“A Happy Meal”

Photography by E.G.Brown

Part Two, continued from the previous post “Les Peres pour la Justice”.  The two parts will be combined, extended and published as a novella soon…

I don’t want to describe how it felt not to see my grandchild when it was born, not to be able to put my finger in its hand and let it gently squeeze, only to see it on a laptop screen, and anyway it felt much like it felt when Phoebe was taken away from me all those years ago. Except maybe this time isn’t wasn’t Danni’s fault, at least not directly. I say not directly because if she hadn’t taken Phoebe away in the first place, I could’ve got to see my grandchild actually born. But once again I was getting on with my life, hoping deep down or knowing it, that one day, one day, I would get to see them, Phoebe and Aline, my daughter and my grand-daughter, in the flesh.
And four years after the day I learned Phoebe was pregnant, my mobile suddenly rang. I say suddenly, don’t phones always ring suddenly? I mean they don’t take a run-up or give you a warning so you think ah my phone is going to ring or something like that. Anyway I was in the bath at the time so I jumped out and answered. And I heard Phoebe’s voice. Not from Bordeaux, not from France at all, but from Scotland, in fact from Glasgow, in fact from the Airport and would I pick them up? In fact, right now.  Naked and dripping and shaking not from the cold but from shock and excitement, I said yes, sure I didn’t need telling twice.
Luckily Alice had a day off work and she said I could take the car. I asked if she wanted to come with me and though she knew I was kind of nervous I guess, and might need some support, she said it was best if I went alone. All in good time, she said, she would get to meet my daughter and grand-daughter. And then it struck me, I didn’t even know how long they were staying, or even where they were staying, or further still how long I’d have with them, today or in all. But I didn’t need to dwell on that, because Alice had said those words. My daughter and grand-daughter. I asked her to say it again. My daughter and grand-daughter.
It was less than ten miles from where we lived to the airport and I drove like a lunatic. Not because I drive like a lunatic, but because I was so nervous. I overtook badly once and got a one-finger salute from some arsehole in an Audi, and though I gave him one back I told myself to calm down, slow down.  But it wasn’t easy. I was thinking how long it was since I saw her, how long it was since I touched her face, Phoebe, my beautiful daughter. I’d seen her on Alice’s laptop enough times to know what she looked like now, it would be ridiculous to say otherwise – her long red hair, her freckles, her beautiful eyes darker than usual for a redhead, in fact blue, a rarity, which helped make her the beautiful, unique girl she was, the beautiful, unique woman she now was. I’d also seen my grand-daughter, right there on Skype, darker, more like her father Jean maybe, dark eyes looking back at me and smiling so I wanted to reach into the screen and dive into them. But that wasn’t possible. Not until today.
It was a KLM flight and delayed by nearly an hour, but I didn’t care as I waited in Arrivals because it gave me time to think what would I say? What would I do? Would I give her a huge hug? Of course I would. But who first? Phoebe? Or would I first grab hold of my grand-daughter, pick her up and throw her into the air? Finally I decided I’d let things just happen, not rehearse what to say or do, just let things happen.
And finally, there they were. I first saw Phoebe and her beautiful red hair turned gold in the concourse light, pushing a trolley full of cases with her right hand and, in her left, this toddler wearing a little hat, a little coat, little gloves and black and white pumps, taking her first tiny steps into her homeland.
So I’ll tell you what did happen, I ran towards them and pulled Phoebe away from the trolley, scooped her up in my arms and gave her the hardest kiss of my life, then almost in the same movement I crouched down to the little one and did the same to her. And then the same, twice over and twice as hard.  Once again I have difficulty describing how I felt; elated? Overjoyed? The happiest man in the world? Probably all of those but definitely the last.
Bonjour Papa,” said Phoebe.
Bonjour ma petite Phoebe,” I said, “Et bonjour ma petite Aline!
En Francais Papa?” said Phoebe, “Full marks!”
“I’ve been practising,” I said.
I can’t honestly remember how long we stood there exchanging words and hugging and everything, probably ten minutes who knows? But I wouldn’t care if it were an hour, I was so desperate to look into their eyes, the blue and the black, keep hugging them, talking to them in English, French and utter shite. It didn’t matter, it just didn’t matter, because there I was, with my daughter and my grand-daughter, my beautiful daughter Phoebe now a grown woman and my little darling Aline.
“Good flight?” I said at last, “You must be starving!”
“A bit,” said Phoebe.
“Are you hungry little one?” I said.
Oui,” said Aline, then remembering it was to be English, just nodded, and hid behind her mother’s coat.
I don’t remember much of what I said on the drive towards the city but the journey seemed to take just minutes, and it didn’t seem long before we’d found a McDonald’s in Argyle Street, ordered up and taken a seat in the window. And again I must’ve been talking eighteen to the dozen, as if packing as much as I could into the time it took to say a medium fries, so keen was I to fill in the gaps, so desperate was I to gobble them up while I had them there in front of me.
“Slow down Dad,” said Phoebe, “there’s no rush.”
“Well this morning when I talked to Alice, that’s my girlfriend….”
“… I know.”
“… it occurred to me I hadn’t even asked how long you were staying, where you were staying!”
“It’s OK dad,” she said, “We’re here for a week.”
A week!  A week that felt like eternity ahead of me, a time in which to get these two beautiful people into my life.
“Have you got a hotel?” I asked.
“Not yet,” she said.
“Well listen, feel free to say no if it’s too much or too soon, but I’d love it if you came to stay with us?”
“Really?” she said.
“Really,” I said, “and don’t worry about Alice because she’ll be fine with it.  She’s already said.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive,” I confirmed, “I’ve never been more positive about anything in my life.”
Voudrais-tu rester avec ton grand-pere ma petite cherie?
Oui merci,” said Aline, who by now had overcome her shyness and was greedily devouring her fries and added “I want to stay with grand-papa.”
“She has a good appetite,” I said.
“She’ll eat you out of house and home,” said Phoebe.
“I don’t care. She can have anything she wants.”
“She’s ever so bright Dad.”
“I can see that. Two languages. She’s very lucky to have a mum like you.”
“So am I,” said Phoebe, “To have a dad like you.  I’ve missed you so much.”
And so that was the first meal I ever had with my grand-daughter, and the first time I’d seen my daughter in too many years that I care to mention. And I’d got them for a whole week. I couldn’t help thinking the last time I saw her was before Danni promised I could have her for a week after they’d returned from Disney Land Paris and they never came back. But I didn’t want to dwell on that. I didn’t want to dwell on anything negative, just enjoy that week, those moments, that laughter, those stories they’d tell, and lap them up and squeeze them dry for everything I could.

Later, I’d learn it wasn’t for just a week, it was for good – Phoebe had split with Jean and come back to her homeland. She’d keep in touch with her mother and George and Jean of course, by phone or Skype, but she was staying, for ever.  And as for me, I was the man about to fill the gaps of all those years and watch his beautiful Phoebe as a woman and a mother, and little Aline grow into a woman. And I was the happiest man in the world having the happiest meal in his life.




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