My Father’s Name – Conclusion

Dylan is living with us. Of course, Frances’s family wanted him to go to them. In the end we thought it would be better for him to stay at the same school and in the area his has known all his little life. I was the one who told him about his mum. The police and the medical people all offered but I knew it should be my job. I held him close as he cried and asked me why and then asked what was going to happen to him. I promised him that we’d take care of him, me and Suzie.

I wasn’t sure what to do for the best, whether to just bring him to share our house, but it was really a bit small. Of course, he had to have his own things. We couldn’t easily move to Frances’s it would break my heart to cook in her kitchen and work in her office, it was just too hard. In the end, I had my mum’s house redecorated and we moved in there. People thought I was mad as that was where it had happened and yet, it’s been fine. We brought all Dylan’s bedroom furniture and his toys, we moved stuff around between my home and Mum’s and – yes – it’s been okay. My house is on the market. I’m staying here. All the happy memories will obliterate that one dreadful day. I am determined. I feel as though I should do it for mum as much as anything. She wouldn’t have wanted that man in her place and so we will destroy any trace of him being there. We will drive him away with love and laughing.

I am fostering Dylan officially. You do get some money for that, but it was nothing to do with cash. In fact, it’s going into his savings for if he goes to university or whatever he does after school. I just wanted it organised so I was his official guardian for school trip permissions and what have you. The whole family were in agreement. Of course, anything very major will be a joint decision between us all. He’s not mine, though I love him as if he is.

It’s been difficult at times, of course, it has. Fortunately, Suzie wasn’t too badly affected because all she remembered was John collecting her from school. Apparently, he told her that I was meeting them at Mum’s house. He gave her some juice and she doesn’t remember anything after that until she woke up at the hospital.

He’s back in jail. Well, he broke the terms of his licence so it was a foregone conclusion anyway; never mind the new charges that he is going to be tried for. At first, I didn’t want them to take him to court for the kidnapping as he was locked up anyway. I know people thought I was wrong but to be honest I didn’t want Suzie questioning and I felt, still feel, really guilty. But I have been convinced that he should pay and there is what happened to Frances.

It was my fault.

She had been right all along. I can blame grief, the counsellor I’ve seen has told me that losing my mum had made me vulnerable and I suppose he’s right. But I’m a mum, I should have been more careful. I shouldn’t have let this man who was effectively a stranger get so close to us. I was totally taken in.

Yes, he is my biological father, there is no getting away from that. I hate the idea and have to just accept that it’s a fact. But, he had never been anything to me. He had only ever been a bad memory for mum, and I should have refused to have anything to do with him. But I didn’t and I have to carry the guilt about what that led to, forever.

I watch Dylan and Suzie playing in the garden and I can hardly bear it. But, I have to. I have to be strong for both of them and for myself. We all have to be strong because Frances will be coming home from the hospital tomorrow. She is still very weak and they reckon it will be a long time before she is back to normal and it’s already been many, many weeks. There were several operations to repair the damage that the knife had done and for a while, they didn’t think that she would live. She was unconscious for what felt like forever. I didn’t understand all of the medical stuff but it was loss of blood and internal wounds that they had to repair; sometimes more than once because the damage was so bad. Parts of her were torn inside from where she did that macabre dance with him with the knife between them already thrust into her body. His solicitor says it was accidental and if the police hadn’t burst open the door it wouldn’t have happened. I just think that if he hadn’t taken my daughter; if he hadn’t broken into my mum’s house, and if he hadn’t been holding the knife it wouldn’t have happened. But he did and he was and my friend almost didn’t make it.

But she did. My dearest friend fought her way back from the brink and now I am going to take care of her. I’ve reduced my work hours and I’ve converted the downstairs office into a lovely bedroom. It’s filled with flowers now, and books for her and all the special things from home that she said she wanted to have around her. She’ll be here this time tomorrow and though I can never make up for what happened to her I can start to repay her for her love and her bravery and we can try and rebuild our lives and forget him; forget my father’s name.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 22

I had bought the set of knives in a block for my mum. They were very sharp, that was why she loved them. John had the big one, the chef’s knife, in his hand; the hand that lay across my little girl’s stomach. It had been down by his side. Frances must have seen it and that is why she had held me back. Now he moved and twisted it. It caught the light through the window and the blade gleamed orange.

I felt Frances’s finger ends digging into my arms as she held me. I couldn’t speak because my throat had dried and all I was aware of was the screech in my head and then the screech had found its way out of my brain and I was pleading with him not to hurt my baby. My knees were jelly and I think if it hadn’t been for Frances I would have crumpled to the floor.

He moved the knife, trailing the sharp edge of the blade upwards across Suzie’s dress until it was laid over her chest the sharp point just below her chin. I couldn’t breathe.

He smiled at us. “Now you see, I don’t want to hurt this little one. She’s my granddaughter after all, isn’t she? I know you don’t want me to hurt her so let’s just all keep nice and calm. I’m sure I can trust you not to go telling people where we are. I’m sure that in the morning you’ll be off to the bank like a good girl. Oh, don’t worry I realise you’re not going to be able to get the proper money for a little while. I’m not stupid. But that’s okay. In the meantime, I’ll just stay here, it’s nice and comfy and nobody needs to know. Though I’ll be turning the heating up. We don’t want little Suzie here getting cold, do we? She’s not going to be running around much is she after all. We’ll just let her snooze away nice and quiet.”

