Dad and Lad Scenes #vss365 #vsspic #FlexVSS #whistpr
Short scenes written in response to daily word prompts or weekly picture prompts on Twitter. Each has to fit into the 280 characters Tweet length.
This is how my days start!
I'm singing The Carpenters.
"Your Ma loved that song, didn't she?"
"You know what her favourite line was?"
We chorus, "Don't matter if it's not good enough for anyone else to hear, just Sing, sing a song."
"Aye, lad, tone deaf your Ma was!" We laugh.
"Your Ma caught me once with my fingers in my ears. She was singing that 'Loving you is easy cause your beautiful'. I'd legged it into the garden before...you know, THAT bit...but I could still hear her, wailing like a banshee."
We both shudder. And laugh.
He holds his breath.
So do I.
This is a precision operation. Steady hands are a must.
After at least an eternity, he turns to me, triumphant. "There you are, lad. I've still got it!" He holds up his glass of stout. "Is that or is that not a perfect head?"
He puts his comb down. "Remember when I had a full head of curls, lad? Your Ma used to say I looked like whatshisname."
"Y'know, sang Happiness."
"Had those Diddley Men."
I laugh and wait. I know he'll get there.
"Here, lad, hold this on it." He hands me a bag of frozen peas.
"Now do you see why your Ma was always going round banging the cupboard doors closed."
"But...Never mind." I don't remind him that he is the one who now forgets to close the doors.
"This bloody computer."
He pauses his conversation. "What's up, lad?"
"I'm trying to get online."
"D'you want me to hang the phone up?"
I shake my head.
"Got to go, Gordon." He puts the phone down.
"You were about 20 years late with that idea."
"What are you doing up the window?"
"Number 42 have got a new car. Must have set them back a bit."
"You're so nosy."
"You know what your Ma used to say, lad..."
"I'm not nosy, I'm just curious," we chorus.
"Do you remember that scent our Janine used to wear? Looked a bit radioactive."
"Cat licks, lad? Funny name for a scent. She bought your Ma a bottle one year."
"She loved it."
"Aye. Mind, she loved cat licks, too." He smiles and closes his eyes again.
"Do you want to watch an old movie?"
"Do you want to watch an old film, then?" I know he doesn't like it when I call them movies.
"No, lad. I'm just going to rest my eyes."
I put on The Bishop's Wife, one of Ma's favourites.
There's not a sound from him.
"Sunrise is a lovely colour, lad."
"That's the sunset."
"You've slept right through."
"Why didn't you wake me?"
"I couldn't." I clear my things from the chair in his bedroom.
"What have you been doing all day then, lad?"
"Oh, nothing much. Cup of tea?"
His face is grey and he's puffing hard.
"What's the matter?"
"Bit of gripe, lad." He gasps.
"This is the 3rd time this week. Please let me book the doctor's."
"No need, lad. It'll pass."
I'm not so sure but there's no arguing with him. "Cup of tea?"
He can only nod.
"I've told you to open the bathroom window when you've finished. I swear the smell in here is toxic."
"Nothing wrong with a bit of carbolic, lad. Your Ma swore by it."
"For scrubbing the quarry tiles, yes. Not for scrubbing herself!"
"Are you decent?"
"Hold on, lad. Naked!"
"Right, you can come in now. Didn't want you to have to see me in my birthday suit."
"Probably not quite your 'birthday suit', is it?!"
"Ha, you're not wrong. That reminds me, can you iron my trousers." He laughs.
"Do we have to have the telly on in here and the radio on in the kitchen?"
"House is too quiet without 'em."
"We could always just have a conversation."
"OK, you start."
"Your Ma could chat for hours about anything."
"Put the telly back on, lad.
He's in the kitchen making breakfast.
"Just use a cloth when you're taking the bowl out of the microwave, instead of making a sound like a joik." I've told him this thousands of times.
"Speaking of yolk, lad, do you want 2 eggs or 3?"
"It's there again, lad, that bloomin' cat. Can't be after the blue tits now. It's dark." He stares up at the cat on the fence. "What's it after?"
"Could it be the chicken roasting?"
"No need to be sarky!"
But there is.
He slams the front door. "I've just been round No. 32. About that cat."
"Turns out their old cat died 3 weeks ago."
"So, whose is that then?"
He looks at the cat, still on the fence.
"Looks a lot like your Ma's old Dinky Cat."
"Why can you never put lids on straight, lad?"
I don't answer.
"Look at this one. Why is it all skewiff?" He's staring at me.
"What are you 5, or something?"
"Might as well be." I slam the kitchen door.
He's examining the folder of hotel information.
"Why don't you just sit down and relax?"
"I know your Ma used to get in, unpack and, wallop, new home for a week. Proper nomad she was. But I'm not her." He pauses. "Sorry."
I touch his arm. "You don't have to be."
"Look at that cheeky cat on the garden, lad."
It's Mister Tom from next door but one.
"He's after those poor blue tits again."
"He's only doing what comes naturally."
"Aye. Red in tooth and claw." He hammers on the kitchen window. "Well, that's what comes natural to me!"
