Your Father Sends His Love




W. W. Norton & Company

Independent Publishers Since 1923

New York • London

L.I.B., C.V.E.
















The men were called to stop, to down tools, to come and listen. He heard and saw it from the crest of the hill, looking down onto the building site: the foreman's fingers-in-mouth whistle, his waving of hands, the gradual hush of machinery. He watched his father, the last to stop and wipe hands; the last to join the gathering men in the gathering silence. This is how he remembers him: sweated clothes, a clumsy shuffle, apologetically tardy. A look on his face, worn often, of overwhelming concern. No sound of blade on brick, no cement churn, no excavation of earth. Just the quiet framing him.

The son stood and with the stolen telephone took a photograph. He shot photograph after photograph; the shutter-sound following each rapid tap. His father was to the right of the foreman, still wiping his hands. The son focused on the foreman: his fatty face and stained teeth, a too-small hardhat on Irish curls. He talked slowly. He shook his head. Nothing he could do. The son moved the viewfinder to the workers, shot them in their questions
and anger, then back to his father, still wiping his hands on the rag.

The foreman finished his speech and the men disbanded: unhappy, angry. The son shot them fetching their belongings from the Portakabins, some no more than youths, lighting cigarettes, kicking the scrub, kicking the weeds. His father stayed where he was, looking up to the sky, down to the dirt. The son pinched the screen until his father's face was in his hands. He took one last photograph and switched to video. Again his father looked up to the sky, down to the dirt. The son was still taping as his father made for the Portakabins. Men smoked and heaved holdalls over shoulders, called to one another, organized which pub, pointed their fingers at the foreman.

When his father emerged he was clean and dressed in casual clothes; hair wet, a third darker, covering the grey. The foreman back-clapped him, the only one still there, saw him out and locked down the site.

The boy took more photographs. The left-behind machines and materials. Plastic flapping in a soft breeze. The suggestion of houses. The ruins and scatter. He thought of the
Marie Celeste
. Her sailors gusted into the atmosphere, harvested by someone, something. The son took one last photograph, the wire-mesh fence up close to the phone's lens, then went back to his bike and back
pack, lay down and scrolled through the photographs. The son watched the site emptying then filling, emptying then filling, until it was time to head home.

Remember this. Remember when. Always remember. In the period immediately before leaving a town, his father would briefly turn to the future, all his talk of how much better it would be somewhere else. But this was always short-lived. Within a week of arrival he would wind backwards. Remember when. Remember how small. Remember the smell. Remember the neighbour. Remember what I told you. His oilcloth face, age and weather blessed, smiling sometimes, always with that word on his lips.

But since arriving in town the father had only looked forward. Even his long body and tightly compacted waist affected a progressive lean. A week after starting at the new site, he'd walked his son across town, through the park and a council estate to a large area of fenced-in scrubland. They'd walked the perimeter, calves cramping at the gradient. When they reached the crest of the hill, his father stopped.

‘Birdseye view,' he said.

Wasteland surrounded a man-made lake, its water furred with algae.

‘But don't look at it as it is now,' he said, ‘imagine what it will be like!'

From the back pocket of his jeans he unfolded an artist's impression of Lakelands. He handed it to his son and they looked over it, orienteering for the future.

In the artist's impression, the lake had been dredged and reconditioned, a narrow shoreline running beside it, stock-image couples taking an afternoon's walk along the track. Stock-image families picnicked on the kidney-shaped grasslands, while stock-image dogs played ball with stock-image children. To the east of the lake, a stock-image man left the boathouse, sailboard under his arm, heading to join those already catching the breeze. Stock-image lapwings and stock-image grebes were added to cloudless, unraining skies; and in driveways stock-image residents unpacked groceries from their stock-image cars. Mostly though there were houses. Hundreds of them; brown-roofed and toy-like, all looking out over the lake.

‘Imagine it,' his father said. ‘The two of us living here, by the water's edge. Just imagine!'

‘I'm trying,' the son said.

‘Wouldn't it be great?'

‘Amazing,' the son said.

‘There's a deal,' the father said. ‘The company are offering an amazing deal. Discounts. No money down. We could live here, if you wanted. We really could.'