“You can’t. You mustn’t. Please don’t do that. Please don’t give her any more of whatever it is. I’ll stay here with her. I’ll keep her quiet.”

“Oh but that’s not going to work now, is it? How are you going to take care of business messing about here? No. I think we’ll just keep her nice and sleepy.”

I didn’t hear the cars outside in the road. I didn’t notice the sweep of lights as they played across the wall. I couldn’t take my eyes away from John and Suzie. But he had noticed and turned to look at the window. I felt Frances tense beside me and the grip on my arms loosened.

It happened so very quickly and yet it seemed to play out in slow motion. It began with the bang on the door. At the same time, we saw a shape pass the window and then another, fast and urgent. Someone called out.

When she moved it was sudden and unexpected. One moment Frances was still holding on to me more gently although I hadn’t really been aware in the change of her position. The next moment she launched herself across the kitchen and pulled Suzie roughly out of John’s arms. I heard her hit the floor and cried out as I tried to get to them. My legs wouldn’t hold me and I tumbled to the ground. Crawling forward to where Suzie’s poor, drugged little body lay in a heap. I reached and grabbed her then scuttered backwards dragging her with me across the tiles. I knelt on all fours my body arched across hers and then looked back to where Frances was struggling with John. The knife slashed back and forth as he struggled to his feet and began to back away from her. As he reached it the door flew open hitting John square in the back. He was thrust forward across the room the knife held before him. Frances was still moving and she cried out as they were pushed together. He stumbled. For a moment it seemed as if they were embracing each other. I heard another scream but it was lost in the shouts of police storming into the kitchen; the yells from John as they grabbed him and threw him to the floor with one of them pinning him bodily roaring at him to stay down and to stay still.

I pushed my daughter into the corner out of harm’s way and made sure that she was lying in the recovery position. I sat with my eyes closed for a moment collecting my thoughts. “Fran, thank you. Frances are you okay?”

My friend lay on her stomach in the middle of the kitchen. The knife had vanished but as I pushed to my feet and stepped towards her blood seeped from beneath her body and began to spread across the tile.

Someone wrapped their arms around me and turned me away. A policeman in uniform was carrying my daughter into the lounge. Someone was calling for ambulances and doctors. When I tried to turn back and go to my friend they led me away with murmured words of comfort that didn’t make any sense. There were promises to make sure they looked after her, and me, and my little girl.

John was handcuffed and led out through the kitchen door and I heard the slam of car doors and the wail of sirens and my shattered nerves decided that it was all too much and the world greyed out and everything receded into the fog as I drifted into the darkness.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 20

I didn’t want to leave without Suzie because it felt like abandoning her but there was no point in staying at the school. Eventually, though, I saw that the sensible thing was to go home. They asked me to find something she played with a lot and I didn’t understand, not until the dog handler came into the kitchen and took away the little plush unicorn. He brought it back after a short while, but I couldn’t touch it. It was part of something I couldn’t bear to let into my mind.

Of course, someone made tea and it stayed on the table in front of me until it was cold, and they took it away. Frances poured me a small brandy and the fire felt good in my throat, but it did nothing to dull the edges of emotion. She sat beside me holding my hand; she was quiet and strong, and calm.

For what seemed an age nothing much happened. They asked if I wanted a doctor. They asked if I wanted to call someone. There was no-one. The only person I could have needed sat beside me, her beautiful eyes wet with unshed tears.

The Detective, Lily, came back. I have no idea how much time had passed but it was dark. It was dark and my daughter was out there somewhere with a man who had murdered my grandparents. She told us they had been to his flat and, of course, didn’t find him. She said that they were still looking at the CCTV but they already knew that he had been watching the school and my home every day for the last couple of weeks. They had watched him follow us back and forth and they knew that he’d been there that morning. They had seen him leading Suzie away, but he had taken her down a side street away from the main road and then they lost them. They were still looking she said but for now, that was all and she went away.

That just left me, Frances, and a young policewoman, June Price, who they said was a Family Liaison Officer. She offered tea and asked repeatedly if there was anything I needed. I didn’t bother to say that the only thing I needed was Suzie at home snuggled under her duvet. She was doing her best and until anything happened she was, like us, just waiting. Whenever June’s phone rang I sensed Frances tense beside me but she would shake her head and then leave the room and we would hear the low mutter of her voice in the hall. I wished she would go away but it seemed churlish and unkind to say that.

Eventually, it was all too much. It was after nine o clock. I knew there was going to be an article on the television. They had taken away Suzie’s school photograph for the feature but I couldn’t bear to watch it. “I should, shouldn’t I?” I asked Fran and she shook her head.

“You just do what your heart tells you. Nobody can say what is the right thing. In this, there is no right way.”

They had talked about me appearing and making an appeal but not yet they said. I supposed they had a routine for this stuff and a timetable. I know they had done this sort of thing before. I had not and I was rendered helpless with ignorance about what was best.

I paced the house; driven mad by the inactivity. I went into Suzie’s room and sobbed; touching her nightdress, her little slippers and her pillow until Frances came and ushered me back downstairs.

