My dad was at the pub in his usual seat. He didn’t look up when I came in, didn’t look up until I was standing awkwardly right in front of him. He looked tired. He didn’t have a drink in front of him and his fingers kept rearranging themselves in restless lattice patterns. His yellowed nicotine fingertips looked strangely beatific, like stigmata. The pub air felt heavy like the start of a migraine.
‘You gonna get me a drink or what?’
I automatically put my hands in my pockets, traced the outlines of a few coins. What I had to live on for the rest of the week.
‘Buy one yourself’.
He sneered at me. He had a devastating sneer. It felt like someone pulling your trousers down in front of a girl you really liked. And of course, she catches a glimpse of your sad flaccid cock and laughs, all mean-mouthed and gorgeous. ‘Look, it’s the least you can fucking do. I’m the one that’s been dead a week, after all’.
‘That’s why I’m quite surprised to see you here’.
‘I’m not going anywhere without a drink’.
I glanced at the bartender. I knew her, sort of, and was pretty sure that she’d sub me one if I put in a few words about my current circumstances and looked suitably distraught. I had been hoping for a bit of privacy, a bit of space to drink myself into somewhere new. I was in no mood for a reunion.
‘What are you doing here? What do you want?’
‘Are you thick or something? I want a drink’.
‘That’s what killed you’.
‘So? Better to be killed by that than something less enjoyable’.
We eyed each other, on guard, mutual predators. He broke the silence. ‘Alright, forget it. Just sit down here for a minute. Come on, sit down next to your old Dad’.
His eyes flashed and I knew then that the tug-of-war was over. I was to do as I was told. ‘Just fucking sit down’.
I sat down.
‘Do you remember when I first caught you with one of my beers?’
I tensed up with the cold steel of bad memories. I waited for a second until I was certain my voice was steady. ‘Yeah. You took me down to the off-licence and we spent the whole of your dole money on alcohol. All kinds. Then we went home and you poured it all together in several of mum’s mixing bowls. I remember that it smelt horrible. Then you made me fill up every cup in the house with the stuff. Then you made me drink it. After a while, when I felt really sick and started to refuse, you held me down and pinched my nose until I opened my mouth’.
He nodded. ‘Well, you had to learn. You threw up a lot, do you remember? I got you to throw up into that piece of shit fruit bowl your mother found at a jumble sale’.
‘And then you made me drink the vomit as well’.
‘Well, I wasn’t about to clean up after you’.
‘No. Of course not’. It was the texture of it all that was actually worse than the taste. The remains of my school dinner swimming in bile and acid. To this day, I can only drink vodka, neat, over ice. Anything else tastes like a contamination.
‘Anyway. That’s why you owe me a drink. I got you drunk once; you can return the favour’.
I’ve had enough. Even dead, he can be an unimaginable bastard. I get up to leave but then suddenly, he grabs my hands from across the table. His eyes bore into mine and they look like dead space.
‘You should hate me’, he says. ‘Why did you never hate me?’
I have no real answer for this. ‘You were my father’.
He shakes his head slowly, deliberately. ‘You should try to start hating me. It might help. Promise you’ll try’.
I pull my hands away, wipe them on my jeans. ‘I’ll give it a go’, I say as I turn my back on him and leave the pub. Outside, it’s beginning to get dark and it’ll keep getting dark. Nothing can stop the night from falling.
© 2011 Emma Mould
Image: Larry Clark, 'Untitled 1963' from Tulsa