I’d forgotten how much he said with his eyes. A man of few words. Happy to sit most of the time in his window seat, reading his paper or lost in contemplation. It was typical that when he mysteriously returned from being long dead, his window seat was where he sat as my mam and I fussed and sparred with each other around the house.
As I stood for a while in the hallway, he sat just feet away in his chair on the other side of the half-open glass door with nothing to say. So I left it that way.
Later, in the back garden, my mam showed me her latest trinket – as she always insists on doing. A decorative tea-light, which she was attempting to light from a taper. A commemorative candle – the latest funeral add-on fad, made from the oils given up by the deceased during cremation. Tacky, but no great surprise in this age of sentimentality and enterprise. She eventually got the thing lit and set it in its kitsch wire stand, where it issued black smoke.
My dad chose this moment to walk out and onto the lawn in his battered slippers. He had The Mail rolled under his arm. Dad?! Still reading that rag even in death? He gave the two of us and the smoking relic a deeply disapproving look. He didn’t need to say a word. Just that look. The message entirely telepathic. That’s him.
Though granted a return to life and our home, he was still technically an elderly man – but an active one as ever. He picked up a large upturned plastic bucket his own height and emptied its contents of wet river gravel onto the garden path. Quite a feat for a younger man, never mind a man who, until recently, had been quite dead. Animated now, he explained that the point of all this was to experiment with a means of extracting something from the gravel. I may have missed what, but it obviously had value to someone and made it a worthwhile pastime.
We chatted for a while about this interesting venture and how he might make a few bob out of it, never once broaching the more interesting, but presumably sensitive, subject of his suddenly walking back into the house after a year dead. Well, if you knew him you’d understand.
Eventually we went inside and sat on the stairs in the hallway. It didn’t strike me as odd that he was on parallel stairs on the other side of the banister, which would place him on the outside of the house. We didn’t say a lot, but he kind of offered his hand, which I took. Firm, but noticeably cooler than it should be, with shiny, parchment-like tight skin.
We sat there for a good long time. Long enough to consider in silence that this couldn’t go on indefinitely – that we would have to lose each other again. As we sat on those stairs and shared more than we had in all the years I can remember, I knew that I would have to let him go and quietly started to cry.
I awoke with tears in my eyes and it was Saturday and I was 250 miles away from that house and a universe away from those stairs. Thrust into the practicalities of preparing to leave the flat for a family visit, I quickly scribbled down all I could remember before it was lost forever. Living moments with dead fathers might come only once. I had forgotten or denied how much of him is in me. Maybe the dream is his way of reminding me.
My dreams always seem to have a soundtrack – is this madness? This one was Lou Bell’s “Days Like These”. Nice choice.