“I can’t sit here any longer, Frances. I have to go and do something. I have to go and try to find her.” I knew that I sounded on the edge of hysteria, but I had taken all I could of the waiting and surely anything was better than nothing.

“But, when they find her you need to be here,” she said.

“They have my number. That police officer can wait here. I have to go and look. I can’t do nothing.”

By the time I had finished speaking Frances was on her feet and fetching our coats. I heard her shout through to the kitchen where Constable Price was washing cups. When she heard our plan she shot into the room; shaking her head and insisting that we stay in the house.

She couldn’t force us, and she couldn’t come with us and really, at that point, I didn’t care that I was putting her in a difficult position and so we left. It was cold and there was damp in the air but movement and action sent blood coursing through my veins and for a moment I was disgusted with myself that I had allowed them to make me sit and wait when what I needed was to get out and look for my girl.

“Where?” Frances asked.

“I suppose we should start at the flats.”

“The police have looked there already, and they have left someone waiting in case he turns up.”

“It came to me in a flash and it was so obvious. There was one place where he could take Suzie and she wouldn’t cause a fuss. One place that she wouldn’t question at all.

I grabbed hold of Frances’s arm. “My mum’s.” We set off running.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 19

I was in the head’s office. Someone had put a jacket around my shoulder, but I was still shaking. The teaching assistant sat on another chair looking pale and upset. I didn’t have any room to feel sympathy for her. I didn’t have any room for anything except fear and panic. My arms were aching for the feel of my little girl held close to my body.

My first instinct had been to run out of the school. I had turned and started towards the door and then the girl had shouted, “Wait, wait. Where are you going?”

I didn’t have an answer for her. I couldn’t go home, not without my daughter. I couldn’t run to where John White lived it was too far and I couldn’t just run into the streets and run and run screaming her name. That is what I wanted to do. That is what I still wanted to do but they had brought me here and made me wait and someone had held my hand and someone else told me it was all going to be alright. It was just a misunderstanding. They were sure that my friend would come back when he found I wasn’t at home.

They told me to ring him. I rang him. Of course, there was no answer. I rang him again and again. There was no answer. I could tell that they didn’t really understand. The teaching assistant was upset because she had broken the rules. If anyone other than the usual person was collecting a child there should be a note on the notice board. There hadn’t been, of course. I suppose she was worried about her job. The others though did not have any idea why I was so panicked. The headmistress insisted on calling John ‘my mother’s friend’. I couldn’t blame her because it was what everyone thought. I couldn’t explain it because my thoughts wouldn’t settle long enough for me to have the conversation. I pulled the card from my jean’s pocket and rang the detective, Lily. I got her answering service. All I could manage was, “Ring me, please. It’s urgent.”

And then she was there. Her arms were around me and she was stroking my hair away from my face and rocking me back and forth as if I was her baby.

“Hush now, girl,” Frances said. “Hush now. It’s all going to be fine. Everything is fine.”

I shook my head and sobbed out a sort of story to her and because she knew something of what I was talking about she saw and understood.

“Okay. Have the police been called?” She asked, her voice urgent but calm.

I nodded. “I’ve got this number. It’s complicated; it’s the detective. But she’s not answering.”

“Well, we’ll just call them again.” And she did. She called the local station and they reacted immediately. The headmistress had tried to interfere and stop Frances from ‘causing a fuss’. She didn’t want police cars in the playground and officers in the street. “It’s not as if the child is missing,” she said. “You know who she is with.”

“Mrs Belfast,” Frances said, “Just keep out of this. Excuse me, but in this case, you really don’t know what’s happening.”

If it hadn’t been such a terrible situation I think the round-eyed, shock on the face of the prissy woman might have been funny. As it was she just gasped and tutted and shepherded people away, all the time barking instructions about keeping things calm, just carrying on, and not causing alarm. I was only vaguely aware of it all swirling around me. I clung to Frances. She was my anchor and the only steady thing in a world of shifting dread and fear.

The school was quiet now. Most of the children had gone home. There was an after-school club in the dining hall but all we could hear was a subdued hum and the occasional burst of laughter. The police arrived and I was able to give them a rundown of the situation. It was difficult to fit it all in and they kept making me stop and go back and repeat things. I didn’t blame them; it was all so very complicated. Finally, after what seemed hours Detectives Palmer and Griffiths were in the room. They ushered everyone else out, but I wouldn’t let them send Frances away.

“Right. What we’ve done,” Lily started. “We’ve requested CCTV for all the roads around the school. We’ve initiated a Child Alert. Do you know what that is?”

I shook my head.

“It’s like the Amber Alert system in America. Your little girl’s name is everywhere and people all over the place will be watching out for her. We’ve been able to do this because of the history. But that’s not all we’ve done. There are dozens of police officers are looking for her and we’ll find her. We will.”

I was overwhelmed. Everything was unreal. I could not believe that this had happened. This happened to other people. I wanted my mum, and I wanted my child.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 18

I felt so very alone. The two detectives had gone. Before they left they said that they’d arrange for me to meet with a Victim Support Officer. However, they didn’t know how long that might take and it probably wouldn’t be for a day or so.

