Before I begin, I feel I owe a small explanation as to what on earth today’s post is all about. I recently posted on social media enquiring about which types of fiction you might like to read on my blog. The response was fairly 50/50 for short stories/longer stories broken up into separate posts, so I imagine there will be a combination of the two over time. I began writing this short story but with work/life/other getting in the way, I didn’t get quite as far as I wanted. So, this time around it’s the opening of a short story, titled ‘Letters from my Father’. Enjoy – and please do offer feedback!
I found the letters on my 18th birthday.
Before then, my father was a series of question marks and awkward silences. I might as well have been the result of an immaculate conception (except I certainly wasn’t capable of doing any of that life-changing god stuff). I was told the same things most children who didn’t know their father were told: he didn’t stick around, you’re better off without him, he doesn’t matter. My response was always the same, a whine worthy of accompanying foot-stomping, the ‘why can’t I just know who he is?’ line that made my mother’s jaw tighten. It’s funny how the word ‘just’ can make even the most complicated of requests seem small and insignificant. I just want to know about the man who obviously hurt you enough that you can’t bear to talk about him, mother. Just. It’s not a bother.
She never faltered over those 18 years either. Not even when I cried because my friends in primary school were picked up by their daddies and I wanted one of those too. Not even when I threatened to run away from home, begging to be fostered so I could be a part of a ‘normal’ family. Not even when I told my mother I wished that she’d been the one to leave, not my father. (Which was as utterly stupid to say as it was entirely incorrect). She took the spiteful words that my angry teenage personality spat at her and she swallowed any reaction she might have had.
As I matured, I admired her for sticking to her guns, though probably always resented her a little bit too. While I remained curious about the unknown, my newly-fledged adult self had grown to accept that it wasn’t an answer I was likely to receive – least of all from her. When the topic of conversation came up among friends, I’d bat it away with the same words my mother used to say.
On the morning of my 18th birthday, I bundled down the stairs to a neat pile of cards and presents on the dining room table.
“Happy Birthday, love!” My mother, with a grin twice the size of her face and a badly veiled tear in her eye.
“Thanks mum,” I gave her a brief hug and plucked the first of my cards from the pile. I had gotten more than most birthdays, I guess because 18 was so much more significant than most, so even the distant relatives who couldn’t care less felt the need to send one. And finally I came across one with such unfamiliar handwriting that even my mother couldn’t work out whose it was.
I know you’re thinking that it must have been from my father: the mystery man who had haunted my childhood. But it wasn’t.
It was from his mother.
As far as milestone birthday cards go, this one was pretty unassuming. Dear Emily…Have a wonderful day…£20 note tucked inside. No different from the rest, until I laid my eyes on the signature – Elizabeth – your loving grandmother.
Seconds later, I felt the card being whipped from my hands. I heard the soft tear of cheap card and watched my mother scurry away into the kitchen, no doubt preparing herself for the questions I’d be bursting to ask. Surprisingly (perhaps more for myself than my mother), I had nothing to say. No burning questions, confusion or anger. I was left with the overwhelming sense that I’d just have to get on with my life no matter what happened, so why bother trying to get any more out of it now? Some might call that resignation.
I simply opened up the next sealed envelope on the pile, reading quickly and announcing that Aunt Jan had given me a cheque for £50.
My mother’s face was a picture as she slowly shuffled back into the room.
“£50? You lucky thing.”
I smiled, giving a nod in agreement. “We don’t have to talk about… that right now.”
“I appreciate that, darling, but I think it’s time we did talk.”
“Ok,” I puffed my cheeks and blew for emphasis as I sat down, “This is the last thing I expected.”
“Wait until you hear my story.” My mother cracked a smile, though not an entirely happy one.