Lucky for him he'd got married before the war, what with that ugly phiz he came home with. No, I'll take that back. I don't think a hole--or a missing arm or leg--would have mattered one bit to that lovely young woman. Even if she'd met him for the first time already mutilated, after his return. For I believe my mother and he were made for each other in every way. Except maybe one, which is why I didn't come wailing into the world until six or seven years after the war ended, their first and last child.
Mum and Dad were a matched pair, as close and understanding a couple as any. That's what everyone said, anyway. Of course I'm likely idealizing a bit. I have no idea how many images of our early days as a family are only received memories. But the abiding feeling I've retained down all these years is a sort of brightly optimistic fifties snapshot: Dad grasping one of my hands, Mum holding the other, me toddling happily along between them, occasionally swung up off my feet, both of them laughing. And both of them smiling down at me, arms around each other's waists, after they'd tucked me in bed nights. The two of them doting on each other, doting on me.
And when I was five or six--old enough so that most recollections of the time can be trusted as my own--they were still that way. First thing Dad would do after returning from work each evening was come up behind my mother, who was always aproned and concentrated on whatever she was fixing for supper, and wrap his arms around her, holding her snug to him until she'd turn to be kissed. That done, he'd pretend he'd just noticed me peering shyly from around the door, stomp over like an ogre, change his grimace to a grin and pick me up, his laughter matching my giggles. Then, while Mum finished the cooking, he'd hold me on his lap and ask about my day. Even when I'd grown a bit too big for that sort of thing, he would always sit me down next to him, offer me one tiny sip of his beer, and listen with genuine interest to what I'd been up to at school or at play.
The only time voices were ever raised in our home was when a few of Dad's mates dropped by. Dad was a pressman at the Herald, a big goer for the trade unions and Labour politics, and so were his friends. Often they'd get excited and very loud about some change the newspaper's management was proposing. On many of those nights I'd have my hair ruffled by the big rough hand of one or another of these men, and be told something like "Your Dad's game, Harry. He's one hell of a battler."
Dad must have reserved his fighting spirit for politics and picket lines. There was never any obvious strife between him and Mum. Not that things were always perfect. They did have their spats, their little disagreements, but they kept them fairly quiet, fairly civil. At the very worst (it happened rarely enough that I remember most every occasion), Dad would simply slip out and come home late, with one or two too many pints under his belt. Whatever dispute had caused him to go seemed forgiven and forgotten as soon as he returned.
Then came one departure that sent everything we had to hell.
Mum, with scarely a single sign of feeling ill to warn us, went very quickly, very painfully. It was a cancer so nasty and so intimately feminine that Dad decided I was too young to be told any details about it. And for a while--I was fourteen--it seemed to me it had just about killed Dad as well. That buoyant, energetic man went flat as a blown-out tire.
He kept on with his work and the union and politics, he made some effort each evening to seem interested in my doings, he always managed to throw together something for supper. But I could see he'd gone all hollow, that his mind was someplace I could not fathom or follow.
And some nights, very late, I'd awake to a wracked and wretched sobbing from the bedroom he had always shared with Mum. The most horrible sound I'd ever heard. I never got used to it. Whenever it started I'd cram the pillow tight against my ears, and spend the rest of the night shivering.
from What Harry Saw: A Novel by Thomas Moran, Copyright © September 2002, Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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