I wheel him out of the bakery.
"See you next week, flower."
"Flower! No one says flower any more."
"I do, lad. And your Ma always did."
"You never wanted her to call you petal though."
We both chorus, "Now listen, PETAL..." and laugh.
He's watching the racing. "Your Ma loved a little flutter every now and then, didn't she?"
I nod. "I never understood why she always wanted to back the outsider, though."
"Lucky for me she did, lad." He winks.
"I'll never understand it, lad."
hat? The meaning of life? The internal combustion engine? Why your glasses are never where you apparently left them?" I smirk.
"No, I'll never understand why your Uncle Gordon's so stuck up. Can't get why he'saTori."
"Get out of the car!" I shout.
"Relax, lad. I'm not going to drive. I just needed the headlights to find something I dropped earlier."
I sigh. "What's so important?"
He holds up something gold and shiny. "My last chocolate eclair toffee."
He goes indoors.
He's sorting through the linen basket on the kitchen table.
"What are you doing with that? Everything's been through the wash already."
"Aye lad, and thanks to someone leaving a pair of scarlet drawers in the whites," he holds up a pink shirt, "it's come out all reddy!"
"You look smart, lad. Where are you off to?"
"It's Sara's book launch. Her debut into the book world."
He huffs. "What's wrong with 'first'? Fancy French words."
I don't answer. There's no point.
"Are you going for dinner after? Nice restaurant?"
It's 80s hour on the radio. I'm singing. "Fame! I wanna live for ever."
"I don't. Have you got a better song?"
"OK Google, play Joe Dolce."
"One hit wonder. Shaddapa Your Face!"
He slams the door.
"This kitchen stinks! What are you cooking?"
"Don't be obstropolous. It's good for you."
"Not when you boil the life out of it. And that's the 2nd time this month, you've called me that!"
"It's not the 2nd time this month you've been it!"
"I thought I'd bake us a cake, lad."
I'm worried. "Not one of your Victoria sponges?"
"Nothing so cheap. I thought I'd bake..."
He splutters...."Madeira cake."
"Not funny! So not funny."
I leave the room. And laugh.
"Are you awake, lad?"
"I knew a twin room was a mistake. Next time we go away, you're having your own room."
"Sorry, lad. Go back to sleep."
I put the light on.
"That's a bit bright, lad. I'm trying to sleep."
"You could never be accused of being agelast."
"Where d'you get that word from?"
"Wasn't that where you got your favourite insult from?"
"Aye, that's it." He pauses, winks. "That reminds me, you need to add loo roll to the shopping list."
I'm singing Jerry Lee Lewis. "You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain."
"You want to get looser trousers, lad."
"They'll help with that."
I carry on singing. "Goodness gracious, Great balls of fire!" I turn away. "You're not funny!"
He is, though.
"Look at this one, lad." He's going through the photo album. "That's when you collected a prize one year. What was it for?"
"Your Ma was so proud."
"You never get to the end of the album. Finifugal, that's you."
"I know how it ends." He sniffs. "Latin, indeed!"
"I'm sure there were more egg custard tarts left." I hold up the box.
"Were there, lad?"
I know he's guilty.
"It's like they're barmecide," I say.
"Nothing barmy about it." He pops a whole tart into his mouth and attempts a grin.
I get the dustpan and brush.
He's squinting at the newspaper.
"Why don't you put the lights on?" I flick the switch.
"Y'can turn that off, lad. It's not even dark out yet."
"Then sit in the garden and read your paper."
He doesn't move.
"Or sit there and go blind. Your choice." I slam the door.
"Hurry up, lad, the tide's coming in!"
"I'm pushing as hard as I can," I gasp.
"Whose idea was it to come down onto the beach anyway?"
I don't answer.
"I'd've been happy enough sitting on the prom. Like me and your Ma used to."
"So would I. Now!"
He's putting a DVD into the old machine.
"Where did you get that from?"
"A bloke come to the door. Thought he was selling the Watchtower at first. This was your Ma's favourite. Colporteur's Night and Day."
The film starts.
"You were robbed. This one's in French."
"What are you doing with that thermostat, lad?"
"Turning it up. It's freezing."
"No rhyme nor reason to have the heating on before November."
"There's rime on the windows. There's your reason." I'm pleased with myself.
He's not. He turns the thermostat back down.
"I told you to go before we left."
"You shouldn't have had that last drink."
"Your Uncle Gordon had my favourite stout."
"You can always say no."
"And YOU can just help me out of this car and behind those trees before there's an accident!"
"What was that book you studied in school, lad? The Chiliad?"
"I've told you a thousand times it wasn't that. Homer's spinning in his grave again."
"Aye, well, if it'd been set in Iceland, that would've worked."
"And a thousand times you've made that 'joke'!"
"Remember how livid your Ma was when she went round Uncle Gordon's and found her whole Jackie Collins collection?"
"I do. There is such a thing as being a biblioklept, you know."
He parrots my tone. "There is such a thing as being a cheeky rotten tea-leaf, you know."
