written by Warren Mortimer
I remember hiding my mum’s shoes so that the police officer couldn’t drag her out of the house. It was my brother’s plan. Since she only had two sets of boots, we each occupied a pair. I can’t remember the officer arriving, or being there, but after he’d gone, mum referred to him as ‘The British Bulldog’. Now, all I can imagine is Winston Churchill rocking up at our front door and having an all-out row.
My dad had called them, of course. I don’t remember him being there. He was probably upstairs. The house had taken on a divide, somewhere between the upper landing and the bottom of the staircase. Venturing up to bed at night was like breaching enemy lines. My dad was up there somewhere. He would haunt the top of the house like a spectre, as I would haunt him later for every stone he’d thrown against me.
This is important: I saw him crying once. He was crouched in the centre of my brother’s room. In my mind, the walls are splattered with black paint flecked with white so as to give off the illusion of the night’s sky. These walls are lined with portraits of pharaohs; portraits that I’d see again in every room my dad would ever occupy. I was crouched at the top of the stairs, peering through the wooden columns that separated off the upper landing like makeshift prison bars. He sobbed into a handkerchief. Even then, I remember thinking that this piece of fabric might have been some sort of relic. And sat there under the gaze of Egyptians too long dead to allow him a trial, he might have been a thrall, weeping into a length of papyrus.
He saw me, of course.
‘Get out! Leave me!’ he roared, in all his pitiful might.
I wouldn’t see him in that state until over a decade later, when his fiancé turned out to be a prostitute. The rest of the time he was hurting my mum, who would hurt him back. Beating would be the wrong term, because I never saw either one of them throw a punch. Instead they’d try to strangle one another. They’d spit and curse and once or twice the kitchen knife was used. ‘Right, that’s it. You’ve gone too far this time,’ my dad would say.
And for some reason, I had it in my head that he was going to throw her from a window. Maybe I’d witnessed all the adventurous options through which they could hurt one another, and this was the only way that either of them could be killed. I stepped back towards the bedroom window, my bedroom window as far as I remember, not once taking my eyes away from my parents. My dad had my mum in a headlock, but that was fine; she’d get out of that easily enough. It wasn’t the choking that mattered, but the potential of falling from a window. Neither of them shot me a glance or mentioned my name. No ‘how could you do this in front of our child’, or ‘he’s right there, you fucker, right there.’ Their tangled mess of limbs might have waded right through me, like some spaghetti being hauled from a pan. Now I was the waif, unseen, but all-seeing. You have to understand that this was a scene that had played out for month after month.
Just as long as they didn’t reach the window, everything would be okay.
I don’t know how this episode ended. The only injuries were psychological.
I suppose the closest I can come to solace is with a reunion that happened in my early teens. This must have been after the whole prostitute scandal. My dad had turned up at our house covered from head to toe in blood, the way somebody might emerge from the rain; clothes soaked and hair drooping over their eyes. Evidently, he’d made no effort to fix his face up before calling. It turned out his fiancé’s brother had beaten him up, after my dad had thrown his lover down a flight of stairs.
I can remember my parents laughing over this being the sort of thing that might have happened between them, if they hadn’t called it off. Despite all the violence which did occur between them, I knew what they meant. I’d never seen either of them bleed before. At least, not that I can remember.
Whatever the reason, after my dad called that day he began cropping up more and more like some supressed image resurfacing in my mind. My brother and I visited him more often too. It was around Christmas time, and I remember being at his flat, while my dad sat writing Christmas cards. He said: ‘I’m sending you back with a card for your mum. I’m trying to say that I still love her. You know, deep down. But I don’t know how to say it without sounding too… you know.’
He trailed off, but he must have found the words at some point, because when he dropped us off home, he came in to give her the card. For some reason, I just came out with it, and repeated what my dad had said at the flat, more or less verbatim. My mum shrunk off upstairs, the card clasped to her chest. She made some excuse. Probably that she had a card too, and that she’d just go and fetch it. As you can imagine, my dad gave me a bollocking. I can’t remember particularly caring. Already at that age, I must have known that however much I wanted my parents to be happy together, it would be wrong to let it happen. When my dad asked me my thoughts about them getting back together, the most I could conjure up was that it would be cool.
As time went by, they gradually cut off contact with one another. This is how things are in life: sometimes people can really try to make -something happen despite how unhealthy it is, and how much they know it’s wrong. Then other times, they let the potential of happiness slip from them for no reason at all. Maybe my parents knew that that they were chasing after a future best left dead and buried.