I had their numbers and was under strict instructions to call them if John phoned me or turned up at the door – I promised I would. Pathetically I heard myself pleading with them to hurry and find him.

I couldn’t settle to do anything. There was no way that I was going to work. It was way too late for me to accomplish anything anyway and I knew that what had happened would fill my mind. Yes, I wanted to call Frances but how could I. Pride got in the way. She had been right all along but there was so much more than John just being ‘a bit off’.

The detectives had been with me for a couple of hours. I made a sandwich and took a pizza out of the freezer ready for dinner. Life had to go on, didn’t it?

I dragged out the albums of photographs. Me and mum; pictures of all our times together, at the beach, parties, Christmases and in all of them she had been carrying that huge secret.

Murder.

But why? Okay, when I was little it would have been too much to tell me and all too horrific for a young brain to deal with. But why not later when I was old enough to understand good and evil? Was it because it was just too hard for her to talk about? I had thought we were close. I had believed that we told each other everything and now it was clear that had been an illusion. Maybe, she had worried I would let something slip. The detectives had said that when she was relocated it was like witness protection. She was advised to tell no-one about her past. She was given the option but chose not to change her name. That decision was possibly her biggest mistake. She was told to never talk to reporters if they did manage to find her. She knew, always, there would come a time when he would walk out of jail. She had lived with that hanging over her all of my life and never spoke of it.

I cried for her bravery and for her loneliness and I wanted to tell her it was alright. He wouldn’t hurt me and she had done everything she could to protect me and I loved her for her lies.

Eventually, it was time to go and collect Suzie. I set off early hoping I could be first and whisk her away before I had to speak to anyone.

We have a system at the school where you go into the small entrance and then you have to ring a bell. The teacher or teaching assistant on duty will open the door. After that you have to give them a password and once they have that they let your child out. It seems crazy, overdone but it works and the children are safe. I remember back when I was little, hairing across the playground with my friends and searching for my mum in the crowd of other parents. Sometimes I had to wait for her. I’d be climbing on the railings and laying on the grass in the summer. It’s not like that now.

I wasn’t first but I didn’t really know the couple of other parents and so I didn’t need to talk to them. A bloke had already rung the buzzer and we waited for the teaching assistant. She gave us a wave as she came along the corridor.

One little girl came out. She went off with her daddy.

The assistant looked at me and frowned. I just nodded at her and whispered the password. ‘Unicorns’. Suzie had chosen it.

The girl shook her head and frowned at me. There was a strange sort of silence. I know I smiled. “Suzie,” I said. Though I knew the girl and she knew us. She glanced back into the school, and I felt my stomach clench. “Suzie,” I said again.

The girl came closer and spoke quietly. “Your friend collected Suzie a few minutes ago.” Well, I was livid. Frances and I often picked up each other’s children. It was a very regular thing in the days when we were talking. But now, how dare she. I knew Dylan and Suzie were puzzled about what was going on. I knew they were both pestering about why they weren’t playing together as much. But really, to pick up my little girl without my permission was shocking and unforgivable.

Then I saw him, Dylan, waving at me from his classroom doorway.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 17

I hadn’t ever questioned Mum much because from the very beginning I had known the story of the fire that killed my grandparents. It was talked about in a matter of fact way “Oh it was a terrible thing – terrifying. But I survived because of what they did,” she would say, “and because of that we must be happy.” I thought she was so wise and it was just the way it was. Later, when I asked about my father she had told me about the coward who left her when she was pregnant and I joined her in mutual scorn and disgust.

Of course, that had already been called into question and now there was another version of history. I had accepted it readily, too readily Frances insisted. I had forfeited our friendship because I wanted this new truth and because it filled a hole that I hadn’t realised existed until John arrived with his kind smile and his story of abiding affection for my darling mother.

On this day, with the clock on the mantlepiece ticking away the seconds and the radiators clicking as they cooled; my whole history was turned to dust. Everything I had ever known to be true was obliterated and my new beliefs were squashed more quickly than they had taken to grow.

At first, I refused to believe them. I argued. I gave them a potted version of all that had happened. I took them step by step through my meeting with him, the days out, the presents he had brought for Suzie.

But they had brought their own proof. They had paperwork, court reports, images, and statements.

In the end, I had to acknowledged that for the whole of my life Mum had lied to me and about more than just the character of the man who was my father. Everything had been a veil drawn over facts. The police officer, Lily, insisted that it must have been done for the best. She said she was convinced that Mum had been trying to protect me and surely I could see that.

I didn’t know what to think. I wanted to believe that it had been kindness and a lioness’s instinct to protect her young. And what of the more recent lies? I had been misled all my life it seemed.

It was a terrible thing to listen to my past being shredded. I cried a little then, for the loss of truth and in a way it was like Mum dying all over again. The woman I had always known was being taken away bit by bit.

The worst part was still to come and none of us sitting there over cups of cooling coffee and some Scottish Shortbread could ever have dreamed where it would lead.

When they showed me the picture of John’s face, unsmiling against a plain background it was obvious that it was one of those ‘mug shots’; the ones that are a bit of a joke on the police programmes. Turn to the left. Turn to the right. But it was him. He looked much younger, of course, the same as the smiling picture he had shown me of him and my mum in front of Homewood.

