Alpha Draft; Bury me in the sky

Unsure of this. Alpha draft so the usual applies.

 

Dad died in his kitchen, just after lunch.

His sink was full of dirty paintbrushes, soaking in turps. He had pork pie crumbs in his moustache. Johnny Cash playing on the stereo.

A heart attack, I was told.

I found out two days after it happened.

The funeral got arranged, a thing I think I handled, although it all went by in a blur. I can partly remember people’s faces, quiet words, gentle handshakes and too much wine.

Only after the wake, when all the paper plates of food had been tossed into the bin and the leftovers been taken home by friends and relatives, did it really hit me.

My dad is dead.

The clock ticks in his front room. It’s a simple little thing made of dark wood and cheap electrics. The urn sits next to it. I don’t know who put it there. I could have, I guess. Its simple glazed pottery with patterned roses painted up the side. What am I supposed to do with it? I’ve never owned the remains of a family member before.

The clock’s ticking fills the silence of the little house. Back home, back in my own home, in central London, there would have been the sound of traffic, music, people, life. But all I have here is the tick.

Dad moved here after he retired. I helped him. That was the first time we’d spent an afternoon together in three years. Mid-summer, with sweat streaking my shirt and my foot throbbing from where he’d dropped a table on me.

After we had unloaded the van and pushed boxes into the various rooms he gave me a cup of tea and a biscuit. We drank in silence, sitting on the front porch, until he said, “Your mother would have liked it here.”

I think he wanted me to say yes, absolutely, she would have loved it. She would have. But I sipped my tea instead.

He played some music when we went back inside. It was Johnny Cash. His favourite.

We built his bed to the tune of I Walk the Line and set up the washing machine under the smoky sound of A Man In Black. During A Boy Named Sue I dropped another table on my foot.

Beneath a sunset as bright and messy as a painter’s pallet he watched me drive away, one hand raised in farewell. I could see him in my mirror a long way down the road, watching me leave.

It was the most time we had spent together in a very long time.

My eyes kept being drawn to the urn. I’d heard stories about people keeping the remains of family members for years and years, displaying them for all to see. I don’t think I could do that. Dad and me, we weren’t…

We barely even spoke.

Growing up, I remember seeing him only in the evenings, his tie askew and his eyes tired. He would be a quiet dinner companion, always listening patiently to what we said, but volunteering very little himself. On the weekends, he would take me to football practice, and the awkward twenty minute trip would be the longest we would spend together all week.

He missed every school play, parents evening, football game and choir concert, turning up later at home, his eyes sad but his praise warm and gentle, if distant.

He was grey by my twelfth birthday and bald by my sixteenth. I saw him less and less during my teenage years, a time when Mum most wanted his presence and I most needed it. We began keeping unsociable hours; my own being those of a teenage rebel and his the grind of double shift work.

When Mum went away to see friends or family he and I would be left to our own devices. He would retreat to his books or his shed and I to my room, to listen to music and to fantasies of my peers.

I went to university when I turned eighteen. Mum made sure to call me once a week and would often send me baskets or boxes of cake or biscuits. Each arrived with a card bearing Mum’s handwritten message and Dad’s hastily scratched signature. Mum had always taken mumming very seriously.

I only ever got one letter directly from Dad. It was a short one.

Your mother died.

Died.

Not ‘is dead.’

Perhaps he couldn’t bring himself to say it, but in this age of email and a million different forms of communication, he could have chosen something quicker than a letter.

I remember sitting in my dorm room and crumpling the paper in my fist.

I went home, of course. I had thought to help make arrangements and be there for him. By the time I arrived, however, he had already dealt with the preparations. When he opened the door to me that night he let me into the house and made tea.

As with all things between us, it was a quiet moment. The silence broken only when he placed three tea cups on the table.

Neither of us mentioned the untouched cup as we both sat at the table and waited as the sun went down outside. When I rose in the morning the cup was still there, still untouched.

After it was over and mum was buried, we bumbled around the house, making awkward conversation with each other for four days until he came to me one night. He put his hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye in a manner that I thought made him look intensely vulnerable and said, “Well, let’s get back to it, then.”

He drove me to university the next day and went back to work the day after that.

Some of my friends and partners suspected that I hated Dad. When I’d stay at university for holidays they would assume both my parents either dead or dead to me.

In truth, I do not know what kept me from home, but Dad’s quiet, sad and lonely figure was only ever one that I thought of with love.

After university I went to work in the city, first in the offices of a chemical supplier and then as one of their company reps.

Life went on.

Dad retired and took up painting, eventually moving out to his little house in the countryside. Being Dad, his pictures were of planes or aircraft hangers. He had a stack of them piled up in the bathroom.

I found some simple sketches copied from old photos drawn on scrap paper. Mixed in with the airliners and war planes were copies of my mother’s face. Under his bed there was an old shoebox filled with them.

 

 

 

I can’t stop pacing the house. I find more paintings tucked away in cupboards.

A yellow beach on which three figures play.

A couple standing atop a hill beneath a blue sky, whilst a child flies a kite.

An old man’s hand holding a child’s against a pale background.

I bring these pictures into the front room.

I don’t want to speak to the urn. I want to speak to my dad.

I found an unfinished piece. It was a simple watercolour sky filled with grey clouds that looked like a thunderhead. At its centre was a simple sketch, yet to be coloured, of a biplane.

Bury me in the sky, read a small postit note tacked to the edge.

It sounded like a quote, or some instruction, probably said by one of the famous WW2 officers I never learned the names of.

I never really knew my dad.

 

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