Tuesday, 19 April 2016


It was really good to see Dad again, even under these circumstances. The telephone rang; it was a damp Sunday afternoon with the mid-winters bleak and cold as it was and I was ready to hibernate. My wife and son were curled up on the sofa with me and we were in the middle of watching a film.
I wasn’t paying attention but I remember it had something to do with dancing penguins and a word that no one could pronounce properly. I walked into the hall and picked up the phone, wondering who would be ringing on such an afternoon and I was greeted by sobbing.
“Mum, is that you?” I asked. Something had to be wrong if mum was ringing me. My sister, Stephanie, lived a few doors down from her whereas I lived miles away.
“You need to come over.” She said between the tears, “Something.. I want you to see something.” She sounded cryptic, which wasn’t like mum. She was the queen of straight talking, blunt and direct like a hammer.
“What about Steph?” I asked. “Can’t she help?”
“She’s already here and Roberts on his way too.” Big brother, Robert.. it must be something for him to travel ‘all that way’. “You should come down too.” Mum said. “Bring Tessa and Douglas with you. I think they’ll want to see this.” I didn’t understand what mum was saying; see what? I couldn’t think straight, Tessa was looking at me from the living room; she could sense that something wasn’t right.
“What drive all the way to you on a day like this? Are you serious, mum?” I asked. “What’s wrong? I’m sure we can sort it out over the phone.” As you can tell, we’re not that close. Steph was always closer to mum than I was… well, that’s not exactly true. We used to be close but dad’s death changed that. “Put Steph on, mum. I want to talk to her.”
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get any sense out of mum, I just hoped that Steph would be the rational one. I couldn’t have been more wrong. A different set of tears greeted me, what the hell was happening?
“Bryan.” Sis finally said, trying to draw breath against the sobs. “You should come down here. Roberts driving with Louise and the kids and you should too.” It had been a while since I’d heard Steph cry, but these tears sounded strange. I wasn’t sure if she was crying out of grief or joy, almost as if she didn’t know herself; but if Robbie was driving down then it must be serious. We’re not the tightest of families…
“Just what is happening, sis?” I asked again, trying to get as much information as I could.
“Nothing.. Nothing’s wrong – everything’s... right.” She said. There was an edge of hysteria in her voice which really unnerved me. I was liking this less and less by the minute.
“Doesn’t sound like that, Sis.” I could feel my patience draining out by the second. “Come on and tell me.”
“I can’t explain… you need to come and see for yourself.” In the background I heard a muffled voice say, “Leave him be, pet. He’ll come round in his own time.”
With that Steph put the phone down. I couldn’t believe she’d done that – I just looked at the receiver for a couple of seconds before slamming it down. She’s my Sister and I love her, but she can really be an insensitive bitch sometimes.
I should have left it there; sat back down and carried on watching the film, but I couldn’t. My mind was racing. I could see Tessa still looking at me, but I couldn’t look back at her. Robbie was travelling down because something had mum and Steph in tears. And then there was that voice at the end. “Leave him be, Pet. He’ll come round in the end.” There was only one person that sounded like that, yet it couldn’t have been. But, y’see, I had to know… I had to be sure.