It took a while for me to understand everything the police told me. They were patient and went over things repeatedly answering my rather stupid questions. At one point Joe went and made another drink. I think it was coffee. By that time we were calling each other by our first names and there were moments of lightness in spite of the struggle I was having.

They didn’t know where John was staying. They were trying to track him down because he had stopped reporting to his probation officer. He had moved away from his accommodation without leaving a forwarding address.

They knew where Mum lived, after the tragedy, and so that had been the obvious place to look. They had scanned the local news and seen the notification of her death which is how they had found me.

So there we were. I told them that, yes, he had been in touch. I told them all of it, the DNA tests, the outings, the dinners and picnics. I told them about the money and I could see by the look passing between them that they thought I’d been an idiot. Well, I had. 

I was able to give them his address.

In return, they told me about a vicious and violent young man who had date raped a young woman. About the failed attempt to convict him of his crime and afterwards his constant harassment of her family, my grandparents. They told me as kindly as they could about the arson attack when he had been told that he would have no access to the child that he had fathered in violence. They explained about his conviction for the double murder and years and years spent in jail until, finally, he had served his sentence and was out on a licence that would last for the rest of his life.

When they locked him up, they had spirited the young woman, my pregnant mother, away, for her own protection and so my life had been shaped.

They said that he was forbidden to try and contact me and that he was not supposed to move to the area where I lived. It had all been that blasted death announcement. It had been done in innocence, it was something that the funeral directors organised as a matter of course and that I had barely thought about when I agreed to it. Why would I?

“What is going to happen now?” I asked them.

“He’s broken the terms of his licence. He will go back to prison. We’ll make sure that he’s never able to bother you again. I don’t think we’ll be able to do anything about the money. You did give it to him of your own free will and I expect it’s long gone – Sorry.” Lily reached across the coffee table and touched my hand.

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t care about the money. I just want him gone. I need time to adjust to all of this but, please, just make sure he doesn’t come near us again.” I said.

“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it.” I know she meant it and truly believed it when she spoke.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 16

The blow came completely out of the blue.

It was a Monday. I had taken Suzie to school and was back at home, making the beds, tidying the kitchen, all the usual everyday things. Normal and thoughtless, just living my boring, ordinary life.

I was a bit irritated when the doorbell rang. I was fitting things in before work and it didn’t leave me much spare time. I almost ignored it, assumed that it was someone trying to sell me something or a neighbour wanting sponsorship – whatever. But I ran down the stairs and opened the door to two strangers. A man and a woman.

Of course, my first thought – religious people and I expect I sighed. I know I said, “Not just now thanks, I’m in a bit of a hurry.” That was when I noticed the i.d. that the woman was holding up. It wasn’t a bit of a paper thing with a picture of the Watchtower on it. I realised just what it was and my heart jinked and the world tipped a bit.

“Suzie!”

As I cried out the woman held up her hand. “I’m sorry, please don’t panic. Who is Suzie?”

“My little girl.”

“We’re not here about her. I promise.” She smiled, I guessed that she was a mum herself and she understood.

I calmed a bit, though my heart was still thumping. I didn’t know what to say so I just sort of stared at them. They asked my name, they asked to come in. Well, what could I do? When the police ask to come in you don’t really have a lot of choice. Well, yes, I fully understand that you do, but normally you let them in unless you’ve got something to hide. So that was it, they came in, I told them again that I didn’t have much time and they promised to try to make it quick. Actually, the man suggested that they come back later but I didn’t want them there when Suzie was home and I didn’t want to be wondering about it all day. As I say we do flexitime at the office so it wasn’t really that much of a problem.

They introduced themselves, Detective Sergeant Lily Palmer and Detective Constable Joe Griffiths. The woman, Lily, had a file folder and she put it on the coffee table. I felt obliged to offer them a drink and I was a bit surprised when they asked for coffee. I gave up on work right about then, I knew this wasn’t just a quick neighbourhood watch thing or a question about the lads that had been making a nuisance of themselves in the parking area.

So they pulled out the paperwork and I leaned forward to look. What I never expected, never in a million years was to see pictures of Mum. It was definitely her. I knew immediately; she was much younger but it was her for sure. I reached out to pick up the picture and they didn’t stop me.

“Why have you got a picture of my mum. She’s never done anything wrong. She died, just a short while ago.”

Lily nodded and took the print back. “Yes, we know. We are sorry. It must still be pretty raw.” I was so glad she didn’t do that American ‘Sorry for your loss‘ thing. I guess I just nodded at her.

“We are really sorry to bring this to your door.”

She brought out some more pictures then. A couple I didn’t recognise, older people. A house. I reached over to pick that up but again I knew straight away what it was. It was the house in the picture that John had shown me; the one where mum had grown up. The next was just a ruin. Blackened and burned. 

“I don’t know how much you know about your grandparents,” Lily said, “if you know anything at all.”

As she spoke, she held up the picture of the older couple. I took it from her. “Are these them?”

She just nodded. “I take it from that answer that you know pretty much nothing about them.”

“I know that they died in a fire. I know that my mum always felt guilty because she lived. That’s it really.”

Lily nodded, she sort of pursed her lips. She glanced at the bloke sitting beside her anxious and uncomfortable.

