Chapter 1: Awakenings
Everything begins with a phone call.
He’s just got home from work when it comes. His sister on his caller-ID. He walks over to the floor-to-ceiling windows and answers.
“Hi, you ok? Everything alright?”
“Dad’s in hospital. He’s really ill. He might not make it.”
He looks out blankly at the city spread below him like a web. The trees along the edge of the park are bare. Winter’s coming too soon. He pauses a while.
“So. What do you want me to do? He hasn’t come to see me in 15 years, has he? Or you. We don’t owe him anything.”
A lone bird swoops up from somewhere, skitters above the skyline, silent. He follows its path with his eyes.
“I told him I didn’t want to know last time we spoke. He left mum with nothing but three kids to bring up on her own so he could go off with any other woman who ever eyed him up. If he dies, he dies. Don’t call me about this again.”
He hangs up.
Later, his wife tries to convince him to visit his dad. As she speaks, he watches her soft cupid’s bow mouth moving. He knows that mouth so well, has known it for years. But the words it utters are alien.
“It’s up to you if you go, but you might regret it if you don’t. I know he hurt you, but he must have had his reasons.”
He feels collected as she speaks, but then he stirs and shivers and snaps back.
“Reason to treat mum like that? And run out on us? No. Fuck him.”
She brushes a fleck of dirt from her silk top.
“I’m not saying he did, am I? All I’m saying is that maybe he deserves a bit of your time now.”
He looks over to the window, sees someone across the street shouting blindly to someone in the upstairs flat. Can’t hear what they’re saying.
“I cannot believe you’re defending him. Even thinking about it. Fuck this. I’m going out for a drink.”
He grabs his coat, slams the front door behind him.
He meets up with friends in a pub and necks back beer, shots. He has no time for small talk tonight. Later on, he finds himself alone outside a club, head spinning. Heads downstairs, where heavy curtains lead the way into the plush bar. Glinting bronze spirit bottles on mirrored gold-lined shelves. He lingers at the bar, drinking heavily, wallowing in self-pity, then makes his way to a chrome cubicle to snort line after always larger line.
He takes a pill to bring his brain into line with his racing heart rate, heads back inside. As he returns, he pushes past a pale, ill-looking guy with a shaved head. Something odd about him, as if he holds the key to some distant and uneasy memory, but then the bald guy’s gone and he sees her at the bar, breasts pressed forward to drag the barman’s attention away from the sheen of bronze and gold.
He moves over to order, next to her. Looks sideways. She’s dark-eyed, model-type. Mixed- race, moody-looking, gorgeous. He leans in to talk; her hair smells so sweet. She brushes it behind her ear to hear more clearly. Listens intently. Her mouth curves into a sweet, wondering arc as she cranes towards him, so as not to miss a word. Everything he says, she understands entirely. When eventually he tells her about his father, she’s supportive, sympathetic.
She’s everything. Everything he wants.
He ends up back at hers. It’s only 10 minutes from the club, past an old church and through an alley to her faded black door. In the shadow of the doorway, he strokes her forearm down to her palm with his fingertips, kisses her hard, fast. He’s rushing now, teeth grinding, stomach churning. In the dim hallway, up the stairs, onto a bed.
She gasps and it’s like he’s falling.
Afterwards, she smiles, licks her lips, looks up into his eyes. He slumps, she takes his hand in hers; he can still smell her hair.
He’s woken by buzzing. He strains open his eyes. It’s his phone; his dad. He gets up, half- crawls over to a window in the corner. Stares out.
“Hi, son... are you there?”
The church over the way looks derelict this early, devoid of any purpose. He pauses a while.
“Yeah, I’m here. How you doing?”
His voice sounds removed.
“Feeling better actually. I just wanted to call and say... I never meant to hurt you. I don’t know how it got to this. I – it was never my plan.”
He sees the circling clouds in the half-light outside now. That voice again.
“Everyone has always said we look alike, but I hope you have all my strengths and none of my weaknesses. I’m proud of you, kid. I hope you succeed where I failed.”
There’s a crackle on the line and he presses the phone tight to his ear:
“I just wanted to tell you I love you, son.”
He pauses a while, decides to answer.
“I know. And I love you. Bye dad.”
He signs off.
He wakes again, bleary. Takes in his surroundings. Panic rises in his roiling gut. Nothing is as it was. The bed looks like it’s been dragged off the street; just a mattress on a heap of crates. The window is cracked clean through, cold ebbing into the stale air. Plastic bags everywhere, cans overflowing with fag butts, the floor strewn with dead spliffs and wraps and baggies. Through an open doorway, people, faded and pallid from the night or all the times before.
On his phone; a text from his mum, missed calls from his wife. The text says: Call me urgently.
The girl still sleeps. Not looking over, he makes the call, starts scrabbling for his stuff amongst the mess, wanting only to get out of there.
It rings. She answers.
She seems frantic.
“Where’ve you been all night? She’s been worried sick, calling hospitals. Why didn’t you call?”
He fumbles on the floor for his jeans, his head pounding.
“Sorry mum, I was with friends, I’m fine. I’ll call in a minute.”
“Ok, but don’t worry about that now. Please. I’ve got something else to tell you. Your father didn’t pull through. He died last night. I’m so sorry.”
He stops checking his pockets for his wallet. He pauses.
He stops checking his pockets for his wallet. He pauses.
“No, that’s impossible. We spoke last night, early this morning.”
There’s a nervy shuffling at the other end.
“He’s been in a coma love. He died at 3am.”
After a moment he clicks shut the phone.
The girl shifts and twitches beside him and sits up, looks over at him. He stares at the floor. His head swimming with shame, with misinformation. He looks over.
She’s so different from last night. Dark circles under grey eyes, twisted limbs. A pain inside her. As she shifts he sees that there’s a scar on the inside of her forearm, like a cross or an X. As if it has been scored into her flesh with the point of a knife. He stares at it, and an indefinable feeling hits him, like something cold crawling in his veins. Like the scar is a sign. Like it means something.
He feels sick. The girl gazes steadily at him. She smiles a strange smile. Her voice seems to come from very far off.
“You don’t even realise, do you?”
He stares over at her.
“What? Realise what?”
“That everything’s about to change. Everything.”
Her eyes are all he can see.
“You better be ready.”
And he understands how it could happen. For the first time, he knows he’s his father’s son.
To Be Continued...