This is the creative piece which I wrote from that initial prompt from Friday Fictioneers. The original was just 100 words, this is a little longer (about 3000). It may seem that the writing is slow and drawn out, This is intentional, given the subject. I hope you enjoy the longer version of the story,
When I identified my dad at the morgue, they gave me a bag of his personal effects. His wallet, phone, handkerchief and comb, and about $2.70 in change. The wallet was still full of all cash and cards. The handkerchief was iron and neatly folded. The comb plain, black.
The phone was a smart phone that I had bought him a few years earlier. Dad mastered the phone, but not so much the smart side of it. His computer at home, which stored all the photos that mum had taken over the years was now just used to play solitaire, mah-jong and spider when he got bored reading. The photo gallery on the phone held memories of places he had been and people he had been with. One such photo in his phone was a selfie. I didn’t know my father had even known what a selfie is, and while the phone obscured his face, his body was perfectly replicated in reverse as the selfie was taken while facing a mirror. I knew the scar on his stomach, the bulge of his navel as well as the mustard coloured work shorts which were the only thing he was wearing in the photo. While this photo intrigued me, I closed it and put the phone in my pocket for safe keeping.
When I returned home, I connected the phone to my computer to look through everything with ease later. I cried, using my father’s own handkerchief to wipe dry my eyes and mop up the snot which came involuntarily as I wept. I put the comb next to the computer, and the change on the counter, then went to bed.
On the Tuesday, I called into work, saying I was working from home that day, my father had died, not telling the details. I wouldn’t take compassionate leave except for the funeral, which I had yet to arrange. The funeral home called and said they would drop by later that day to arrange things with me. Then I tried to finish the article I had been working on before I got the news that my father’s body had been found. I found it difficult to remember the nuances of the wine I was reviewing, so poured a glass from a fresh bottle to write. Colour, deep and mysterious, Swirl, even and smooth. Sniff…sniff. The room in which my father lay was very sterile. Very unlike the usual smell of my father, He loved his aftershave, was proud of the manly smell it and his hair oil produced. Sniff, dark and fruity, like a Christmas cake. Sip, I took one and couldn’t gauge it, so I gulped the whole glass. And Savour, yes, the taste is lasting, like the memory of seeing my father. His pallor pale, unnatural. That was not my father on the table. That may have been his body, but his spirit had gone, it did not stay around.
They asked me who I wanted to invite to the funeral. I really had no idea. Dad and I had sort of drifted since mum died. He kept to himself but was always happy when I visited, taking me to the golf club for dinner.
I always drove down to the shops first thing in the morning, via the beach and the river to look at the view, I stopped at the newsagents, then the garage, where I bought the bait for a fish later in the day. The mechanic at the service station always asked the same question.
“You’re Frank’s lad, aren’t you?”
“Yes”, I replied.
“Say hi to your da’ for me, haven’t seen him around much. He going fishing with you?”
“Yes”, I replied.
“Oh Aye”, he said “tell him to take you to… he knows where… Jock caught some good size bream there last week.”
“Ok” I replied, gave a wave and went back home; well to dad’s place, it was never home to me. Mum and dad moved down here when Dad retired.
Dad sat on the porch, having his first cup of strong black coffee and cigarette to start the day, while he spoke to the parrots who came to feed, and look out over the blue blue bay to see if he could spot any whales. He thanked me for the paper and told me that the coffee was on the stove if I wanted some, giving me his own cup to refill. Later that day, Dad directed me in my car, or took the 4 wheel drive out, to his secret spot, which was always the same. I hated the four-wheel drive and vowed to sell it at the first opportunity.
Dad still had a companion when mum died. Shadow, the trusty German Shepherd was about 20 years old, was in terrible pain with arthritis, and dad had to get him put down to be kind about two years previously. He didn’t tell me that he was going to do it. I was still in the city and not planning on going down to see him for a month or so. I made my usual call on a Friday evening, in May, and he told me just like that; so matter of fact, so stoic and upright. Never shed a tear, never tell someone you are hurting. It is a sign of weakness.
Dad told me that when he was a child, he was in the choir at church. He sang his heart out as a boy and got rewarded. He was the first boy soloist at the cathedral. This was a position he kept for three years, until he was 13. Then when his voice was breaking, he was kicked out of the choir. The boys lined up either side of the entry to the apse and beat him and kicked him as he walked through on his last day of choir. That was when he had decided to leave the church as well as the choir. Dad hated it when I wanted to go to church as a boy, and when I was said to have a golden voice, he hated it more. I would go to church of a morning and be back by breakfast. Dad would be at work then, so I didn’t see him until after rehearsal at night. He never asked me about church or the choir. But I knew he was secretly proud of me, as he did turn up to performances again and again. I worked it out later. He was just scared that what had happened to him when his voice broke would also happen to me. I was lucky though. My choir master was one who kept me going through the transition, and I continued to sing with the choir, no longer as a soprano but now as a first tenor, just like my hero Aled Jones.