On any other day there would’ve been a helluva row with Tessa, but she could see that something was seriously wrong. We drove down to mums without saying a word. I couldn’t think of anything to talk about because none of it made any sense, so I put the radio on to drown out the static in my head. I looked in the mirror at Douglas. He was sitting in the back, nose in a book with his mp3 player plugged in; in his own little world with no idea what was happening. God, how I wanted to swap places with him; I had no idea what was happening either, but it felt wrong.
We reached mums in record time, the roads were free of traffic and all the lights seemed to be in favour of the journey. It was cold still, wet and it was a Sunday and I wanted to be at home, in the warm with my wife and child, watching a film in comfort. As it was I was in the car, the heater barely keeping the cold from crystallising our breaths and everything felt so unreal.
As I parked outside mums bungalow I looked for Roberts car. I hoped that being another “rational” male he would be able to support me but he hadn’t arrived yet. I really didn’t want to play the bad guy again and deal with this myself, but it looked as if I had no choice.
The doorbell didn’t work. I finally remembered this after pressing it for the third time. This wasn’t a new development; it had been like this for weeks because of the arsehole kids that scoured the neighbourhood ringing peoples doorbells before running away. I knew that the bell didn’t work and still rung it anyway, I was that unnerved. I rapped on the window instead, hard –I was in no mood to wait around; I wanted to be inside, in the warmth.
Peering into the misty window I tried to discern where everyone was. There, in the dining room, beyond the small kitchen, sitting on the same three-legged stool he always sat in was a man; the mock coffee bar propping him up as it used to.
He was sitting hunched over looking at something or someone below him. I followed his gaze and realised that it was Steph on her knees, her head buried in his lap, holding his hands. She was still crying, great sobs that racked her whole body. What was going on?
The door suddenly opened. Mum was standing in front of me, smiling. I hadn’t seen Mum smile like that since before Dad had died.
“Bryan.” She said, and motioned for me to kiss her, which I did so, albeit reluctantly. “I’m so glad you’re here. Robert will be here soon, and then we’ll have the whole family together again… Just like in the old days.” I nodded, trying to placate her whilst motioning Tessa and Douglas in. “Good, you’ve brought them with you.” She kissed Tessa and held Douglas tight, tears starting to stream from her again. I was seriously worried now and needed to know what the hell was going on.
“Mum.” I said, holding her by the arm, tired of all the drama. “What’s wrong? Just what is happening here?”
“Nothings wrong.” She replied, almost ecstatic. “Nothings ever going to be wrong again…. You’d better see for yourself. It’s a miracle, Bryan. Let Douglas and Tessa see him first.”
I did as I was told, conditioning over-riding my spiralling sense of unease.
As soon as they walked in to the dining room both Tessa and Douglas just stood there, blocking the way in. Tessa had gone white as a sheet; in the fifteen years I’d known her I had never seen her like that before. Douglas was crying, clutching Tessa not wanting to look at what was in front of him. I couldn’t see what they were looking at, but Steph pushed past them and held me. “I’m so sorry that I hung up on you, but it’s better that you’re here to see him with your own eyes.” And with that she moved aside.
It was Dad. Dad was sitting on the same three legged stool that he’d sat on for years. I wanted to throw up, I wanted to faint, to run away. Dad was sitting in front of me, right in front of me. I looked to Tessa who was just staring at him. I turned back and he was still sitting there, staring at me; a sad look in his eyes, still smoking those same old roll-ups with the tatters of tobacco hanging loose. Dad… it was dad!
But he’d been dead for over two years.

His shirt was still tobacco stained, the collar still frayed, a cigarette hanging limply from his lips; the worn braces and the faded jeans… just as I remembered him. He’s sitting there, large as life… except he’s not. He’s dead; dead and cremated; the ashes in an urn at the bottom of the garden.
So who is this in front of me? What the hell do I do when faced with the evidence of my own eyes?
I tell you what I did. I did what any other loving son would have done in that situation, I bolted. I turned on my heels and walked out of the door. I knew that Tessa and Douglas were still there, but I couldn’t deal with that – I needed some air. The world was spinning around me even in the cold outside.
That was my dad in there…. But he’s dead, said the voice.. But he was sitting right in front of you… I sat on the curb and rolled myself a cigarette. I smoke the same brand as dad.. did.. does..
“Don’t worry, luv, I’ll be all right.” A voice from the past, the same voice I heard on the phone earlier but didn’t want to believe. “It’s not as if I can feel the cold any more…” Dad was coming out to talk to me, the same way he always used to, but I really didn’t know if I could face this.
“I know how you’re feeling, pet.” He said. I couldn’t look at him, not yet, it was too painful.
“I saw you… die, dad.” I tried to choke back the tears. It was him, I knew it was. In my heart, in the deepest part of my marrow. This was my dad.
“I know, pet… I know.” He put his hand on my shoulder, like he used to.
“You were in my arms and there was nothing I could do. I wanted you to.. to die, Dad.” I couldn’t stop the tears now, even if I wanted to. I’d bottled this up far too long. “You were in so much.. pain that I wanted it to be over for you. Even when you asked…. begged me, I couldn’t.. all I could do was hold you and watch you die.”
“I know… There was nothing more you could’ve done for me.”
“But you died…. And you can’t be here, now. I’m sorry, dad, but you can’t!”
“Do you remember when you were six?” He asked, squeezing my shoulder. “We still lived in Slaugham then, and Fitz was still alive too. He was a great dog –he loved you…. And I’ll always remember the two of you curled up by the fire…” I smiled at that memory. I loved Fitz to; I’ve never had another dog as a pet, knowing that they’ll never live up to him. “Anyway..” he continued. “This one time you were playing in the garden. Fitz was up the other end, lying in the shade of the oak. Mum called you in but Fitz saw you running up and thought you were running to greet him, so he bounded up to meet you.. and knocked you flying!” I turned to look at him, saw the pain still etched in his face, but still the same dad I remember growing up with, arguing with and loving. “What I’m trying to say is, this is me. Truly. I’m here, just like I always was and I’m here for your mum; Steph and Robert. But I’m here for you too, son.”
“I saw you die, dad.” I felt like a record player, but I couldn’t just pretend that it hadn’t happened. “It doesn’t make sense.. nothing does any more.”
“I know… It was your mum.. She brought me back, her love for me. It was too strong, it never died. Her love was too strong.” He smiled sadly, knowing far more than he was actually telling me but it was enough. He was back from the dead, and I turned into him and hugged him for all it was worth.
It was funny, death hadn’t changed him –it was still dad. He still smoked the roll ups, no longer worrying about cancer now that he was already dead. He still laughed at the same things; read the same newspaper and wound mum up in exactly the same way; but mum took it in her stride now, almost grateful for the attention. He pottered around in his little shed, making a mess and cheated at cards –though he seemed to have learnt a few more tricks.
He looked healthy.. well, as healthy as he could. There was a certain colour to his cheeks, but it wasn’t blood pumping through his veins. He just looked like he used to.
Douglas had readily accepted that his granddad was alive again –kids are far more resilient than adults in that way; but Tessa couldn’t. She didn’t want to see him and forbade Douglas to visit him. We argued about that a lot, and it threatened to split us up at one stage.
In the end the decision was taken away from us. Dad suggested that it wasn’t healthy for Douglas to think that such a thing happened on a regular basis; that it was better for him to think of his granddad as dead. As usual dad was right and all I could do was agree, so I carried on visiting mum and dad twice a week on my own.
Everything still felt unreal though. Obviously I couldn’t talk to anyone about this so I had to live two lives, and I slowly felt myself drifting apart from everyone else. Everything I had believed in prior to Dad coming back from the dead no longer held me.
One day I finally bucked up the courage to talk to him about it.
“I don’t know what to do, dad.” I said. We were sitting in the lounge opposite each other. “Everything’s changed and I no longer know what to think.”
“Nothing’s changed, Bryan.” He replied. “The only thing that has changed is me. I know that you feel obligated to come over and see me as much as you can.” I tried to protest but he wouldn’t let me. “It’s alright, I understand and love you for it, Son. I know how you feel and it’s alright, all I have to do is look in your eyes to see how much you love me and have missed me. I feel it. I was always with you, you know, I was always watching you. You were never alone.” He turned to look out the window, a tinge of sadness in his voice. “Some people think that because a loved one has died they’re no longer around, and they’ve lost them. Just what does that mean? How can you truly lose them? They don’t understand that as long as they remember that person and keep that person close to their heart they will never lose them.” He turned back to me. “Unfortunately your mother is one of those people who needs to cling on to their loneliness. She never came to terms with my death, she always clinged on to the hope that I would come back.”
“But you have, dad.”
“Yes, Pet.. I have.”