"This was a lucky snap, wasn't it, lad?" It's Prince, racing down the garden. "I was snapping me roses, when that old dog jumped to his feet and ran inside. Your Ma was frying sausages."
"It's called macrosmatic."
"It's called knowing which side your bread's buttered!"
He's looking through old photos. "Ah, here's old Prince. He was a proper old groke, he was."
"Ugh, more like gross. Drooling everywhere."
"Aye, lad, but your Ma loved him. Daft old thing."
"That's no way to talk about Ma."
Then we smile.
"This bloody computer!"
"Finishing that report?"
"No, I've missed something off the shop."
"Oh well, can't be that important, lad."
"It's your stout."
"How about turning it off and on again?" He's worried.
"Soon, I'm just going to defenestrate something or someone!"
"Come here, lad, your tie's all cockeyed." He reaches up and frowns. A laugh. "It ain't easy to do this widdershins. I'm going to need a minute."
Looking down at him, I realise that the last time we stood like this, he was a giant.
He still is.
The raindrops are huge now.
"Hold on, I've got a brolly somewhere."
"No need to furtle in your bag of tricks, lad. I've got one." He pulls out Ma's old pink confection. "No need to look like that. If it were good enough for your Ma, it's good enough for me."
"That was your Uncle Gordon on the phone, telling me how he's 'wabbit'." He huffs. "One wet weekend on Loch Lomond and he's suddenly a native speaker!"
"You were uncommonly nice to him."
"Aye, well, lad, he's apparently got me a bottle of single malt." He winks.
"Turn it down!"
"Turn the music down!"
"I said turn - the - MUSIC - down!"
"I can't hear you, lad. I'm listening to me music."
I groan and retreat to the kitchen. Presley's Hound Dog makes the windows rattle.
"Are you ever going to throw away that old dressing gown?"
"Plenty of life left in it yet. I've not had it long."
I avoid looking at the threadbare elbows. "Ma bought it for you when I was still in Juniors."
"Aye, and I've worn it every day since."
"You're bleeding all over the place."
"Hold this on it to stem the flow." I hand him a wadge of kitchen roll. "What were you doing with that knife, anyway?"
"I'm old, lad, not incapable."
"I'm talking about your clumsiness not your age!"
"Want a drink?"
"Yes, cup of tea?"
"Yes, a whisky, maybe?"
"Yes. What are you, my echo all of a sudden?"
"Echo, lad?" He winks.
I leave the room.
He calls after me. "Large one, please!"
I don't answer.
"Are you going to speak to me at all today?"
I look up. "I've got to get this presentation finished for tomorrow."
"Oh right. Aye. Sorry, lad." He goes back to his newspaper. "Look at this, lad."
I sigh and close the laptop.
He's in the kitchen. "I'm having me a piece of toast, lad. I'm famished."
"That's because your breakfast was so jentacular."
"Oh no, lad, it were just a bit of porridge. Nothing special."
"No, not spect... Oh, never mind."
He crunches his toast.
He's watching the news. "She's a strong woman, isn't she, lad? Not many like her."
"That's her name, isn't it, the Scottish leader?"
I don't respond. I've got tea coming down my nose.
I slam the door.
"'No need to be obstropolous, son', that's what your Ma'd say."
"The word is obstreperous."
"I'm sure she'd got it right. You'm in a strop all right."
"She didn't get everything right you know."
"Aye, I know, otherwise she'd be here now."
"You know how our Janine's boy gets obsessed by things?"
"What's the latest?"
"Rollercoasters. Can't get enough of them, she says. They spent their holiday going round one theme park after another."
"So, they had a multifarious holiday, you might say."
"No, YOU might!"
"What are you doing with those big boots on, lad?"
"I'm going up to look at that archaeological dig where they're supposed to be building the by-pass. Fancy it?"
"I do not! It's freezing out and if I want to see ancient remains, I can look in the mirror."
He's at the window, looking out onto the garden.
I join him. "Look at that fractal snowflake in the corner of the window."
"There's a fractal load of them, lad, and they're killing all my fractal plants!"
"Your cousin Janine has sent me a postcard from her holidays."
"Who sends postcards these days?"
"People who aren't glued to screens all day."
I look up from my phone.
"Anyway, the hotel's got one of those finity pools."
"So, just a pool, then?"
I adjust my tie. "I don't know why I'm bothering. I'm not going to get the job, anyway."
"Don't be so negative, lad."
I look at him and he knows what I'm thinking.
"Yes, it's rich coming from me. But sometimes I wish you were a bit less me and a bit more your Ma."
"I'll hold the end of the tape, lad. You measure it out."
"What're we doing this for?"
"Need more trellis."
"Can't do metric! What is it in old money."
"15 feet. Passion flower don't normally grow this much, surely?"
"Your Ma planted this one."
"Do you know what should make a comeback, lad? Purple hair."
He's finally lost it.
"I did used to like it when your Ma would go for her shampoo and set and come back with purple hair."
"Didn't stop you taking the Mick."
"She knew I was kidding. She always did."
