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The silence was complete. Time had frozen inside the car while outside the world rolled onwards. The flicker of the beacon on the police car bathed the surrounding trees with its cobalt orbit, night sounds of creatures unrelated to  happenings on the road rustled and screeched.

The officer bent a little from the waist to peer into the rear window of the car, he watched the driver, immobile, facing forward. There was no indication the man was aware of the presence of the police. A moment of nervousness swept through the constable, unlooked for and unlikely but his gut clenched and his heart jumped. There was something wrong. More than the usual on a dark night with a drunk or angry driver, this was something else. He was committed now though, there was no retreat. He risked a glance back towards the vehicle where his mate peered narrow eyed through the windscreen. Many years of experience had taught him to take care, that to expect the unexpected was usually the wisest course and he slowed, and bent again. He shone a torch beam  through the rear window, the driver still didn’t turn.

For his part Peter was lost, he had by now completely forfeited reality, the knife in his hand was the only tangible thing. The rest of it, the wind rolling through the treetops, the flicker of sapphire light and the occasional whoosh of a passing car touched him not at all. His decision had been made and now there was no more need to think.  That he would act was predetermined, when he would act was dependent on the progress of the man walking alongside the car.

The crackle of the personal radio broke the bubble of silence around the car but didn’t penetrate the interior, “Bob, I don’t like this, there’s something odd here, call for backup.” The officer had paused again; still unsure of the situation and unwilling to go further, but in truth, unable to decide why. He raised his voice, “Police sir, will you open the car and step out, keep your hands where I can see them.” There was no reaction to his shout. He bent again. The driver remained motionless facing forward, the engine still burbled gently into the quiet.

“Sir, can you hear me? Open the door slowly and step out, keep your hands visible.” Still no movement. The policeman gulped, the dryness of his mouth surprised him as did the sheen of moisture on the palms of his hands. Again he glanced back at his own car and his mate. Should he go back? Make a retreat? Of course he wouldn’t, that wasn’t even an option, but he was unnerved by his own reaction to the situation. He straightened his spine, steeling himself, this must end now, he must take charge, sort it. “Sir, come out now, I won’t ask you again.  You’re not helping yourself, just making things worse.”

Peter couldn’t hear the words. He knew that the man was nearly at the driver’s door. In his peripheral vision he could make out the gleam of the torch and the hint of movement closing in, ever nearer bringing the conclusion to him. Not long now, the seconds ticked by each one immeasurable, floating, drifting unreality. For a brief moment he thought of his mother, of the nights of fear in his little room, of the day that Gran had rescued him and of the time that he had lied and sent Mum away to her death.

He catalogued the girls that he had helped, six of them, all resting peacefully due to his work. Each one had been snatched from a life of misery and degradation and had become an angel just because of him. He smiled quietly and moved his hand to ensure he had the correct grip on the knife. He didn’t think that they would understand about the girls, he didn’t believe that he would be able to explain how he had done it all in kindness. Yes he had been paid, but the money had been for Gran to keep her warm, to take care of her the way that she had taken care of him.  He had only ever spent enough on himself to stay alive, and to do his work. Would they understand, he couldn’t risk that they would not.

The officer stood alongside the driver’s door now, he wouldn’t touch the car. He shone the beam of yellow light in through the shatterproof glass. “Sir, come on out, open the door slowly and step out.”

Peter turned his head; squinting in the glare of torchlight. He was blinded, his night vision destroyed, it didn’t matter. Turning his head again to the front he raised his hand and with a great sweep he sliced the knife left to right across his neck. A fierce spurt of blood drenched the windscreen and the car roof, the steering wheel dripped with it, crimson tears falling onto his lap. For a moment he felt nothing but he knew it wasn’t over, not yet. He had paused, knew that it would be too hard to cut all the way across in one sweep. His studies had taught him much and he twisted his hand flicking the angle of the knife so that he could pull it downwards now and take out the artery on the other side of his neck. It must be quick, before he lost his strength and so he made it quick. Now the world had flared into action, he could hear the policeman hammering on the car door, could hear him yelling and briefly he was afraid. But then she was there, holding out her hand the way that she had all those years ago. “Come on Peter, come with Gran, I’m going to look after you.” He knew then that it was all going to be all right, he knew that Gran would understand, he took her hand

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Chapter 12

It came from nowhere, the end,  dark, sudden and immediate.  One moment he was racing from the scream of the police siren, the phone in his hand a beacon of horror, the woman in the ether holding open the line, the bearer of the worst news it was possible for him to imagine.  In an instant it changed, reality shifted and he was immersed in the blackness of grief.

