Father of mine, what you left behind
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Your room, your study, was big. Filled with what you owned, what you wanted to keep. Every inch of it reeking of the things you loved.

I was never allowed in.

Not, that is, until that fateful winter day. That day when the call came barrelling down the phone line like a bullet to my world. I packed a case, caught a train, and no sooner had I reconciled myself to the truth… I was standing there, in the doorway, letting the memories beat me senseless all over again. I blinked in the light filtering through the windows, felt the chill wind echo down the chimney. Hands shaking (with the cold, I said later, with the cold) I stepped forward, the child I used to be falling deep into the forest of carpet.

And now I'm here. With a notebook, and pen, and a grave man with a moustache staring down at me from your portrait. I look at your shelves.

First, I see the books.

So, so, so many books. You squirrelled them away, pinning knowledge to paper and hoarding it ceaselessly, trapping all the wonders of the world in your leatherbound cages. At the front, the newest and cleanest, we have politics, psychology, technology. Your modern interests; sleek, impressive volumes, on display like prize piglets in the stalls, gold-leaf titles bursting with sickening eagerness. I pull some back — the shelves run deep, and cloister tombs of tomes unread for years. A stratified cross-section of your literary habits, a life pressed flat between pages. Politics is replaced by classics, psychology by biography. Technology becomes history — antiquated methods, techniques for things forgotten. You never liked mathematics while I knew you, but here, in your middling days, you flirt with the infinite. Sums and limits, limitless summations, a limited purview for some but one to which you were clearly devoted. But discarded, of course, in favour of more fashionable concerns. I know how they must have felt.

I pull back the second layer of volumes, diving through the chasm to the wall beneath. And lying flush with it, your first books, crushed breathless and stifled for lord-knows how long. Mythology. Legends, tales, folklore, fables. Guides to hunting dragons, to catching fairies. Ghost stories, futurism, what could be lurking outside and what could once have been. This man, I never knew. He died long before I was born.

…I move on. I can't keep letting ghosts distract me, not if I ever want to finish this blasted inventory. I open your drawers, rummage through the papers, the accounts. I clear trophies and trinkets from the desk, make a mark on the paper for every prize or pen or piece of past detritus. I sift slowly through your life, churning and replacing, turning stones and filling documents with lists of your treasured mundanity. Certificates of merit, medals of honour, and — here and there, squirrelled away with embarrassment — small gestures towards sentiment. A ring with a deep blue jewel. Pressed petals. A half-moon locket. None of it fitting into the father-shaped hole in my mind, but then, I suppose, you never fit into it either.

Hours pass. Years recede. I stand alone in the room so thoroughly desecrated by my cautious hands, and look up at your portrait. With the careful shaking fingers of a child, I lift it from the wall.

It unhooks easily, revealing a deep gash. A tattered tear in the deep red wallpaper, revealing a faded blue beneath. And a tear in that, revealing a patterned purple. And beneath that, more red, and green, all plastered up and cut through year after year after year.

At the centre of this dull-hued rainbow of ruined decor, there is a hole. Dark and deep.

Tucked at the back of the hole, a small wooden box. In the box, a faded photograph. And a rubbing from a headstone. Both mine, both young, too young to remember. Curled up with them, a rose. Wilted, but not dead. Hard to the touch, but not fragile. Thorned, coiled, and too far-gone to be beautiful. I lift the box carefully, and hear something rattle. There, at the bottom, wrapped dutifully in linen.

The bones of something small.

I always wondered why you never told me stories, why you forbade fiction and religion with equal ferocity, why you chose to fill my mind so firmly with cold, dull realism. And why you never told me of how my mother died, although you talked of her often. So, so, so often. And more recently, when I came back home, why they didn't let me see your body.

I run from the house, papers discarded, box abandoned, your solemn face still burning in my head.

I do not wonder any more.


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