I battle with the ancient food processor. I permute lid, bowl and blade again and again.
"Give it to me, lad," he says. One twist and it's done.
"Why won't you let me buy a new one?"
"This was good enough for your Ma."
I don't tell him that she hated the machine.
"Remember your Ma used to call me in-transitive, lad?"
"She did. Stubborn as an ox, she called me."
"Yes, but intransitive isn't the word."
"Yes, it is."
"No, it's not."
"Know what else she said, lad?"
"I'm a chip off the old block?"
He looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"What are you doing?"
"Eee, lad, I just don't know." He moves.
I see the tin in front of him. "Bourbon or chocolate digestive?"
"Ah, the ultimate existential question." I leave before he can answer.
He's digging up plants.
"What are you doing?"
"Well, lad, we don't need this quantity of courgettes now. It was only your Ma who really liked them."
"What're you putting in, instead?"
"Got some rosemary."
"That's for remembrance."
"I saw the play too, lad." He winks.
"What was that chocolate and cherry cake your Ma used to make, lad?"
"Black Forest Gateau?"
"Aye, that's it. She got really inteGer-man food, didn't she?"
"Not keen on foreign food, me. Anyway, what's for dinner?"
Handing me the triangle, he leans over the table. The balls scatter. A red goes in the pocket.
"Black," he says.
Here we go.
He shuffles round the table, potting ball after ball. At a score of 104, he fumbles the next easy red.
He winks as he leaves the table.
"Your Ma never moaned about her commute, did she, lad?"
"No, she didn't. Even though the trains were packed and everyone was smoking."
"Aye, I can never smell a mix of diesel fumes and cigarette smoke without thinking about her coming home."
"We've got to go and see little Emily in that play she's doing. What is it again, lad?"
"Hamlet. And she's not little any more."
"Call me contravariant but I can't abear all those slings and arrows."
"I'm not sure that you mean that."
"I know exactly what I mean, lad."
"Do you remember, lad, when I'd put me blazer on to go somewhere fancy and your Ma'd say it was a meta-morphism?"
I don't correct him.
He was her butterfly but he was also her rock.
"Oh, you've put the group photo up." It's a photo from their 50th anniversary party. "I thought you didn't like it."
"Aye well, lad, I think I can put up with your Uncle Gordon's smug smile, if it means I get to see your Ma at her happiest."
So do I.
"When you were at school, lad, did everyone have a favourite number?"
"Yep. Mine was 7."
"Mine was one. Mostly because no one else picked it and it was easy to write." He pauses. "Do you know what your Ma's favourite number was, lad?"
"Much better than 1."
"Your Ma loved it when your cousin Janine took her to the Met."
"Bit fancy for me, mind. Best bit of the night was the hot dog after." He pauses. "Don't know about the city that never sleeps, it was my guts that didn't sleep that night!"
"You'll catch your death." I drape a coat round his shoulders. "It's only just gone above zero."
He looks at the old thermometer on the shed. "Well, it's 34° in old money." He smiles. "See, it was always warmer in the past."
I know he's not talking about the weather.
"Stop staring, lad. You'll give me a complex." He pops another chocolate brazil nut in his mouth.
"I'm not worried about the sugar. I'm more wondering how you're going to eat the brazil with no teeth in."
"Slowly," he says and grins.
"That time when your Ma was caught short in Margan's Meadow. She stands up, only to come face to face with old Farmer Margan. 'Stockings problem', she says. Ever after she'd say, 'When it comes to brazening it out..."
I join in the chorus, "I'm outstanding in my field!"
He dunks the chocolate biscuit in his tea.
"You know what Ma used to say about that."
He laughs. "Aye, lad. It vector."
He picks up his teeth and pops them in his mouth. "Dunking vexed her, lad."
"What vexed her was the no teeth, not the dunking!"
He slams the phone down. He only uses the house phone so he can slam it. "Your Uncle Gordon's been on telling me this and that about what I should do with MY garden. He thinks everyone in his family is some kind of genus."
"In a way, Gordon's right."
"Don't you start!"
I offer him the plate of ring doughnuts. "Just try one."
"No, lad. It's jam-filled or nothing."
I sigh. "You're so stubborn."
"Aye, your Ma said it was because I was a Torus. Load o' nonsense."
"She also said that the other side of that coin was loyalty."
He props himself on the wing of our old car and stares under the bonnet. "I used to be able to sort stuff out like this. You're going to have to take her to the garage. Tell them the problem is the manifold."
"I think the problems are just manifold."
He's got half a dozen shirts out. "Can't wear this blue stripe. It says I'm takin' meself seriously."
"The white one?"
"No, lad. It says I'm waiting on."
"Didn't know you were into topology." I chuckle.
"I'll wear the cheerful yellow."
He bites off some chocolate.
"You haven't even had your dinner yet. Do you remember what Ma used to say to me? 'You can have some chocolate iff you eat all your dinner.'"
"Aye, lad, well your Ma's not here any more. And THAT is why I'm having chocolate."
"New jumper, lad?"