It was over, it was all over.  He knew, of course he knew, that Gran was gone.  Matron hadn’t said it yet but he didn’t need to hear it. He didn’t want to hear it.

The police were going to catch him, the car was nothing special and he was an average driver nothing more than that.  Panic had brought him this far, but now he was back from there, back in the muck with the mortals.  They were gaining on him and soon they would have him. He could hare away again and try to reach the motorway.  Then what, a breakneck race to end in a horrific crash, blood and pain and fear and still he would be caught.

He could pull over now, he could tell them that he was racing to the side of his dying grandmother, and they may be sympathetic.  He could even imagine a scenario where they would give him a blaring, flashing escort to the nursing home.  In truth though he knew they would be polite, they would be apologetic and they would have him out of the car and they would ask to look at it, to search it for drugs and drink and bald tyres and dodgy brakes.  What they would find though that was the point wasn’t it.  The boot still held the bloodied plastic sheet, the bottle that had held the bleach and water, the cling wrap and the other evidence of his work this night. Once the police had him it was over, he knew that for sure, there wasn’t an iota of doubt.

He had the knife in the car, he could possibly take them both, he was strong and he had nothing to lose but the fire had gone out.  Without Gran what was he.  She had been his mainstay and his reason to be, she had cared for him, taught him how to live.  Before the curse of dementia she had been the central pillar of his life and now she was gone and he was lost.  There was no-one now who knew him when he was small, nobody who could remember his favourite stories, the name of his teddy and the things that made him cry out in the night.  She was gone and she had taken the essence of him with her.  Now he was no more than an empty bag of body parts cloaked in an unattractive covering. 

An immense calm enfolded him, his mind closed down to everything other than the fact that he no longer had his Gran.  “Peter, Peter, are you there?  Can you hear me, Peter?”  He switched off the ‘phone. The matron had no words that were worth his listening, empty platitudes and pointless pity.  The world had nothing that he needed from it anymore, it was finished.  

He slowed the car and pulled over, as he did the police vehicle pulled in behind him.  He could see the man in the passenger seat lean to open the door, he was reaching his hat from the dashboard, equipping himself with the evidence of his officialdom.  The driver had lifted the microphone, was no doubt calling in the license number, asking for details of insurance and ownership.  It would do them no good; the paper trail was long and winding.  The car was registered to a company, he was supposedly an employee, it had insurance nothing suspicious but nothing to tell them anything about who he was.

The door opened and the officer stepped out.  Peter reached to the glove compartment and snapped open the cover.  The knife was clean, it shone a little in the dim light, the handle was towards him.  He stretched forward and grasped it.  He could feel nothing. This body that he inhabited was like a Halloween pumpkin, empty and excavated, scooped clean.  No feelings, no history, no future.  The policeman was approaching carefully from behind, had drawn his night stick and shone a torch before him, a wavering cone of enquiry.  Peter grinned to himself. In spite of everything he felt a cob of amusement at this man’s fear, his super caution.  He did well to be cautious. If he only knew, if he had the remotest idea what his quarry had done he would be running for back up, bringing in the SWAT teams, helicopters, searchlights.  He knew none of it, he saw a small, thin man, a speeding driver, possibly drunk, maybe drugged. Oh fool, if he had any idea what he was taking on, the pure power, the driven purpose, the conviction that had carried him this far he wouldn’t dare, he just wouldn’t dare

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Chapter 10

He leaned to turn the key in the ignition, as he did so the phone in his pocket vibrated, a crawling creature in there, rustling against his leg.  In his state of heightened awareness the sudden flutter caused his heart to leap and sweat to pop onto the skin of his forehead.  He gasped softly, taken aback for a moment.  Realisation of the humdrum gentled him.  He stretched his leg as straight as it would go in the confined space and wriggled bony fingers down into the tight denim. 

