By Fergus Caulfield
Catherine was worried about him. Not because of her father’s age so much, a healthy sixty-five-year-old by anyone’s standards, used to his own company; her mother ( his wife) having passed a few years before. Those years had been tough but they had pulled together and eventually pulled through together, making the most of happy memories and timely goodbyes, becoming closer and stronger without fuss or unrealistic expectation.
With forty years serving as a Garda under his belt, half a dozen Dublin marathons (some years ago now) and the timeless reminder of his amateur boxing days still visible by his old broken nose, he was a man of substance both physically and mentally.
Whether he agreed with you or not, he would always give you the courtesy of listening, and never failed to offer a solution or answer that he thought best solved the problem.
If you didn’t pick the only obvious course of action; which was usually his suggestion, there wouldn’t be any “I told you so,” anger or obvious disappointment, maybe just a quiet sigh, waiting the inevitable, but so discreet and part of his character you could never be sure.
But something was different about him and she was concerned; for both her father and herself. She couldn’t pinpoint what this difference was and Catherine thought she knew her dad like the back of her hand. Now she wasn’t so sure.
She had known, and been close to him all her life, but of course she hadn’t known her father all his life, and now, for some reason that she couldn’t put her finger on, there was something going on, and she didn’t like it. She wasn’t comfortable with the unknown in her family life. Was she imagining this? No way, regardless of a lack of any tangible evidence.
Catherine had become so worried, with more than a hint of curiosity, she had persuaded her brother Phillip to fly over from Liverpool to investigate, even though he wasn’t due his six monthly visit for a while yet.
Phillip couldn’t see what the fuss was about before he arrived home in Ireland, and when he left two days later after discreetly prodding his father as best he could over a few pints, he was still none the wiser. If anything, his father seemed happier and more content than usual. Phillip certainly couldn’t spot any signs that there was anything to worry about, none of which reassured his sibling in the slightest.
Catherine had considered all the usual possibilities; including the serious and unimaginable – that he was seriously ill, or, had a lady friend. Catherine had even convinced herself that one day she would knock on the family door to be answered by the new Mrs Hughes.
“Oh come in dear”, her step mother would surely say, “your father has told me all about you”. Catherine hadn’t yet finalised what her reply would be. It couldn’t be too rude, but the decrepit old lady would have to be clear where her place in this family was, regardless of what her new husband had sweetly told her. Not that her father shouldn’t have a wife she had to grudgingly admit. He was still a fine man and her mother had been a classic beauty, a mirror image of Catherine herself, but this wasn’t a development that Catherine was ready for, and maybe never would.
It was driving her mad. What could it be? Maybe she should just ask him outright, but she didn’t hold out much hope of a straight answer. As open as he was with advice and opinion, his emotions and personal thoughts were always private.
It would have been something if she had a husband or boyfriend to offload her frustration, but she was very single at present, and her little black cat didn’t seem to understand, no matter how much Catherine spoke to her or tried to bribe her with treats. There was only one solution left and that was to have this out in the open.
He would have to speak to her whether he liked it or not. With resolution clear in her mind a peaceful night’s sleep followed.
As soon as she had finished work the next day she called round to her dad’s house, who unusually, wasn’t at home. There was no time like the present for Catherine, so she rang his mobile, which he answered almost immediately – also unusual in itself.
“Where are you Dad? I need to speak to you,” she demanded.
“I’m down the road,” was his reply. “I needed to speak to you as well funny enough, pop down here and have a chat.” And he hung up without waiting for a reply.
“Down the road”, referred to the pub a hundred metres away. As Catherine marched towards enlightenment she couldn’t help but talk aloud to herself, “You wanted to chat. Of course you did. The wedding date has been set I suppose.”
Flouncing into the warm interior she immediately saw her dad halfway through his pint, standing up to kiss her flustered rosy cheek – something he hadn’t done since….she couldn’t even remember. He must be feeling guilty.
“Sit down love. I got you a glass of wine, thought you might need it.” She was ready to spit feathers but took a sip of her drink and composed herself.
“Right Dad, off you go so. I’m all ears.” He looked a little sheepish and twirled the porter around in his glass, for once, slow to start.
“I’ve been on the internet” he started; “you know… the computer… down at the library.”
“On the internet is it?” Catherine interrupted, “I know what a computer is alright, haven’t you become the modern man. Now let’s see if I can guess what you have been doing on the internet…looking for a woman by any chance?” she hissed at him.
“A woman?” he asked surprised. “Good God no! I have been looking for a man…”
“For a man?” Catherine interrupted, almost choking on her drink. “You’re looking for a man?”
Her father cottoned on to what she was alluding to and laughed. “Not quite Catherine. I was looking for a man, but not for me; and I found him, through that Facebook thing, the man you split up with three years ago, shortly after your mother died – because you wouldn’t go with him to Australia – because you felt too guilty about leaving me on my own.”
Catherine was stunned, “You have been in touch with Jimmy?”
“I have, and I should have done it years ago. The two of you were made for each other. You have wasted enough time on me. It’s time to get on with your own life, and Jimmy thinks so too. Sure ask him yourself,” and he nodded in the direction of the counter where her older but still handsome Jimmy was sitting expectantly (and somewhat nervously) on a stool, not sure of how Catherine would react.
Her dad got up and put on his coat. “I’m off. I’ll leave you with it. If things work out, fantastic, if not, then at least I know I tried. Goodnight and good luck.” And he was off, leaving the two of them staring at each other with regret for the past, hope for the future, and a lot of catching up to do.