THE FATHER

23 Oct

“It was so short a time to have so much worry attached to it,” murmured Joshua as he struggled to sit up in bed. His son, sitting on the edge of a crisp white sheet, looked at him.

“Dad?” he queried.

“I was sitting outside a Parisian café back in the day,” sighed Joshua. “I tell you, David, sitting outside Parisian cafés is just as fascinating as the words ‘Parisian Café’ make it sound…”

“You’ve said before,” murmured David, “That’s when you met my real mum.”

“Bless her loveliness,” sighed Joshua. “You’re in your middle-age yourself now, so you’ll understand if I tell it how it was…?”

“Of course, dad, if it helps.”

“She moved like a dream towards where I sat sipping my coffee and she sat down opposite me. She excused herself and asked if it was all right and of course it was! I’d never seen so much perfection in a human body before, such a shape, such breasts, such hair, such wonderful blue eyes… There was nothing about her a man, any man, would want to change! And the way she dressed…. It hurts to remember….”

“I wish I’d known her…” sighed his son.

“You did! But not for long enough,” murmured the father. “She talked to me, an English girl talking to an English man is Paris. At first it was chit-chat and then it was philosophy, her thoughts, her beliefs, and, you know, when someone as spectacularly beautiful as Jeanette was starts talking you start listening. At least, you think you’re listening but you’re not. Words spill out but it’s the mouth they spill out of that you watch and you let what she’s saying drift away on the Parisian air…”

“You make it sound so romantic, dad,” sighed David.

“Jeanette was to dominate, either directly but mostly indirectly, the rest of my life,” said Joshua slowly. “You know, she spoke to me for ages about all manner of things – I can’t remember one of them, not now, not so long after – and then, as if it was the most natural thing in the world she took me to her hotel room, took me, you understand, out of all the men in Paris…”

“Dad!”

“And without it seeming at all unnatural she undid my tie – we all wore ties back then, even in Paris on summer days – and like it was pre-ordained and the most natural thing on this planet we both ended up stark naked in a slow mutual dance…”

“I don’t think, dad…” muttered David uncomfortably.

“That I ought to tell you?” Joshua coughed painfully. “Well maybe you’re right, son, but that’s not going to stop me because it’s all part of what I want you to know. That afternoon in that hotel room was the most magical time of my life. We made love more than once, I won’t embarrass you by going into any details of that but what you must understand is that afternoon was more special than any few hours of my life have been ever since, and I’ve had some moments I can assure you. She was an artist. She knew so many ways in which a man might be excited, and she used them on me, and got me to torment her in the same way. There was nothing I could do but experience it and swim in a sea of sighs and giggles and hissed appreciation. I might say enjoy but that’s the wrong word. A man doesn’t merely enjoy being in Paradise, he lives it with every nerve in his body. It’s as if the earliest part of his life, since his own birth, has been a preparation for that one ecstatic sojourn and that he’ll never experience its like again!”

“That’s enough, dad!”

“I left her after dark that day and wandered, alone, through the streets of Paris, my mind in a whirl as what had happened to me over several beautiful hours played itself in my mind time after time. Strangers passing me by must have wondered at the expression on my face! But I was still in Paradise. It took me ages to climb down from so lofty a perch as Jeanette had put me on. But my holiday was almost over and that was the cloud that swamped my ecstasy with reality.

“Once back home I decided I needed more! I decided to be reminded of that one afternoon and I decided to find my Jeanette again. It’s not easy trying to find a stranger these days with the Internet and everything and back then it was well-nigh impossible, but somehow I struck it lucky. Somehow I found a trace of her and followed it, and found her.”

“You don’t have to tell me any more, dad!”

“But I do, David, I do. You see, and you know this but I want you to understand it. It took me a couple of months to find her, mostly because back then everything was slow compared to these days. If I wrote a letter a reply rarely came in less than a week! These days you google stuff and can get an instant reply! But in a couple of months I found her, and decided to go and see her.

“Jeanette was in hospital, on a life-support machine, and she would have been unplugged from it had it not been for the child she was carrying. She’d been in an accident, a road accident on the newly opened motorway, and she was lucky to be alive. The country had been swathed in a blanket of fog and there were idiots on the roads who thought they could see in the dark. Jeanette had been pulled out of a bus on which half the passengers lost their lives, but she was almost unharmed save for a savage blow to her lovely head, and she never regained consciousness. They kept her alive, on a respirator, for the sake of the child she was carrying.

“That child was you.”

“I know, dad.”

“I visited her daily, though I doubt she knew it. She didn’t open her eyes once, or flutter those gorgeous eyelids or make any sign that she knew I was there. When you were born they said the best thing would be to remove the machine that was breathing for her, and let her die in peace. And that’s what happened, though it did take a few hours before her heart stopped its labouring and for those few hours I had hope that the hours spent one afternoon in Paris would return. But they didn’t. She finally died, beautiful as ever.”

“That’s sad, dad.”

“But I had you to worry about! After all, I was most likely your father. I brought you up, pretty sure that I was your biological father, and it wouldn’t really have mattered if you hadn’t been. There were no paternity tests back then, so I had no way of knowing what was really what.

“And that’s it, dad?”

“Almost, son, almost. You see me here in bed? With a pipe in my arm and a bottle dripping into it? I’m dying, son. I’m off to meet and greet your lovely mother pretty soon. One afternoon in Paris led to a lifetime of caring for you, bringing you up, helping you when the other kids bullied you, sympathising when this or that girl rejected you … and now I think I’m going to need the least amount of the time I spent over you back. If you will, of course. Take me with you, son, and let me die amongst family…”

David smirked at his father.

“You’ve got to be joking, dad!” he spluttered. “I don’t mind popping in to see you every week or so, spending a few hours listening to your self-absorbed autobiography and tolerating you warbling about a woman you only knew once, but I’ve got my own life to live, thank you very much! She might have been my mother, dad, but I never knew her! No. You’ll be best off here where they know how to care for sad old men who’re dying… they’re used to it…”

And he stood up and stalked off, almost angry at his senile old dad.

© Peter Rogerson 23.10.15

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