The phone continued to tremble against his thigh.  Only the nursing home had this number, it was the only phone that he kept.  The ones that he used for his work were cheap “pay as you go” pieces, used once and then discarded.  This one though was always topped up and the battery charged.  It was the emergency number and so he knew, even before he had prised it from his pocket, that it would not be bright news.

“Hello Peter?”


“It’s Matron, from Oaklands.” He felt the chill already. His breathing was shallow and his mouth was dry, his tongue suddenly too large. The sound from his throat was harsh, rasping.

“Matron, what’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry to call you so late Peter but I’m afraid your Gran is very poorly.  She was fine until bedtime but when the nurse checked her later she was having trouble breathing.  We were going to send her to the hospital.”

“Which hospital? I’ll go there now, where is she going?  I’ll meet her there.”  The tears streamed across his cheeks; the lump in his throat choked him.

“No, she’s here Peter.  We called doctor and he doesn’t think that she should go to the hospital.  He doesn’t believe it would be for the best.  Do you understand?    Peter, you should come as soon as you can I think.”

“Uh.”  He couldn’t form words, the world collapsed around him. He was in a place he had never been before.  Life was out of control.  He couldn’t speak, couldn’t summon a voice that was lodged somewhere in his throat.

“Peter, are you all right, can you come?  Do you have someone who can fetch you? Maybe it would be best if you didn’t come alone.  Can you hear me, Peter?  Are you all right dear?”

He drew in a great gasping breath.  He must function, must move now.  “Yes, yes I’m all right, I’ll come now.  I can come, tell her I’m coming.  Matron, don’t let anything happen to her, please.”

“Oh, my dear.  I am so sorry you must prepare yourself; I think that she is really very poorly.  If you must drive yourself Peter take care.  When you arrive you will have to ring the night bell the security man will let you in. You can’t come round the usual way do you see?”

“Yes, yes the night bell.  I understand, tell her I’m coming.”

“Of course I will.  We’ll see you soon.” 

The mobile landed with a quiet plop on the seat beside him.  A moment of silence enveloped him, his hands shook and he stared at them in disbelief.  Two strange creatures quivering on the steering wheel, he was gasping now, almost sobbing.  Battling through the confusion and despair here came the truth.   Gran, she needed him, he must go to her, now.

He reversed at speed down the narrow alley pebbles flew from under the wheels striking the old stone walls and ricocheting to ping on the body work of the car.  With a screaming turn he regained the highway and shot towards the town centre.   Hurtling onwards towards the motorway he flew passed the football ground, with its narrow entrance where the local constabulary chose to spend the dark hours.  They parked in the gloom in the hope of just this event, some idiot drunk driver or some race nut using the cover of darkness to indulge a passion for speed.  As he flashed by they glanced once at each other, a small smile flicked between them.  They had one, a chase on their hands, just the kind of thing that they needed on these long boring shifts.  They drew out into the road contacted control for permission and oversight, and set off in pursuit. 

They held back with the lights and siren. They would save that for when they were out of the town limits.  They saw no need to disturb the honourable citizens because of this lunatic. When they hit the dual carriageway then they’d give him full bore, blues and twos as it was popularly known.  Isolated in the grey metal cocoon Peter could barely see, his vision was smeared with tears, whitened knuckles gleamed like locked around the steering wheel, his foot was to the floor.  Oblivious of the excessive speed and the erratic nature of his progress there was but one thought.  He had to get there, had to see her, needed to be there with his gran.  If he was there he could make sure that nothing happened to her, nothing must happen to her.  Nothing else penetrated, there was Gran and only Gran and he must get to her now.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 11

It was dreadful for both of us. I couldn’t watch him, so I fiddled with the things on the table and then just stared out of the window. He wiped at his face with a big white handkerchief. Of course, the waitress chose just that moment to bring my tea and a couple of lunch menus. She hovered uncertainly for a little while and then with a muttered “I’ll come back in a while.” She made a getaway.

