It was a Saturday, I remember because Mum made blueberry pancakes for breakfast, humming softly as she did so. She asked me about school, friends, whether or not I had homework. I told her Billy got in trouble for farting loudly in class and we both laughed (quietly, because Dad went to bed late on Fridays). I did so love our Saturday mornings. Now, we have Sundays, but that’s besides the point.
What matters is that I was playing in the garden when Dad came to take me to Auntie Sarah’s. On the way, we stopped at the park. He sat me down on the old wooden bench beside the swings and said nothing for what felt like a very long time. We were the only people there. I buried my nose in my rain-jacket as the damp wind buffeted my small frame. The sky was a grey tarpaulin, badly affixed and sagging at the edges.
I understood something bad was happening. Dad was shaking, sweating despite the cold and his clean-shaven face was marked red and turning yellow in places: around the bone of his right eye, his clenched jaw, his cheek.
“I’m going away for a while, son.” His words barely made sense to me, so heavy and slurred was his speech. “But one day I’ll come back… and when I do, I’ll come here every Saturday morning and wait for you to come see me.” He sniffed, looked down at his hands. “And I’ll understand if you don’t.”
Some time later, I realised he went to prison. Was it days later? Weeks? I don’t know. The timespan of childhood memories fluctuates every time I try grasping hold of them. It’s as if my immature brain wasn’t sure what was worth remembering and what wasn’t. It doesn’t remember, for example, the dead space in between me eating pancakes with Mum and Dad fetching me from the garden.
I’m older now, an adult. I work at the local accountancy firm and I’m still friends with Billy, who runs the bakery. No girlfriend though; there’s only so much I’m willing to divulge.
How do you tell someone that the frail old man who sits alone on the park bench is actually your dad? That one morning, after finding his hard-earned money spent on not one but two punnets of blueberries, he strangled your mother right there on the kitchen tiles.
It wouldn’t be fair to unload this (my) darkness on another. That’s why I remain single and why I tell people that I visit my mum on Sundays, but omit that she now lives at the cemetery.
Am I too frightened to confront him? Too angry? No. That’s not it. My father will die plagued by emotion, but not me. I will not become that man. And I don’t care that he waits on that decrepit bench every Saturday morning, flinching whenever he hears footsteps on the gravel path. It’ll never be me.
I don’t go there on a Saturday.
© Rachel Smith
Published in Issue #29