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My father's vice. (Short story)

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    I watched you for an hour today. I’m not sure if you could see me. It wouldn’t matter if you could I suppose. But I’m always guarded when I watch you. People like me shouldn’t pay too much attention to people like you. You were sat on a bench in the town centre when I first realised you were there. Nothing you were doing caught my eye particularly. You were just sat there, smoking a cigarette.

    You smoked four while we were there. You were using matches to light them, but seemed to be struggling because it was windy. I couldn’t help but smile at this: you, bent double over a matchbox, striking furiously one match after the other, only to see it extinguished within two seconds of a faint spark. I don’t like you smoking – I know that you’re clever, and it bothers me that you do it despite knowing it’s bad for you. It bothers me that I can’t do anything to stop you.

    I realise when you are trying to light your second cigarette that I am not the only person watching you. There is a boy sitting on the same bench as you, on the other end, and he must be about your age. He keeps glancing in your direction, almost nervously, like a twitching rabbit. Nervousness does not become him – he is a handsome looking boy, dressed fashionably and with a stylish mop of dark hair that is so sprayed that the wind moves it as one heavy mass. He sits confidently, leaning forwards with his elbows on his knees, his head supported in his hands, but he looks at you quickly, turning before you notice. He does this about ten times before he moves, sitting back and stretching his back out. You have still not noticed him noticing you. I realise at this point that he looks nervous because he wants to talk to you. I figure that you don’t know him, or else he would have spoken to you by now. He must like the look of you. This thought makes me a bit uneasy, although I know it is wholly irrational. I know you are beautiful, I can see that, but I cannot see you through the eyes of a teenage boy.

    The boy moves his hand in to the pocket of his jeans, shuffles along the bench in your direction, and holds a lighter out to you. He says something that I cannot hear from my position by the window of the café, and you look at him and smile. You reach out, take the lighter from him, and try to light your cigarette again. But it is still too windy. I see your fingers move urgently over the wheel of the lighter; you clearly don’t want to inconvenience this boy. He seems to notice this as well, and he holds out a hand to shield the end of your cigarette from the wind. As he moves his hand away, the cigarette flares bright. You return the lighter to him and smile sweetly. A conversation has been sparked and I sit and watch you talk to him, small talk that a Daddy knows is known of his business. He makes you laugh a couple of times, and a smile stays on your face throughout the conversation. I want to go outside and sit on the wall that runs behind the bench you are both sat on, and hear what you are talking about with this boy. But I’m not bold enough. You would ignore me again. Because who am I to you? So I stay where I am, watching.

    I see your friends approaching before you do – you are facing away from them as you talk to the boy. They see you with him and stop and watch, as I am watching. They seem excited by the fact that you are talking to this boy. They seem unsure what to do. After a brief tete a tete, they make their way over to you and the boy. You smile at them but I can see that you are disappointed that they arrived at this time. The boy looks uncomfortable again. My view of you is obstructed now as your friends form a circle with you and the boy. After a brief time, the three of you walk off together, leaving the boy sitting alone. Your friends glance back at him as you walk away in a close line, arms linked tightly. One of them throws her head back in laughter at something the other says, and you skip a couple of steps ahead of them, dancing lightly on the pavement and laughing aloud. You are still in clear view of the boy but do not realise that he is watching you. I see him smile and shake his head in dignified resignation. Your friends jog to catch up with you, and you turn the corner together, leaving my view completely.

    I get up from the table and leave the café, and when I look at the bench I see that the boy has gone already. I did not see him leave, or in which direction he went. I go to sit at the bench, where you were sat. I think I smell a faint trace of shampoo, perfume and cigarette smoke, but I am not sure if I am imagining it. I sit on the bench for ten minutes, and then I realise that I am late for my check-in. Again. I run from the high street and flag down a cab on the main road.

    “Police station mate, quick as you can.”

    .

    On my thirteenth birthday, Mum told me that my father was a sex offender. Not in so many words. But I could figure it out. She said he was unwell, and that he felt things that adults shouldn’t feel, and he couldn’t control these things. Mum said that it is important I know where I come from, because where I come from is my identity, but that does not mean that I have to be where I come from. She said that we have Clive, and Clive is as good a Dad as I could want. I know this. I love Clive almost as much as I love Mum. Mum talks about my father like this because she has a psychology degree, and she believes that if I know who I am, who I think I am, and who I want to be, then I can work on making these three things the same, and then I can be fulfilled. When she told me this I asked her if she was fulfilled and she went quiet for a bit and said “I’m fulfilled in many ways. Do you know where I put my car keys?”

    That was three years ago now. Mum hasn’t mentioned my father since then. Clive tried to bring it up a couple of times, but I didn’t want to talk to him about it. The more that Clive talks about my father, the more I think Clive doesn’t feel like my Dad. But I think Clive wants me to know it’s OK if I don’t always feel like he is my Dad. Which I do. I think that Clive is my Dad and wants to be my Dad, but he doesn’t know he is my Dad. I suppose he isn’t very fulfilled.

    It’s been a few months since my father’s name has been mentioned by anyone now. It’s due. Especially because he’s probably out now. He was sentenced to 19 years, but last we heard he’d been behaving himself in prison and was due to be released just after my 16th birthday. 16 years after he was sent down. I never asked Mum where he would live when he came out. They lived together before he was arrested. But he won’t be coming back, obviously. He’ll probably find a flat somewhere quiet. Or I can imagine him in a bungalow in the suburbs somewhere.

    I didn’t tell my friends what Mum told me on my thirteenth birthday. They knew Clive wasn’t my real father, but they never questioned it. My two best friends have normal families. They both have their real Mum and Dad married, and brothers and sisters. We’re just me, Mum and Clive. They complain about their brothers and sisters a lot though. I guess I’m quite lucky. It makes me feel older than them too. I don’t have to share my parents with young kids; I’m just treated like a grown up at home. Clive even lets me smoke in his car sometimes, but we don’t tell Mum. He smokes – has done since he was my age, he said. Mum doesn’t like it, and she blamed him for me smoking at first. I don’t know why I started it. I don’t think it was because of Clive. But I quite like being a smoker. And I know that I am a smoker. So maybe it’s a good thing, in a way. I guess I’d quite like to know if my father smokes. I don’t imagine he did. But maybe he took it up in prison. Maybe he felt like he needed some kind of vice.

    Mum said his ‘illness’ was a vice. I wasn’t sure what that meant at thirteen, and now that I do I’m not sure it makes sense. Because if he was ill then it wasn’t his fault. I asked Clive once if smoking was his vice, and he said no because a vice is something wicked, and then he laughed and said that Mum is probably his vice. Clive and Mum are like a couple of teenagers sometimes. They’ve been together since I was a little girl, but it’s like the honeymoon period hasn’t worn off yet. I sometimes wonder if Mum was like that with my real father at one time. I wonder if she was his vice too. Before he was ill. If he was hers. Sometimes, I wonder if there’s any hope for me, if all of my parents have wickedness inside of them.


    I wrote the first part of this a while ago, and added the second part today. Not sure if I want it there or not! Thanks for reading, and comments would be really appreciated.

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Updated: April 13, 2012
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