I intended to go to the police. I wasn’t going to call them to the house or anything but I thought I’d go into the local station on the way to work. As the morning went on, with breakfast and packing our bags for the day and hustling Suzie along, I began to believe there was no point. The time to act had been in the early hours when the fear was still raw when there was a possibility that they could have found the person who had been behind my fence.
At the school gates, the talk was all about the gale, the damage that it had caused. Plastic wheelie bins had blown about, covers from garden furniture had been ripped away, the tarpaulins from trampolins lifted and spread over gardens. I decided it was something like that I had seen from the window, a piece of plastic caught by the wind, a tree branch perhaps. Now, in the light of a pretty morning with other people around me amidst the flurry of the playground, my fear seemed ridiculous.
I didn’t even bother to mention it to Frances.
Two days later I got the letter. It was a plain white envelope. The address was handwritten in ball pen, it had been sent with a first class stamp. It was so very ordinary. I picked it up from the mat along with everything else and threw it onto the table in the kitchen. There had been quite a few condolence cards after mum had died and then letters of thanks for the party. It wasn’t unusual even though most people had opted for emails, the older friends had still taken the time to put pen to paper.
I made tea for Suzie and Dylan, helped them with their English homework and then after Frances had collected her boy, I went through the usual routine of bath, storytime, and bed. It was a normal evening. Calm and really rather dull.
I don’t think there are that many people who would ever be able to understand how I felt when I read the letter.
Unless you have been in a similar situation, and surely there are not many of us, then it is impossible to explain. I can use ordinary words, ‘amazed, shocked, disbelieving,’ even ‘horrified’ and I think that is the one that comes closest. Even that one isn’t big enough.
I had spent almost forty years believing that my father was long gone. That he had been a small point in my mother’s life, a passing fling that had, as with my own beloved little girl, resulted in a pregnancy. I admit it, a complication at first and then very quickly a wonderful, precious gift. I hadn’t seen Suzie’s father for ages. He had no interest in his daughter and I’d been clear from the very beginning that I wanted nothing from him on condition he kept away from us. I had occasionally pondered what I would do when the inevitable moment came and she asked me about him. But, my mother had simply told me that my father wasn’t important, that he wasn’t a part of our life and that she had more than enough love for two parents anyway. I hadn’t decided if that would be my approach with Suzie. Probably something more modern and I suppose I would have agreed to let them meet if they had both wanted to. But, that was in the future for me.
But now here it was. Communication from someone who said he was my father. I had never had a father, I had never even had a grandfather, uncles, brother. There had been me and mum. A unit whole and complete, and then there had been me and Mum and Suzie.
I remember my hands shook so much that the paper rattled and I had to put the letter onto the table top so that I could read it again. I read it over and over. He told me he had worked away for many years and had only recently come back to the UK. He had Googled my mother’s name and there it had been, the death announcement.
I remember I pushed it away, crumpled it up and then straightened it out again. I cried, I can’t say why I cried but I did. I stood up and paced the kitchen, coming back to stare at the creased and tattered pages again. I picked it up and carried it through to the living room and sat on the settee. There was a picture of mum on the shelf in the corner. I went and stood in front of it and stared down at her face.
I could not form a coherent thought. Not enough to decide what to do, not enough to even wonder if it was true. That sounds insane now. I’m an intelligent, modern woman. I work with people, sorting out their problems. I think that I’m clued up and switched on. I was so shocked that I was unable to properly function. I went through denial, and anger and really what I can only describe as bewilderment.
I didn’t connect the other odd things that had happened. I couldn’t get as far as wondering what I should do. In that letter he didn’t ask to meet, he just said that he wanted me to know that he would have wanted to know me but my mother had made it impossible. I think that was the thing that hurt the most, this criticism of the woman who had been my world for as long as I could remember.
I tried to sleep that night but it was impossible. I tossed and turned for a while and in the end, I got up and went downstairs to sit in the dark and wait for the morning.
I talked to my mum, I verbalised some of the questions that filled my mind and when the light outside started to turn grey and I heard the first of the cars on the road I was no further forward than when I had sat at the kitchen table reading the words for the first time.