He looked at me and half smiled. He looked nervous as he waked in. he was going to say something. I thought he was. He didn’t. He just put the parcels on the big armchair in the parlour. He sat by the fire, he smiled an empty smile. Still silence.
“Patrick, give me a hand love,” ma said.
I walked to the kitchen, she handed me a drink for Da. I wondered if they would spend the day in different rooms. As I gave him the drink I wondered if he knew how I felt when he left. Did he care how I felt? Things had to be so proper; men shake hands; men don’t hug. I wanted a hug. I wanted him to say sorry I knew he never would.
I sat down facing the fire. I didn’t know what to say to him. I just sat, running my fingers over the threads on the frayed arm of the chair. Then he spoke.
“What have you been up to Patrick? Have you been good?”
“Yes Da, I’ve been helping ma do the shopping”.
He seemed to think for a moment. Then he stood up.
“Let’s see what’s for dinner then”. He said.
As I watched him walk to the kitchen, I remembered the last time he was in there.
Fist clenched, ma leaning back. I swallowed the image. But that feeling was still there; that pain in my chest. Should I have followed him in? I just sat there. Watching the flames dance in the fire. Like snakes writhing round each other, like the uneasiness writhed in my belly. I don’t know how long I sat there. It felt like ages. I should have followed him in.
Their voices were hushed. Too quiet to hear what was being said. I wanted be there, with my ma. He never thumped her when I was there. I was the man of the house. Men look after people. But I wasn’t a man. I was only a kid. So I sat there.
I heard him yell, Ma muttering something in the background. He’d only been back a bit. I stared at those flames, twisting around each other. Then the sound of breaking glass, like the tinkling of tiny bells. Christmas bells.
“You’re the man of the house Patrick,” she’d said.
I stood up, and walked to the kitchen. It felt like walking through treacle. I didn’t want to go in. I couldn’t leave her. She had always been there for me. I couldn’t leave her. I was the man of the house; more of a man than him.
A glass had been knocked off the table. Ma was...