He collected himself and managed a smile. He held up a hand. “I am so sorry. I didn’t expect that.”

Of course, the only response open to me was to tell him it was fine, and I understood. I didn’t. I didn’t understand at all. Anyway, I slipped into my ‘make him feel better’ mode. I asked him about where he’d been. Far East, Middle East. I asked him what he did. Something in oil. I asked him what had brought him back.

“It was time to come home. I just wanted to get back to where I belong.”

I didn’t know whether I wanted to ask him about Mum or not. I mean, I know that would seem to be the reason that I’d met up with him. Yes, I see that. But right then I just didn’t want to talk with this stranger about my life and my mother. In the event, he took it out of my hands. With a sort of clearing of his throat, he began to speak. Quite low so I had to listen carefully.

His explanation of events was so different from what I had understood to be the truth all my life that, to be honest, I almost stood up and walked out. My first reaction was that he was an out and out liar.

As he wove this story about how he had asked mum to marry him when he found out she was pregnant. How she had refused because she thought they were both too young and had told him she didn’t want to see him anymore. And then, how the house had burned down, killing my grandparents and she, he referred to her as Mary, had been spirited away and he had never been able to find where she had gone. There were other things we touched upon, how long he had known Mum. Not that long before they got together, he said. Just at the end of college. I wanted to ask him about other women, but I didn’t. The story bore no relation to my mother’s truth and so how could I refer to it, ask him if he had been married, had other women on the side and all of that. I think his age played into it as well. It seemed to me that he would have been far too young to have had that sort of background before I had come along. In my mind, my father had always been an older man, someone with experience. John was nearer to my mother’s age. I didn’t ask but that was how he seemed anyway.   

I could have called him out for a liar. But he was convincing and sincere and he knew about her. He knew little things about my mum that he could only have known if he truly had been very close to her. As he spoke I didn’t doubt at least part of what he was saying was true. At no point that day did I think of him as my father. I didn’t know how to have a father anyway and this bloke had appeared out of the blue. I did believe though that he had known Mum. Then I thought, well if he knew so much, then he would have known her family. And that swayed me. I saw a way to learn about the bits of my life that had been hidden in the grief surrounding the loss of her parents. I asked him if he had any pictures of her when she was young. He did and he pulled one out of his wallet.

It showed two young people with their arms around each other. One I knew immediately was my mum and I could see the other was probably him. He had changed in the years since then, aged a lot from the fresh-faced young man, but there was enough to make me believe. There was a smart house in the background. Large, detached and surrounded by trees and lawns. A big black car stood in front of the door.

“Is that your house?” That wasn’t what I wanted to say but the real question got lost somewhere between my brain and my mouth. He understood though.

“No, that’s your mum’s place. Well, her parent’s place. That’s Homewood. That’s the place that burned down. Up in Yorkshire.

I couldn’t see the image then because of the tears. This place that had been a mystery and the root of all my mother’s pain, there in front of me. I found it overwhelming. He reached across the table and touched my hand.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what version you had of events but I didn’t mean to upset you. Have you never been?”

I think that question was powerful, looking back. I think the fact his idea of everything that had happened was so much more ‘normal’ than the reality had been that it swayed my thinking. If he believed I had visited then he could have no idea of the trauma mum had gone through, surely.

“Look, I’m confused and a bit overwhelmed by all this, to be honest,” I said. “I need some time to process things.”

“Of course you do. I don’t want to upset you. Really I don’t. Oh yes and that brings me to the other thing. I am so sorry about the flowers. I went in to order more and the shop told me that you’d sent some of them back and I realised then what a stupid mistake that had been. I don’t know what possessed me. I wanted to send you something, but I see now I went about it all the wrong way.”