“This is possibly all going to be a bit difficult for you. We understand that and we will answer any questions that you have, as far as possible. We would never have been in touch. Indeed we should never have had to but we have grave concerns for your safety and, well… Here we are.”

She stopped then. I wasn’t sure what she was waiting for. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say and so I just didn’t say anything.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 15

The first time I gave John money he didn’t ask me for it. We had been out for lunch and when he tried to pay, his credit card was maxed out. Well, we’ve all been there, haven’t we? It’s awful, embarrassing and all of that. I just took the bill and paid.

Of course, he was all apologies and what have you and I was all about ‘oh don’t worry it’s fine, you get it next time.’

Then he said, “Well, I hope my landlord’s going to be as understanding.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, what I think has happened here, and I’ll be on to the bank first thing this afternoon, is money that I was transferring in from abroad hasn’t arrived. Problem is that my rent’s due tomorrow and I haven’t bothered with an overdraft agreement. Well,” he shrugged, “I don’t need one. The bank screwed up, but I haven’t been in the place long and it does set a bad precedent doesn’t it. I’ll have to contact the letting agent. God this is embarrassing, I haven’t had to do this for years. Accommodation, when I was away, was taken care of by other people.”

“I could let you have some, if you like,” I said.

“What – Oh no, no I couldn’t let you do that. No, it’s fine – it’s just a question of timing and the bank being a bit hopeless.”

“Well, there we are then. Give me your account details, I’ll forward on some money – oh how much will you need?”

“Would you really do that. Aren’t you lovely? It would get me out of a hole, and it’ll only be for a day or two, till I sort this out.”

So that was it. He didn’t ask for it and I did the most stupid thing I could have done. He said he needed six hundred for the rent, I gave him seven so that he had some spare if he needed it until his funds arrived.  

I admit that when I was back at home, I did have a bit of a wobbly moment and wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake. I think that was why I didn’t tell anyone. I knew that it was possible I’d just been a real idiot. I mean, I thought I knew him a bit by then. We’d had some nice time together and he had told me stories about his past. He felt like a friend. The thing was I would never lend a friend money. I would give them some if I could and they needed it, but I wouldn’t expect it back. If it was returned it was a bonus. Mind, that hadn’t happened more than a couple of times and it had been little amounts. Twenty quid for a taxi that sort of thing. Anyway, for some reason, I had done this with hardly a second thought.

I told myself that it was because he was family. I told myself it was because we were connected on some sort of spiritual level because, after all, he was my biological father.

No, I didn’t tell Frances. I knew what the result of that would be. I wonder if that was where the erosion into our trust for each other had started. Maybe it had been even before that.

I didn’t hear from him for a few days and then he rang. He wanted to arrange for us to go to the cinema with Suzie. I waited with my fingers crossed, hoping he’d mention the money and just at the end of the call he did.

“I haven’t forgotten about that six hundred pounds by the way,” he said, “I’m waiting for the transfer. It’s taking longer than I thought it would. Bloody foreign banks. I’m sorry.”

Of course, I told him it was fine, it didn’t matter. I struggled with it when I put the phone down, I’ll be honest but there was nothing I could do.

We met at the weekend for the pictures and I was surprised when he bought the tickets and then paid for the pizza afterwards. Of course, we had my daughter with us so it wasn’t the time to bring up the subject. I supposed he had managed to sort out some funds but not enough to pay me back and I pushed it to one side again.

After a month I had to accept that I was probably never going to get it back. I didn’t know how to bring the subject up again. It made me sad. I made excuses and there was a lingering hope for another week or so but – well then there was the next time.

He brought the subject up. He said that he hadn’t forgotten about the money. That really pleased me I have to say. Then he said that he was still having trouble with the bank. That he had arranged an overdraft to cover him and would it be okay if we waited a while before he paid me back because he didn’t want to go over his limit. Well, it made sense and the fact that he’d mentioned it was good, I thought.

A few days later he asked if I could round up the loan to make it all one thousand. He had needed to ship some belongings from overseas and it had taken him really close to becoming overdrawn.

I know all the things that people say, I’ve said them myself but when you are put on the spot, face to face with someone it’s not easy to say no, especially when you have already done it once.

I loaned him the extra.

It niggled away at me constantly and I didn’t want to see him. That sort of didn’t matter because I didn’t hear from him for over a week. Well by this time I was upset, angry at myself and that was when I told Frances.

The row that we had is seared into my memory, it’s part of me. It was hideous, horrible. It came from small beginnings and ratcheted up and up until I stormed out of her house dragging poor Suzie with me. The children were crying, we were all crying actually. A very, very dark moment in my life and I will never forget it.

We said dreadful things, worst of all I think is that I accused her of being jealous of John. She said I was blinded by grief and the longing for a family and she was hurt that I no longer trusted her judgement. She was upset that our friendship was no longer enough. She said that if it’d been a new man for me, a new love was what she actually said, then she would have been happy. I believe that. I really think that she would. But it wasn’t. He was what she called a Johnny Come Lately and she didn’t like him, didn’t trust him.  I can’t repeat the stuff we said, even now I can’t bear to think about it.

Especially now.

