In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
The St Valentine’s Day Messy Cure
The rain started just as the train was slowing on arrival at Ewell Station. The swollen raindrops plopped against the windows like over-ripe fruit, before spreading out in straight lines across the glass. “Damm it!” He swore gently under his breath. He had just known this would happen. The 1830 had been cancelled and the 1845 was ten minutes late. Had he caught the earlier train, as he had planned, he would be home by now. It had been a bastard of a day and the boss had been in his most bloody-minded mood.
It was raining heavily as he left the station concourse and viewed the twenty or twenty-five people huddled at the taxiless taxi rank. He swore again. This would take forever. He resolved to walk, despite his umbrella being safe and sound in the rack at home. He crossed the park to save time and obtain what little shelter the leafless winter tress offered. The rain was cold and pervasive.
Richard was soaked through and in a very foul mood as he turned the key in the front door of his flat. The door did not open easily and he had to push it quite hard. There was something behind it, a brown paper parcel. It was quite large and he wondered how it had got through the letterbox. This problem was quickly solved on picking it up. The contents, whatever they were, were soft and pliable. He dropped the parcel in the kitchen and left wet footmarks on the carpet as he squelched up the hall. It could wait; these dammed clothes could not.
Richard stripped naked in the bedroom, leaving a damp bundle of clothing steaming like freshly dropped dung. He showered and put a towel around his waist. He did not know why, as he lived alone. Towelling his hair vigorously he returned to the kitchen and viewed his parcel. It was certainly addressed to him, but the franking was a bleary mess and it was impossible to tell where it had been posted. There was no sender’s address either. He used his fingers to open the wrapping and lifted a small Teddy Bear from its brown paper bed. It had a tiny red heart in its mouth.
“My God,” be said out loud. “It’s a Valentine’s Day present.” Again he searched the paper wrapping for a note or clue of some kind. There was none. Who could have done this? His ex wife? No, she was only interested in taking money from him, not spending it. Perhaps she was trying to stir things in some way. Margaret, then, his girlfriend? No, she did not have a romantic bone in her skinny body. But who? And why?
At that moment the doorbell rang, and still in his towel he went to answer it. There stood Helen, his prematurely widowed Greek neighbour from Flat 8. “Good evening, Helen”. He spoke warily.
“Richard, no clothes on. You were expecting me?”
He shook his head helplessly and retreated a yard. “No, I was in the shower. Got wet walking from the station. What can I do for you?”
“Milk,” she said advancing even as he retreated further. “Can I borrow a cupful?”
Nervously he tightened the towel at his waist. “Sure, in the kitchen.”
Helen frightened him. She was a predator, somewhere over fifty and much given to wearing clothes designed for sixteen-year-olds. A roll of middle aged female flab hung between her top and jeans, and the stud in her navel glistened in the kitchen light. As was normal, a cigarette hung loosely from her bottom lip, her yellow teeth exposed in a grin. A long time ago Helen had mistaken his look of horror for one of lust and had pursued him with a ferocity known only to Jim Corbett, the legendary tiger hunter in India. Helen spotted the parcel and teddy bear. “Someone sent you a present?”
He shook his head. “No idea”
“It was not a British person.”
“How do you know that?”
She pointed to the address. “Look at Flat 7 and the postcode, KT17. Both the sevens have a little stroke through them.”
A terrible thought struck him. “It wasn’t you, Helen, was it?”
“No!” The reply was emphatic. “Perhaps it was that Spanish man in number 17. Are you queer, Richard?”
An escape tunnel opened in front of him. He spoke gravely. “Yes, Helen, I am gay. It had to come out sometime. That was why my wife divorced me.”
The effect was electrifying and Helen scuttled away clutching a cup of full cream.
The following day after a morning spent trudging round Ikea with Margaret, they returned to his flat for a coffee, where Al Capone, heart in mouth, sat on top of the fridge.
“What’s that?” she demanded.
“Do you mean the fridge or the teddy bear?”
“You know what I mean. Who sent you the stupid bear?”
“You mean it wasn’t from you?”
“It bloody well wasn’t”
One thing, as they say, led to another. Just before she stormed out, she demanded. “Richard, are you a queer. You have never tried to make love to me.”
God, the same accusation twice in twenty-four hours, perhaps he was. A dignified reply was the preferred response. “Margaret, I am not gay, if that is what your question implied. Could you consider that perhaps, just perhaps, I don’t actually fancy you.” Even as the door slammed, he knew he would never see her again.
Monday morning was clear and sunny, if a little cold. He had his suit in a plastic bag to drop off at the dry cleaners. The young woman who ran the business was invariably cheerful and pleasant. Richard smiled. “Am I right in thinking you have a child?”
She looked puzzled. “Yes, Janine, my little girl. She’s three.”
He took Al Capone out of his briefcase where he had nestled beside his umbrella. “Would she like this? He’s a very good bear. I call him Al, and he has been a really good friend to me.”
They were both smiling as he left the shop, and Richard imagined that Al waved to him as he left.
Written by my Father B.M