Authors: Araminta Hall
Sorry, you might think I’m rambling, but all of this is relevant. The man in the photo could be a rock star and my mum could be his supermodel girlfriend. And then there is me. I am not that tall, I wear size twelve clothes, my legs and bottom are decidedly dumpy and, the real clincher, I’ve got ginger hair, when they are both sleek brunettes. You might wonder why it took me seven years to figure this out, but like I said, this man simply was my father. Besides all of which, I hadn’t looked much at the photo for a good eighteen months before the fatal time. But then Mavis was being super moody and refusing to tell me what happened with her and Clive after they dropped me after that disco (which is a whole different story that has nothing to do with this one) and Mum and Gran were being mega annoying. So I got the photo out for old times’ sake, I suppose like some sick comforter or something. And it suddenly hit me. Wham! How the hell did I think that I could possibly be the product of such an outrageously gorgeous couple as my mum and this man would make? I felt like I’d been sleep walking, like I was a complete idiot. Of course my dad hadn’t walked out on my second birthday to buy some balloons, of course my mum hadn’t got rid of all his possessions and her photos of him because she found them too painful a reminder as I’d always presumed. No, no, the much more likely truth was that my father had never really been ours in the first place, that he belonged to another family.
Which is when I got my second little revelation that had been far too long coming. Sitting on my bedside table is a photo of Mavis and me, which she had framed for my last birthday. It was taken when we were about two or three, on the one and only ‘family’ outing we ever went on together. The story goes that a famous Russian circus came to Cartertown and Mavis’s mother got us all tickets, but then on the day she was ill, so Mum and I went with Mavis and her dad. The photo jogged some deep memory in me; a hot car, a huge tent, the smells of sawdust and sweat, sparkling ladies and men on stilts towering into the sky. But what the photo failed to do until that day was show me the obvious similarity between the two girls, who occupy it. They could be sisters, what with their chubby red cheeks and long ginger hair. And if you then look at Mavis’s dad, Gerald Loveridge, with his dumpy legs and short stature and ginger hair you would be forgiven for thinking that he was a father to both of them.
Naturally the person I would have gone to with this theory was Mavis, who has listened diligently to all my father theories over the years. Even a few months ago I might have done, but like I said she’s changed so much recently I knew I wouldn’t get a sympathetic reception. Which is a shame really as it’d explain a lot to both of us; namely why our parents never speak and why both our mums are such freaks.
After my little revelation I felt so shocked I went downstairs with the intention of confronting my mother and grandmother, who had quite obviously kept all of this a secret from me for ever. But there they were, sitting at our ridiculous dining room table with the shit-brown walls that Gran thinks are sophisticated but are really totally depressing and I felt like someone had punched me.
‘Didn’t you hear me calling?’ asked Mum, ladling some foul-smelling stew out of a pot in front of her. Did I mention that she is a completely disastrous cook? Of course she is, because food cooked without emotion is inedible. Who knows, maybe that’s where all the men in our family have gone, into the pot. Maybe we ate them all?
I didn’t answer but instead went to stand by the fireplace, which has a mantelpiece laden with photos of my mother’s father, all in their individually polished silver frames. Not by either Mum or Gran, I hasten to add, but by Mary who’s cleaned our house twice a week for as long as I can remember. I picked up one of my grandfather bouncing my mother on his knee, a look of pure concentration on his face.
‘What on earth are you doing?’ asked Gran.
‘Just looking,’ I answered, willing one of them to make the connection.
‘Come and sit down,’ said Gran, ‘it’s getting cold.’ As if that would make any difference.
So we sat and they ate and I fumed. ‘I’m going to learn the piano,’ I said finally, forming the idea as the words were leaving my mouth. ‘I’m going to ask Mr Loveridge to teach me.’
Even my mother seemed to have heard this. ‘Why?’
‘Why? Because I want to learn.’
‘You’ve never said anything about that before,’ observed Gran.
‘Well, no, but I do. Seems silly to waste the opportunity of having a best friend with a piano teacher for a dad, wouldn’t you say?’
My mother hummed something and my grandmother pushed her stew around her plate.