I wiped the tear from my eye, again with dads folded hanky, which was next to his phone on my desktop. The question remained. Who would I invite to the funeral? His brother of course, Uncle John, and his two sisters, who were still alive, one having died around the same time as mum did, some ten years before. I picked up the phone and pulled the charger plug out of it. I turned it on and started to scroll through the contacts on his list. There weren’t many; maybe twenty. I invited them all.
The funeral people knew I was not able to make choices. They were good at helping me decide on flowers, on the booklet and the service. I needed to go down to dad’s to find something for him to wear in the casket. I rang into the newspaper and told them that I had changed my mind, I was taking some time off after all. They could use some of the columns that I had in reserve, and then repeat some from last autumn. Nobody would know the difference. I packed some clothes in a bag and started the long drive down, even though it was after 8pm and I wouldn’t arrive until midnight.
I slept in the room that was always mine when I was down. I was tired and that was good, It meant that everything could wait till the morning, and I fell back on the crisp white sheets, covered myself with the featherdown doona and drifted to sleep listening to the wind through the palm trees and the waves lapping at the beach.
I woke at 6 on the Wednesday morning. I padded out to the kitchen and thought that this was the first time I had ever been alone in this house. The first time, that the cuckoo clock had not been wound before I rose, and the first time that the aroma of strong coffee was not permeating through the house. I opened the rear door and said good morning to the kookaburras that had congregated. My father went every morning to his worm farm, and after putting the food scraps from the day before in it, scooped out some worms to feed the Kookaburras and crows. I did the same, although soon, the birds would have to find their own breakfast.
I put some shoes on and did the ritual drive around the beach and the river. I made it a longer one this morning, wanting to look at the lake as well. It was the lake I came to when I was down here, to read and relax, with just the occasional pelican landing with a whoosh to interrupt my reading. This morning I didn’t relax but drove past just to assure myself that my spot was still there, just as it always was when I was ready to relax and read. I drove to the newsagent and got the paper, and then stopped by the garage. I didn’t buy bait today, I just wanted to see the mechanic, whose name I didn’t know.
“You’re Frank’s lad aren’t you?”
“Yes”, I replied.
“Say hi to your da’ for me, haven’t seen him around much lately”.
“Dad passed away” I said.
“Oh” said the mechanic.
“I wondered if you would come to the funeral, invite some of his friends if you will”.
“Oh Aye”, said the mechanic “You’d better be giving me the details then”, he said in a subdued voice. “I’ll invite the lads, we’ll be there. A good man was your da”.
I nodded and muttered my thanks before getting back in my car and heading up the hill. Today it would be me on the balcony drinking hot black coffee, reading the paper and feeding the parrots their seed. I looked up from my paper to the ocean, in time to see a whale breach and fall back into the water out near the island.
“Fuck” I thought to myself. All these tears, my dad would wonder if he raised a son of a daughter.” “Toughen the fuck up Allen, there are things to be done”, I drained my mug, folded the paper and went inside.
I selected Dad’s suit. It was one that I had seen him wear to other funerals so I knew it would be suitable for his own. I polished his shoes and mine, finding the polish where I thought I would. It was the same place that it was kept in my childhood home, on the bottom shelf under the sink. My dad taught me to polish his shoes and it was my chore to polish his and my own every evening before going to bed. Some days, when he wanted extra shine, he had me apply the polish when he first got home from work. “Big meeting tomorrow son. I have to look spick”. I left the polish to soak in before I brushed it off then buffed it before bed.
I started to clean up his bedroom, discarding old tissues, newspapers and taking coffee cups and whiskey glasses to the kitchen. Most of the clothes were in the hamper where they should be. Do I wash these and give them to Vinnie’s or just send them to landfill? I certainly didn’t want them. I could not imagine filling my father’s clothes or boots, nobody could do that. I stood up and saw myself in my dad’s full-length mirror behind his door I was shocked to be looking at a younger version of my father. I didn’t have the same scars but I have some of my own.
Later, Jock called on dad’s mobile phone.
“Hello”, he said, “I knew it wouldn’t be your da’ answering, didn’t I?” he said.
“I just wanted to say, well how sorry it is that he is gone, but we all knew it was coming didn’t we?” he said
“I want to talk at your da’s funeral” he said “give a eulogy, that’s it. Yes. Can I talk to you about it?”
I invited Jock to the house.
“Come fishing wi’ me,” he said. “I can talk free when there’s only the fish and the birds to hear.”