It was the second month after the miracle, as it was now known, and I began to notice something was wrong. I couldn’t figure it out at first. Everything seemed too blissful. Mum was happy and at peace.
And that was what seemed so strange – she hadn’t once moaned at dad. Normally five minutes couldn’t tick by without some form of derogatory comment from her, but in the two months since dads return there hadn’t been one; this was the happiest I’d ever seen her.
There was something else as well. Dad was starting to look pale again, peaked. Despite being dead, he had still resembled the healthy pallor he’d had when alive but recently that too was starting to drain from him. Each week he looked a little thinner and found it harder to walk about. He still tried to laugh it off, but I could tell that it pained him. The spark that was dad was slowly dwindling and the light that was once so bright was now an ember growing slowly colder.
I seemed to be the only one noticing this. Both Steph and Robert had turned a blind eye to what was happening. Mum had her blinkers solidly down and it was as if she didn’t even want to acknowledge what was going on. He was back and that was the only thing that mattered.
One day I confronted her.
“What’s happening, mum?” I had to force her to face this. I knew what I was doing and felt sick; as usual it was up to me to ask the questions that no one else dared but all thought. I had to play that bad guy and speak the truth.
“What do you mean, Bryan?” She replied, the innocence and happiness sparkling in her voice. “Everything’s fine –what could be wrong?” It was like talking to a child.
“Dad… Alive?” I sighed. “What do you think?” I couldn’t believe I was doing this.
“He’s returned, Bryan.” Now there was an air of smugness that I found hard to stomach. “I always said he would never leave me, and I was right… wasn’t I? Your fathers returned to us.”
I gave her an exasperated look and could feel the bile rising in my stomach, burning my throat as I tried to push it down again. She was milking this for all it was worth, watching me squirm. She was right… “Dad is dead, mum.. DEAD.” I replied, my voice stern. Part of me wanted to shake it into her. “It’s time you understood this, understood what is going on. You, Steph… even Robert – you’re clinging on to the past rather than letting him go and accepting the truth. It’s always there, that you never said goodbye to him. It’s why you’ve always resented me. The fact that you never said goodbye to him has haunted you, and you’ve never let me forget that. Well, you’ve been given a second chance now; a second chance to say goodbye.. Can’t you see that? Can’t you see what you’re all doing to him? He’s wasting away.. right before your very eyes!”
“Then I’ll look after him, Bryan.” She replied, her voice stern. “Like I did before… We’ll all look after him.” What would it take for her to understand what was going on?
“Like you did last time?” I had had enough. I didn’t want to bring this up, but I had to. “You were the one that stopped him from going to the Hospice where they could’ve looked after him… given him his dignity.”
“They were going to take him away from me… I couldn’t have born that.”
“You? You?! Don’t you realise how selfish that was? What about dad? What about what was best for him?” I was nearly shouting at her, incredulous at what she was saying. “You couldn’t have looked after him if it wasn’t for me. I was the one who stayed with you for that last month. Not Steph and certainly not Robert, Me! All because you wanted what was best for him? No – because it was what you wanted… And now you’re doing it again, except I can’t just sit by and let it happen, mum – I can’t!”
“You have no idea, do you?” She replied, her voice suddenly embittered and hostile. “You don’t know what it’s like living alone with only your memories to cling to. When everything around you reminds you of what you’ve lost.”
“And whose fault is that, mum?” I spat back. “Steph has said time after time after time that she’d look after you. You could live with her.”
“And be a burden to her?” She replied and I sighed, it was impossible to reason with her.
“Make up your mind, mum… it doesn’t have to be this way. But I’ll tell you this for nothing… you’re killing him. You’re killing dad.”
“He’s already dead, Bryan, as you pointed out to me.”
“And if you’re not careful you’ll lose him a second time and this time for good!”