All I could do was say that it was okay. It wasn’t, of course not. I thought he’d been stupid, thoughtless, and really a bit weird. But, back then I didn’t say things like that, so I just told him not to worry about it. I told him that the last ones, the ones at work had been lovely and I had them on my desk and they brightened the place.

 “There is just one other thing. If I haven’t upset you too much already.” He smiled as he spoke, and I shook my head.  

He removed a small package from his pocket and laid it on the table. He placed an envelope alongside.

“I’m not a fool,” he said. “At least, not all the time.” He smiled again. He had a nice smile. “This is a DNA test. If you want to and honestly, I fully understand if you don’t. Well, if you take the test and send it off, it’s paid for. It will confirm that I am who I say I am.”

Well, what could I do?

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 8

I telephoned Frances and asked her if she wanted to come for lunch. Once I had fed them all and the children were out in the garden, shrieking and giggling on the trampoline, I took out the rather dog eared paper and handed it over.

I watched as she read it a couple of times without comment. She took in a deep breath and laid the letter on the table top. “So, that’s a turn-up.”

I giggled, her reaction was so understated, so unlike my own and she grinned back at me, gave me a minute to collect myself.

“I suppose you’ve been in a state about it?”

I just nodded and she leaned and gave my hand a pat. “I expect you’ve been wondering what to do next.”

Again, I just nodded.

“I suppose you think that wise old Fran will be able to tell you what the answer is.” She held up a hand as I opened my mouth to answer. “It’s a shocker and no mistake and there are a couple of things we need to think about right up front. First of all, we have no idea who the hell this bloke is. There is nothing, absolutely nothing here that proves he’s your dad. Second, even if he is you don’t need to do anything about it. You can just ignore this letter, stick it in the bin and pretend you never saw it.”

I was nodding at her. It was lovely that she’d taken the problem on with me. I felt the tension lift a bit now – a trouble halved in a very real way.

“Now then,” she continued, “the next thing is how you really feel about it emotionally. If we can prove that he is your father. And, to be honest, I have serious doubts – however, if he is, what, if anything would you want to do?”

“I don’t think I want to do anything,” I said. “I wish the thing had never come. I don’t want to have to deal with it. He doesn’t say he wants to meet up, does he?”

“No, but he says he’s always wanted to get to know you and really why would he bother to search you out if he didn’t want to meet up. Mind that brings us right back to what I said before. I don’t reckon this is anything other than someone trying to catch you out with a scam.” Frances paused for a minute and then said, “I reckon your best bet is not to do anything. Throw the thing away. He’s surely a con man. He’s seen the notification about your mum and done a bit of digging and now he’s trying it on.”

“But how could he? I mean how could he know my situation?”

“Oh, come on.” Frances raised her eyebrows at me. “You, in your work, are very aware of how easy it is to check up on people’s background. It’s no problem at all to see copies of birth certificates and what have you. You pay a couple of pounds to an internet site and that’s it. Some times you don’t even have to pay anything. It’s all there. I know you didn’t put anything on Facebook but other people did, didn’t they? I saw them”

“Yes, I did ask people to take them down, I didn’t want it all there in public but not everybody did. But, why would he bother?”

“Money. Plain and simple. These people aren’t stupid. They know all about this stuff. You have a house, your mum had a house that will now be yours …”

“No. Come on. Nobody would go to that trouble.”

“Don’t be so bloody naïve, Mel.  You must have read about people being taken in to the extent that they’ve practically given away their life savings. I tell you, there’s big money to be made by fooling people. Look at the address for a start, a PO Box – who has those these days. I didn’t even know you could.”

I saw now that I had been approaching it from the wrong direction. I had believed he was who he said he was. How had I been so bloody stupid?

“God, Frances. I can’t believe it. What a wicked thing to do though, eh?”

“It’s a wicked world, Mel. That’s why we have to look out for each other. Anyway, the way I see it, you can either just throw this away and assume that he’ll bugger off when he doesn’t get a response– or – you could take this to the police.

I re-read the letter and then with a quick look at my friend I tore it into a dozen pieces and stuffed it into the bin.