Jock picked me up at 3pm. “Just in time for the outgoing tide,” he said, “we might catch a good haul, or we might catch naught, but we will have time to spend talking so that’s good isn’t it?” He said.
We stopped by an old pier and fished for a couple of hours. Jock didn’t say much, but we enjoyed each other’s company, in our shared solitude. It wasn’t until we took our fish to the cleaning table that he opened up.
“A good man was your da’. He knew right from wrong and was not slow at saying his piece when he thought it needed to be said. He stuck up for women and loved your ma with a love I never seen matched by another man for his wife. He loved you too Allen. He were so so proud of you boy. He liked your wines alright, but he preferred his whisky.” He smiled with tears in his eyes. “Tradition I guess.”
Jock passed me an envelope. My father had asked him to give to me on his passing. It was yellow with age and the glue on the back old but stable. It had my name on the front in my father’s hand. I thanked Jock for it and took only one of the fish we caught for my dinner, allowing Jock to take the rest for bragging rights at the club.
I left the fish marinating in lemon juice and black peppercorns while I had a shower and changed into clean clothes. The envelope remained unopened on the table. That letter will need a good red after dinner, perhaps a whole bottle.
After eating my fish and potatoes with a bottle of Hunters Dream Sauvignon Blanc 2017, I put the dishes in the sink for later. I looked through dads LP collection and chose Songs of Scotland by Alastair McDonald and set it on his antique HMV player. It skipped a little until I found the sixpence near the turntable to set on top of the needle.
I took the letter given to me by Jock, opened a bottle of Carmel Road Pinot Noir Drew’s Blend and sat in the armchair that was designated until recently to be my father’s own. I needed to adjust the light over the side table, so I could read the letter he had written me. My fingers trembled as I tore the seal on the envelope.
The letter was in my father’s hand. His writing reflected his personality. It was very straight, not much of a flourish. Dad insisted on writing important letters by hand. I remember him sitting at the kitchen table in my childhood home. He would spend hours drafting and rewriting letters until he thought it was perfect. I shook as I opened the delicate paper. The date at the top of the page was not long after my mother had died. I gulped a mouthful of wine, ignoring sommelier protocol of swirl, smell swish and then swallow. Pouring another glass I started to read.
My dearest son Allen,
Since your mum died, life for me has just stopped. I can’t think, I can’t move, sometimes I can’t even breathe. Shad is not well, and I think I will lose my faithful friend soon. I wish you weren’t so far away, or, should I say it, so successful with your own life. Then you would want to spend more time with your old man. But life goes on. Sometimes I wish it didn’t. I continue to live because of you. I m very proud of what you have achieved. I think back to when you were in school plays and in the choir. Do you know I didn’t miss one? Even when I couldn’t get there for your year 10 solo, your mum took a mobile phone and called me when it was beginning, so I didn’t miss a note.
I looked up, wiped a tear and took a gulp of the expensive red.
We nearly lost you once son. Do you remember? You were riding that darn silly motorbike on a rainy night. Six weeks you spent in hospital. The first six days in a coma. When you were released, you were still so tired. You fell asleep in the car, so I carried you to your room, undressed you and put you to bed. It was the first time I had prayed since I was a child. I made light of it afterwards and told you if you were going to ride, you should get a bigger bike so it can get you out of trouble. And you did, you beggar. At least then we got to see more of you. You had your own transport and came and went freely.
I remembered the bike, but sat dumbfounded, until then unknowing how I had got to be the day I came home from hospital.
We had some good times didn’t we son. Fishing trips with a load of blokes from the club, and their families. You always managed to make and keep friends easily. Are you still friends with Brad, and Michael? The three of you were thick as thieves all through primary and high school.
Girls were a mystery to you though. As much as we wanted grandkids, I knew that our dreams would not be fulfilled. Yes, Allen, I know. I knew all along. I never told your mother and we never talked about it, but I think she knew too. As much as I don’t like poofs, you are my son and if you like men, then that’s ok. Nobody is going to say anything bad about you while I am alive. Thanks for protecting your mum though.
Well son, I don’t know how much longer I can live on this dear Earth. As you know, I am not a well man. I guess I just didn’t want to go without saying goodbye. This letter is in case I don’t have the chance. Have a great life Allen. Be successful in everything you do. Now that I am gone, find yourself a good fella and settle down somewhere.
And he signed his name on the bottom of the letter as if it were just another business letter.
I sat back and began to breathe deeply, letting the tears run down my face unabated. I didn’t have to hide anymore. I picked up the phone.
“Simon, hi.” … “Yes, yes, I know I have not been answering your calls.” … “Simon, listen, my dad has passed away.” … “Yes, honey, I am down making arrangements now.” … “Honey, the funeral is Friday, can you come down?” … “Thanks, see you soon. Yes, I love you too. Bye”.