Poor Suzie kept asking when she was going to stay with Dylan again. I took to arriving at school early so there would be no risk of seeing Frances. It was horrible and unhappy. I wanted to call her up and tell her I was sorry. I was on the verge of that so many times and then pulled back, partly from embarrassment and partly because I knew she was right. I had acted foolishly.

I didn’t hear from John. I tried to call him because I decided the only way to sort things out was to ask for the money or an explanation and then I would let the relationship cool and maybe I’d find my way back to what I’d had before.

He didn’t answer his phone and I left messages which he never responded to. I thought of going round to his house but it seemed a step too far. It was only a thousand pounds. I know that’s a lot of money in a way but it’s not a lot to ruin your life over, is it?

Over a week went by and I was very unhappy but holding it together as best I could. Then the sky fell in.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 14

I was tormented about what to do. I tried to be rational and sensible but, Frances’s words had made everything so much more complicated.

On the one hand, I knew she was right, it was a bit quick and I was still vulnerable. On the other hand, this man was my dad. He had to be. He had the pictures. He knew about Mum and what had happened to her parents and there was the irrefutable evidence of the DNA test.

I admit that I sat up nights going back and forth. In the end, I decided I deserved this chance to get to know him. Suzie deserved the chance to have relatives. So, I called him. I asked him to come round for dinner again, but this time I set the time earlier and told him that I’d like him to meet my daughter. I didn’t take the decision lightly. I really didn’t and even after he’d accepted and we’d agreed the date I worried about it.

I told Frances and she didn’t say very much just nodded and told me again that she was there for me, if things didn’t work out.

I sat down with Suzie and told her that a friend of Granny’s was coming to have tea with us. She was seven. She didn’t ask many questions. They don’t at that age do they, not really meaningful things. Yes, she wanted to know his name, where he lived and whether he was a granddad. That one gave me pause.

By this time, I did have an address for him. A rental apartment, in a good area. He hadn’t invited me to visit but, yes, I’d driven past one day on the way home from work and it looked nice. I had even gone and looked at the names beside the bell pushes and his was there. So, I had been diligent, as much as I thought I could be under the circumstances. He didn’t work. He told me that he’d made enough so that he could take his time looking for something. He didn’t want to go back into anything as stressful as before. Just a bit of a job to pass his days was what he said.

It was a lovely Saturday, I set the table in the garden, I thought it would be less formal and intimidating for Suzie. I cooked sausages and kebabs on the barbecue and made a few different salads. I baked potatoes and I did make an ice cream cake, one of my daughter’s favourite things.

He brought flowers and chocolates and a little plush unicorn for Suzie. He couldn’t have picked anything better because she was all about fairies and magic right then. I was impressed that he would be so spot on but Frances did point out later that the house was full of her stuff. There were pictures she’d drawn of rainbow coloured, one-horned pony figures, a group of fairies on the window ledge – oh well you know the sort of thing. I just thought that it made him very observant and thoughtful.

It went well. He didn’t seem totally comfortable at first but then, I thought, how could he be – he probably hadn’t had a lot of interaction with seven-year-old girls. Of course, my daughter showed off a bit but all in all, I thought it was okay. I was exhausted when he left, nervous tension had given me a splitting headache but I thought we had moved on a bit. I didn’t know when I would tell Suzie who he was, or to be honest whether I really needed to. Maybe it was better to just leave it that he’d been a friend of Granny, at least until she was older and I could explain it all to her.

I saw Frances the next day and she agreed with me. She said that she was happy for me. I don’t know exactly how she felt but it was enough to be going on with.

So, that was the start of it. He came around quite often, we went out a couple of times. He didn’t have a car so I drove, but that was fine and some of the time Frances and Dylan were with us. Frances was polite but not overly friendly. I still hoped that she would come around, that he would win her over. I suppose it was a couple of months that things went on like that. Meals, little trips, meeting him for coffee, and I was enjoying it. I was disappointed that there were no aunties for my little girl, no cousins – he said that he’d lost touch with all his relatives while he’d been abroad and his mum and dad had been dead for a few years.

He told us stories about him and mum when they were together and they were bittersweet. I would have loved to have talked to her about them, tease her a bit but I was enjoying what I had and trying not to expect any more. He didn’t have much to say about her parents, they had been out of his league he said and not all that keen on him and so he had kept a distance. Again that was disappointing but there was nothing to be done.

In the middle of all of this Mum’s Will had gone through probate and I now had the added burden of what to do about our houses. There was money, I had known about that. Mum had asked that I put some aside so that Suzie would never face the burden of student debt. What a pleasure that was to do. It was lovely to have a buffer of savings and to feel secure but the main thing was the property. Mum’s house was bigger than mine. I did consider moving us into it but the garden needed more attention than I had the time for and I didn’t want to have to employ a gardener. Mum had done it but I’ve never been good with having other people in my space. I liked my own house, it was easy to manage and I had bought it, with Mum’s help, soon after I had Suzie. It had lots of special memories, and of course, the sad ones of the last year but all in all it was a happy home. I really couldn’t face the upheaval of sorting the furniture and moving and all of that. I was able to pay off a chunk of my mortgage as well. But I had to do something more definitive about it all. Renting it out was an option. It was nicely furnished, a bit old fashioned now but clean and well maintained. I had an agent have a look and was surprised at how much they would set the rent at. But then I didn’t know if I could face walking past and seeing other people living in Mum’s home. I was conflicted.

