I've been worrying all day, wondering whether to post this. You see, it's a deeply personal piece of creative non-fiction. I wrote it late last year, inspired by a writing prompt from my creative writing group. The writing prompt was simply 'old'.
The keys in my hand are warm, familiar. I can smell the metal. I glance around the living room for the last time.
My head is flooded with memories of my life in this house.
I see myself laying face-down on a scratchy orange sofa, my foot up so that my dad could try to tweeze out a piece of cocktail stick. Swinging between two chairs over a sea of cocktail sticks was not my finest hour, but I was only seven.
My dad could fix anything. He wore a white coat but he wasn’t a doctor. He was an horologist, a healer of clocks and watches. He could take a watch apart, clean it, repair it, oil it and put it back together with no parts left over. It would not leave his workshop until it kept perfect time.
He had a motto. He said there was nothing he could buy that didn’t need to be repaired, modified, improved, changed, altered, corrected, rectified, upgraded, adjusted, adapted or converted.
I’m pretty sure he didn’t need a thesaurus to compile this list. He kept it on a yellowing piece of paper, on a shelf in the kitchen, behind his angina spray. I now keep it in my purse.
When I was small my dad used to take me to Woolworths. He would sit me on the counter and buy me gonks.
When I was big we would sit in our places at the dining table. We nattered on a Saturday. We played ‘if I won the lottery…’. We said how much we would give each other. Dad wouldn’t move house, but he would buy a bloody nice car. I would move to a big house and do voluntary work. Satisfied we wouldn’t let the millions go to our heads we would turn to watch the dusty garden birds queuing up to take a bath in the plastic pond liner.
‘Christ, you’ve put on weight Sandra! Here’s what you should do. Cook your dinner, put it on your plate and then put half in the bin’.
‘Shut up dad, stop going on at me!’.
‘Do you want a choc ice? I’m trying some Lyon’s Maid ones, chocolate’s a bit thin’.
Dad didn’t always pay me so much attention. I am sat in the brilliant sunshine. Navy blue curtains billow around me in the breeze from the open patio doors. The curtains are stiff and sticky and smell of smoke. I pull them back to proclaim to the previously shady room that I’m bored. ‘
Close the curtains Sandra, I can’t see the telly and Borg’s playing.’
I go outside with mum’s wooden racket and play tennis with the aphids.
Dad and I once stood here by the sofa, shifting our weight from one foot to another in unfamiliar new shoes. Afraid to sit in case we crumple our clothes, keeping watch for the be-ribboned Rolls Royce.
‘Are you sure you’re doing the right thing Sandra?’.
‘It’s too late now dad’.
‘Do you love him?’.
‘Of course I do’.
‘Christ Sandra, you need a cork for that arse!’
We start to giggle. Farts are funny, it’s a fact. The laughs get bigger in direct proportion to the farts. I run to the kitchen to dab my eyes with kitchen roll.
‘Car’s here Sandra’.
I moved back home many times over the years; after a failed marriage, after travelling, when mum left, after dad had his third heart attack.
Each time the layout of the furniture was different, but the house was the same. Same woodchip, same smoke-stained paintwork, same white coat hanging over the radiator. Same chats about the neighbours, clocks, the lottery, the birds in the garden, my weight, the price of fags (‘I’ll give up when they reach £x per packet’), whether dad had been to the fish van this week, whether they’d had jellied eels.
The last time I moved back home was as a carer. In some ways I was the parent and he was the child. I looked after his physical needs, just until he was better.
‘I’ve got a date on Sunday dad’.
‘Where’d you meet him?’.
‘On the internet’.
‘You be careful Sandra, he could be a paedophile, he’s probably been grooming you’.
‘Dad, I’m 36, not 6!’.
‘Sorry, course you are. But I’ll always think of you as 6. You’ll always be my little girl’.
You never met Andy, or your beautiful grandchildren. You’d be so proud of me dad. You’d never tell me, but I know you would be proud.
‘Sandra, I can’t breathe’.
‘Okay dad, I’m coming’.
‘I’ve been sat here for a while, but didn’t want to wake you before 6’.
‘Oh dad, that’s what I’m here for’.
The ambulance arrived quickly. The paramedics, bulky with their coats and bags, worked efficiently. As they carried you down the stairs, your eyes were open, but I could see that you had already gone.
‘It’s 6.53 dad’.
For my old man
17 July 1932 - 25 March 2006