I'm amazed that he's noticed. "Yes. 25% off in the sales. So, I've saved 15 quid."
"You know what your Ma used to say about the logic of sales."
She was right.
"What're you working out, lad?"
"Using Pythagoras Theorem to see whether the new fridge'll make the turn into the kitchen."
He tuts. "I just go by eye. Never been a problem."
"Apart from the fortnight we had Granny's sideboard wedged in the front room door, you mean?"
"What's this?" I hold up the saucer with the tiniest golden globule welded to it.
He laughs. "Oh, I'd forgotten about that. I stuck me Str-epsilon there while
I was drinking me tea. It was interfering with the taste."
I grimace and run the saucer under the hot tap.
"Wonder if Janine's boy will enjoy 'Math' when they get onto Integration."
"He's well integrated, lad. They've been there long enough."
"I was talking about calculus, the gradient of a curve."
"I don't know much about curves. Not since your Ma's gone."
"Can you not?!"
He sits with the ancient address book in front of him. "I'm ringing your Cousin Karen, lad. What's her new number?"
"What do you mean? New?"
"She's moved house so she'll have a new number. What is it?"
"It's a mobile, Dad. The clue is in the title."
"Asked our Janine's lad what his favourite subject was. Do you know what he said, lad? Math."
"That's what they call it over there."
"I know that. I'm talking about how Janine couldn't even do 1 + 1. And they say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
I say nothing.
I push his chair along the High Street. I hear him shout something like agape.
"What?" I'm amazed that he chooses now to recognise my unconditional love.
He pulls the scarf down from his mouth. "I've gotta pee, lad. Now!"
It was a nice thought, while it lasted.
"Lad!" His voice echoes through the house. It has a certain timbre.
I open the bathroom door and throw in the roll of paper.
He comes downstairs.
I look at him. "Please don't say it. I'm not going up there for 10 minutes away."
"Lucky!" He chuckles.
"You've been quiet for a couple of days, lad. I can see you're iridescent with rage."
I don't correct him.
"Has there been trouble on the interweb again?"
"Hateful stuff, yes."
"Well, your Uncle George didn't die a war hero for people to attack each other."
He did not.
"Wagon Wheels just don't taste like they used to." I put the chocolate down, disappointed.
"Don't be getting all nostalgic, lad. You'll be wanting black and white tellies back next."
I snort. "Who's the one who starts every sentence with, 'Do you remember'?"
"Lad," he croaks.
I look up.
There's not a drop of blood in his face.
I leave the room and return with a tumbler and the piece of card Ma always kept in 'the' kitchen drawer. I remove the spider and throw it outside.
We never discuss his phobia.
He's a proud man.
"What about that time when your Auntie Maureen called in the priest to do a wotsit?"
"Aye, that's it, lad. Turned out I was right all along. Rat under the floorboards in the spare room." He chuckles. "Maureen never went back to that church again!"
He slurps his tea. I tut. "Ah, nectar," he says.
I try to disguise my disgust as he takes another burbling mouthful.
"You make a lovely cuppa."
"I had a good teacher." And she couldn't bear the slurping, either. I keep that to myself and leave the room.
He brandishes the chocolate. "What's this, lad?"
"Well, it looks like a block of Galaxy to me."
"No need for your lip! Nestles! I ask you! I'm a Cadburys man, born and bred, me."
"As your latest blood sugar test shows."
He grunts and breaks off a chunk of the chocolate.
"Can you find that thing with the dinosaur on your Netflix, lad?."
"No. This one, they've got a pet dinosaur."
I'm none the wiser.
"It's purple. You used to love it as a kid."
"That's it. Your Ma always said I fancied that Wilma."
"I used to love poetry when I were a kid. Maybe that's where you got it from."
"I never saw you with a poem."
"Aye, you did, lad. Your Ma was a living, breathing poem." He looks up and chucks the tissue box over to me. "You'll be needing these."
"Do you remember, lad, when your Ma helped you with your spelling? You were stuck on 'scissors' for days. They were 'sCissors' ever after."
"Then when I read schism the first time, everyone laughed."
"Aye, well your Ma didn't have much call for that word."
"What's up, lad?"
"You wouldn't get it."
"I can do empathy."
I tell him about my bullying boss.
"I'm going to give him a piece of my mind."
I didn't tell him that what I was feeling was not his red anger but a soul-crushing sadness. Like I said, he wouldn't get it.
"We're taking a cake to No. 27, lad?"
"To show that lot gossiping down the other end. Your Ma"d never ostracise folk because they looked different." He was right.
"Where are you getting the cake from?"
"You'll be making it."
I couldn't be cross with him.
He's reading the newspaper and tutting. "What's wrong with folk?"
"I don't know why you read that, it only winds you up."
"There's demics everywhere, lad." He still drops Manchester slang from time to time.
"You could almost call it a pandemic." I laugh.
He's silent on the drive home from the hospital. Or, at least, he doesn't speak.
I help him out of the car.
"Why didn't you tell me where they was going to shove that anathema, lad?"
"I don't think you mean that, do you?" I stifle a laugh. "Or maybe you do."
