By Alex Townley
The tiny fist bangs down on the plastic tray, and he wonders how he got to be here, wearing his least favourite black suit, and pulling silly faces to entertain a two-year-old, just the two of them clearing up the detritus of the wake.
He’d liked her hair, that was it.
He’d been writing his novel. The endless unwritten novel he’d talked about more than worked on through college, and he’d taken in the last few dwindling months of his enthusiasm for it, to sitting in a café, housed in the top floor of a charity shop, slowly making his way through a single cappuccino with complimentary biscotti as he wrote.
She had walked past and he had literally followed her with his nose, like the children in the Bisto gravy advert, the smell of her hair was so wonderfully delicious.
It had made him smile at her, get up and go and talk to her, despite how unEnglish it felt, speaking to a stranger. She had ordered a cream tea complete with clotted cream and a little teapot with its own cozy.
He’d sat there listening to her patient responses to his awkward questions, inhaling her hair, and he’d seen his future.
And here it was in the form of this tiny tyrant, demanding his attention.
She stares at him, noticing somehow that he’s gone away somewhere. She has her mother’s hair, not the magical smell, but the colour. Much of her seems to have come from him, which he intends to apologise for later if she gives him the chance, but her hair glows in the same way as her mother’s, even if it doesn’t smell the same.
She slams the fist down again, catching him off guard, and making him yell out in pain as his own hand gets smashed. His eyes water and he reaches the tender hand up to wipe away a tear, while he makes sure to smile at her, twisting his face up into another funny face as she giggles.
She’s too small still to be doing it on purpose, but only just. He has to make sure to not give her too much leeway, not to go soft on her just because he feels bad, after all, and he can hear his mother’s voice as he thinks this ‘that’s the way to spoil a child’.
He had taken his time to get to know her mother. It had taken months and months of casual conversations in that café, long after the novel had died a natural death, and every now and then, when he felt like he was pressuring her too much, he had backtracked into a friendly wave or a smile, but she kept coming to the café, when she could have stopped, so he persisted.
They had known each other for 11 months when she finally relented and agreed to go out with him, and he pulled out all the stops, with trips he couldn’t really afford to the fanciest restaurants in town, picnics in the park, nights out at secret jazz bars and cutting edge new theatre shows.
It had been worth it too. All of it. He wouldn’t change a thing. They finally got married a decade later, which by the time it happened, seemed hilariously unnecessary. He couldn’t imagine having to discount everything that had come before to name this as a new anniversary. But once they were married, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world, and his new status as a married man filled him with a certain sense of unexpected pride.
The pregnancy was also unexpected, unplanned, unimaginable for eight years of marriage. He hadn’t thought that either of them were type to go in for parenthood, and then after 18 years he thought, they both thought, they’d gone too far down a different road, but sometimes surprises make us, he guessed.
They had enjoyed every week of the pregnancy, which had sailed by fairly painlessly, from the jaw dropping first scan at the local hospital, and the miracle of feeling those tiny kicks, to finally meeting his daughter. His beautiful daughter.
He’d thought then that this was it, this was his life, watching this tiny person stretch and grow and become who she was going to be, while her mother and he smiled on benignly, and sipped chilled white wine on summer evenings in the back garden.
But the universe had other ideas clearly. Because now he was back to square one. Now he was alone all over again. He’d lost the love of his life, and he was left to try and take care of his daughter without her.
He didn’t know how he was going to go on. How he was even supposed to consider starting.
She reaches a hand out to his face, warm and sticky, and full of love, and he pulls her absentmindedly in for a cuddle.
Maybe it’s time to take another look at the novel.
© Alex Townley 2016