I didn’t go down for a couple of weeks after that, I couldn’t. I felt really bad about what I’d said. Mum was coming to terms with “the miracle” in her own way and I had no right to talk to her like that, but there was no way I could apologise to her. Time had to be the healer.
Then one day dad rang. Dad never used the phone unless he had to.
“How are you, pet?” He asked, his voice strangely shaken.
“Fine, dad…” I replied. “A little overworked, same as usual.”
“Tessa and Douglas?” He asked again.
“Look, what’s wrong, dad? You’ve never once rung me…”
“I just rang to say that I love you, son, really. I haven’t had a chance to be alone with you… or Douglas and to tell you how much I love you both. Tessa too, of course. But my time here is almost over.” He paused for a second and I almost asked him what he meant before he continued. “I just didn’t want you to torture yourself over what you said to mum.”
“How do you know what was said?” I asked. I knew that mum would never have spoken about it, she brooded about things, like me.
“I could tell, pet.. I could tell. She couldn’t look me in the eye for days afterwards. She knew what you said was true, but couldn’t face it. A couple of nights ago I spoke to her, told her why I’d returned. I felt her pain and couldn’t let it carry on like that. I didn’t want her to feel alone any more. But once I was with her I couldn’t just leave her again, she wouldn’t let me go. I tried talking to her a couple of times, but she didn’t want to listen… you know how stubborn she could be.
“But that night, after you visited, I offered her the choice once again and this time she listened to me and she finally understood. She realised what she’d done. She had let her own loss blind her to the love that was all around her. Don’t hold it against her, Bryan. What she did, she did out of love, however misguided.. and there are worse motivations.
“But I wanted to ring and tell you this. Tell you that we both love you and will always love you. We will always look after you and you’ll never be alone. We’re always with you. I just… we just wanted you to know this.”
And he hung up.
There was something in his voice, a finality. I’d never heard dad talk for that long in my life. He said something about offering mum a choice, and why did he say that they would always be looking after me?
I ran out of the house and drove as fast as I could to mum and dads. There was something definitely wrong. I let myself in to the bungalow, remembering this time to bring my key. It was deserted. I shouted first for mum and then for dad but received no reply. They couldn’t have left the bungalow, not this late at night. There was no one in the lounge or the kitchen.
In the dining room I noticed that the clock on the far wall had stopped at exactly 11.47, the time that dad had hung up. I looked around and noticed a note on the dining room table. It was from mum.
I’ve never been any good at writing my feelings down, but I hope you can understand why I’m doing so now.
I knew that the things you told me were true, but I just couldn’t face losing your father a second time. Yet when I looked into his eyes after our argument and saw the pain that lie there I couldn’t hide from it any more. I hope you can forgive me.
“I’ve been offered a choice. It’s the reason he came back for me. He said that I could either stay here with his love and strength, and the love and strength of the family behind me, or I could return with him.
I was never as strong as you, Bryan. I found it so hard to carry on without him, and I couldn’t bare the thought of losing him again, so I chose the latter. I hope you can forgive me.

“I will always love you, and I will always be with you wherever you go. As long as you love, you can never lose me… I understand that now.”

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