The click of the back-door snib wakes me before sun-up. For a second, I can smell the sleeping river.
Da walks the riverbank at night because since the war, he’s had no peace. After the winter air raid, he searched for a woman’s baby. She said it weren’t hers, but it were. She just didn’t want to see it. He found it in her fireplace.
I creep downstairs. When my eyes are used to the dark kitchen, things start showing theirselves; the pint of milk on the cold shelf, the white stripes on the blue cups hanging on the dresser and Mam’s apron dangling from a nail, a half-inch of envelope sticking out of the pocket.
It’s addressed to Mam. Margaret, it says. I shouldn’t take it out.
In his note, Da says he’s dogged every minute.
In the range, coals are shifting, changing places. Holding the piece of paper, I sit on his chair. The cushion is flattened right down. Still warm.
A wasp dogged us when we went early-morning fishing. Wouldn’t give over. Buzzing about, dive-bombing me head, burrowing in me hair.
“Get in the water, son,” Da said.
We broke the blinding skin of first sunlight on the water. The wasp followed.
“Swim ’til you can’t swim anymore. I’m right behind you,” Da said.
“It won’t leave me be,” I shouted, head whipping side to side, arms pumping, legs thrashing.
“Head under,” he said, calm as you like.
And down we went, me and him inside the cool, green cavern. When we came up, the wasp had gone.
The note says not to dwell. Dwelling’s a terrible curse, it says.
While we dripped, then steamed, then baked on the bank, I never dwelt on the wasp, not once.
We’re learning how to do summaries at school, sifting a stranger’s page of writing into a sentence of our own, in words we choose for the writer because he’s not chosen them hisself. But it’s dead hard, shedding light on all that’s hidden between, then above, then beneath the print. I don’t mean shining a torch and staring close-up at the tiny chips of tree bark in the paper. But, daft beggar that I am, I did try it. Anyroad, you can’t find summat if you don’t know what’s missing.
So while the sun paints a golden stripe between the kitchen curtains, me brain aches with finding the unseen words for me da.
The writer has gone for a swim, until he can’t swim no more. And then whatever’s vexing him (supposed to use him/her, but already know writer’s a fella) will have given over and he’ll see us later (goodbye can mean see you later).
We’re not meant to use and and then, but bugger it, I’m dog-tired. I steal half a biscuit and tiptoe back to bed.
Then the patter of Mam’s slippers on the stairs, then the clink of the nail, then the whisper of the paper unfolding, and then her scream.