"What are you reading?"
He looks at me over the top of his
newspaper. "What does it look like, lad?"
"You've always been an Express and Star man."
He lifts the paper again. "Your Ma always read the Chronicle." He pauses. "Now then, time marches on. What's for tea?"
I hold open the surgery door for him.
"I ain't a-going to suck up to no one, lad."
"I'm not asking you to be a sycophant. Just be respectful so that she doesn't hate you on sight."
"I couldn't give a fig what she or anyone else thinks."
Well, I know that.
"You know, it wouldn't bother me if I never saw the ocean again."
"Ocean, lad? Ocean?!" He looks at me over the top of his newspaper. "Next thing we know, you'll be going to the 'movies' and eating 'fries'. Ocean, indeed!"
"I often think of that dance hall where I met your Ma, lad."
I know he does.
"She was as pretty as a picture. No idea why she took a second look at me. I had about as much charisma as..."
I know the next line. "The wall you were standing in front of?"
We both smile.
"What was it that bloke on the telly used to play in the 70s, lad? Was it a xenophobe?"
I know he knows.
"Mind, there were plenty of those about. Like that one who saw our name in the book, phoned and told you you were going to die that night." He pauses. "You were 6."
I stand in the doorway looking for his chest to rise.
One eye opens. "Why don't you get your Ma's handbag mirror out of the drawer and hold it under me nose, lad?" He grunts. "I've no plans to make you an orphan. Not just yet."
"At this rate, I'm going first!" I sigh.
"What was that face cream your Ma always wanted to try, lad?"
"Was it Pachyderm?"
I snort. "I doubt it. She didn't need any help with her memory."
"You don't half talk in riddles some times." He tuts. "Don't know where you got that from."
He looks at me fractionally longer than normal.
"Nothing, lad. I was just looking at your pink shirt."
"Oh, is it ruining the general beige and brown aesthetic in here?"
He doesn't rise to my sarcasm. "No, I was thinking how your Ma always liked that shirt."
"Why don't you let me buy you a new gardening jacket?"
"Nothing wrong with this one, lad."
"Your Ma didn't half laugh when I shut it in the caravan door that time." He runs his hand over the perfectly sewn patch. "It was me best jacket back then. Still is."
"What are you furtling about at in there?"
"Just getting the Hoover out. I'm not having your Uncle Gordon thinking I've let things go." He hands me the plug.
"What was that song your Ma used to sing?" He knows the answer.
"Gordon is a moron?"
He shuffles away, whistling.
"D'you remember your, Ma, lad with her bottle of that, what was it called?"
"Aye, that's it. 'I may be a patriot,' she'd say, 'but it's not going to stop me enjoying a drop of this of a Christmas.'"
"It was a bit more than a drop."
We both laugh.
"You know, lad?"
"What?" I'm short with him. He's been especially cantankerous.
"I'm ready to meet my maker." He's been saying this for years. Since Ma went, in fact.
"The way you're carrying on, it'll more likely be a demogorgon."
"Nothing. Eat your tea."
I put the cocoa on his bedside table.
"Do you remember, lad? Every night before bed, your Ma'd have you do 3 Hail Marys and the angel prayer. "
I do remember.
"Stuff and nonsense!"
I go to bed. Through the wall, I can hear him mumbling. I'm mumbling, too.
The kitchen is in chaos.
"Y'can take your hands off your hips, lad."
"Just fancied a cup of tea from a proper china cup. Your Ma and I loved these. Don't know why you hid them."
I don't point out that he'd always said they were too flowery. I start tidying.
"Your Ma didn't half love an escapade, lad. That time on the front at Rhyl?"
I've heard the story more times than I can count.
"She bends down, picks summat up, shoves it in her bag. 'Me drawers', she says. 'Elastic's gone.'"
He's crying. I think it's laughter
"I remember when they put yon radio mast up, lad. Your Ma was delighted. Thought she'd get better reception on the old radiogram. Do you remember it?"
It's just like him not to notice what's in front of him.
"That girl wants to watch it, blowing her top like that."
"9 children, lad. 9! He was always goin' on about his viridity was your Uncle Bill." He pauses. "More likely to do with how much he drank, if you ask me."
"I expect the morning after was when he was most virid."
"What's that, lad?"
"Never mind. Another tot?"
"How much of that are you going to slather on your toast?"
He ignores the question. "Nothing like best butter, lad."
"Nothing like a spell on a cardiac ward, either."
"At least I'll be happy."
"You might have to smuggle me best butter in, mind." He winks.
He stands in the garden after the storm. I can hear him mumbling. "The boughs are verdant and the blossoms white."
I go back indoors. I don't want to hear the line 'joyless all! if not enjoyed with thee.'
I used to tease him about reciting that poem. Not any more.
"I've had a postcard from our Rubes, lad. From Oxford University."
"I always think it's incredible how they named her. They couldn't have known she'd have rubiginous hair."
"They couldn't have known she'd have any hair. I suggested Winston at the time." He chuckled.
"What are you looking for, lad?"
