How can you still love him, after what he did to your mother? Their eyes say it even if their lips don’t frame it.
How could I not love him? He was my dad. You’re supposed to love your dad, aren’t you?
Besides, he never hurt me. Neither of my parents did. Every care was taken with my upbringing. I was fed well, walked to school every day, bought things that my parents couldn’t really afford, given all of the things that they never had. Even their own vices were kept from me. Mum wouldn’t touch a drop until I was in bed, and dad would never light up in the same room as me – never. During the day he’d go outside when he needed a fag. He’d stand with the back door open, letting the cold air into the kitchen. More often than not I’d go and sit out on the stoop with him.
It’s weird, these little dances that parents do to keep their guilt at bay. I’d be out there, breathing in the same smoke, exactly as if we’d both been sitting on the sofa. I guess that mum thought she’d done all she could, and that if I chose to go out and fill my lungs with tar then hell mend me. I’d sit and talk with Dad, all of the nonsensical things that come out of kids’ mouths coming out of mine. He’d just listen, blowing smoke out of the side of his mouth away from me and tracing the line of my centre parting on my head with his yellowed fingertips. Sometimes we’d hear mum crying in the house behind us. We didn’t pay it any attention. That’s just the way things were.
The other things were harder to ignore. The way the concealer clung to the swelling around Mum’s eyes. The shards of broken plate stacked neatly on top of the kitchen bin. The shrieks and blazing rows from beneath me as I lay in bed.
Dad would sometimes come upstairs after the night-time rows. He’d smell like tobacco and I would imagine him trailing grey tendrils of smoke up the stairs, a dragon leaving his lair. When he flumped down on the end of my bed a rush of Lambert and Butler would expand from his jacket, bringing with it a sense of illicit fun, a feeling of comradery in the knowledge that it was past my bedtime and yet here he was.
We’d pretend that I’d been having bad dreams. It was easier than exploring what really had gone on. Dad would pretend to pull the nightmares from my ear. He’d wind them up into an invisible ball in his fingers before putting them inside my jewellery box. An imaginary key was turned in an imaginary lock on the box before being put into his pocket. A kiss on my forehead and he was gone, back down to what was now a silent house.
My father wasn’t at the funeral. Said that he couldn’t face it. I think he did feel some guilt, if only because it was lung cancer. Lung cancer, and she never having taken a puff herself. As for me, I no longer suffer from nightmares, real or not. I struggle to sleep at all. Dad lies downstairs mostly, watching the television through a grey fug. I lie on my bed and stare at the walls. Sometimes, through half-lidded eyes and amidst the bedroom shadows thrown long by the streetlights, it seems as though smoke is tendrilling up from the hinges of my jewellery box.
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