‘It’s quite odd, wouldn’t you say, Mum,’ I tried, ‘how Mavis and I are practically sisters but you and Sandra hardly speak.’
Mum looked as though she might cry so Gran spoke for her. ‘For goodness’ sake, Dot, why on earth would anyone be friends with a drip like Sandra?’
It was obvious that the information would have to come from Gerry Loveridge himself and, quite frankly, piano lessons seemed as good a way as any.
It took Mavis about two weeks to remember to ask him as, like I’ve said already, she seems to have had her personality sucked out of her by aliens or something (you’ll have to take my word for this although I guess you could ask my mum), so that by the time she finally did I was feeling pretty wound up and desperate. The lessons were always disastrous, let me make that very clear. If Gerry is my dad (which I hope to God he isn’t) then he hasn’t passed on his musical talent to me. But we ploughed on for months, all through the winter, past Christmas. Me sitting there sweating, him taking more and more fag breaks and a build-up of tension rushing between us like a catastrophic tsunami. Of course I, like the idiot I am, thought that he was building up the courage to declare his parental claim on me, whilst God only knows what he thought I was building up to. Well, we do know; I’m just trying to make the point that I didn’t get it.
Gran sighed every time I went for a lesson and even Mum said there were better ways to spend precious study time than learning the piano, which is about the only opinion I’ve ever heard her utter. Mavis got more and more surly with me, so that by the end whenever I turned up she’d just push past me in the horrid huge black jumper she’s taken to wearing every day, like I’d asked her to go out, when I’d have far preferred her to stay in anyway.
So we wound our sad, pathetic way around to last Monday, when I turned up as usual to squeak my way through scales I should have learnt months ago. Gerry, as he’d asked me to call him, seemed especially nervous; I could certainly smell the smoke on him. Mavis was long gone.
‘Do you know what’s wrong with her?’ he asked, rather desperately I felt, as we sat next to each other on the too-small piano teacher’s stool.
‘No,’ I answered truthfully, but relieved to hear it wasn’t only me she’d gone off.
We started on a faulty C scale, but my brain felt like a sieve, totally unable to contain any of the information he was imparting. In the end Gerry sat back and sighed. ‘What are you really doing here, Dot?’ he asked.
I couldn’t look at his face and so kept my eyes fixed on his hands, which were resting on the white keys. For the first time I noticed that his fingernails are long and filed, which is surely all wrong for a piano teacher. (Not sure why this is relevant, but it feels like it is.)
‘I think I know,’ he went on. ‘And I can’t pretend that I’m not flattered, but very surprised, I suppose.’
To say that my heart was galloping is too much of a cliché, it was more gambolling like a little fawn on a warm spring day, which might not be a cliché but is certainly a very naff metaphor. This is it, I was thinking, oh my God, he’s going to tell me the news I’ve been waiting to hear all my life. He’s going to tell me how hard it’s been, how he’s been watching me all these years, how he couldn’t ever say anything because Mavis and I were born only a month apart and Sandra is obviously very delicate.
‘Why don’t we go upstairs,’ he said.
I followed him up the staircase. He led me into his bedroom, which I did find a bit strange, but thought maybe he had some memento of my birth hidden in a secret place close to his heart.
The bedroom itself was a bit of an assault on my senses as well, if I’m being honest. As I stood there looking at the sunflowers on the walls and the doilies on the dressing table and the swirling carpet at my feet I was so distracted by the thought of Gerry and Sandra standing in a shop and actually choosing this stuff that I hardly noticed when he started to slip my cardi off my shoulders. I think I even wondered if this was some strange father/daughter ritual that I didn’t know about.