I talked it over with Frances and in the end, I just had the cleaner go in every week to move the dust and I called in now and then myself to sort through all the personal things and give the place an airing. Mum’s gardener carried on and I just let it drift. I was lucky, very lucky that I didn’t need to move too quickly, especially as the property market was in a bit of a slump right then.

Yes, I considered asking John if he wanted to move in. It occurred to me, he was in a rented place and for a while, I thought it might be a good idea. It was Frances who talked me out of it. Never go into property with family or friends she said, it always ends badly. It sounded like good advice. “What will you do, girl, if he gets settled in there and you suddenly decide that really you would rather sell. You never know what’s coming. With an ordinary tenant it’s easy you can give them notice, with a relative, well, my god I know how that can end up.” She then went on to tell me about all the times she had heard of this sort of thing going horribly wrong, she seemed to know a lot and some of them were pretty harrowing. “Don’t complicate things,” she said, “just leave him where he is. He hasn’t complained and it’s nice in those flats.”

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 13

I was really nervous. Normally at this time of the year, we would have had a barbecue, the children would join in and then once they were in bed, we would sit as the sun went down, open wine and chill. But this wasn’t to be like that. I even put a cloth on the table, I planned the menu carefully. Okay I didn’t go as far as making a pudding but I did buy something from M&S. I don’t know whether I was trying to impress him, or what. I just wanted it all to be special. Frances brought Dylan round early and I fed them kid’s food, read them stories and put them to bed.

By the time she came back for the dinner, all dolled up and carrying wine, I’d just about turned myself into a nervous wreck. I didn’t enjoy it. I wasn’t looking forward to it. I had convinced myself that I’d made a really stupid error of judgement and they would hate each other on sight and I would see that he was just what Frances believed, a con man and a chancer.

It wasn’t as bad as that as things turned out. Of course, we were all civilised and polite. We chatted about incidentals. I didn’t give him a tour of the house or anything like that. I didn’t let him look into the children’s room. It would have seemed a natural thing, but I didn’t.

I showed him some pictures of Suzie when she was a baby, and he made all the expected noises. He didn’t ask about her father and I was relieved. To be honest I just thought that he was being considerate, trying not to be too pushy. That pleased me.

We ate the steak and the salad, we drank the wine and nibbled the cheese. My guests said all the things that they were expected to. I missed my mum because she was always there on a night like this. Then I realised that if she hadn’t died there wouldn’t have been a night like this.

After he’d left I poured a couple of glasses of brandy for us. Frances and I went and sat on the sofa in the lounge.

“So, what did you think?” I asked her.

She didn’t speak for a while, just sipped at her drink and laid her head back against the cushions. Then she put down her drink and took hold of my hand. “I’m sorry love, I really am. I know this isn’t what you want to hear but there’s something off about him.”

Well, I felt the tears come into my eyes and for a while there I just couldn’t answer her. I pulled my hand away.

“How do you mean, off?” I said.

“Okay. He is polite, he’s decent looking, I’ll give you that. Seeing him in the picture he showed us I can understand why your mum would have been attracted to him. But he didn’t tell us much about his life, did he? I tried, I know you realised that I was trying to find out about where he’d been and what he’d done but he turned all the questions around, back to us, back to what had happened with your mum.”

“Well yes, a bit. But you know not everyone is comfortable talking about themselves.”

“But he’s had an interesting life, hasn’t he? He said he’d been away ever since, well ever since the fire and your mum disappearing. He’s travelled around, according to him he’s been all over the place. But he didn’t go into any details.”

“He did. Oh, he did. He told us the cities he’d lived in, Riyadh, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore.”

“Yes, but he didn’t tell us much about them did he. I mean there were no funny little stories about things that happened. No favourite bars or what his house had been like.”

“There were, he told us about that time he lost his luggage.”

She pursed her lips, looked straight at me. “Yes, you’re right. Perhaps it’s me, eh? I can see – I can tell by the way you interacted with him that you want this to be a good thing. I understand as well, I really do. Okay, let’s just say that I didn’t take to him. But, if you want to have some sort of relationship – well – it’s your life, girl. You have to do what you have to do.”

It wasn’t what I wanted her to have said. I wanted her to like him. I wanted her blessing. I had woven a little golden reality where we had all got on and enjoyed each other’s company. But, I could make that happen. I thought that maybe if I gave it time, she would get over her caution. That was all it was and for a moment I wondered if maybe she could be a bit, oh I don’t know possessive. Of course, we had other friends. We went out with groups sometimes, got involved with projects at the school, all of that stuff. But we were tight. We saw each other several times each week, we had been on holiday together a few years and I just wondered if maybe she was a bit jealous of the fact that I might have someone else coming into my life, to take the place Mum had left empty.

Heaven forgive me, I doubted her motives.

She left soon after that, “I’ll pick Dylan up about ten in the morning. We’re still going swimming, yeah?”

I nodded, “Yeah and then pizza.”

Just before she left she gave me a hug, laid her hands on my shoulders, “Whatever you decide, girl, however this thing goes. Just remember I’ve got your back.”

And she left.

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