My father was similar to one of those smooth, flat pebbles discovered on a shingle beach amongst the many uneven ones, standing out from all others, a temptation for the stone-skimming child that I was. With arm stretched taut beside my child’s body and then a wide swing full of expectation, I would hold my breath, watch eagerly for the three or five water-skips, only to be disappointed as the stone jumped but once, then slipped leadenly out of sight and under the sea, where it would await an incoming tide and eventually be returned to the shore.
A cycle of disappointing repetitions until I attained an age where I no longer threw the pebble, nor held my breath awaiting a desired result, and walked passed devoid of all interest. That was my father – one bounce and gone. Despite my best efforts, he would disappear into a leaden sea with a dull plop of disappointment. No connection existed between us.
All my young son’s hopes of him living up to my boyish admiration never came to anything. It was as if a physical ocean rolled between and kept us apart. I bobbed on a crest to see him down in the trough. Then we exchanged roles as he was caught high above me and I floundered deep in the swell. It was our maritime disaster film where the hero attempts vainly to reach a man overboard in a storm. Now you see him, now you don’t, as the drowning man moves involuntarily with the momentous upheaval of an ocean expanse. We never could reach each other, no matter how hard I believed or tried.
The distance wedged between us grew wider as I became older and taller, accentuated by the fact that my father was puny in body. He was slight and wiry, capped with sandy hair, remained the same diminutive man whilst I became as tall as him at the age of ten and had inherited my mother’s dark hair and looks. He came from Scotland and she…no one really knew from where. She wasn’t one to tell, either.
Not that my father was weak and insignificant, or meek. No, don’t get me wrong. He was a dapper man, always cheerful and the best joke-teller down at the local pub. He became insignificant to me as time added height and weight to my frame and mind. There were my mother and myself. Then there was Father, and ne’er the twain did meet.
Much later when I returned home as a grown man to find him withered with cancer, lying on his bed like a dried leaf that has had all sap sucked out by wind and sun, then, and only then would I realise how my mother and I had excluded him from our complicity. How lonely he must have been with us, the forever jovial, good father and family provider, gravitating around us like a barren moon with no hope of collision or life. Only then, as I gazed aghast at his parchment face, did I see the sadness written in now visible ink-veins throbbing beneath his translucid skin. I understood his many years of emotional confinement, the reason behind evenings spent in the company of his friends in the pub in contrast with his fervour in providing for us. As a cat brings mice in offrands to lay at its owner’s feet, my father would, in a ceremonial flourish, place the weekly pay packet on the kitchen table, religiously accompanied by flowers for my mother and a bag of sweets or a small toy for me. He sought approval, a rapprochement, a door into our world. It was never accorded to him and remained closed from ignorance of his plight.
As he lay dying before me, all bones and emotions bare and visible to the naked eye, I understood and wept with him as he whispered to me about his father’s pride at how I persisted in throwing those pebbles on the beach and what a fine man I had become. Deep guilt at despising him and my past rejection submerged my whole being, as if I had found treasure on my doorstep after digging for many years on remote islands. The weight of that loss bore down like a tidal wave, heavy with regrets and unanswered questions.
With a forgiving smile, he handed me a smooth, flat pebble from our shore with instructions to throw into the sea to weigh down the urn containing his ashes.
About the Contributor
Lynne E Blackwood is a low-income, disabled Anglo-Indian writer of poetry, plays, stories, novels who loves performance and engaging with audiences. Her stories feature in Closure, Asian Writer Prize, Brighton Prize anthologies amongst others and her poetry chapbook is in final edits. Two poems appear in the Filigree anthology. Her shorts collection, based on her Anglo-Indian family history, was longlisted for the 2018 SI Leeds Prize with one story longlisted for the 2018 Historical Writers Association Prize. A first novel, based in contemporary Caucasus on a background of Russian political interference, is in submission. The ongoing second novel was a WriteNow 2017 finalist.
The Yellow Birds - Kevin Powers
Yellow Birds was written by an American Iraq War veteran and covers the full range of the immensurable loss caused by the impact of the horrors of war – a fallen comrade and the subsequent guilt of being alive; personality disorders and PTSD which put the veteran on the outside of his former life, incapable of integrating; the loss of the ability to feel emotions, to be dead inside. “Yellow Birds” is not just about an American perspective on the war in Iraq but is about all wars and the terrible damage inflicted on all participants, whether military or civilian and the ripples affecting families and friends.
More from Issue Nine:
- The Place That He Can Never Return To
- The Cyclops
- The Girl with Many Names by Kristin LaFollette
- Three by Deb Scudder
- The Mourner by Louise Burgess
- Margot by Marni Appleton
- Pebbles on a Shore by Lynne E Blackwood
- blindfolded minds by Rachel Hawkins
- Phantom habits by Blakeley Bartee
- Dementia’s Mantra by Mike Ferguson
- Pack Animals