But then his breath was hot on my neck and he started gyrating against me so I could feel his erection like a rat in his pants. And let me make this very clear: I absolutely know that I could have said no at any time. I remember not making one sound, not even trying to push him off or anything. I didn’t encourage him, but I also didn’t try to stop him. I can’t tell you why I didn’t. The closest I can come to an explanation is, you know that feeling when you are so scared you can’t move (I get it when I’m watching horror films)? Well, I wasn’t scared, but I felt paralysed in the same way. This was a man I’d known all my life, father of my best friend and until a few minutes before presumed father of myself. AND THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT AS WELL. As soon as Gerry started breathing all over me and putting his hand up my skirt and shoving his tongue down my throat I took it that he obviously wasn’t my father. I clearly remember thinking that all of this palaver had been another bloody blind alley, like the stupid TV-watching or bogus photograph and that Gran had been right and if I don’t do as well as expected in my A Levels I can always blame my real dad. I thought about my mother a lot during the actual sex, which I know doesn’t sound right, especially when I’m trying to form a defence against incest, but I don’t mean it like that. I just kept thinking: Look what you’ve driven me to, you mad, stupid woman, are you happy now? Is this what you wanted?
The sex was over so quickly I’m not sure we could be prosecuted anyway, and it hurt, like someone rubbing sandpaper inside me. I certainly derived no pleasure from it, if that makes it better. Afterwards Gerry seemed amazingly pleased with himself.
‘I hope you enjoyed that, Dot,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry it was a bit quick. But I can’t really get over all this. I mean I had no idea you felt this way.’
The whole situation could have been funny if it hadn’t really been completely bloody tragic and disgusting. I wanted to get away from him as soon as possible, but I didn’t know what to do or say, so I stayed quiet.
‘I take it you’re not really interested in the piano,’ he said. ‘But I’d love it if you still want to come on Mondays. Sandra always goes to Asda on a Monday afternoon. She goes by bus so it takes her hours.’
‘Why don’t you drive her?’ I asked, for something to say as much as anything else.
He looked shocked by this suggestion. ‘I have to work. And anyway she doesn’t do anything else. I think it’s pretty much the only time she leaves the house all week.’
Life is strange. Probably I don’t need to tell you that as if you’re prosecuting me no doubt you’ve lived a bit. But I’m starting to realise this more and more and it makes me wonder if I do want to grow up and have a relationship and all that stuff. Even when you think you know people you don’t, probably even the person you share a bed with for fifty years could be a stranger. I wondered why people don’t move on more often like my dad. And I wonder why when they do it’s always so devastating.
I stood up and straightened my clothes. He hadn’t even removed my knickers and there was an odd metallic smell coming from them. I think I said something moronic like, ‘Well, I’d better be going.’
Gerry stood up as well, zipping his horrid pink penis into his trousers. He followed me downstairs and I willed him not to touch me again in case I was sick.
‘So,’ he said at the front door, ‘will I see you next Monday then?’
The door was open and my exit was clear. ‘Ah, well, probably not.’
‘It’s all a bit too weird for me, so … But thanks, anyway.’ I really said that.
‘You weren’t a virgin, were you?’ asked Gerry, suddenly looking all concerned.
‘God, no. No, not at all.’ This, I had decided, would never count and so, by that reckoning, I am still a virgin.
‘Oh, right, well – good.’ He laughed lasciviously. ‘I know what all you girls are like nowadays.’
I left after that and went straight to the Co-op that serves us all even though they’ve known us since we were babies and must be able to work out our ages and bought two WKDs and ten Marlboro Lights. (Della served me if you want to verify this and she remembers everything as she has no life and likes to gossip.) I cut back down past Mavis’s estate to the bluebell wood. I hadn’t been there for years although I know most of our class go there every weekend to smoke and rut like animals. I used to go with Mum when I was little to pick bluebells. I was always struck by how beautiful they are, but also couldn’t believe how short their life was. They’re only here for two weeks, I used to repeat as we walked and picked and she would nod and laugh at me. But now I think two weeks of glory sounds like quite a good deal, especially if you can lie dormant for the rest of the year.
Of course I’d missed their short slot and the air was putrid. If you haven’t smelt a forest of rotting bluebells then don’t bother, you’re not missing out. And it’s not only the smell, they also look so sad, falling over like dying soldiers. But still I trudged through them because it was the one place I could be sure not to run into Mavis or anyone else I knew.
I was a bottle of WKD and five fags down when I was hit by the reality of the situation. My mother has never told me who my father is, ergo she is highly unlikely to have told my father about me. Which leads us to one conclusion: Gerry Loveridge is still the most likely candidate for ‘person who supplied half my genes’. And I had just slept with him. I was sick immediately after this thought.