“Let’s have a drink,” I said, “thanks Fran, thanks so much. I don’t know where my head was at. It threw me did that but I’m sure you’re right. It seems so obvious now.”

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 6

Come Wednesday and I was almost afraid to open the door to go to work. I’ll admit it occurred to me to leave through the back gate. But I knew that was silly and if flowers arrived, they’d be left with a neighbour or in the bin store where the Amazon delivery man usually put parcels.

All day it bothered me. The odd thing really is that when I arrived home and there was nothing it was a sort of disappointment. Well maybe not a disappointment, but I had so convinced myself that there was going to be a delivery, had even had imaginary conversations raging at the flower shop, and I felt strangely unnerved when there wasn’t anything. I looked in the bin store and spent a while expecting a knock on the door from a neighbour who had done me a favour. By ten that night, when nobody had been I accepted that there had been no delivery that day and the episode was over.

Okay, I had entertained the idea that Frances had been right and it was some bloke but, as far as I knew, there was nobody remotely interested in a middle-aged single mum who, let’s be honest, was looking less than her best these days. There had been people at work who had asked me out and now and then someone at a dinner party, but not for ages. Nursing an invalid and bringing up a seven-year-old doesn’t leave a lot of time for dating and I really didn’t think I wanted that sort of complication in my life.

Yes, Fran and I had talked about our lonely old age, when the children were off at Uni. or with families of their own, but it was all jokey. We said we’d live together and let people think we were lesbians. We weren’t, there was nothing like that between us, we were just really good mates but the idea was a laugh. Anyway, top and bottom of it all was that I didn’t think that I had a secret admirer and so the flowers had been a mistake and it was over.

I think it was the same night, Wednesday, some of it blurs together now and I find it difficult to remember the actual dates, but I think it was the same night.

It was windy. There was a gate somewhere banging, not mine but nearby and it was irritating but eventually I’d dropped off to sleep.

I woke suddenly, all the nerve endings in my body were zinging. My skin tingled and the hairs on my arms were standing up. At first, I thought I’d had a nightmare, it had happened before. It didn’t bother me, back then those things didn’t.

Back then a nightmare was just a disturbing dream.

I lay perfectly still under the covers. I was warm and comfortable. I sleep with the curtains open except in the middle of the summer when the light comes very early. There is a streetlamp outside my house and the bedroom was fairly bright. Without moving I looked around, the shadows and shapes were familiar, there was nothing to concern me. Of course, more than anything else I’m a mum and so I had to get up and check on Suzie. I wasn’t aware that she’d called out but I wondered if that had been what had disturbed me.

There’s a tiny night light plugged into a socket just outside Suzie’s bedroom door, not enough to keep her awake but it helps if she needs a wee or to cross the landing to my room. I didn’t need to turn any of the other lights on and when I stood beside her bed in the dark, listening to her slightly nasal breathing I could tell she was deeply asleep and it was unlikely she had woken me. I did what I imagine all parents do, I leaned and touched her face, just lightly, then left her to her dreams.

So, it had been just one of those things.

I went back onto the landing and glanced down the stairs towards the front door. The window is small, a narrow pane just from half way down to about three inches from the top. It has a pattern of twigs and leaves in it, some of the glass is coloured. If there hadn’t been the movement, I don’t believe I would have noticed the shape. But as I stood in the gloom on my landing, I saw the figure outside my door. I think I gasped, I know my stomach flipped. I know I was scared, well shocked anyway. I reached out and grabbed the post at the top of the banister. I glanced back at Suzie’s room. It’s impossible to relate the thoughts that raced through my head in those first seconds but then I regained control. Surely, I thought, it had been nothing more than one of the shrubs moving in the wind. I went back into my bedroom, to the window and peered out. There was no-one in my short front path, nobody stood beside the door. I realised then that I’d been holding my breath and I laughed at myself as I gasped for air. I never used to be so nervy. I put it down to the emotion of the past few weeks. It was after one in the morning and I reached up to draw the curtains across, to close us more deeply into the safety of our home and with my last glance, I saw the figure move away from the hedge and walk, quite slowly, towards the corner where he – I know now that it was he, don’t I? He stopped briefly and raised his head and then moved away out of my line of vision.