I lift my head out of the cupboard. "Cake but there is none."
"Pop to the garage and get some."
"It doesn't matter. It was only a velleity."
He scrunches something and shoves it in the bin. I know it's the last Fondant Fancy wrapper.
He hands the card to me. "Read it for me, lad."
"'Staying a few days here in the submontane...'"
"Looks like a perfectly good mountain on the picture. Always been up herself, your cousin Pamela."
I can't resist. "Interestingly, she doesn't say 'wish you were here'."
The only time I'd seen him without a tie was on holiday. He undid a shirt button and, nervously, adjusted the St. Christopher, which had been round his neck for longer than I knew.
"Nothing." I knew what would soothe him. "1 scoop or 2?"
He prepares himself, like a musician tuning his instrument to perfection. Then there it is, a belch, launched with all the relish he can muster.
"It's no good looking like that, lad. You know beer makes me ingurgitate."
He's wrong. But not entirely.
"You'll catch your death." I drape his old coat round his shoulders.
"Looking at all the stars, lad. Every day, there's one less down here, one more up there."
"I hope I get to constellate with you and Ma."
"You won't if you eat enough fibre." No time for sentimentality.
Triumphantly, he gets the tin out of the oven. "I'm havin' me one of those Fray Benthos pies for me dinner. I bet your Ma'll be spinnin'." He chuckles.
I don't correct him about the name. Ma did always say they looked like something scraped off the sea bed.
He's standing, holding the photo. "All over America we went. So many places. The only photo your Ma wanted framed was this'n, standing by your Uncle Bill's Zephyr. She loved that car. Thought she looked like a film star, with her headscarf on."
"'Ere y'are, lad. I've got you a lamp to put in that nook you like sitting in so much."
"I'm calling it my carrel, Dad."
"Y'can call it your Brenda, if you like. I still call it a lamp."
"No, I mean...oh never mind!"
"It's a trompe l'oeil."
"A trump what?"
"You know what that is, lad?"
I'll play along. "What?"
"Absolute eyewash." He winks and stumps away, triumphant.
"Your Ma always had a hanging basket under this arch, lad." He's deadheading. "Could never understand how they grew here in such shade. She'd always plant 'em with these. What'm they called again? Penetralia?"
"Trailing petunia, Dad."
"Aye, that's what I said."
"What's this, lad? Microwave Ambrosia rice pudding? Your Ma'd never have had it in the house."
I say nothing but think back to the evening, when I'd caught her, wrapping a tin in newspaper and putting it in the bin.
We had lots of little secrets like that.
He's looking down the garden. "That birdsh inured, lad."
He doesn't answer but glares at me.
"You might want these." I hold out my hand.
Gracelessly, he snatches his teeth from me and shoves them in his mouth.
"5 letters, lad. 2nd letter A. 'Good enough for me to eat'"
Without looking up, I respond. "Sapid."
"You what?" I lift my eyes and see the newspaper he's scribbling on. "Oh, 'tasty'"
"Ta, lad. That's it."
I walk into the smoke-filled kitchen.
"What are you doing? There's no oil in this pan." I snatch it off the burner.
"I'm just giving the panacea. Your Ma always did it. She said it added something to a full English."
I push open the window. "Yes, a faintly burnt taste."
He shuffles round the kitchen, tidying up, banging cupboard doors.
"'E' y'are, lad. Some Plink Plink Fizz."
He slams the glass down, moves over to the bin and crashes the empty whiskey bottle into it.
I leave the kitchen, mumbling something like 'effervescent'.
I stare out of the kitchen window. He's been sitting in that chair for hours. I can't see him breathing.
I'm up the garden like a shot.
One eye opens.
"If you'm waitin' to cash in me Premium Bonds, lad, you'll just have to wait a little languor."
His eye closes.
"They've called the baby Aurora, Dad. It means..."
"I know what it means, lad." He picks up the paper with a pointed rustle.
"I just don't see what's wrong with a good old-fashioned name like Dawn."
He lowers himself, painfully slowly, into the armchair.
I turn away.
"I sinew, lad. No need to feel sorry for me. Some people never get as far as arthur-eyetus. I'm countin' me blessin's."
I leave the room. My face can't lie. I got that from him.
"You know the poem I'm talking about don't ya, lad? All very well folk living in fancy houses, poking fun at other places. But that's someone's home they'm talkin' about. One man's sluff, is another man's Slough. And ain't no such thing as 'friendly bombs'."
"You know what I think, lad?"
Here we go.
"I think it's man-made, this disease. They just want rid of fogeys like me."
"That's utter..." I turn away and mumble under my breath.
"You know your mother couldn't abide swearing!"
"Buckshot. I said buckshot."
"This is a right palaver."
I ignore and continue wheeling the unstable airport chair.
"I don't know why we couldn't just go to Rhyl."
I'm still not rising.
"Amsterdam. I ask you."
"We'll need some potvalor before we get on the plane."
"I wish these would hurry up and bloom."
"You know what your Ma would've said, lad. Things'll happen in their own sweet time."
