Beard

Father grew a beard. I told him that he looked
scruffy. He said he’d earned the right to wear
his whiskers long. I pointed out that potential
employers preferred clean shaven staff. He’s
said this was ludicrous, and where did I get my
crazy notions. This was the closest to argument
we’d come for a considerable time. Clarissa
claimed to like Father’s new look, particularly
the ginger streaks in his full beard. I realized that
our insignificant chatter signalled a near return
to normality. Despite Mother, despite Elizabeth,
we were somehow healing.

Cutbacks

Father had received some bad news. His work
contract would not be renewed. The firm was
making major cutbacks. This meant that Father
needed to search for alternative employment.
At his age this would be difficult. Father had
invested significant sums into the franchise.
He was heavily in debt. We would all need to
tighten our belts. I offered to take a menial
dishwashing job, to supplement our income.
Father was touched but said this wouldn’t be
necessary. We’d get by. Every morning before
school I watched Father scouring the employment
columns. His head was hung low so he could
see the newspaper’s small print. When I left,
he grunted a goodbye. Things were clearly dire.

Remembrance

Father lay a bouquet of wild flowers beneath
Mother’s birch tree, which was thriving. He
addressed Mother’s spirit in a few solemn,
well-considered words. Suddenly I realized how
much he missed her. He had never vocalized
his grief. This didn’t diminish it. I found myself
crying. Clarissa squeezed my hand comfortingly.
Elizabeth’s suicide, Dan’s alcoholism, had
overshadowed Mother’s passing. It was time
to honour her now.

Anniversary

It was the first anniversary of Mother’s demise.
I felt guilty that Father had to remind me of this
occasion. I didn’t know how we should honour
the day. Whatever we did, it should be something
solemn and proper. Somehow a family meal
seemed inappropriate, but that was what Father
suggested. We purchased some modest fare
online, then Clarissa cooked up an honorary
banquet. As she stirred innumerable pans and
I sliced leafy vegetables, Clarissa asked me about
Mother. Simple questions. A lump rose in my
throat and my eyes bleared as I answered Clarissa.
She could see it was disturbing me, so she
desisted. When the food was ready, Father
poured wine and we toasted Mother’s memory.
The simple act was very moving. I felt the tears
prick behind my eyes. Father lowered his head
in a silent prayer, and then we ate.

Broodiness

I had tried to ignore Clarissa’s broodiness. I still
found it strange, that an independent, intelligent
teenage woman should wish for babies. I suppose
I understood nothing. I avoided the subject like
the plague. But I knew Clarissa dwelt on it. She
would throw me a pregnant glance at the dinner
table, which quite unhinged my composure.
I thought about talking it through with Father.
But he would probably smirk and make lewd
faces. Clarissa clearly wished for marriage too.
I shied away from that terrifying word. I found it
hard to glance at Clarissa. Surely she would
notice this. I predicted rocky waters ahead.

Sale

Dan wanted to sell up. He had no more enthusiasm
for his farm. On the proceeds, he could purchase
a modest town house. That way he’d be out of
our hair. Father assured Dan that he was always
welcome. It seemed a radical, misguided act.
Agriculture was in Dan’s bloodstream. It would
be like lopping off a limb. Elizabeth’s childhood
was also tangled into the mix. But Dan was
adamant. He jested about rising late, after a
lifetime up at the crack of dawn. I thought it a
sad decision. But I’d only lost a girlfriend, not
a daughter. That changed people’s lives.

Limp

Dan came back to our place. The hardware had
been removed from his leg, but he still needed
crutches. From now on, Dan would always walk
with a limp. Clarissa tried hard to keep him
cheerful. She tied purple bows to his crutches
and made a lavish welcome home dish of sauced
prawns and fragrant rice. It was fabulous. Dan
thrust a pillow under his leg and ate like a starved
man. The hospital food had been unspeakable,
he said. Father offered to nip out for some beer,
but Dan declined, saying it would interfere with his
strong painkillers. This was progress. Dan’s fingers
were noticeably trembling, but he had a firmer hold
on his addiction. Father promised to clear out the
box room and give Dan a proper bed. We had a
new family member.

Nothing

Dan had been hit by a car. His leg was smashed
and mangled. He’d been on his way to the bottle
shop, and was undoubtedly plastered. Dan had
become a fixture in our home, so we were all
concerned. His drinking must stop. Even a
bereaved Father had to move on. Later, we all
stood around Dan’s hospital bed. His leg was
braced in a fearsome metallic contraption. I felt
sure there were bolts drilled into Dan’s bones.
Dan was heavily medicated. He said that he felt
nothing. His mood was sombre. He promised
Father that he’d lay off the booze. I believed him.

Inconceivable

Clarissa and I had taken no precautions. It was
irresponsible of me. Teenage parenthood would
be disastrous. I didn’t want that responsibility.
Yet we did nothing to prevent such an outcome.
Each month I was on tenterhooks. Fortunately
Clarissa was like clockwork, and nothing
transpired. I knew I should broach the subject
of the pill. We spoke. I was flabbergasted when
Clarissa said she wanted our baby. Nothing
would make her happier. A dreamy expression
descended into her eyes. It was the look of
motherhood. In my head, alarm bells sounded.
It was inconceivable. Sensibly, realistically, we
had to talk this through.

Inseparable

When Clarissa read my poem, she recognized it
was a declaration of love. She was solemn for a
while, then she kissed me passionately. The poor
girl was dead, so I was forgiven. Clarissa and I
grew inseparable. She stayed over most nights.
I was surprised that her parents didn’t object.
Father had grown fond of Clarissa. His early
frostiness had warmed into a pleasant summery
fondness. I was delighted to see them chortling
happily together at meal times. Occasionally Dan
came around. Father invited him to read the poem.
Dan’s eyes watered, but he said nothing. Soon the
two men would be quaffing jugs of beer at the
kitchen table. I worried that Dan might be drifting
into full-blown alcoholism. He often crashed on
our couch. I wondered what was happening to
his farm in Devon. Father had told me there was
a caretaker farmer but, eventually, Dan would
have to face his ghosts at home.