The old man hunched awkwardly over his desk, the back of his head lit up by a halo of sunlight streaming through the gap in the curtains. No noise existed in that moment but his breath: shallow and ragged, his lungs feeling every one of his seventy-nine years breathing on this earth. His fingers, gnarly from years of painful arthritic suffering, loosely gripped a biro. The pen was desperate to make contact with the sheet of paper it was hovering over. It was determined to tell the old man’s story. And yet he held off, contemplating the exact words he needed for this, his final communication to his family.
He leant back in his chair. The leather encased him perfectly; the mark of a well-made piece of furniture bought many years before, now fully moulded to its owner. He tapped the biro to his paper-thin lips, muttering to himself. Which words should he use? Of all the thousands upon thousands of words in the English language, he needed only about a couple of pages worth to get his thoughts across. It was imperative for every word to make its mark, like an arrow speeding towards its intended target. He could not afford to miss. He would not be given another chance, as he would be six feet under when this would be revealed. Its recipients needed to be crystal clear as to what was being said.
The antique chair creaked beneath his fragile frame as he jerked forward. He was ready. The pen finally kissed the parchment.
My daughter, Eleanor, and my grandchildren,
When you finally come to read this, I will have already left you. It will have been at the right time as I suspect that I have already overstayed my welcome on this earth. I think it is important for you to know that I had a wonderful time for the most part. Not many souls can say that, so I’m able to part with my life drenched in happiness that I lived my life mostly right.
Your dear mother, grandmother, Mabel was my heart and soul, my love. I will never forget that giddy, light-headedness that hit me, a proper sucker-punch to the gut, when I first laid eyes on her. It made me fall backwards, just seeing her face. She was a real life angel. And I thought I was such a tough guy until then. I’m ashamed to say it but I had been a bit of a cad before I met her, the folly of youth I suspect. She calmed me though and genuinely brought a new meaning to my life when she gave me the gift of fatherhood. With the arrival of you, Eleanor, came a host of new beginnings - wonder, hope, innumerable possibilities. You were a living, breathing miracle. Our dream. Our future.
Despite our best efforts, (which I am sure you will be pleased to hear I won’t go into), we were not blessed with any further children, so we focused all our efforts and poured our precious time into you. I worked two jobs to make ends meet and to keep your mother in good comfort. She wanted you to have the best and who was I to argue? I was smitten with the both of you and would have done anything to make you happy.
You grew up to be a beautiful - if a little spoilt - woman, knowledgeable and quick-witted. I took pride that you had taken those values from me. You looked more like your mother, which of course I was relieved about. I paid for your university degree, your accommodation and gradually increasingly costly lifestyle. You liked nice things, like your mother, and I sometimes found myself in a little trouble trying to keep up. I never told you of course, you did not need know. It was always worth it to see your smile.
I struggle to pin point the exact moment when I realised you were not the person I thought you were. I suppose up until then, I had seen you through the fogged-up spectacles of fatherly love. I had glazed over anything unsightly, which was easy as I did not see you that much on account of working eighty odd hours a week. As expected from those rather implausible hours of employment, I was generally exhausted and tended to only be present for the highlights of your life. That was my fault and I take full blame for that. I saw what I wanted to see, and that happened to be only the good in you. So trust me, it came as a shock to realise just exactly how very selfish and unappreciative you were.
I had happily paid for your extravagant wedding to Joshua with all the unnecessary frivolities. I let more years slide by with the arrivals of the boys: Henry, Edward and Lawrence. I was just so caught up in the whirl of excitement that came with every new Moses basket, every babysitting evening whether planned or last minute, every cry of ‘Grandad!’ I was a sucker for it all. Those boys were the apples of my eyes and didn’t you know it.
It was not until your youngest, Lawrence, was 8 that I noticed you started to become more and more expectant and reliant upon my open wallet policy. I know I had always been generous and I enjoyed giving you everything you wanted, but now you held out a hand without so much as a sideways glance, let alone a mention of your gratitude. Is that where I went wrong, my Eleanor? Was I too kind to you? Too generous? Did you ever really love me? Or was I by now just someone who you could flash a smile at in exchange for a thousand or two into your bank account?
As I became more aware of my situation, I no longer felt love. I started to feel exposed. I started to feel stupid, foolish. Used. It was around that time that Mabel became sick and my focus, with great necessity and urgency, turned to her. She died in my arms a few short months later. I still carry the pain of her passing, the scars etched deeply within my heart.
You did not offer any help towards the funeral, not in terms of funds or an arm for me to lean on. You told me via a quick telephone call that you wanted to give me space to grieve her passing. I can tell you that your silence was deafening in those months that followed.
Forgive me for feeling a little jaded in regards to how you reappeared back into my life, almost a year to the day of your dear mother’s passing. I was aware that the win had been heavily publicised in the newspapers, I had wanted it to be. I had wanted for you and the three boys to be aware of it, to bring you back. It injures me greatly to know I may not have seen you again if it had not have been for that win. After all, what could an elderly man on a insignificant pension have brought to your table?
I footed the bill for days out here and there in order to spend time with you and the boys. To the zoo, to the Greek restaurants you and your family seem to enjoy so much, to the amusement parks abroad. I insisted on being there for all of it though, much to your chagrin. You most likely thought I missed your sly looks across the tables to one another when I fumbled with my knife and fork, or when I tripped over the cobbled stones near the theatre. I caught every eye roll, every exaggerated sigh, every whisper about my advancing age. You and the boys dropped so very many hints about how I could and should stay at home where I would be more comfortable. But I doubt you knew how much I was enjoying myself, being aware of you all counting down my time left on this earth. Waiting for me to take my last breath so that you could prize the money from my cold, dead hands, hoping it would occur sooner rather than later.
When your mother died, when she was lying in my arms in those final moments of clarity that one has when close to death, she had a burgeoning desire to tell me a secret that had been weighing heavily on her bosom for many, many years. I listened as she told me that in the early days of our relationship, she had been enjoying a quiet tryst with the boy who had been mowing her family’s lawn. When she discovered she was pregnant, she immediately broke it off with him by telling her parents that he had stole some silverware, thus ending his employ rather unceremoniously, and told me that I was the father to the baby concealed within her blossoming belly. A shotgun wedding was the done thing, and of course I was more than happy to wed the woman that I loved. The mother of my child.
While I listened to her dying confession, I forgave Mabel instantly for her wrongdoing. She had given me many years of happiness as my wife, my companion, my love. Nothing will change that. I told her that and she died at peace.
However, I was stunned at the intense relief that washed over me upon discovery that you were no longer of my blood. That you were no relation to me whatsoever.
So to you, Eleanor, I leave nothing.
To your ungrateful children that are not my real grandchildren, I leave them nothing.
Just to be clear, you all get nothing.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed writing this letter to you.
Regards and best wishes,
Not your father.