolerated. He’d certainly never wanted her to marry him. “I don’t forget,” he’d say, and list Tony’s crimes against his beloved daughter; going for days on end without speaking over some minor disagreement or something she’d put in the wrong place or even over nothing tangible at all – one time he even let her cook dinner before leaving the house and returning with a takeaway curry and eating it there in front of her while the dinner she’d cooked went cold; telling her he had a surprise and she must wait with her eyes closed in the bedroom while he went downstairs to get it, and she waited for at least a half-hour before realising there was no surprise at all – his “little joke”; and worst of all the affair, which dad had stumbled on and broke his heart over whether to tell Anna. “I hated myself more than I hated him,” he’d said, “for not having the guts to tell you lest you thought I was stirring trouble, inventing stories to make you leave that man.”
Anna hated herself too, for not listening to her dad all those years ago. For not accepting his offer of money to set herself up in a flat, relying instead on Tony the higher earner and first signature on the mortgage for a house they lived in before they got married. And for not knowing the reason she didn’t want kids was not this town she now hated and wouldn’t want kids to grow up in, but because she didn’t want them to grow up with a father like Tony. It always sounded so harsh, cruel even, when she thought of it like that, but it was true, she’d no doubt now. And about two months ago she finally owned up to it, told her dad so, and he’d hugged her and called her a crackpot and they’d laughed. And then to cheer her up he’d told her a story from when she was a kid, about a chocolate bus driver and his chocolate bus, driving his sweetheart to Cocoa Yard, Rum ‘n’ Raisin Road, Twix, Bounty Durham. It always made her laugh and hearing it now, this night, it made her cry too.
“Did you enjoy the football, Dad?” she asked when the chocolate bus story was parked.
“Yes thank you,” he said.
“And was it nice to see your old friends? Gord, Jigger and Hen?”
“Hen,” he said.
“Are you alright now, Dad?”
“Tired. My bloody back.”
“Mum’ll be up in a minute, she’ll give you your tablet.” And with that he rested his eyes and she gave him a kiss night night on the forehead.
“Night night,” he said, and when she reached the door he added, “I don’t forget.”
The night was still warm when she closed the door behind her and blinked away Lucozade-coloured tears in the streetlights. When he was like that he was dad again. When he was telling his story about the chocolate bus driver and chocolate bus and chocolate passengers and his sweetheart, he was dad again. “I wouldn’t be without him,” her mother had said, and times like this when he was her husband again she’d every right to say so. What right had she, Anna, to argue otherwise? What right had dad to say he wanted to say goodbye? It was such a cocktail of emotions as powerful as pentobarbital. And above all else at this precise moment, as Anna headed home with tears starring her eyes, how could she say goodbye to the father she loved? What would her life be then? But she knew that this time when he said he didn’t forget, he meant what they’d discussed about him wanting to die, and the signed letter he’d written to that effect, which she’d put in her bag and was yet to show her mum. Nothing vague about that at all.
The town that was dead with half-dead pigeons, that had been woken by a football match, was now falling quiet again, the drunken euphoria had worn it out and brought on sleep. Anna was worn out too, looking forward to her bed. But just then, as she turned away from her parents’ street and nearer to her own, she saw a figure in the distance she thought she recognised. And it was the man she took to her bed the other night, the man with whom she took control, the man who hadn’t moved on when he said he would, and the man who, though she couldn’t know it yet, would be instrumental in the assisted end of the chocolate bus driver’s life.
To be continued…