The rhythmic click of his metal walking stick accompanies the dawn chorus.
I turn back to the #hydrangea. "You're going to need to hurry up."
"I'm taking a turn round the garden, lad. If I sit here any longer, I'm going to look like a beached whale."
I look at his tiny, sparrow legs. "I can't see much blubber," I tell him.
"I was being littoral not literal, lad." He smirks at my surprised brows.
"What are you doin' sittin' in the gloomin'?"
"The word's 'gloaming', Dad. From 'glow', not 'gloom'. And really refers to twilight."
He throws himself down into his chair.
"Whatever, lad. Put the big light on. We're not so hard up that we can't afford a bit of 'leccy."
"Your Ma did have some fancy ways. We had a little joke..."
He takes a breath. It catches.
"She'd say, 'I'm going to lie on my chaise longue and you can peel me a grape.'"
"And I'd answer, 'I'm going to lay on me chaise longueur and you can peel me a spud."
"That's not hay, lad. It's silage."
It's 65 years since he left the farm, left his home, left his country. He's never been back. But some things you never forget.
"It's just sex and violence, melody and silence..."
"Ey, lad, I was listening to that."
I'm puzzled. "How do you even know what Alexa is, never mind get her to play you The Verve?"
"I'm old, lad, not stoopid."
That told me. I leave the room.
"I'm off, Dad. Anything you want me to pick up?"
"Yes. Sponge fingers and some of them mandolin segments. I'm gonna make one of your Auntie Hilda's trifles."
I close the door. I know what he means. I don't have to correct every little thing.
I push the chair away from the jeering voices.
"Cheeky little so-and-sos," he says. "If anyone did that when I was a lad, our Da would drop kick us into the middle of next week."
I sigh. "Times have moved on a bit, Dad."
"When I first came over, it took me years to get 'em to let me play for the team. Then they realised I was a dreamcatcher. Their 'No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs' went out the window."
He puts the polished leather ball back in the drawer.
"That's when I walked away, son."
"Your fancy friend's got a horse now, then?"
"She's not fancy, Dad."
"What's its name?"
"She's a she, not it. She's called Sofia."
"Sapphire?" He touches his hearing aid.
"Not sapphire. So-fia."
"That was your Grandma's name."
I look away. "It was her Grandma's, too."
"This isn't the way to Auntie Kath's."
We go through this every time. I don't respond.
"It's right here. Why don't you ever listen to me?"
"Because, Dad, you were the tank driver who took a detour behind German lines in North Africa and had to be rescued."
"He says he feels a bit queer."
The voice at the other end is disapproving. "That hardly seems reason enough to call the ambulance, sir."
The 'sir' is pointed. I don't rise. "The last time he felt queer, he was having a heart attack."
"What's all this rubbish in the drawer? It's just a load of old sweet wrappers."
"It's me #silver treasure, son."
He holds up a carefully folded rectangle of foil. "This is your Ma's KitKat wrapper from when we went to Rhyl. Factory fortnight. 1972."
I close the drawer.
"Ah, now, look at that, son." He's bent over one of the triffids in his 'roo-bob' patch.
Ma used to hate them. Untidy, she called them.
"Look at this busy little thing."
The bee brushed his hand as it took flight.
"I've told you, Dad, I'm vegetarian now."
"Eee, lad, thee 'n' tha new fangled, lettuce munching ways. When I were a lad..." (Oh here we go!) "Our Dad'd bring 'ome a rabbit in't' mornin', 'n' we knew there'd be no dinner until we'd skint' thing."
"Ey up, lad. I dun't understand these footballers nowadays. D'you?"
I don't look up from my newspaper. I'm not rising to this.
"This un 'ere looks like 'e's wearin' mekk up. And that un's scraped 'is 'air back into ubuntu."
"See that, son? That's the church where I was baptised. And that's where I'm going to be buried."
"Buried? I thought we talked about cremation?"
"If you think I'm being burnt alive, you've got another think coming."
The line crackles. "Just leave the cans on the sill, son, and I'll pick them up when you're good and gone."
"Back kitchen?" I ask.
"Aye, ya know full well that's the transfer window." There's a snort before the line goes dead.
"What are you doing got up like that?"
"You know they've said we should try to cover our faces when we're out."
"What do 'they' know? I don't know about going to buy bread; you look more like you're going for a pillage in the village."
"What are you doing?"
"Mugging up." Buries head in encyclopaedia.
Sighs. "Well, unlike you, I'm not an avid viewer of Fifteen to One, University Challenge, Mastermind. I don't want everyone on Zoom tonight to know that I'm a quisling!"
"Can't wait 'til everything reopens and I can buy food that I haven't had to prepare myself."
"I know. And have you heard that Greggs are being taken on at their own game?"
"Heard?! Mate, I'm going to be first in the queue for the new pretissage!"
"What's it like to have a mother, Dad?"
"It's having someone look out for you, annoy you, love you, tell you off, feed you, wipe your tears, make you cry, push you back, push you forward - all at the same time."
"What? Like Anti Becca, you mean?" "Yes, son. That's it."