I ran downstairs and checked all the door locks, the windows, and I turned on the burglar alarm. I had got out of the habit of using it at night because if Mum had needed me urgently I didn’t want the added problem of disabling it. To be honest I’d never quite got the hang of using the various zones. I scrabbled in the hall cupboard and found my old hockey stick.

I spent the rest of the night on the fold down chair bed in Suzie’s room.

I didn’t sleep.

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Rags’ Riches – Chapter 3

The old bike was stored in what had been the outside toilet.  When the house was modernised and a lovely new bathroom installed Jenny had decided to have the old lavatory taken away and the little brick building converted into a handy storage shed.  She dragged the machine out and popped a shopping bag into the wicker carrier basket on the handlebars.

She clambered aboard, swung her legs over the frame and tucked her skirt in around her knees.  She didn’t have one of the strange plastic helmets and didn’t think it was the law to have one whilst cycling, but that could be a mistake.  She would never have thought herself vain but they did look so very odd.  Some of the racing cyclists wore sleek pointy ones and they looked special and right on those fit young people but the others were very ugly to her eyes.  Of course for the little ones anything to protect them had to be good, but really some of the older people with woolly hats pulled on underneath looked most peculiar.  Still, it was wrong to judge and maybe going without was making a mistake but apart from anything else she wouldn’t really know where you would go to buy one.

She shook her head and chuckled to herself, what an old fogey she was becoming.  It didn’t bother her at all.  She enjoyed this life with its small pleasures.  It had been awful when Mum and then Dad had passed on of course but it was in the way of things and had to be accepted.  When Bill died that had floored her for a long time but the shock and pain had eased now. Although she thought of him every day the loss was more a little nugget of sadness deep down inside and there was still a lot in life to be happy about.

She pedalled down the jigger and stopped at the end.  The road was so busy these days.  The lorries were very frightening and some of the cars were driven too fast but there was a little cycle path for the first part of the trip and then just a walk to the shops and there was a place to lock the bike in a rack by the church.

The sun shone day and it was a pleasant trip to town. She had lived here all her life and still loved it.  It was a small place and didn’t have anything really particular to make it outstanding, though there was a famous person in the graveyard, a scientist, and some people came to stand and look at his gravestone.  Otherwise, it was just a pleasant English town.  Yes, the main road wasn’t quite what it had been and there were lots of charity shops and estate agents offices, but it was bright and colourful in the spring light and, as she passed the corner Mr Shah waved and made her feel real.

Why not treat herself to a lovely cup of coffee in the Spiced Bun cafe, and maybe one of their lovely shortbread biscuits. Yes indeed why not? Afterwards, she would drop the shopping bags at home and then have a pedal around to try and spot the old ginger cat.

She had barely acknowledged it to herself, but as she’d travelled along her eyes had swept the road edges and her cheerful mood was in part due to the lack of a poor bedraggled corpse, lying dirty and wet in the gutter.  Probably by the time she arrived home Rags would be sunning himself on the top of the shed in the warmth that built up on the black tar paper roof.  Well, it would be lovely to have a little ride anyway and maybe go through the park.  She hummed happily, strolling along the pavement, wheeling her bike beside her, a smile lifting the corners of her mouth.  Life felt good, small and a little unexciting to be sure but good nonetheless.

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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 stoic, 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 past 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 so 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 7

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.



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Smithy – chapter 9

Tiny diamonds sparkled on the top of the pond and little ducks paddled and splashed about, chasing each other and fighting over soggy bits of bread.  The trees rustled and swayed in the bit of wind.  The sun was warm on our backs.  We walked all the way round to the gate at the bottom end of the park.  It was nice, peaceful and nice.  He never talked very much all the time I knew him and that morning was no different, we just walked, just being together.  He always understood when it was better to just be quiet, I learned that from him, you don’t have to make a noise, silence is okay.

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