The son looked at his father, the way he gripped the artist's impression.

‘I'd love that,' he said.


‘Yes. Really.'

‘I wanted to check. I wanted to be sure,' he said. ‘Because you said you liked the school. But I just wanted to be sure. Honestly, these are the best houses I've ever seen. En-suite bathroom. Good-sized gardens. Look at them. Imagine living in one of those. Look at that view!'

He grabbed the boy into a clinch. The boy could hear his father's heart. His father laughed. He laughed all the way home, even when a summer squall quickly drenched them. They stopped off at a pub and drip-dried in the canopied beer garden.

‘This'll be our local,' he said. ‘We'll come here and you can have your first pint. Legal pint, that is. Then we'll walk home. Maybe we could start fishing. Night fishing. A camping stove. A tent to sleep in.'

‘That sounds great,' he said to his father. ‘Just great.'

When they got home, his father tacked the artist's impression to the kitchen wall. It overlooked them as they sat at the table, each imagining the future as they ate breakfasts and dinners.

The morning after the foreman had closed the site, his
father stared at the stock images, eating cereal without concentration; drops of milk on the grey of his stubble.

‘I lost track of time,' his father said, still looking at the wall. ‘I'm so sorry.'

‘It's okay.'

‘It's not. I should have called.'

He looked at the boy, saw his own young face. Shorter hair on the boy than him, though; run through with clippers.

His father got up from the table and placed his bowl in the sink.

‘What did you get up to yesterday?' he said.

‘Up to the rec,' his son said. ‘We played football. It was like eighteen-a-side at one point. Some kid chipped his tooth and there was a bit of a fight. Jordan and me, we went down the town too. Sat in the park, watched the world go by.'

‘The girls go by?'

The boy said nothing. A bow of the head.

‘Today?' his father asked.

‘Jordan and me might go watch a film. There's a whole load of us going.'

‘That a hint?' His father smiled, took a note from his pocket and handed it over.

‘Thank you,' the boy said.

‘You're welcome,' his father said. ‘I can't remember
the last time I went to the pictures. I'd like to go some time. Perhaps we can go together one night?'

‘Won't you be late?' the boy said. ‘It's twenty to.'

‘Yeah,' his father said. ‘I should make a move.' He stood.

‘See you later,' his father said. ‘Love you.'

Kiss. Kiss. Same as wherever. Whenever. Kiss. Kiss, on the cheek, on the crown of his head. And then gone.

The boy looked down on the development. Around the foundations and shells of houses, heaved dirt settled in heaps. He took photographs. A video, five minutes or so. Hands held as still as he could, but with a tremble to the film. He watched it back while sitting cross-legged, sandwiches close to hand.

He played the video four times. Midway through, a bird landed on the fencepost and looked around. Should have been a vulture, but instead a starling. A couple more joined it soon after, then left; their chattering just audible.

He watched them fly away and was about to press play again when he noticed a woman standing beside him: grey-blonde hair, baggy jeans and a zipped-up fleece, looking over Lakelands. There was no lead, no dog snuffing the weeds and grass.

‘So what happened?' she said. She sounded like a
teacher, one of the many; soft voice, worn with caring and its lack.

‘I don't know,' he said. ‘Yesterday, they just stopped.'

‘I heard them take the equipment last night,' she said. ‘Hell of a noise.'

She made a quick puffing noise with her mouth. He went back to the screen, pressed play again.

‘I've seen you here before,' she said. ‘I live up there' – she thumbed back to the thin line of houses airbrushed from the artist's impression – ‘and every morning I see you. Every afternoon. With your phone and your sandwiches.'

He pressed stop on the video and took a photograph of the woman.

‘I thought you might know what had gone on,' she said.

‘I don't know any more than you,' he said.

‘Oh, I doubt that,' she said. ‘I very much doubt that.'

She kicked at something in the grass with her unbranded sports shoes.

‘I'm sorry to have bothered you,' she said.

‘Sorry,' he said. ‘If I knew, I'd say.'

The woman looked like someone who had once worn too much make-up and now wore none at all. The kind of woman his father was always letting down; never quite living up to his first few months of promise.

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